Monday, April 13, 2009

Des Américains à Paris

Looking through the New York Times web site before the weekend, I found an article about an American festival in Paris. Figuring Sunday was set to be a gorgeous day, I proposed the idea of hitting up the festival to Alannah, who then told another American friend about it, who then brought a couple of her visiting American friends. What better place for a bunch of Americans in Paris to gravitate that, well, a festival called "Americans in Paris?"

Upon arriving at the Jardin d'Acclimatation - the part of the massive Bois de Boulogne where the festival was held - we were greeted by a gigantic poster of Uncle Sam, complete with a stars-n-stripes mushroom cloud behind him. And on his lapel, a button with the same mushroom cloud figure. "WE [NUKE] YOU" ???

All joking aside, it's actually the Jardin d'Acclimatation's oak tree logo, and their slogan is "WE [OAK TREE] YOU." Alannah had noticed this in the event program before we even went. But one has to admit, the whole mushroom cloud seems much more appropriate for the finger-wagging Uncle Sam.

We entered the park grounds, passing a small jazz quartet along the way (jazz is heavily acquainted with America here, and why not?), went through the ticket booths (a whopping 2€70 admission), and came upon what I could only call Main Street U.S.A. Only without the Main Street Electrical Parade. And instead, a shit-ton of non-sensical highway signs. In French eyes, this is what the great American open road looks like: A clusterfuck of signage, yellow cabs, and yellow school buses. And surprisingly, no other Americans.

Despite the fact that the Jardin borders Neuilly-sur-Seine, the America-lovin', expat-filled suburb nicknamed Sarkoville after President Nicolas "Sarko the Américain" Sarkozy - I didn't hear any other brassy-accented, flat-voweled English other than our little group's.

Alannah and I looked around in awe at what Parisians consider typical American. For the most part, they're dead on. Stands selling stuff you can't typically get here, like bagels, pancakes, brownies, and dirty-water hot dogs. (Most hot dogs here are baked into a bun, kind of like a baguettey bagel dog.)

There were tee-pees, because even though we've swept the indigenous population under the rug with a bottle of firewater and a trinket industry for company, American Indian imagery still weighs heavily on this side of the ocean as part of what America "is." Although they often misapply it in that National Geographic speculative anthropology kind of way that is respectfully interested but horribly off-base. The popular Indiana Café chain, for example, boasts a Cherokee headdress logo, serves Tex-Mex food, and - well - is freakin' called Indiana. Three things that have nothing to do with each other. Then there's the Buffalo Grill chain, which romanticizes the Wild West and Buffalo Bill, who happily sits side-by-side with figures of the very people he was out to terminate. But I digress...

Our first stop was to get a souvenir photo of Alannah inside a cutout of the signature American cultural export: Coca-Cola. This act epitomized exactly why we came: Seriously cheese-dick fun. Despite the fact that we're both food freaks who abhor high fructose corn syrup, we've become enamored with Coke since moving here. Not for nostalgia's sake, but because like Mexican Coke, it's made with real sugar here. It's sad when the American stuff abroad is more authentic than the American stuff in America, n'est-ce pas? (We've also come to appreciate *shiver* McDonald's, but perhaps because it's the only place you can get a burger for less than 10€.)

Looking around further, there wasn't much American stuff that I've been longing for. The pecan pie on display at one booth looked terrible. There were no chili dogs, fried chicken, or funnel cakes to be found. In fact, if you're an American in Paris missing food from back home, this festival had to be about the lamest place.

Despite the disappointed tummy, however, there was plenty to amuse.

We spent a good amount of time watching a local acrobatic basketball team called Crazy Dunkers. Because nothing says America like getting above the rim and dunking over some little kid. I mean, literally...

There were all the rides and zoo animals that make the Jardin d'Acclimatation a fun place for the family even when it hasn't been invaded by an American festival. ESPN America (which is the European version of ESPN... whaaa?) had set up batting cages. Little French kids donned American football helmets and did their best to knock down a tackling dummy.

And, of course, there was something to remind me that even I bleed a little bit of Red, White, and Blue: Cheerleaders. Or as they're called here in France, "Pom-Pom Girls." (Which, sadly, doesn't acknowledge the growing number of male cheerleaders, whom I don't personally find as aesthetically pleasing, but equally important in the college sports scene.) At any rate, instead of hearing me muse about gender equality in sports and spirit activities, I'm sure there's more interest in a picture, huh?

Overall, it was great fun, seriously aided by the gorgeous spring weather. I would've liked there to have been more stuff representing the America I know. I mean, besides a Marines recruiter preying on GED candidates or Toby fuckin' Keith. I mean things like California wines. Texas BBQ. Pacific Northwest beer. Humboldt county blue-haired bud. Ok, maybe that's pushing it. But instead of the stereotypes and booths from mediocre local expat businesses who are nothing but the colloquial "epic fail," I'd love to see bits of "real" American goods and culture. I'm sure most Parisians know that the USA is more than hot dogs, bagels, and Barack Obama posters by street artists. (Although all of those are A-OK by me.) Just as France isn't all baguettes, wine, cheese and nudie flicks (although there's plenty of that to go around), America is more than junk food and compensatory projection of military power.

Then again, witnessing the massive (in both ways) American family in front of us on the Métro Ligne 1 between the Bois du Boulogne and our neighborhood, dressed like they just ransacked a Super Wal-Mart, barely able to talk without spitting bits of unchewed food, and unable to stand on the train without knocking people over with their kielbasa-fingered fists... Perhaps many French rightly have a lousy impression of us.

50 more photos available in this Flickr set... yes, including more cheerleader photos.

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