Friday, February 7, 2014

Between Two Countries

I'm approaching my third anniversary as a French resident, and I can safely say there are two recurring questions I often come across from both American and French friends, family, and strangers concerning life in my adopted country.

Here are the questions and my responses:

Q: What do you miss most about the US?
A: My family and friends, without a doubt*. I stay in regular contact with them through emails, Facebook, and phone calls, but nothing can replace face to face interaction with the people I love dearly. When I go home to visit, I try to maximize my stay, and minimize my sleep, by saying 'yes' to every invitation, being present, and creating new memories. Hugely emotional memories like one sister's wedding, being there for the birth of another sister's first child, but also of ordinary activities such as eating with my favorite people at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant, going grocery shopping with my brother, or to the post office with my dad. Living abroad has countless advantages, but the biggest drawback is missing out on what's going on back home; for this I try my best to seize and appreciate the moments when I am visiting the ones I love.

Q: Do you feel French now?
A: I'm not sure I'll ever completely grasp what it is to 'feel' a nationality, as far as I know (correct me if I'm wrong), I don't fall into your typical flag-waving American cliché and have always been endlessly curious about different languages, cultures and cuisines, including those of the French. However, in answer to the question, I do feel like I fall somewhere between the two countries. For example, although I'm used to shops and businesses being closed between 12-2pm everyday, it still sometimes irritates me that I have to plan my day around going to the bank, to the grocery store, etc. On the other hand, back home in the States, I forget that shops are open not only during those hours, but also past 7:30 pm and even on Sunday. It blows my mind every time. 

Even though my husband is French and I've embraced many French habits and rituals, because one of my jobs is teaching English part-time, I'm constantly reminded that I'm American. Students often assume that I eat fast food regularly and own a gun, and I'm sure many of them think I bleed stars and stripes. And while I sometimes indulge their imaginations with outrageous tales for my own amusement, in truth, these accusations are false. Nevertheless, there are some American mannerisms I prefer over French ones: forming lines instead of masses that you must push through to get to the front, casual parties and bbqs where you can walk around and mingle instead of sit around one table, and smiling at strangers after making eye contact. 

Contrastingly, when I go home to the US, there are many aspects of the American way of life that now shock me, whereas before, I considered them run of the mill: eating at restaurants often instead of cooking at home (and leaving tips!), getting carded when buying alcohol, and the variety of sizes and flavors of everything (including couscous!) at the store. So, in short, if 'feeling' a nationality is a question of habits and your ways of doing things, then I'm definitely floating somewhere between the Land of the Brie and the Land of the Free.

*In 2nd and 3rd place, respectively, Tex-Mex and Thai food.

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