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French connection

July 31, 2007

Pulse writers met a group of teenagers from France and Luxembourg who visited The Herald-Mail on Tuesday, July 24. The French teens came to Hagerstown through an exchange program of Compass-USA, of Denver, Colo. Students lived with families in the Hagerstown area.

Students who spoke with Pulse writers were Tiphaine d'Argentre, 17, of Rouen; Alex Morey, 16, of Lyon; Mickael Moura De Oliveira, 15, of Mont Saint Martin; Guillaume Alarcon, 16, of Le Mans; Arnaud Faucon, 16, of Lyon; Louise Askienazy, of Paris, 15; Lise Berson, 16, of Dommiers; and Nicolas Gutierrez, 15, of Luxembourg.

Shoval Resnick, 17

I spoke with Nicolas Gutierrez, 15, of Luxemburg, and Guillaume Alarcon, 16, of Le Mans, France. They said many aspects of American culture - such as music and movies - have been adopted in France, but basic differences can be seen. For one thing, for kids who are 15 and 16, smoking and drinking are not only permitted but acceptable in public. But driving is reserved for those 18 and older. There also are differences in schooling. Nicolas and Guillaume school subjects tend to be the same in both countries, with the exception of history. French students don't study American history or world history; European history is the main focus. Also, more kids are home-schooled in America.

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When discussing America and how it appears to the French public, they spoke of strength as well as weakness.

"America is one of the most powerful countries," said Nicolas. However, "America is just George Bush and McDonald's," he added.

Politics evoked another response.

"We feel America politics is for the white people," said Guillaume. "There is a lot of discrimination."

He admitted that there is discrimination in France but said there is less of it.

Danielle Higgins, 16

We sat down to talk to Guillaume Alarcon, 16, and Nicolas Guiterrez, 15, from Le Mans, France, and Luxembourg respectively.

"We visited D.C. last week, but we've just been (living) in this area," Nicolas said.

Having never traveled in the U.S. before, the Hagerstown area is Nicolas' and Guillaume'ssole sample of the U.S.

"A lot of people in France think of America as McDonald's and George Bush," Nicolas said. "But I haven't been to McDonald's since I've been here."

"Everything is bigger in America," Guillaume said. "The cars, the roads, the buildings." In addition, he said Americans are more relaxed, particularly with their fashion choices.

"Fashion is very popular (in France)," said Guillaume. "There are exceptions. There are people who don't follow fashion, but most do."

Although Americans have many freedoms, Guillaume believes France is less restrictive.

"(French) teenagers have more freedom," Guillaume said. "We can drink, go to clubs, smoke."

American culture is so influential (some would say pervasive) all over the world. Many cultures are becoming Americanized, but Nicolas said he had no hard feelings.

"America is the most powerful country in the world. It's just making a place for itself," he said.

Aubrey Spears, 11

I talked with Tiphaine, a 17-year-old girl from Rouen, who was conversational and fun to be around, and Alex, 16, who was funny but a little timid. We all were a little shy in the first few minutes of our conversation, but then we found we had many things in common. No matter how different our home countries, we are alike in some ways. The French teenagers watch American movies (a favorite one is "Spider-Man"), use iPods and go to school.

Tiphaine and Alex don't like President Bush because of the war in Iraq and because he refuses to sign the Kyoto treaty on climate change. Alex and Tiphaine said the French are very environmentally friendly and use mostly nuclear power so as not to pollute the air. They don't use many cars; instead, they use scooters.

Tiphaine and Alex were really nice.

Darcy Shull, 14

Mickael Moula is just like any American teen, except that Mickael is French. The 15-year-old enjoys poker, manga and just hanging around with friends. He also has a passion for traveling. So far, he has been to Germany, Italy, Belgium, Portugal, England and Spain.

He is now on his first trip to America, along with nine other teenagers from France and Luxembourg. "It was better than expected," he said. "Already, the people we've seen have been friendly, smiling."

One difference, however, is the food. "In France, we eat a very small breakfast, bigger lunches and dinners. We also eat between lunch and dinner - something small. Not really anything too sweet."

Adeline Cumpata, 16

I already knew a lot about France, but I was surprised when Lise Berson, 17, said that the "American smile" is nice and pleasant. Another thing she mentioned is that the French eat much later, around 8, 9 or 10 p.m.

Arnaud Faucon, 16, from Lyon, France, said he has a stereotype of America. "America is different at home (family life) because people here work (electronically) from their home," he said. "In France, people are working out of home."

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