France - The Ugly American

The French Riviera:  Glamourous, Beautiful and Stylish!   Topless beaches and delicious food. My visit to Nice in 1985 did not disappoint.  It's still one of my favorite places in France.   

It's certainly not uncommon to see other Americans all over the world, especially in tourist hotspots like Europe.   We tend to stick out.  Not just by appearance but also by our attitudes and mannerisms.  I always try to blend in and to both learn and respect the local culture.    But sometimes you encounter a fellow American who makes you wish you weren't around.

That happened in Nice.   In 1985, camcorders were new.  And not only were they new, but the cameras were huge.   They mostly ran on large VHS tapes and they were anything but discreet.    Imagine my horror when I saw an obviously American man with a giant video camera walking up and down the beach, zooming in on all the topless women who were sunbathing.   Several of the women just ignored him, some covered up and some started yelling (probably cussing) at him in French.   He didn't care.  He was determined to take video of as many topless women as possible and at times was right in the face of the women.   (Well actually, a little lower than their faces.)

I had this horrible feeling he was going to see me as a fellow American and come talk with me.  I tried to turn away and thankfully we never had any contact.

The French Riviera in Nice, France

Later that same afternoon, I struck up a conversation with a French man with whom I was sharing one the benches in the photo above.   He spoke very good English and we chatted about our two countries.   For reasons that I can't remember now, I asked him if they ever had hurricanes in Nice.    He gave me a very French reply: "No, we are too dignified for hurricanes."  The implication of course was that hurricanes only happened in undignified places like the United States.   I was tempted to reply, but then I remembered the American I had just seen on the beach.  He didn't exactly give the French an impression of dignity.


My stay in Nice ended up being a day longer than expected.   The next morning, I went to the train station.   When the time came for my train, no train arrived. I waited for another 30 minutes but knowing that trains in Europe almost always run on time, I suspected something was wrong.   I finally found someone who spoke English who told me the trains weren't running that day due to a labor strike.   He said tomorrow everything would be fine.  One extra night in Nice was quite nice.

Dates of Travel

  • April, 1984
  • March, 1985
  • October, 1998
  • June, 1995
  • September, 2005
  • August, 2017 (Airport Only)

Places Visited

  • Paris
  • Nice
  • Chantilly
  • Versailles



This post is part of my series "One Photo - One Country."  I'm am selecting one photo and writing one story from every country I have visited.   Your comments and questions are welcome.  

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