Friday, May 6, 2011

I am here where they are

Tonight, while I wait for my very non-French whole wheat muffins to bake, I was surfing the net.  Yeah, I could have been studying French, but decided that I was just too tuckered out for such effort.  It has been a bit of a long day, I taught my two English as a Second Language classes, cleaned the entire balcony which was desperately needed,  etc etc.  

So, I spent some time reading, one of my favorite easy-reading with meaning websites about American liberties being demolished for the sake of 'security', looked at some amazing flickr photo groups posting pics of abandoned farm houses in NC, watched our beloved First Lady getting her groove thing on as she builds awareness around public health and obesity.  This is a pretty good snapshot of what I do on the web.  Tonight I realized how completely American centered it is.

What does it mean to be American? When we first moved here back in (gulp) 2009, I was reading Durham's Herald-Sun online EVERY SINGLE DAY.  I read the Indy too.  I mean, you can't go cold turkey on community can ya?  Well, the repercussions were severe.  I would read about all the things I couldn't do, see, be a part of and I got severely depressed.  Hicham said I had to stop reading that stuff because I don't live there anymore.  So, I did stop at least reading local news.

But, I still feel so very connected to the USA, even if I don't participate in daily life there, contribute to any real community or support any local restaurants.  I feel as American as when I left.  Hell, maybe even more so since I am constantly faced with 'their way' of life and lifestyle.  Like how they have no screens on their windows, how you will get tiny glasses of water everywhere you go and I am the only one who gulps it down in one second, how they often wear thick scarves on 80 degree days.

The internet helps keep this identity strong, very strong.  But is it real?  What am I gaining by knowing evil John Ashcroft took a job with evil Blackwater.  Does it matter, really that women's rights to abortions are being stripped away at every turn?  What can I do about it here anyway?  What do I lose by not knowing what is going on around me, here where I live?

I am not unusual, living in a cultural bubble.  Most American women I know here, married to Frenchies live similarly.   Of course, there are exceptions, those who speak French fluently, those who have been here for more than 10 years and those who just adore France.  I am not any of those women... yet.

What is also interesting is how much each country pushes for integration and assimilation.  I had to take a two day long French culture class, learning about history and rights.  I have adjusted certain things to be more culturally correct.  I will do the bisous (the kiss kiss thing at first meeting), I do make more of an attempt to look "effort-filled" stylish when going out (though my New Balance shoes do tag me as foreigner) and I will follow their many absurd informal rules (ex. not sitting on the grass) and informal customs (giving correct change or be met with contempt).  I even trill, "bonjour!" upon entering a bakery.  Of course, I use my worst accent ever so they know immediately, I am not going to rush over and hurriedly tell them what I want in a matter of fact kind of way.  No, no, no (say it fast to sound French).  No, no, no, my version of bonjour tells them, I am an idiot and can't even say 'hello' correctly, so don't expect too much.

The USA is not unique in wanting new-comers to embrace American ideals.  Of course to me, it sounds easy.  Hell, it sounds like a privilege.  Everyone wants to be free right? But the French also feel this way.  Except their version might be, everyone wants to be French right?   Their notions of superiority are no different from our own.  I mean, they can admit that the best technology is developed in the USA, but they are catching up again.  Anyway, they have very progressive ideals and over 500 types of cheese!

So, I seem to be working the "We" vs "Them" dichotomy to the point of exhaustion.  I say "we" like I matter to America, which I don't.  I don't shop there, I don't work there, I don't own any property there, I don't even have a car there (gasp)!  And unfortunately, I don't see a return date for a long- long time, if ever.  I say 'them' like they are over there.  Well, they are not over there.  I am over here and I am here where they are.  My 'we' are far away, so maybe it is way past time I start changing my concept of we.  

Yeah, after two and a half years, I start to realize this on a whole new level.  Seems a little slow, doesn't it???  Well,  I was distracted by being pregnant and having a baby, so much of my energy was birthing,  breast feeding, soothing and general baby stuff and my identity was that of a new mom.  Now that Sabine is older and I am getting back into the groove of thinking again (just kidding)... actually, having Sabine has made this identity question even more powerful.  I don't see anyway to end this blog entry really because it is an on-going issue.  Any insights would, as always, be appreciated.

This btw, is not to say, that I will not continue to point out the often bizarre and sometimes charming cultural differences - cuz I am still a big-mouth American even here in hushed toned France;)  Just building more awareness of my place in the world divided up by immigration, laws, beliefs, cultures, governments and other dividing lines that most of us don't even have to question.

I do know one place that I am completely "at home", with my beloved husband and daughter.  Awe :)

At the famous Angelina's Restaurant in Paris (wearing my New Balance shoes!)


Barry said...

Fun reading Nicole! Btw, don't they wear tennis shoes, or just not New Balance?

oliviadog said...

Thanks Barry. A French person would never wear gym or walking shoes to a restaurant. Just no no no!

Zuzana said...

Hi Nicole, great reading your blog. Just from my perspective - foreigners in USA feel exactly the same way and spend the first few years comparing and using "we" and "they" and laughing at the bizarre US ways - and yes, it goes away... After being in US 9 years, although never loosing the funny accent, starting to feel more American and liking how US do it more than my own more "we" and "they" for me!