“I Pledge Allegiance to the Bag” Summary
One of the things Sedaris contends with while living in Paris is the stigma attached both to being an American and having left the United States to live in France. He dislikes being referred to as an “ex-pat,” a term that seems to imply that because he enjoys living abroad, he must hate the United States. But none of the Americans Sedaris has met in Paris hate their home country or left for political reasons; they have simply moved to France for work or because they married a French citizen.
Sedaris sometimes finds himself expected to explain or defend his country’s behavior to the French, as if he represents the United States as a whole. In French class during Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings, Sedaris’s teacher tells him, “You Americans are all such puritans.” Sedaris’s international classmates agree, but Sedaris, reflecting that almost everyone he knows has had a threesome, is not entirely convinced by this stereotype.
It wasn’t until Sedaris moved to France that he began to understand how the international community views Americans: Americans do not smoke, are obsessed with cleanliness, won’t consume unpasteurized dairy products, and are overweight and pushy (and if they aren’t pushy, they must be taking antidepressants). Since he himself doesn’t conform to these stereotypes, Sedaris wonders how valid these ideas about Americans really are and where they might have come from.
After living in France for nine months, Sedaris returns to the US for a “five-week trip to twenty cities,” during which he has plenty of opportunities to contemplate stereotypes about Americans. Americans do like to talk about money, he concedes, although he does not feel this is a problem. On his flight from Paris to New York, for instance, the American man seated next to him immediately asks how much Sedaris’s ticket cost. Such talk horrifies the French, but Sedaris feels that “you have to talk about something.”
During his trip, Sedaris spends a great deal of time in airports, where he observes that most of the passengers appear to conform to the stereotype that Americans are hard workers, while the airport employees do not. He also finds that his fellow American travelers mostly live up to their reputation for friendliness, talkativeness, and positivity. Sometimes, however, the American tendency toward positivity can morph into an “insane optimism,” which Sedaris believes is captured in the naive American assumption that a few therapy sessions will be sufficient to fix any problem.
In American hotels and coffee shops, Sedaris is given reason to reflect upon the idea that Americans are wasteful. Every hotel room displays a card encouraging guests to “SAVE THE PLANET!” by choosing not to take advantage of the free sheet- and towel-changing service. Similarly, coffee shops that use paper cups warn patrons not to use too many of the free paper napkins lest they “WASTE TREES.” Sedaris notes that this environmentalist guilt tends only to pertain to things that...
(The entire section is 763 words.)