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Parc des Princes smells a little like pee

On pee, and the animal instincts that unite all cultures.

USA v Chile: Group F - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The World Cup opener at Parc des Princes was too cold to take in a sensory impression of the stadium. All one really cared about was huddling up against the gusting wind while watching France get a 4-0 win against South Korea. But nine days and a dozen degrees Fahrenheit later, as the United States kept Chile almost entirely contained in its own half for 90 minutes, the unmistakable aroma of old pee drifted up into and around the press area.

It reminded me of an incident a few days earlier at the Centre sportif Emile Anthoine, close to the Eiffel Tower. I was headed to a press event and, to my misfortune, clear as day saw a man relieving himself in the bushes just outside the center. There were plenty of people passing by on the nearby sidewalk because, as you’ll recall, this was by the Eiffel Tower. He did not care. He simply peed. As it turns out, humans act like animals everywhere.

Americans have a complex relationship with the French. We envy Parisians for their perceived sophistication, their cosmopolitan attitudes, their seemingly unending flow of wine and gourmet cheeses. Yet we lampoon them for these things as well, tutting at the image of the roué fellow about town, the libertine philosopher smoking a cigarette and poo-pooing boorish Americans. The cigarette thing, from what I’ve seen, is pretty accurate, making some parts of Paris smell like Las Vegas. But the rest is your standard cultural cartoon Frankenstein’d from generic historical attitudes, pop culture images, and imagination filling in the Atlantic-sized gap between us.

Meanwhile, I have seen approximately several hundred New York-related apparel items in Paris and Reims, either relating to the city itself, or to the Yankees. A Parisian in an NYC snapback is a New Yorker in a Paris je t’aime shirt, a way of enjoying the existence of an outside world beyond your familiar boundaries. The cross-global pollution happening between two of the most famous — or infamous — cities in the world is an undeniable link between our essential humanities, just like our dude peeing in the bushes. He could have been behind any bar on the Lower East Side. He just happened to be in broad daylight by a giant athletic center in a major tourist area.

Parisians probably have their images of Americans too. I met a Franco-American in a bakery, someone who had spent most of her life in France but gotten her university education in America. She told me it took her a while to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all picture of Americans, who differ from one another across county lines, let alone across states or geographical regions. France, is, after all, smaller than Texas. An American Northeasterner and Southerner might have less in common between them than they would with a Parisian. But whether it’s the pizza-rat subways of New York City, the open container back alleys of New Orleans, or the bushes by the Eiffel Tower, we really are just human beings with bad judgment who need to pee.