‘Yo Momma’ jokes aren’t even that hard to understand…

A few friends and I tried to get into Bar Hemingway the other day and failed, which was understandable because it was eight o’clock and we didn’t have a reservation, and we were younger than everyone else in the building and slightly sweaty after a day spent racing around the city trying to fit in everything we still wanted to do before we left. The doorman literally almost sprinted after us to make us turn around. It was disappointing because we had wanted to at least catch a glimpse of the bar at the center of the Place Vendôme Ritz Hotel—oh hey, The Sun Also Rises—that is home to the “world’s best bartender” and the world’s most expensive cocktail. (700 euro… what?!). But we didn’t. The doorman wouldn’t even let me take a picture of the “Bar Hemingway” sign. I guess he really wanted to preserve that classy, un-touristy appearance. It got me thinking, as we walked awkwardly back through the gold-plated revolving door only moments after having entered. There’s something very unique about being an obvious visitor here. It stands out even in comparison to the other European countries I’ve visited this semester. People associate Paris with gold-plated revolving doors. They associate it with class and elegance. Sometimes this is merited and sometimes it isn’t. But even if we’d come to the Bar Hemingway at a time it was empty, I feel like we still would not have gotten past that doorman because we were speaking English and comparing photographs. In other places, this would get an eye-roll, maybe. Here it gets me things like a kid in my University of Paris class saying “You’re American? Can you teach me how to make a ‘yo’ momma’ joke’?” As much as Parisians are expected to be refined, Americans are expected to be classless. Maybe this is also equal parts true and untrue. I did absolutely teach that kid how to make a ‘yo’ momma’ joke. Guilty of perpetuating the stereotype. But after reading so many outsiders’ perspectives of Paris, on top of being an outsider myself, I wonder how much of these labels are just myth. I found people in Madrid to be much ruder than people in Paris, which contradicts everything I’ve ever heard about both places. But why should modern citizens, of whatever country, be given the burden of keeping up appearances they didn’t create? Maybe the concierge guy’s emphasis on class had nothing to do with being Parisian but with being somewhat in charge of a fancy hotel, and maybe my willingness to spread the joy of crude jokes has less to do with being American than having a weird sense of humor. As far as stereotypes are concerned, we not only see what we expect to see, but actively look for it. This is probably the most prevalent thing I’ve learned from Europe as a whole, and it’s something I’ll definitely keep in mind back in the States. At least it makes for telling good stories.

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