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.