By Julian Traas – Collegian Staff
I was twelve years old when my mother said to me, “We’re going to pretend we’re Dutch now, okay?”
We lived in a small village in France, southwest of Paris. The Twin Towers had fallen and the United States had retaliated by invading Afghanistan. The sympathy Western European countries had granted Americans had evaporated. I found myself in a country already renowned for its suspicion of foreigners and when I walked the streets of Le Mans, I discovered the climate had become even less friendly.
My mom concerned herself over my safety, both mental and physical, so she instructed me to pretend not a drop of American blood flowed through my veins. For me, being half-Dutch, it was only half a lie.
I knew about the attacks of 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan, but these felt distant to me. I would hear stories from my aunt and uncle, who had been only a few blocks from what would become Ground Zero. To me, the only apparent change was that my neighbors suddenly disliked me more than before.
It’s not like I was hunted by crazed townsfolk, armed to the beret with torches and pitchforks, but to a child, a mother’s hushed suggestion of a game, in which the prize is another day without being harassed, is unsettling.
In Paris, now, an American could run into trouble. If you stuck to the Rue Périphérique, the Champs-Élysées, or any number of touristy (and busy) sites, you would stay healthy — provided the waiter didn’t spit on your Coq au Vin.
Paris has a large Algerian population and there are other minorities who, at the time of the invasions of Afghanistan and, later, Iraq, were more than a little vexed at the demonstration of American imperialism.
It was a time in which I did not feel confident that the people around me didn’t despise me simply for the invisible stigma I carried. And, in my experience, almost nobody likes Americans. The rest of the world either loves us, or loathes us.