By T.J. Hug
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
How does culture affect a person?
This question has been asked throughout the ages, and has been posited in many forms. Some call it Nature versus Nurture. Others call it being a product of one’s own environment. However it is described, the main point of contention is whether humans are born with a predisposed tendency to be a certain way, or if they learn to be who they are through their environment.
Will Peugeot, a 1966 graduate of Stryker High School, decided to do more than just wonder about such things. The United Methodist Pastor currently living in West Lafayette, Indiana took a three month sabbatical from his congregation in September of 2010, with the goal of seeing the land of his ancestors, Valentigney, France.
“The trip was to visit the town where my great-grandfather grew up.” Peugeot claimed.
The desire to see the French town of 11,500 people germinated when Peugeot back in 1971, when he was still at seminary school in Springfield, Ohio. His religious education allowed for him to just how dramatically culture can affect a person, which made him begin to wonder about himself.
“Am I entirely an American product?” Peugeot asked himself. “How am I like the people in France?”
Last week, four years after taking the trip to Valentigney, Peugeot returned to Stryker to tell his old friends and neighbors about their lineage. He was invited by the Stryker Heritage Council to discuss his findings, as many natives of the village have French roots as well.
One of the first things Peugeot discovered was that the name he had known his great-grandfather as was just a nickname. Louis Peugeot was actually Jean-George Peugeot.
An deeper examination of his family line revealed to Peugeot that he was the first in twelve generations not to be a farmer.
“But guess what my favorite hobby is.” Peugeot challenged, before answering himself. “Gardening.”
Looking into the history of the town itself, Peugeot was quite impressed.
“This is the most important place that no one has ever heard of.”
Indeed, once those in town learned to roll steel thin, their inventiveness shined. The bicycle and motorcycle were invented in Valentigney. It was also among the first places to produce an automobile, doing so in 1890 thanks to a company that would later come to be known as BMW.
As for how Peugeot related to the people of Valentigney, he found several similarities. The first of which was appearance.
“I look like the people there.” Admitted Peugeot.
His aforementioned connection to the land is also common in the area, even beyond his own heritage. He also shares a taste in food with the Valentignian people.
Upon opening the floor to questions, Peugeot was asked just how familiar he became with the French language.
“I will never speak fluent French if I study it for the rest of my life.” Joked Peugeot in response.
He did take measures to increase his understanding of the language, however. With the Rosetta Stone Program, Peugeot was able to prepare for an intensive language school upon his arrival in France. After completing that course, he had a French pastor arrange for a translator to accompany him on his journey. Yet, after evaluating his comprehension of the French language, the translator was found to be unnecessary. Though he could interpret the words of people speaking slowly to him, Peugeot was not able to comprehend the fast tongues of street level French speakers.
Peugeot was also asked why French settlers chose Stryker.
“I suspect that there was some kind of land broker.” He theorized.
The key behind such a hypothesis is that, once French settlers began to move onto the land, others from the same general area would want to be around them. This would help create a sense of community between the early townspeople.
So, how does culture affect a person. Obviously, it creates some barriers between peoples, such as language. However, there are some innate constants kept through heritage, as Peugeot found out.
It seems as though it may be most appropriate to label him a French product made in America.
T.J. Hug can be reached at