Atonement and the French
Last night, as a group of my friends and I were at the movie theatre watching Atonement, a minor character in the film said of the French, “They hate us.” My friend sitting next to me said rather loudly, “They still hate Americans.”
Not only was I was horribly saddened by her comment, I was also surprised that she didn't realize that the characters were indeed British. Even so, had we been at home or at a restaurant where my comments would not have disturbed movie patrons, I might have challenged her on her thoughtless words. I have just recently returned from a wonderful time in France, and if the French hate Americans, then you couldn’t prove it by me.
My church choir made a trip from the south of France to the north of it last September, and at no time did I or anyone in our group ever feel the least bit unwelcomed. Of course, I did bother to speak my broken high school French at ever possible moment. Granted, everything took a bit longer because I was groping for words and tenses, but every French person with whom I interacted was polite and friendly and patient.
One moving incident occurred when we were boarding the bus to perform at the Cimetière Amèrician at Normandy Beach. A Frenchman came up to one of the older men in our party and asked in English if we were a group of veterans. Richard said no but that a few in our company might have served in the military. That is when the man said very reverently, “Please tell them thank you for me.”
When Richard told us of this man as we made our way through the breath-taking French countryside—the one that had once been ravaged by war—I could feel tears filling my eyes. Our concert was all the more emotional with this encounter in our minds. Contrary to popular belief, not all French have forgotten our friendship or American sacrifice, and perpetuating the notion that they hate Americans is the wrong thing to do in this day and time.