Andrew Ceacatura: Studied in Nantes, France, 2014
There’s a lot to be said, I think the statuses I posted on [Facebook] only scratch the surface of my emotions regarding this.
Obviously it was a very stressful weekend. I grew up in North Jersey and very vividly remember the events of 9/11. But as an 8 year old, I don’t think I truly understood the feeling of stress of not knowing the safety of the people you know and the people you love. It hit me with full force this weekend. I studied in Nantes, France in the Spring of 2014, and I had the pleasure of make many fantastic French friends while there. Coincidentally, when the first reports came through, I was chatting with one of my best friends who had just moved to Paris from Nantes. I frantically told her to stay inside wherever she was. I spent the entire night checking in on my friends. My former host brother was in his apartment just blocks away from the first shootings. Another friend had been out on the town and his friend was unfortunately one of the victims at the Bataclan Theatre. All of my friends and their families were thankfully safe, but one of those most heartbreaking things was to read the final Facebook status of the friend of a friend who perished in the Bataclan. He was talking about how excited he was for the concert. Then I read the comments. Friends who couldn’t go to the concert were, at first, expressing their jealousy for not being able to go. But as the attacks were occurring, the playful remarks turned into frantic attempts to reach out to him. The most awful part was seeing the comments of people reacting in horror to the news that he was there and all the comments begging for “just a word” from him. He never responded to the comments. The imagery of witnessing people desperate to hear a friend’s voice or even a text, only to be met with silence will remain with me for the rest of my life.
The entire weekend was a roller of emotions for me personally. I’m very active on Facebook. And I was very hurt to see people trying to compare tragedies and shaming those for showing solidarity for France. It made me sick to my stomach. I was aware of the awful events in Beirut, Baghdad, Japan and elsewhere. I was upset especially by the fact that safety alerts were not set for those concerned with their loved ones in Beirut and elsewhere. However I was disgusted to see people shaming others for specifically showing solidarity for Paris. It’s important to acknowledge to global events and to empathize with other’s tragedies. However, it is unacceptable to criticize someone for how they grieve or show solidarity. You can have a French flag on your Facebook profile picture and mourn the loss of life at the funeral bombing in Baghdad. France is very personal to me. France has become a part of who I am and who I want to be. Thus I refuse to be shamed or swayed away from what hit me the hardest personally as someone who fell in love with that country, that culture and that group of people.
Lastly, the way in which the French people faced the tragedies in front of them showed the world, once and for all, why I loved them so much. Parisian citizens showed heart by opening their doors to offer a safe shelter to those with out a place to hide throughout the atrocities of Friday night. Taxi drivers shuttled people out of dangerous areas completely for free. These heroes saved the lives of countless strangers. Additionally, the response of the French people towards the violence in the days after was beyond admirable. In a time where those filled with hate could have directed falsely their anger towards Muslims or refugees, they chose to stand for peace. All of my friends in France were commenting about showing solidarity to those in Beirut, Baghdad, Japan and elsewhere. The newspapers were very quick to recognize the heroic actions of French Muslims that night and immediately made the crucial distinction between a beautiful and peaceful religion and an organization that perverted it in the most violent of ways. Unity and understanding were the main responses from the French public. I bring this up because the number one question, by far, that I was asked from others when I returned from France was “So how did you deal with French people hating you because you were American? How rude or snotty were they?” I have absolutely no idea where this stereotype originated from. I can honestly say that I was NEVER treated rudely or coldly by the French people, not even once. I received the exact opposite reception: friendliness and undying loyalty. While it is true that French people tend to be more outwardly introverted, when you make the effort to talk to them, you discover the most pleasant, polite, caring, loving, loyal, proud, kind-hearted, fun-loving people dedicated to living the life to the absolute fullest. There is a very youthful spirit about the French people, even amongst the old, that I have not been able to find anywhere else in the world. So it hurts to see the French depicted as snobby, cold and arrogant people by many people that I know and in the media, because I never met anyone like that over there. There are of course jerks in every country, but when people will tell me they “hate the French,” my response is always, “it’s clear that you’ve never actually met them.” If you don’t have a French friend, I highly recommend making one. They have so much fun and they are always by your side providing warmth and laughs through the good and the bad. They will make you life beyond a level you thought was possible. And their pastries aren’t too bad either