When you’re an American living in France sometimes you’d like to not have to answer the question ‘where are you from?’.
‘I’m from nowhere’, I’ve sometimes found myself saying humorously at parties. Getting awkward smiles in return, then finally cutting the long story short to ‘I’m from Boston’. Not feeling like explaining where Quincy, Massachusetts is. And then just being known as the ‘American girl’, because that’s all most people remember.
But a lot of the time, that’s how I feel. I’m not to attached to any place in the world. At all. My life has been boxed up more often than I care to think about. Overtime, the amount of stuff I tend to care about holding onto, just seems to diminish. From travelling across the Atlantic ocean with every TY beanie baby known to man in 2002, to travelling to paris with only the clothes on my back and two suitcases with only the bare minimum in 2016. (And I’m planning another big move in two months).
Some might imagine this causes some discontent for me. Sometimes. But frankly, the hardest thing has been trying to explain my life to people. And it always starts with ‘where are you from’.
When we first moved to France, we lived in possibly one of the smallest towns known to man. The only town smaller was the one 20 minutes away. Where the gap between entrance and exit was less than 300 meters. Anyway, we were the only Americans, in a very small, very french, town.
When you’re an 8 year old kid, there aren’t many ‘where are you from’ questions that come up. But my basic story until high school was that I was American. And I hated the strange special treatment that came with. Being a stranger in a strange small french town, where picking ‘gourmet’ mushrooms by the roadside was the most popular hobby, and eating snails was considered an acceptable consumption… We were supposably the odd ones.
Later over the years, I started saying that I was american-irish. Somehow, I believed adding in the semi-skimmed irishness to my Americano would dilute the overpowering americanism that my identity automatically assumed.
Because the French have weird, and sometimes contradictory conceptions of Americans. We supposably have no good taste in food. Lack cultural intelligence. And have ridiculous movies. But that was only the tip of the Eiffel Tower (pun intended).
Because the truth is that the French don’t hate us. In fact, I believe that they find our ‘kind‘ sort of amusing. Innocent, in a way. Americans are like the kids who refuse to play by the naturally life-occurring, self-imposing rules. We don’t care for authority. We don’t care for government structure. We don’t want anyone telling us what we can or cannot do. And any glimmer of the idea that someone might be trying to take control of our life in anyway, makes us erratic and angry. (And then someone starts ranting about communism.)
And this is both amusing and misunderstood by the French. Because unlike us, the french are atrociously, sometimes brutally realistic. Films: happy ending optional. Drama and tragedy encouraged. Government control: highly expected and mandatory. A huge part of the culture is based upon it. Coloring outside the lines isn’t as an appealing of a concept, like it may be to many Americans.
And despite the differences and the critisicms, I’ve never felt any overly bad vibes or hatred. Looking past our mistakes, I feel like the French sometimes believed in the American dream more than I have. (Not that I never dream of living in California, hiking in the mountains and roller skating in palm beach under beautiful, tall palm trees.)
People ask me if I ever want to return someday. Most of the time, I give some vague answer. ‘I don’t know’. ‘Maybe’. And often times, people want to keep talking to me. Despite my highly un-interesting answer. They usually have stars in their eyes. A phenomenon I interpret as an expression of the American Dream in those who’ve never experienced it. I try to remind them that the American Dream, really is just a Dream, for most. Misleading, in many ways. But more importantly, I hope to communicate how lovely the French Dream is. The French Dream. The best part about it, is that’s it’s not really a dream. Like everything touched by French culture, it’s powered by a real sense of realism, wiseness and fairness. Its a dream available for everyone to dream. Even for an American like me.
I could go on and on about the cultural differences and the idea of the French Dream. Like how even it isn’t black or white. Like how it doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. And like how it can just as easily be romanticised as the American Dream.
And long story short, it really doesn’t matter which dream you choose to live or where you choose to live. As long as you notice the beauty in the dream you’re living, and enjoy it in every way possible.