I feel consummately sorry for French schoolkids. At least the high schoolers at the school where I’m doing my internship: their assigned reading-and-comprehension document last week was called “I still believe in the American dream,” and they had to write a commentary and then come in and discuss whether they thought the American dream still existed. With the American assistant (me). What part of this situation could possibly be awkward?
(Le rêve américain, my dreamless friends, is the idea that no matter how far down on the ladder you start, you have the same chance as the next man to get to the top with hard work and smarts.)
In came student number 1: “I don’t know what the word ‘enduring’ means…”
Number 2: “I think the American dream still exists because people are still leading comfortable lives in the USA…”
Number 3 didn’t subscribe to the American dream because she thought the glitzy side of the States was exaggerated, and number 4 skillfully maneuvered the conversation to grammar and syntax questions.
Today’s sociology final exam was an optimist’s martyrdom of unemployment statistics, politics gone bad, and the global recession. This afternoon I discovered I’d lost out on a job opportunity for next semester because I didn’t phone the potential employer after we met (she didn’t give me her number, and in fact she said “I’ll call you,” but when the French make a mistake it’s never their fault. They will be charming, but they never take the blame: charm them back but don’t feel guilty). I got home tonight to the sound of my host mom — to put it delicately — raising her voice at the youngest son because she thinks he isn’t working hard enough in school. Rumor has it the world is predicted to end on Friday.
In the face of these slightly depressing past few days I donned my personal psychologist hat and prescribed myself a healthy dose of the American dream. Not the ritzy rich retirement that the board game Life swears is the goal of my existence, nor yet the middle-class comfort that the high schoolers’ article described. I’m talking a good dose of grit and optimism: “Chin up and shut up.”
My friends, I am proud to say that I believe in the American dream, not because I think I am going to have a Florida condo someday but because life is not going to end for me if that sociology grade isn’t sky-high (I think it would have ended for my host brother. At least his mom) AND because I’m not done hoping it will be pretty good. Come over here, all you trying-to-decide-between-Paris-and-Nantes, not-sure-if-your-French-is-good-enough Yankees. A little optimism wouldn’t hurt this city.