I was not particularly happy with how things went down in the Showdown at the Kebab Corral. I wasn’t really upset that I had revealed myself not to be Chuck Norris in academic disguise, but there was still the lingering mystery of What the heck was that all about?! Was the guy mad at me? Was he just messing with me? Or is he just really weird?
So, I went back to continue the cultural conversation. Also, like many married people, feeding myself when away from my spouse consists of basically waiting until I’m really hungry and then desperately trying to find some place that’s open. I am not going to assume that it’s just males that do this- I’d imagine that Claire’s had Swiss Chalet delivery a few times since I’ve been here. Anyway, I returned and ordered the Kebab menu with a coke.
“Oh, Mr. America! How are you?” he said, in English
“Good, my friend,” I said, in French.
“Where are you from, Mr. America?” he asked, now in French, I think.
“Well, actually, I live in Toronto,” I answered.
“Oh, America!” he shouted.
“Uh, no. Toronto is in Canada,” I responded.
“Oh, Canada! You live in Quebec?” he asked.
“Uh, no. I live in Ontario” I said. At this point, I’m imagining creating something educational, like Schoolhouse Rock, but Canadian. Picture an animated singing bill, wearing a toque, hanging out in Ottowa: “In the parliamentary system/ We can decide that you’re a jerk/ And have a ‘no confidence’ vote/ Sha-da-ba-bada-ba!” Also, the bill is drunk.
He continues. “I like Quebec. Are you voting for Obama?” Clearly, this guy did not do well in geography class.
“Well, I hope so,” I said. “I’m American, but I am becoming a Canadian citizen. My wife is Canadian. But, sure, I will vote for Obama.”
“I do not like Americans,” he said angrily. “Do you like Americans?”
“Well, yeah, there are some good ones. I’m okay. My father and mother are good.” I don’t know if he was even listening.
“I am Tunisian, but I live in France. I am like you!”
“Yeah, live where you’re happy. That’s what I say. My sister lives in Morocco.”
“No, Morocco is not Tunisia!” he said, sounding annoyed. “And Toronto is not America,” I think.
“In the Arab countries, they do whatever Bush tells them to do. Will you vote for Bush?”
“Non. Absolutement non!” I don’t feel like explaining term limits to him. This reminds me of a Canadian that Claire met at a party a few months back who said she hoped that Bush didn’t get reelected this year.
“Good. I do not like Bush. Americans are too angry,” said Mr. Angry. “Why do they like war?”
“Well, most Americans don’t like war,” I try to explain. “My family hates war.” I’m trying to make this personal for him, since I’m guessing that “America” is largely an abstraction.
“So, will you become French?” I ask him.
“No, I do not like France,” he says.
“Will you go back to Tunisia?”
“No, I do not like Tunisia either. I will stay here. They listen to Bush in the Arab countries.” This lead into another tirade about America like the last time I ate here. This time, however, I kept suggesting that there is more to America than he thinks.
The conversation went more pleasantly this time, I think. I kept trying to suggest that Americans are different than his perception of us, and he kept complaining about Bush and the Arab leaders. He was also not fond of France. There’s this thing I notice here with immigration and assimilation. It’s not like there’s any overt bigotry; but I get the feeling that it’s just understood that there’s a place for everyone and everyone in their place. In America, they complain more about immigration, but by the second generation, most immigrants are living in the suburbs like everyone else. In France, I’ve met third generation immigrants that are working in the kebab restaurant and living in the cheap apartments with the other immigrants. It’s strange: there’s a sort of “multiculturalism” in which you respect everyone’s culture, provided that they don’t stray from that culture. It makes no sense to me. I like cultural mixing, bastardization, and wild miscegenation: call it Wu-Tang Multiculturalism.
I definitely don’t think that the kebab guy is terribly fond of me. He’s got issues with Americans: even the ones from Ontario. But I also suspect that his macho bluster is tied to being a male in his early 20s and having hit a dead-end in Nantes. What I really think causes our stubborn problems with each other is that we stay away from each other for the most part. We give each other too much space, especially when it comes to other cultures. I don’t think that we have to accept everything about each other: I tried to make it clear to the guy that Americans aren’t at all like he thinks: and conversely, I don’t think we need to challenge each other’s prejudices at all times. Most people’s prejudices are just lazy, not ideological. Most of all, I just think we could stand to buy a kebab from each other every once in a while.
Conclusion: I think he was both: A. Messing with me, and B. Really, really weird.