Exoticized

Image result for french depression crazy ex girlfriend

If I were Carrie Bradshaw, I would start like this: ‘I couldn’t help but wonder, am I exotic?’

But I’m not Carrie Bradshaw, so I won’t.

The thing is, this morning, I went to the bank -I know, I know, fascinating- and was treated like a fancy princess by the woman working there, and let me tell you, it wasn’t because of my bank account.

She fell in love with me the moment I told her I was French. Just to be clear, I don’t walk around telling everyone I’m French, but it was necessary information for the question I wanted to ask her, which was about international wire transfers -my life is so glam.

Her face lit up and she stopped listening to me instantly. She actually cut me off and asked me to confirm that I am, in fact, French.

Ummm yeah, calm down, bank lady.

She especially had trouble keeping it in her pants when she mentioned my brand new president, whom we elected yesterday, and she literally said: ‘Oh my, you have a sexy new president!’. True, our new guy is probably the sexiest president we’ve had since, well, Chirac.

Image result for jacques chirac sexyWell hello there, Mr. President.

Alright, back to Bank Lady. She helped me out with my questions, but as soon as that was done, she asked me a million questions of her own, about how it feels to be French -I mean wut- and what brought me here. Part of me still thinks she wanted to check that I was here legally, but mostly, she really wanted to know more about being French. She mentioned several times that she was born and raised around here and had not travelled too much, so the idea of living so far from home fascinated her. I indulged her a little bit and andswered a bunch of her questions in a way that was as cliché as possible. I casually mentioned croissants a couple of times and I basically gave her what she wanted to hear -my international wire question had high stakes; I was trying to score a couple of free ones.

It’s not the first time a person has completely exoticized me because being French is a small part of my identity. On paper, it bothers me, because it turns me into a walking stereotype and ignores who I really am. We’ve talked about this. But in real life, when someone asks you a lot of weird questions about your Frenchness, you smile and nod, because it is not the time or the place to take a stand and quote Edward Said.

I know orientalism doesn’t apply to me, I’m just making a joke, relax.

So, Bank Lady asked me a lot of personal questions and, when it came to why I was in the area instead of in the town where I go to school, I told her my boyfriend lived around here and I was staying with him for the week. She then proceeded to ask me how we met -if you are starting to think that Bank Lady is a little inappropriate, you’re not the only one- and she ended up saying something along the lines of ‘he must have liked you instantly because you’re French!’

Alright. So I know that it came from a good place, probably. She meant it as a compliment. She also is not totally wrong; my boyfriend thought it was really sexy to date a French woman, but after almost 4 years, the novelty of it has worn off for real. But come on Bank Lady, saying he liked me instantly because of my nationality? That’s pushing it a little bit too far. He liked me instantly because I have a great rack.

Related image

Publicités

Motherland

france+flag.jpg

Fair warning: today’s post is not gonna be hilarious, folks.

When I first started this blog, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it clear where I was from. And then, by the 2nd post, I had already come out as French. Why? Because it was almost impossible for me to open up about my life as an expat without saying where I was from. But also because whether I like it or not, my home country is a part of me.

When I first started this blog, I knew I wasn’t going to write anything super deep. My professional life is already brainy enough, thank you very much. I also never wanted to make this a politically inclined space. I am not an extremely political person to begin with. I have values, I have beliefs, sure, but I don’t go out of my way trying to have political conversations with people. I certainly don’t feel qualified to discuss this type of serious matters on my blog. That is why today’s post will remain as personal as possible, and I will avoid going into debates that could potentially be upsetting, or too political. I just want to talk about my country, and write about how I’ve been feeling recently.

Because I’ve been silent for a while. Because it’s time for me to speak up, in a way.

You probably know about everything that has happened to France, and the world in general, in the past couple of years. Since the Charlie Hebdo attacks a year and a half ago, the horror has not really stopped. When those attacks occurred, I was in France with my family and my boyfriend. We were about to head to Paris the next day to catch our flight back. I couldn’t believe what had happened. I just thought it was crazy and horrifying. It didn’t stop us from taking the plane and leaving. But as soon as we landed, we realized that, while we were in the air, new attacks had occurred. It was getting more and more terrifying.

I read up on everything and it made my heart break. Not that I wasn’t aware of the horror that was happening thoughout the world. But you can’t deny that it gets more personal when it hits close to home.

I talked to my students about it. I did my job as an educator and told them what had happened; we even took some time to discuss it as a class.

Fast forward to last November, and the Bataclan events. Again, I was in the middle of a trip when it all happened; I was driving back to my boyfriend’s for the weekend. As soon as I arrived, I noticed that my Facebook feed was swarming with posts, so once again, I had to read up to fully grasp what was going on. The horrifying part is that it still wasn’t over; the terror lasted all night. Every time I refreshed the page, the death toll had gone up. I felt so heartbroken, and at the same time I was disconnected. The people over there, my friends, my family, they were in the eye of the storm, while I was reading about it in the comfort of my own little life. And I know they weren’t thinking about me that way. I know they were happy to hear from me, they liked that I was asking how they were doing. They didn’t think of me as a traitor just because I had left. But it’s kind of how it made me feel.

I was far from some of the most important people in my life, and I was scared for them. But we weren’t part of it together, and I knew I could never understand how they felt. I’m not saying I envy them, not at all. I’m not saying I wanted to be there to be a part of the spotlight. Far from it. I didn’t want to go back. And it made me feel guilty. Was I abandoning my country?

The guilt grew as people at work were offering their condolences. I get why they said those things. Something traumatic had happened to my country, my motherland had been attacked in its core and in its symbol, and people were just showing their support. But I didn’t feel like I deserved their support. After all, I hadn’t lived in France for almost 5 full years, so was I still entitled to the sense of community that came with it? I was certainly affected; I cried in my car the whole way back to school that next Monday. But for some reason, I was somewhat ashamed of my emotions; as if I didn’t deserve to feel them.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Nice happened. Another attack, another symbol. More condolences, but this time, for some reason, I didn’t read up on it at all. I was just too scared to find out too much. I also did not discuss it with my parents. I don’t know why; but I’m assuming that I don’t want to see them scared.

And this morning, I found out that more people were attacked in Normandy. My actual motherland. Sure, the death toll was not as large as in Nice, but it shocked me. Because it happened close to home, literally. I always reassured myself by thinking that my parents were safe, because they lived in a rural area. This event proved me wrong.

I still haven’t talked to them about it. Instead, I talked to one of my friends, who is also an expat and also a Norman (Norwoman?). Our conversation reassured me, because I realized that I wasn’t the only one who felt guilty about being  a « deserter ». I mean, I certainly didn’t think I would be safer here when I left France. My family was actually worried about all those crazy school  shooters, for instance. I never thought I would feel safer in the US than in France, but I do.

Maybe that’s what makes me feel guilty. I love my home country, but it is not my home anymore. Not technically. However, my heart breaks at each terrible event, and I greatly appreciate everybody’s kind words.

It is a weird feeling, and I’ve read many articles about expat guilt, which is heightened in the event of an attack or a national tragedy.

To make a questionable analogy, my godfather passed away in 2015. I loved him very dearly and I miss him every day. When he died -after a long battle against brain cancer-, I was extremely sad, and I felt extremely guilty. I was not able to go to the funeral, and I felt like I was abandoning my family. My aunt, who is, to this day, devastated by the loss of her husband, never blamed me for it. She understood. But I felt like I was abandoning her, and when my friends gave me their condolences, I felt even more guilty, as if not going back for the funeral meant I was mourning any less.

Anyways, this is not the perfect metaphor. This is not the perfect post. It is very self-centered and unfocused. I still don’t know how I feel, and why I feel that way. But I just wanted to talk about it a little bit, because I feel like silence makes things worse.

I promise that for my next post, I will go extra superficial. I don’t know how I will top the Carrie Bradshaw rant, but I might go for something like nail polish, or my love for stationery.

5 years ago

15b5286d-2c2d-4832-825a-fa4cf33ea408This picture is totally unrelated, but it’s cute and this pug is clearly enjoying his summer.

Yesterday was the anniversary of my coming to live in the US. The 5th anniversary, which is a big deal. Since yesterday, I have been thinking about my first days in this country a lot, and I feel like putting my thoughts into words would help me sort through my nostalgia.

To be fair, I am a nostalgic person. I tend to pay a lot of attention to dates, anniversaries, memories, and I like to reminisce. But this one date is especially meaningful to me, and I thought it was worth a post.

First of all, because 5 years ago yesterday, I left my home country, and it’s a big deal. Another reason why it’s a really big deal is that it made me go through a series of firsts. I left my parents at the airport, and saw my strong, silent dad cry for the first time. I hopped on a plane for the first time. I was alone in a foreign country for the first time. I was away from my family for more than a month for the first time.

When I landed in Philadelphia, with my two huge suitcases, my laptop (the same one I am typing on at this very moment) and my purse, all I could think about was arriving to my final destination: my new apartment in Delaware. The taxi driver who picked me up at the airport must have smelled my innocence from afar: the many pieces of luggage, the deer-in-headlights look on my face, the fact that I had no clue where to wait for a taxi and found myself on the highway. He obviously overcharged me, but in the end, I didn’t care. I had arrived at what would be my home for the next two years -even though at the time, I still thought I would stay for a single year. The landlord was waiting for me with the keys, and the former tenant, the previous French TA whom I was replacing, had sold me all her stuff already, so I was basically coming home to a fully furnished apartment, with cookware, dishes, silverware and an already made bed. I realize now how important that was. Upon entering the bedroom, I felt empty and alone, but can you imagine how much worse I would have felt if the room itself had been empty?

When I walked up the stairs, my surroundings smelled like…well, I don’t really know what they smelled like. Nothing in particular, maybe the  fresh coat of paint that the landlord had put on the walls, or maybe the cleaning supplies he had been using. But to me, this smell will always be the smell of America.

I contacted my parents to let them know that all was well, and proceeded to take a shower. I used the shower gel that my mom had picked out for me, it smelled like green tea and for some reason, it comforted me. Every time I went back to France after that, I would buy the same shower gel.

After my shower, I was finally relaxed and the jet lag was kicking in. I tried to get inside my room again, but couldn’t turn the knob. Those American doors were awfully confusing… In my robe, I went downstairs and started calling for my landlord, who was living next door. I just couldn’t believe that the first thing I did in the United States was to lock myself out. (It is important to note that I managed to lock myself out of the whole building again just a week later.)

I woke up at 2 or 3 AM. The jet lag was kicking my ass. It started to dawn on me that I was going to stay there until my Christmas break. The former tenant had left her wall calendar up. I counted the days.

I called my parents, visibly upset. In retrospect, this was not the most selfless thing to do. They were probably worried sick.

I talked to my friends back home, in my most dramatic voice, telling them that I had made a big mistake and had no interest in making friends, because all I wanted to do was go home.

rogelio dramaticYeah, obviously that feeling went away the next day, when I met the people who are, to this day, still my friends.

I was extremely scared of leaving the apartment, because I really had no idea where to go. But I would have to get out soon; I was getting hungry and I had no food in the house, besides some dried cranberries and almonds.

I took the campus map left behind by the former tenant, and ventured out of the apartment. I fell in love with the cute campus, the beautiful buildings, and the amazing weather. My stress began to fade away.

I needed coffee. I believe it must have been around 8AM but it felt much later. I stopped at a café, now turned into a bike shop, and ordered a café au lait. The owner saw my campus map, welcomed me to Delaware and gave me a free muffin. I could already see myself liking this place.


Two years ago, when I got into my current program in Pennsylvania, I struggled to leave Delaware. It had become my home, and will always be the first place I felt comfortable in. (As I’m writing this, I have a knot in my throat and I am getting emotional.)

But, most importantly, America has become my home. A few days after I arrived, I already couldn’t see myself leave. A lot of the anxiety I had when living in France has disappeared (well, I still have anxiety, but not as much), and I know I am much more serene here. I am tremendously grateful for the opportunities that I got in this country. America has been extremely good to me.

The point of this is, I think it’s normal to be afraid of changes. 5 years ago, I went through the biggest change I’ve ever known. It scared the shit out of me, but I did it. And it made me so happy, it’s not even funny. I try to remind myself of this, whenever I’m anxious over an upcoming change. The scariest things in life can be the best decisions you’ve ever made.

Squirrel creeper

squirrel

I’m staying with my boyfriend this summer. I don’t have any classes, except some online teaching, so I decided to spend some time at his place. His upstairs neighbor is an adorable old man from Europe, who is having problems with a herd of ferocious animals. Squirrels.

night at the museumPicture the ‘fearsome’ squirrel from Night at the Museum.

The little critters are especially rampant these days, and keep destroying the neighbor’s plants on his balcony. Every morning, when I go out to get in my car, he complains about the squirrels to me. I nod and smile, and sometimes add something like ‘OMG yes, they’re crazy!’, in order to be neighborly and agreeable. But deep down, I am hiding a terrible secret.

I LOVE squirrels. We don’t see them very often in France, so when I moved here 5 years ago, I was in awe of their cuteness and took way too many pictures of them. To this day, after many years of proximity to squirrels, I still squeal when I see one. When I see a squirrel, or a chipmunk, or a little raccoon, or any type of bird that does not live in Europe, I become an animal creeper and I follow the little creature around like a weirdo. I hope the neighbor never sees me do that to a squirrel, or he will find out that I am a traitor.

Like I have repeated it many times on this blog, I am not ‘stereotypically’ French -whatever that means- and many people occasionally forget that I am not from here. When I first meet someone, unless it’s at work or they know my last name, which is really French, I never advertise my Frenchness right away. I’m sure they detect some kind of accent, but they are never able to place it, and when I end up giving my origins away in a random conversation, they are always mildly surprised. I rarely act like a ‘tourist’ and I feel like I really belong in this country. The US is now my home, and my daily life.

But I still marvel at some things. Like squirrels. Or being able to find absolutely everything I want at Target.

patriotic-pug-photo-u1

 

Nostalgia gives you weird taste

back umbrellas

I’m French. But I’m not super French. I’m not the kind who wears a beret, or rides a bike wearing ballerina shoes, with a bouquet of flowers in the basket. In fact, you probably wouldn’t detect much of an accent if you talked to me. I am being coy and modest; you would definitely not hear an accent, because I don’t really have one. But there is an area of interest that makes me French as f***: my taste in movies.

When I moved to the US five years ago, I had never thought of myself as a Frenchwoman. I mean, when I lived in France, there was no need for me to define myself as such. But after being shipped to one of the thirteen colonies, my identity was summarized by my nationality. The first few months were rough, it was hard for me to live life as a foreigner, and I was really homesick. There was only one cure for my homesickness: I had to wrap myself in some sort of nostalgia blanket. So, for the first time ever, I started listening to a LOT of French music. Some of it classic and amazing:

charlot Do yourself a favor and listen to La Bohème.

Some of it cringeworthy and terrible:

lavoine lahonte Do yourself a favor and never listen to this.

Apparently, this is a classic expat move: you start out as a Freddie Mercury-loving, normal person, and then you uproot yourself from your home and you start liking a lot of weird shit from your country. Everyone I know has done this and, like me, ended up feeling more comfortable about their expat status. Even better, I started feeling at home in America (and I still do). That’s also when I started teaching French. I wanted to transmit more than passé composé and indirect object pronouns to my students: I wanted them to be aware of my country’s culture.

Hence my newfound passion for French movies. Because, have you ever tried to get American students to listen to depressing French tunes?

je suis garbage

Spoiler alert: they don’t like it. But they do like movies. So sure, French movies are also depressing, but my students felt like they were grasping French culture, much more than when they were merely looking at a textbook.

Now, let me correct something. I said that French movies are depressing, and that’s somewhat of a shortcut. Yes, most of them *seem* depressing, and even the comedies are dark. But if you look closely, you will realize that it’s because they are honest, raw, realistic. I often joke with my students about how French comedies are all set up the same way: a group of friends are having dinner, and then shit happens. Someone starts talking about a long-forgotten secret, feelings get hurt, everyone screams, and then they stare at each other in silence. Boom, nailed it. But when you think about it, doesn’t that sound realistic? When does drama happen, in real life? A lot of times, drama finds you when you are amongst loved ones and someone says something they shouldn’t have said. My students like discussing that, and even if they (and I) still love American blockbusters (I am shamelessly stereotyping French AND American movies here, forgive me), they also enjoy the realness of a French dark comedy.

But there is a genre that I love, and that they LOATHE. I literally cannot get them to like it. I can’t even get them to see it as funny, even in the 23rd degree.

The French musical.

demoisellesparapluies

I love French musicals, especially the ones by Jacques Demy. I watched them countless times in my childhood, and rediscovered them during my nostalgia period. My favorite, Peau d’âne, translated to Donkey Skin, is the rewriting of an obscure and creepy fairy tale. It is the story of a young princess whose dad wants to marry her, because she is the closest thing he can get to his late wife -yeah, I warned you, it is CREEPY. So, the princess decides to flee, and disguises herself as a disgusting peasant by wearing the skin of a donkey. So yeah, the movie is weird, there is no question about that. But it’s also wonderfully witty, the music is gorgeous, the costumes are wacky and colorful, and it could be analyzed in a million different ways. My favorite part is when the donkey-skin-wearing princess is baking a cake for the prince and sings the whole recipe. When she cracks an egg, a chick comes out, and it’s so kitschy and cute that you can’t help but smile. But not my students, noooo, they just keep on hating it. They just stare at me and think I’m a weirdo.

peau d'ane Catherine Deneuve/Donkey Skin gets me.

The expat and family

fe9cc7dd56dece754153b642102611e5

One of the many downsides of being an expat is loneliness, because of the lack of a family. The need for relatives becomes more urgent around family-oriented holidays, like Thanksgiving. As a Frenchwoman, I had never celebrated Thanksgiving before, but the plethora of ads and diverse media featuring loving families was overwhelming during my first Fall season in the United States. I accepted an invitation to join one of my friends’ family for dinner, and the whole experience brought up mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was extremely grateful and thrilled to be part of such a warm and welcoming family for one day. On the other hand, the cute Italian-American grandpa sitting next to me reminded me so much of my own cute French grandpa that it was almost painful. This lovely family had me over for all the major holidays over the next 2 years, until their son and I graduated from our Masters program and sort of lost touch.

Then, almost like clockwork, I met my boyfriend. After only 2 weeks of dating, he took me home to meet his parents. Besides my ‘foster’ family, I had never really been introduced to the world of an American family before, since I had lived in such a grad-student-oriented world. He told me that he wanted me to meet his parents over a delicious sushi dinner and a bottle of wine. I started panicking so loudly that a random lady approached me to say that I had nothing to worry about, that I was a lovely person and that his parents would love me. Sure, lady. The first meeting was fine, but I had no idea they were so conservative and may have made a few semi-inappropriate jokes. They seemed to like me fine, but the next couple of months were somewhat tense, especially between me and The Mother. It was not a classic case of ‘My Son Is Too Good For You’, it was more complex than that. She probably didn’t like that I was a foreigner, and that I was so liberal. It was never an open feud, but it wasn’t super warm either.

article-2493071-0293502D0000044D-730_634x473 Yes, that’s right, if we follow the analogy, she’s Jane Fonda, and that would make me J-Lo.

Then, I stuck around. I, the woman who always sucked at relationships before, transformed into a supportive girlfriend and gained The Mother’s trust. Before too long, without even realizing it because it was so gradual, I became a part of their family. So sure, I still feel awkward around them most of the time, and I rarely have anything cool to say to the 2 younger brothers, but I know that they consider me as *almost* one of them. It materializes in the little things. It’s when The Mother invites me, alone, to watch the little brother’s baseball game. It’s when she wants me to go buy yarn with her and her mom -as you will discover sooner or later, I’m a knitting maniac. It’s when the dad comes to help me negotiate the price of a car. Little things, little everyday, supportive things that you only do for or with people towards whom you feel obligated. In other words, family.

When I started complaining about my mom TO my boyfriend’s mom -the way that I usually complained about her to my own mom-, that was another clue: I no longer needed to crave a family environment.

alf20cast_slideshow_604x5001_zps9c7dea9c Just like ALF, I’m an alien who got taken in by a family (except that I, unlike him, am a LEGAL alien).