Wright ’13 Interesting to Learn the Lessons of France

Michael Wright ’13 -  I had a great time in France this week.  It was such an enlightening experience.   I have been to places that I never thought I would visit.  I went to mass at Notre Dame, I toured the Louvre, and I sauntered through the Casino Monti-Carlo.  I have learned so much about French culture.  For example, one should never smile or greet strangers when passing by them on the street.  This is interpreted as a sexual advance.  The man I encountered at the Louvre did not take very kindly to my folksy American head-nod.  There is no doubt that things here are different than in America.  This makes the expatriate experience so much more significant.  These writers inhabited a city that was very different from the one in which they had been brought up.

My project focused on Ernest Hemingway’s failed marriage to his first wife, Hadley Richardson.  I claimed that Hadley represented a deeper conflict in Hemingway between his “manly” and moralistic American upbringing and the seductive and morally lax atmosphere of Paris, France.  In class, we discussed early on that A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s autobiographical account of his life in Paris was not completely accurate.  He made it seem as if he was more in touch with the reality of Paris while his contemporaries were drinking and partying with other rich Americans.

Micahel, center of photo, in red shirt and jacket.

After reading about the places Hemingway preferred to visit, I was still unable to understand how different they were from the places that he criticized.  Coming to Paris, though, I could see the stark contrasts present in Hemingway’s Paris.  Much of the Parisian experiences that Hemingway had involved bars and cafés.  Hemingway enjoyed attending the Café des Amateurs in Place de la Contrescarpe and the Café Saint-Michel.  Cafés such as the Rotonde, the Dome, and the Select were all places that Hemingway claimed to dislike in A Moveable Feast.  He believed that they attracted too many American customers and did not reflect the reality of Paris.

After visiting Paris, I understand the drastic cultural differences between these cafés.  Even today, places like the Dome and the Rotonde attract a large amount of attention.  They are located on busy streets and are popular destinations for tourists visiting Paris.  This influx of foreigners, today as well as in the 1920s, was unappealing to Hemingway.  He enjoyed places like the Café des Amateurs because it was lowbrow and seedy.  This café is out of the way and is located on small side streets seldom explored by tourists.  Today, it has been closed down.  However, another bar stands in its place, receiving the same lack of attention.

Places like the Café des Amateurs and the Café Saint-Michel were appealing to Hemingway because they gave him the opportunity to interact with true Parisians.  After spending time in Paris, I completely relate to this mentality.   On our last day in Paris, Wyatt Lewis and I ventured into the Latin Quarter for lunch and stopped at a pizza café.  We asked our waitress if we could split a meal.  This request baffled and upset her.  She informed us in no uncertain terms that each pizza was meant for one person and that we should order two.  Afraid to anger her, we ordered two pizzas.  Because I had encountered some difficulty before with using a credit card in Paris, I asked her if she would take my card.  Her response was, “Of course, as long as your money is good!”  I was struck by the honesty of this woman.  She did not approach us with pointless flattery.  Instead, she spoke truly with her desire to make money off of us.  This is the thing with the French.  As long as a man has the will to eat and possesses the conviction to enter the shop, and the money to pay for their services, then he will always have a friend in France.

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