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Dear readers: I am writing this second “Queries” column in Paris, where I came to attend the International Communication Association conference. Here I sit just a block off Rue de Seine, of course at a sidewalk café (the Mazarine – tasty Niçoise salad polished off with a generous pour of Rémy Martin). And I’ve decided I’m going to ask myself the first “Queries” question.


Dear Pierre,

Why are so many American tourists walking around Paris so ludicrously and offensively loud?

Signed,

Embarrassed in Paris

Dear Embarrassed,

I share your distaste and wonderment about our loud-mouthed brethren.

Intriguing isn’t it that the French suffer the reputation for being obnoxious, especially to those who can’t speak French. In fact, even were that true in the past, it sure is not today. The French are gracious, patient with those of us who try to navigate their city in their language, and quick to use their English when our French fails us. And so many Americans crowding the City of Light too often act like they’re back home at a county fair animal auction yelling out their final bid for a well-fed hog.

I watch them in their Bermuda shorts and logo T-shirts, iPhones in hand, pointing and hollering out what sound like phrasebook lines like, “I think the Starbucks is down this street!” or “Let’s eat here, it’s three-and-a-half stars!” Really yelling. Really pointing!

To answer the question why do they act so obnoxiously, I believe it’s because so many American tourists exhibit a lack of situational awareness. They’re glued to their screens seeking advice and directions, never asking locals for advice and directions.

Who knows best where the good restaurants are, Google or guys who live on the same street? Americans I’m observing tend to travel in packs, talking only with their traveling companions. They appear to understand none of the French they could hear murmured in the street if they only would shut up long enough to listen. Hence, they don’t notice how the locals moderate their speech and talk with one another in an almost hushed tone of voice. The consequence is booming Americanisms bouncing off the quaint walls of the Latin Quarter.

Either that or they don’t care if they stick out as if they bought tickets and the streets of Paris are that county fair’s midway. If that’s the case, they must feel entitled to bring their brassy behavior with them where they go.

My wife and I witnessed our favorite example of this American exceptionalism a few years ago as we were walking down the jammed Rue de la Huchette and a couple of those aforementioned booming voices were impossible to ignore, especially when one of the sang out, “So I’m, like, what the fuck’s a fromage, man?”

As long as the strong dollar almost buys a euro, Embarrassed, I fear we’re stuck sharing our overseas trips with these cheesy Yanks.


Dear Prof (writes one of my students when she heard about this column),

How do I combat news fatigue?

Signed,

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Jordyn in Oregon

Dear Jordyn,

I do have at least a temporary answer. Last summer I was challenged by a colleague to engage in a news detox. That’s strong medicine for a journalist and a journalism professor. But I accepted the dare.

The deal was no newspapers, no radio news, no TV news, no internet-based news providers, no news media of any kind for six weeks. And there was an exception for this news junkie: I could spend Sunday catching up.

At first it was a struggle. I had to force myself not to succumb to my news jones. I sought alternatives. Fiction! Walks along the Willamette River! Chats with friends! Real chats with voices. There’s no question that I looked forward to my news fix on Sundays.

But the good news (so to speak!) is that by the second week I was finding space in my mind for more fiction, more walks, more chats and, to paraphrase the old Leadbelly song, more opportunities to relax that mind.

By week six I felt that I could continue the new lifestyle for week after week after week into the future and successfully combat news fatigue. But I am a journalist and a journalism professor. It’s hard to practice both those professions so divorced from the so-called news cycle. What was surprising, given how much I enjoyed my six days off the news each week, was how quickly I relapsed. Again I’m operating like the 1010WINS news radio jingle in New York: “All news. All the time.”

Good luck on your news management, Jordyn (and all the rest of us)

peter laufer banner 2001

Dear Peter,

It isn't clear what the nature of your column will be – political advice? advice to the politically lovelorn? – so I'm not sure if your title is a good one, but it seems kind of neutral to me. Again, because I'm not sure of the precise nature of your project, I can't suggest anything better, but you asked for my two cents, and you've got them.

Signed,

Jon

Dear Jon,

I like your suggestion: advice to the politically lovelorn. How about I steal that for a title? It’s really quite all-encompassing and probably sums up the types of questions likely to come from the LA Progressive’s readership. The more I think about it, who doesn’t have political questions and lovelorn questions (not necessarily romantic). Putting the two together pretty much covers our contemporary human condition: politically lovelorn. Thanks for the line!

Note: Unless, Jon, you and other correspondents tell me from where you’re writing, I cannot add a further identifier to your letter. Email is not like tearing open an envelope after looking at the postmark to see where it was mailed.

Send your queries to me at Laufer@uoregon.edu.

Sincerely,

Peter Laufer