Not long ago my husband was blessed with a last-minute business opportunity in France, and I gladly accompanied him. We stayed in a charming French city (some 32,000 residents) called La Ciotat, not far from Marseilles. Minus a few cars and high-tech yachts, it looked like a port city from the middle ages, with its narrow cobble-stone streets and Romanesque architecture.
During our trip three experiences caught my attention: This was the first time we’d been to Europe since the term “Freedom Fries” was coined, and we weren’t sure what kind of reception we, as Americans, would receive. Much to our surprise, we were greeted warmly by everyone we encountered, even though our command of the French language was closer to non-existent than to rusty. The “La Ciotadians” made us feel comfortable and welcome.
Secondly, it became readily apparent that service personnel in La Ciotat were not accustomed to being tipped, and didn’t quite know what to do when we tried to offer them gratuities. Needless to say they quickly got with the program, but the look of confusion and delight on their faces spoke volumes. Although this is a custom that most Americans take for granted, how wonderful that we, as a culture, extend an extra thanks to those who provide us with good service, no matter their nationality.
The third circumstance actually constituted the high-point of our trip, and was wholly unexpected. My husband and I were strolling along the main street of La Ciotat when we happened upon a monument and stopped to read its inscription. It was dedicated to James G Reilly, an American aviator who lost his life on January 27, 1944, defending the French people and the city of La Ciotat. Subsequent research has revealed that he was a twenty-year old husband and father who hailed from New York.
The discovery of this monument brought tears of pride to my eyes. Most importantly it made me wonder how many other American heroes are honored around the world, in small towns and large cities, for their contributions to the citizens of other nations, not to mention our own.
In the field of human psychology much has been written about the mind set of bullies: They prey on others whom they perceive to be weak or lacking in confidence. The same principles apply to organizations and even to nations, which are living, breathing entities. Jingoism, or the bullyish display of a country’s nationalism is clearly wrong. It’s opposite, however, is equally wrong: The expression of guilt and shame by Americans, because the US is the most successful, powerful and giving nation on earth, serves as a slap in the face of every American hero who has offered his or her life to protect others around the world.
The United States is a living, breathing and changing entity, and just as people are imperfect, so are nations. I hope that in the interest of righting perceived wrongs, or maintaining friendships with other nations around the world, we don’t destroy the principles that have made The United States great. Our trip to France served to remind me that where we Americans may lose sight, from time to time, of what we are as a nation, people around the world do not. I, for one, am more proud than ever to call myself a citizen of the United States of America. What about you?