Letters From Readers
March 11, 2006
Editor’s Note: Jordan Small’s overseas study essay, titled “The French (Dis)Connection” (summer 2005), riled several readers. The full text of their letters appears below.
A copy of Jordan Small’s essay on her semester abroad in France was sent to me, and I am appalled that any student who had the privilege of such an experience should be so derogatory about it … especially someone with a degree in international affairs!
I was in France a year ago with my son, daughter-in-law, and six-year-old granddaughter. We were in Paris and in Alsace and had no experiences like Jordan Small’s. We walked for miles in Strasbourg, and I don’t remember seeing any dog droppings. I’m wondering if she ever saw any of the small villages in Alsace and, if so, how she could not be touched by their picturesque charm.
We encountered no one hostile to Americans. I confess we did frequently explain that we were not Bush fans; however, this was not told to everyone we met, and we still felt warmth and friendliness. I’m wondering if Jordan started out with a negative attitude and received negative responses in return.
As the daughter of an alumnus of your college, I had the opportunity to read the most recent issue of the Lewis & Clark College Chronicle (Summer 2005). Now I am a U.S. citizen living and studying for a degree in Australia. I have been contemplating studying abroad for a semester, so I was interested in reading the article labeled “Overseas Study” in the Chronicle. I have never been so disappointed in my life. The essay entitled “The French (Dis)Connection,” by Jordon Small, is so bad it is embarrassing.
As well as living in Australia, I had the opportunity to spend more than a year living and traveling in Europe, and the idea expressed by Ms. Small that “Americans are viewed as ignorant, money-grubbing, amusing fools who are obsessed with being beautiful, obtaining oil, and taking over the world” is, in my experience, simply untrue.
Most Australians (and most Europeans I met while traveling) seem to think that Americans are ignorant all right; but they recognize that U.S. society is insular and, therefore, different than Australia, Europe, and other Western cultures, where we are exposed to a much wider variety of influences. Just take, for example, television. In Australia, we get Australian-made television programs, we get North American (both U.S. and Canadian) programs, and we also get British programs, all on regular, free-to-air television. Less common, yet still available, are programs from other ethnic sources such as Greek, Italian, and Spanish. Even without thinking about it, we are exposed to different ways of living–fictional or otherwise.
The viewpoint of most non-American Westerners, in my opinion (and I feel sure I have spent considerably more time and certainly more effort in studying this than your author), is that Americans are extraordinarily inflexible when it comes to experiencing and accepting other cultures (case in point: Jordan Small). Ms. Small (appropriate name), after a grand total of only three months, has decided that the French way of living is somehow inferior to that of her homeland. Perhaps somebody could teach this young woman the phrase “not better, not worse, just different” as a handy mantra for traveling.
And she is to “graduate next May with a degree in international affairs.” Heaven help us! Somebody please do the world a favor (and I really mean that) and do not allow this to happen. Give her a degree in something she has some knowledge about–perhaps obnoxious patriotism. Seriously, if this essay represents her true feelings, and we have no reason to believe otherwise, then how can this person be expected to give businesses in the U.S. or offshore any advice about other cultures? I have not taken your international affairs course, but surely it does not teach the making of such disrespectful comments about foreign cultures. If the ways she speaks is anything like the ways she writes, then it is no wonder she detected a little bit of hostility from the French. I only spent a small amount of time in France and after reading the essay, I was extremely defensive for them and disliked Americans on their behalf.
Ultimately, the opinions expressed in the essay by Jordon Small do nothing but perpetuate the “Ugly American” impression and make me embarrassed to be a United States citizen. The editors of the Chronicle should be ashamed for accepting and then printing an article which is so embarrassing to Lewis & Clark alumni and their families. What were you thinking? Please do better in the future.
How shocking and disappointing for me to read about Jordan Small’s Strasbourg, France, overseas study. Everywhere you go, there you are, Jordon.
I feel that it’s Jordan’s experiences and psyche are what is disconnected, small. It is a closed, negative mind that can make derogatory, narrow, snide (prejudiced) generalizations about any human being or culture and do so in six months time!
Prejudice–“a judgment or opinion formed before the facts are known; a preconceived idea usually unfavorable; unreasonable bias, suspicion, intolerance or hatred of other races, creeds, religions, occupations; to injure or harm as by some judgment.”
The purpose of the overseas program to Strasbourg, France, that I went on in 1964 was to educate–to lead out, to open up the mind and experience of young adults to other cultures, other ways of being.
I learned then, and I still think, that human beings and their cultures are everywhere, fundamentally, and in the most important ways, the same and positive everywhere on the planet.
Who cares about “poop, urination, black-high heeled boots, stinky cheese, disposable coffee cups” when there is Versailles, Notre Dame, Chartres, the European Common Market, a city that is historically both French and German, influential world-class food, cheese, wine, and a poetic language to name just a few of France’s highlights.
Ms. Jordan, take back what you said about your experience in France. These things are your projections, negative as they are, upon another culture. Look inside yourself–you are not seeing fairly or clearly. Your patriotism is causing division, reaction, hurt.
When I went to France first in 1964, again in 1990, and in 2004 for my 60th birthday, the French people and culture were wonderful, special. That’s why I chose to celebrate my 60th birthday there, in France.
Marcia Hamann ‘66
The Chronicle’ s publishing of Jordan Small’s “French (Dis)Connection” essay in the summer 2005 issue could only have been more shameful if it came with an ad for Freedom Fries. Is trashing other countries, rather than seeking to exchange with them, how Lewis & Clark wants to promote higher education with study abroad?
Small can’t find many hellos, but how many cities larger than Portland has she lived in and has she compared France’s violent crime rate to that of the U.S.)? Doesn’t like a 35-hour work week, but has she ever worked 40? (I’ve asked many workers over the years if they’d rather work 30 hours for the same pay; guess how many say no.) Criticizing nationalism with nationalism? No to-go cups for her to throw in a landfill? The spread of McBusiness is reason to love us?
Small should know that dislike of the U.S. government is not just French but international. Our students should seek to understand this rather than simply conclude that there is “no legitimate answer.”
When I was at Lewis & Clark, I met someone from France who is still one of my best friends. Please invite a French or other overseas student to write a point-by-point response to Small.
Oliver Luby J.D. ‘99
I enjoyed reading your article in the summer 2005 edition of the Chronicle, especially because you and I seem to have gone through a similar program at L&C. I too was an IA major, and I too was on the overseas program to France, attending the University of Strasbourg. What great experiences both of us have been privileged to have!
The difference, though, is that I came from another country in the first place–Canada. I have continued to follow international news with great interest, and I must say that many of the views about the U.S. that you encountered in France are shared by the citizens of many other countries of the world. I applaud your love of country, but do not permit patriotism to override reality. I have always admired the pioneering spirit, the tremendous work ethic, and the incredible creativity of United States citizens (I even married one!). Unfortunately, the recent record of the U.S. in international relations does not match that of the success of its citizens in building their nation.
Canada is the single-biggest trading partner of the U.s., mostly speaks the same language, shares much of the same cultural themes, plays many of the same sports, reads the same books, watches the same movies, visits the same web sites, etc. The two countries have always been friends (well, except for that time the Canadians invaded the U.S. and burned Washington–that was a shameful thing to do). But we seem to be drifting apart as the U.S. practices an ever more ethnocentric foreign policy. Let me give you some examples of why other peoples around the world are losing respect for the policies of the U.S.:
- The failure to sign the Kyoto Protocol to control greenhouse gas emissions.
- The approach to Cuba is not respected anywhere else.
- The lack of support for the international justice system is seen as not being prepared to take responsibility for U.S. international actions for fear of being prosecuted.
- The U.S. refusal to support the effort to ban the use of land mines which kill and maim so many innocent people is not well accepted around the world.
- The initiation of the Iraq war without the support of the U.N. is seen as a violation of the U.N. Charter.
- The lack of support for the United Nations reduces the respect of other nations for the U.S.
- In Canada, we see the U.S. time and again ignore international tribunals which decide in Canada’s favor over trade issues such as softwood lumber; the high and illegal tariffs placed on Canadian lumber have resulted in much higher home costs in the U.S. and cynicism about our neighbor’s intentions.
- We have seen the U.S. border closed to Canadian beef for years after the discovery of one cow with made cow disease that had come from Alberta–a small group of cattlemen in Montana were able to convince the U.S. to keep the border closed when all the science supported opening it.
- The U.S. signed the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico but whenever free trade threatens a U.S. business, the U.S. responds with tariffs. Free trade is only supported when it favors the U.S.
- The support of the U.S. for General Pinochet in Chile is still a black mark against the U.S.
- Allowing the exploration for oil and gas on the eastern slopes in Alaska is considered a severe threat to that very fragile environment.
- The removal of so many basic human rights in the U.S. in the name of fighting terrorism has had a chilling effect on the rest of the world which see the U.S. now using domestic strategies that were favorites of the old U.S.S.R.
Jordan, sad to say, the list could be much longer. The U.S. is the major military power in the world right now, and because of that, it is incumbent upon the U.S. to go the extra mile to show leadership and compassion, to help protect our world for our children and grandchildren, to make the effort to cooperate with others who may not hold similar views. It can be a mighty influence in fighting hatred, in supporting tolerance for other political and religious views, in providing a helping hand for the poor of the world, and in protecting the human rights that your founding fathers fought so hard to achieve. If the U.S. is to regain the esteem it once had, its foreign policy needs a significant change of attitude. It needs to go beyond making all decisions on the basis only of what is the best short-term decision for the U.S.–it needs to consider what the best decision is for the world. In the end, these will be the best decisions for the U.S. in the long term.
Lewis & Clark College has a wonderful international flavor with a great IA program and a diverse group of foreign students. I hope the leaders that come forward from Lewis & Clark in the future will take the U.S. back to a position of well-earned respect in international affairs and, in so doing, make the world a better place. And then, Jordan, patriotism will go beyond just being a citizen of the U.S.–it will extend to being a U.S. citizen of the world.
Chuck Morrison ‘69
Stoney Plain, Alberta, Canada
What in the world compelled the editor of the Chronicle to publish this essay? I question both the maturity of the writer and the person who chose to include this rude, insensitive diatribe in the recent summer issue. Just as students are about to leave for their semesters abroad you have allowed Ms. Small to whine about her time in France, sounding like a selfish, self-centered sixth-grader. Poor, spoiled, American college student who couldn’t get her coffee in a to-go cup! I was especially offended by her demeaning comments about the French referring to them as smelly, bitter-looking, and cold. One comment was so offensive that it surely should have been edited.
I daresay it was Jordan Small’s negative attitude that brought out the worst in those she came in contact with. That and her confrontational tone when discussing the differences between our countries. It is the narrow-minded attitude of people such as Jordan Small that perpetuates the hateful myth of the ugly American and the nationalistic Frenchman. What an embarrassment for all of us.
If nothing else, I hope that the Lewis & Clark students who read Ms. Small’s essay will reflect on how not to behave to foreigners. Go abroad with an open mind knowing that there are many cultural and political differences, and embrace those differences and the people of those countries. Certainly there will be moments when you wish you were home in a familiar setting, but that is what growing up is all about, making your way through good times and bad, while taking every opportunity to learn from your experience. Just remember, you are an ambassador not only for Lewis & Clark but for your country as well.
Betsy Rickles, parent
It’s not often that a piece of art really speaks to me, but I was so taken with Joel Nakamura’s work in the summer edition of the Chronicle (pages 28-29) that I went searching for more.
The symbolism of his art (“healing hands”) really fit well with the topic of “Healing Lives.” Thanks for introducing me to my new favorite artist–and the graduate school’s new counseling program.
Sarah Holub Supahan ‘81
Burnt Ranch, California
The summer issue of the L&C Chronicle was tremendous. It should be nominated for an Emmy.
Clifton Wells ‘50, M.A. ‘53
Silver Lake, New Hampshire