America Abroad: Discovering Home While in Toulouse, France

As a city with one of the largest universities in France, Toulouse brings together many minds from all across Europe and the world. In my time here, I met many unique people, who all had their own opinions on what my American nationality meant.

I first met a young woman from the UK, and when we began talking, I learned very quickly that the American response to violence is very different from the Western European one. When talks of gun violence or racial inequalities came up, my European counterparts were shocked with the practical normalcy of mass shootings in America. I realized for the first time that assuming every loud noise I hear is a gunshot is very odd, and that worrying about being a victim of violence when walking around alone at night is not the norm for many young, European women.

Beyond the differences in crime between our countries, my Uber driver quickly revealed to me how those abroad view the political climate of America. A man with Northern African descent, he and his family have Arabic names. He recounted to me how his brother was held in LAX for 48 hours for no other reason than his name. He was interrogated and released after the 48 hour deadline when their questioning revealed no terroristic threat. My Uber driver now says he will never visit America.

On a lighter note, a Dutch friend and I went out for dinner one night, and he told me his opinion on the way Americans view food. In a country where we can have strawberries all throughout the year, there aren’t many people who appreciate the seasonality of food. For some Europeans, the presence of strawberries signals that summer is here. Their smaller, ripe berries contrast the gumbo-sized American ones. But here there are no Genetically Modified Organisms, and many of our American pesticides are banned.

Girl hiking in France
Jessica Moore | Lets Go

Even when it comes to our day to day lives, Americans breathe a distinct energy into the world that Europe simply watches. When I mentioned how at my University, students have to compete to get into clubs and organizations, a hostel friend laughed and said, “That is so USA.” I have heard this sentiment over and over. Americans are running towards an unnamed goal. We do not stop and are always intensely engaged with even the smallest of tasks.

It seems that here in Europe, people take their time. Many stores are only open four or five hours out of the day. Meals are long endeavors. Restaurants will let you sit for hours without buying anything. Strolls are the only way to walk down a street. There is a sleepy energy to life here. It feels peaceful, calm, safe. But because of this, when Europe looks to America, they take her very seriously. Our politics, our education system, our public sector, all matter abroad. The vision we send to the rest of the world has an impact. Being abroad as an American gives one the ability to look at our home country through other people’s eyes and see where we are failing and where we have succeeded. Now, more than ever, Americans need to go abroad.

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