As long as the subject of stereotypes has been broached (it was, briefly, in yesterday’s post) there’s a French stereotype about Americans I thought you would find amusing. French people are under the impression that the most popular drink in the United States is whiskey.* And because they think it’s a very cool, American thing to drink, they all drink it. Every French household has a bottle of whiskey behind the bar.
It’s amusing to witness their confusion when I politely decline a whiskey on the rocks in favor of a nice white wine or a rosé during cocktail hour. “But Americans love whiskey,” they say with absolute certainty. “You really don’t want one?” They usually seem puzzled, then consult the label and assure me that it’s very good whiskey and ask me once again if I am very, very sure that I don’t want one. Non, merci.
This misconception is so common that there is kind of a standard exchange when I go to get a drink at the bar of any wedding, anniversary party or village fête. First, they spot my accent and ask if I am British. I tell them that I am actually an American and then apologize quickly for the Bush years. The person manning the bar then says, “American! So you’ll be wanting a whiskey then, right?” I say, no thank you, and order something else. The bartender then repeats, in an amazed tone of voice that is usually reserved for scenarios in which people are being told that the world is coming to an end unless they rescue a cheerleader, “Not a whiskey?” I assure them calmly that I don’t want a whiskey and then try to leave with the drink I ordered before the temptation to mess with their heads and tell them that I can fly or travel through time becomes too great.
Through careful questioning over the years, though, I have finally discovered the root of this misconception. It is, unsurprisingly, telelvision. Some of the most popular American entertainment here in France has featured either whiskey-drinking fatcats: Dallas, Dynasty; whiskey-drinking detectives: The Untouchables (the series starring Robert Stack) or whiskey-drinking cowboys: anything by Sergio Leone or starring Clint Eastwood. With this being what French people are using to base their assumptions about American drinking habits on, you can see how confusion has resulted. Given that American series are notoriously slow to make it to French television, I fear for their opinions of us when the current batch of new programming makes it over here. Will 30 Rock have the French offering me hot dogs for breakfast? Will old episodes of Survivor have them daring me to eat bugs? Will Scrubs finally popularize the apple martini? Top Chef is going to confuse the hell out of them! Just the thought of it is making me want a drink. Maybe I’ll have that whiskey after all, please.
*I’m spelling it the Irish way in honor of our upcoming trip to Ireland. If we ever make plans to go to Scotland, I will spell it “whisky.”