Four thousand miles across the sea

Meghan McCallum

This week, I have a mental exercise for you. I understand that you’re probably in Downer, sitting at a round table, eating Sunday brunch while browsing The Lawrentian with a couple friends. And you probably don’t feel like thinking about much right now. But it’s easy.Picture a French person. I’ll give you a minute. Okay. Got the baguette tucked under his arm? Check. The scarf around his neck? Check. The beret? Check. The cigarette dangling from his hand? Check. The tiny dog? Check. So you got it all, nice job! Oh wait, you forgot one thing: the pile of poop under the dog.

Before I continue, I think a disclaimer is in order. First, the only beret I’ve seen around here was worn by one of the other Americans in my program. Second, everything else about that imagined French person is about right.

They love their baguettes, their scarves, their cigarettes, and their dogs. Depending on this French person’s age, they might also be sporting a portable music-listening device, dreadlocks and/or face piercings. And I probably shouldn’t forget to mention Chuck Taylors, either.

All this being said, THIS IS A STEREOTYPE. NOT ALL FRENCH PEOPLE LOOK LIKE THIS. Lastly, I have not met any French person who was unnecessarily rude to me. On the whole I have really liked the people I have met here. This imagined French person is a really cool, nice French person.

OK, back to that poop. It’s just sitting there, under the dog. Now this French guy that we’ve imagined, he doesn’t notice that we’re watching him carefully. He keeps walking down the street, leaving the poop in the middle of the sidewalk. We don’t ever see the French dude again, but the poop remains.

Now, here comes another person. She’s about college age, and she’s looking down at her iPod screen, probably making an “On-The-Go” playlist that she’ll rename later. She’s wearing shorts and Uggs, so we can tell pretty easily she’s American. She must be really into that music she’s listening to, because while walking she’s also doing a sort of awkward sidestepping dance down the sidewalk.

If we left our conclusions at that, Harriet the Spy would probably shun us. This girl’s not dancing to whatever’s on her iPod; she’s stepping around that dog poop! Every once in a while, out of the corner of her eye, she’ll see a new pile that she must step around. Eventually she promises herself that she’ll never again make playlists while walking; it’s just too risky.

Stepping away from the imagined scene now, I must admit that I am often in the place of this poor American damsel. I’m not quite sure how French people avoid stepping in all the poop, because they always seem pretty composed while walking down the street-no awkward sidestepping! And thus I add another bullet point to the list of situations in which I feel like a slightly awkward American.

It’s true, though — dog poop is quite often left on the sidewalk, or wherever the dog finds appropriate. Sometimes, however, the owner does play a visible role. Once every so often I will see someone, usually a middle-aged woman, stop at the edge of a patch of grass.

She’ll wait there, nonchalant, while she pretends she doesn’t notice her dog is taking a dump. If the dog hesitates, she’ll wander to a similarly grassy area and repeat the procedure. Her final step is to walk away as if nothing happened.

In all honesty, I don’t blame anyone for not jumping at the chance to pick up his dog’s poop. I do find it frustrating, however, when it is in the middle of the sidewalk. Even if I’m not looking at something else — like my iPod, or the person I’m talking to — it’s still hard to notice until the moment my foot is hovering over it. Luckily I have had some quick reflexes in the past few weeks.

Come to think of it, the dog poop problem also serves as a memory game. This morning, for example, I took the usual two-minute walk to my tram stop. Though I was extremely tired, I didn’t step in any poop because I knew where it was from the past few days.

I dodged around each pile with the skill of someone who knows where all the extra lives are hidden in Mario. My journey back home, though, was a different story. I was lucky I was feeling more alert, because there smack in the middle of my path was a quite fresh-looking pile.

Of course, the dog poop can also provide mild entertainment. As I already mentioned, the locations of the poop become quickly engrained in my brain as I walk my usual path to the tram.

I can’t help smirking a bit, though, when one of the expected piles has been smashed into the ground by someone’s foot. I’m just glad it wasn’t me.