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Reflecting on different expat mentalities in France

December 4th, 2013 1 comment

Last week there was an interesting op-ed in the New York Times. It can be found here, and I’ve pasted the article below. It’s a reflection by expat author Pamela Druckerman on her experience living in France and how she has done well but also struggled to fully adapt to her adopted country and especially Paris.

She has some interesting insights and in particular outlines what she believes are the three main angles American expats in Paris usually take: “fantastists”, “denialists” and “authentic” experience searchers. (Bold face sentence below in article is my emphasis).

Personally I relate a bit more to the “authentic” searcher group.

What is your angle? Do you agree, and as an expat from a country besides the US – are there alternate approaches?

Contributing Op-Ed Writer
An American Neurotic in Paris
By PAMELA DRUCKERMAN
Published: November 27, 2013

PARIS — A few years back I took the ultimate expatriate plunge: I started doing psychotherapy in French. I figured that, as part of the deal, I’d get free one-on-one French lessons. And I hoped that if I revealed my innermost thoughts in French, I might finally feel like an ordinary Parisian — or at least like an ordinary Parisian neurotic.

I soon realized this was a doomed enterprise. Each week I’d manage to vaguely sketch out my feelings and describe the major characters in my life. But it was hard to free associate when I was worried about conjugating verbs correctly. Sometimes I’d just trail off, saying, “Never mind, everything’s fine.”

I’m aware that there are worse things to be than an American in Paris. You could be, for example, a Congolese in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But as I spend my 10th Thanksgiving here, permit me a moment of reflection. Because Thanksgiving prompts the question that expatriates everywhere face: Shouldn’t I be going home?

The Americans in Paris tend to fall into three categories. There are the fantasists — people nourished by Hemingway and Sartre, who are enthralled with the idea of living here. The moneyed version of this person lives as close as possible to the Eiffel Tower. The Bohemian version teaches English or tends bar, to finance his true vocation: being in France.

Then there are the denialists — often here for a spouse’s job — who cope with living in Paris by pretending they’re not in Paris. They tap into a parallel universe of Anglophone schools, babysitters and house painters, and get their French news from CNN.

Finally there are people like me, who study France and then describe it to the folks back home. We’re determined to have an “authentic” French experience. And yet, by mining every encounter for its anthropological significance, we keep our distance, too.

No matter how familiar Paris becomes, something always reminds me that I don’t belong. The other evening, as I chastised the lady who had cut in line at the supermarket, I realized she was grinning at me — amused by my accent. During conversations in French, I often have the sensation that someone is hitting my head. When surrounded by Parisians, I feel 40 percent fatter, and half as funny. Even my shrink eventually took pity and offered to do the sessions in English. (It turns out she’s fluent.)

The question of whether to stay is especially resonant for Americans in Paris, because many feel that they live here by accident. Not many foreigners move to Paris for their dream job. Many do it on a romantic whim. Expatriates often say that they came for six months, but ended up staying for 15 years. And no one is quite sure where the time went. It’s as if Paris is a vortex that lulls you with its hot croissants and grand boulevards. One morning, you wake up middle-aged — still speaking mediocre French.

I wasn’t sure how long I’d live here, but I did expect my stay to follow a certain expatriate narrative: You arrive; you struggle to understand the place; you finally crack the codes and are transformed; you triumphantly return home, with a halo of foreign wisdom and your stylish bilingual children in tow.

But 10 years on, I’ve gone way off that script. Those stylish children threaten to mutiny if I even mention the possibility of moving. I’ve got a French mortgage, and I’m on the French equivalent of the P.T.A. It’s like being a stranger in a very familiar land. I haven’t cracked the codes, but I no longer feel entirely out of sync: When the whole country goes into mourning after a beloved singer or actor dies, these days I actually know who the guy was.

Sometimes I yearn to be in a place where I don’t just know more or less what people are saying, but know exactly what they mean. But I’m no longer fully in sync with America either. Do people there really eat Cronuts, go on juice fasts and work at treadmill desks?

The thought of becoming an ordinary American again scares me. We expatriates don’t like to admit it, but being foreign makes us feel special. Just cooking pancakes on Sunday morning is an intercultural event. I imagine being back in the United States and falling in with a drone army of people who think and talk just like me — the same politics, the same references to summer camp and ’70s television.

But the fact is, those drones are my people. I end up gravitating toward them in Paris, too. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in 10 years is that I’m American to the core. It’s not just my urge to eat turkey in late November. It’s my certainty that I have an authentic self, which must be expressed. It’s being so averse to idleness that I multitask even when I’m having my head shrunk. And it’s my strange confidence that, whether I stay or go, everything will be fine.

Pamela Druckerman is the author of “Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.

Thanksgiving in France: where to celebrate (15 cities)

November 22nd, 2011 1 comment

NB: full disclosure – I have no vested interest in any of the listed restaurants or bars, except I do write on occasion for My American Market and Bonjour Paris. Just spreading the word!

Just because you’re in France doesn’t mean you have to do without Thanksgiving. In fact, I know several of my French friends (in their 20’s) who will celebrate it because they love the holiday.

There are places all over the country to feast with family and/or friends, usually hosted by restaurants or organizations with expatriate roots.

The great website Bonjour Paris has a listing of some places to go. I’ve included Karen’s recommendations below and organized the listings according to city. Thanks to the American Clubs of France, too.

Of course if you have recommendations, please feel free to leave them in the comments section. Many of these require reservations, so call to see or RSVP email in advance. Others like The Great Canadian and WOS Bar do not require reservations, but it’s better to show up earlier.

For those in the Paris area interested in making recipes, you can check out:

The Real McCoy (49, avenue Bosquet 75007 Paris) and McCoy Café (194, rue de Grenelle 75007 Paris)
Thanksgiving Paris (20, rue Saint Paul 75004 Paris)

-You can also buy products online at MyAmericanMarket.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Paris
American Church in Paris
Thurs. Nov. 24, 12:15pm
Sat. Nov. 26, 7:30pm
65 quai d’Orsay, 75007 Paris

France-Etats Unis Paris IDF
Thurs. Nov. 24 (more info on website above)

American Club of Paris
Thanksgiving Gala Dinner : American chef Diane Anthonissen
Fri. Nov. 25, 7pm (members only)

Bistrot Le Saint-Martin
Thurs. Nov. 24, Fri. Nov. 25, Sat. Nov. 26
25 Rue Louis Blanc 75010 PARIS

Joe Allen’s
Thurs. Nov. 24 (call for time, reservation)
30 rue Pierre Lescot 75001 Paris

Le Ralph’s (Ralph Lauren’s Paris restaurant)
Thurs. Nov. 24, 6:30pm AND 9:30pm (filling up fast)
173 Boulevard St Germain 75006 Paris

Breakfast in America
Fully booked but you can sign up for waiting list

Kat’s American Diner
(usually has Thanksgiving, call them for information)

The Great Canadian
Thurs. Nov. 24, 7pm.
25 Quai Grands Augustins 75006 Paris, France

The WOS Bar
Thurs. Nov. 24 (call them for time, number on website above)
184 Rue Saint Jacques, 75005 Paris

First Avenue (Thanksgiving “after work”)
Thurs. Nov. 24, 7pm-midnight
119 Boulevard Pereire, 75017 Paris PARIS

Kay Bourgine quartet – Thanksgiving Dinner : Concert & Potluck
Thurs. Nov. 24, 9pm
Café Universel, 267 rue St. Jacques 75005 Paris

Lyon
American Club of Lyon – Thanksgiving Dinner
Sat. Nov. 26, 6:30pm
L’Espace Brasserie, 26, Place Bellecour – 69002 Lyon

Marseille and Aix-en-Provence
France-Etats Unis Marseille
Fri. Nov. 25, 7:30pm
Yachting Club Pointe Rouge (info on website above)

Anglo-American Group of Provence
Sun. Nov. 27, 4pm
(contact for details)

Grenoble
France-Etats Unis Grenoble
Sun. Nov. 27, 1-5pm at L’ATRIUM
1 ter rue de Moulin, Le Fontanil
(info and RSVP info on their site under “Calendar”)

Pumpkins restaurant
33 rue d’Alembert 38000 Grenoble
(not sure but they usually organize a dinner)

Tours
France-Etats Unis Tours
Sat. Dec. 3, 7:30pm
St. Cyr

Nantes
France-Etats Unis Nantes
Thurs. Nov. 24, 7:30pm
« Le Hublot » 3 Rue Albert Londres – 44000 Nantes

Toulouse
Americans in Toulouse
members only, but contact for information

Strasbourg
Americans in Alsace
They hosted an event last year, contact them

Lille
American Club of Lille
They hosted an event last year, contact them

Bordeaux
Association Bordeaux-USA – Traditional THANKSGIVING DINNER
Thurs. Nov. 24, 7pm
38 Allees d’Orleans, (Place des Quinconces) 33000 Bordeaux

Monaco/Nice/Cannes
The American Club Riviera
Thurs. Nov. 24, 7pm
7 Avenue Gustav V, 06000 Nice

Rennes
Institut Franco-Américain
Thurs. Nov. 24, 7:45pm
7, quai Chateaubriand – BP 90446 – 35104 – Rennes

Caen
France-Etats Unis Caen
Thurs. Nov. 24, 8pm
Restaurant Inter Administratif – 6, boulevard Aristide Briand – Caen

Biarritz
France-Etats Unis Biarritz
Sat. Nov. 26, 8pm
Hôtel du Palais

French TV Thanksgiving special on M6

November 26th, 2010 No comments

If you remember not long ago, I posted an announcement to find an American or Franco-American family in the Paris area willing to be featured on French TV station M6 for the program 100% Mag. Well they found a family and just on Thursday the family was featured on the program.

You can watch it here (for Thursday Nov 25). The part with Thanksgiving starts at about 5:40 and lasts until about the 12:50 mark. Very interesting program! A summary of the episode can be found here.

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving! Cheers.

Where to celebrate Thanksgiving in France & Monaco

November 17th, 2010 No comments

Thanksgiving this year falls on Thursday Nov. 25. This is one of the most important American traditional holidays and being abroad can make one miss home being with family and friends. (French explanation here by US Embassy Paris, Thanksgiving guide by Lyon à la carte.)

Luckily there are many communities of expats in France and Thanksgiving festivities all over the country from Biarritz to Paris, even in Monte Carlo (Monaco). Here is a list below, non-exhaustive of course, as there could be events of which I’m not aware (especially in other cities). If this is the case, please feel free to list events as “comments”.

Many of these require reservations in advance and spots are limited, so get on it! Not all fall on Thanksgiving, they range from Nov. 17 to Nov. 28. Also, price ranges vary, anywhere from 20 to 80 euros a person usually. Parents with children ages 3-5, you may be interested by American Library in Paris having a story hour on Nov. 24.

cheers, and Happy “jour de dinde” (Turkey Day) en avance!

PARIS
Nov. 17: France-Etats Unis Paris (with talk on JFK)
Nov. 23: France Amériques
Nov. 24: American University Clubs of France
Nov. 25: Breakfast in America diner
Nov. 25: Katz’s American Diner, contact@katzparis.fr, their menu, their flyer
Nov. 25: AmCham France (American Chamber of Commerce)
Nov. 25, 26, 27: Le Saint-Martin
Harry’s Bar (not sure for 2010, contact them).
American Club of Paris (not sure, contact them)

LYON
Nov. 21: International Christian Community of Lyon (contact through site)
Nov. 27: American Club of Lyon. Info, PDF sign-up here.

MARSEILLE & Aix-en-Provence
Nov. 14 – ICCM English speaking church
Nov. 28 – Anglo-American Group of Provence

LILLE
Nov. 21: American Club of Lille

TOULOUSE
Nov. 20: France-Etats Unis Toulouse
Americans in Toulouse may have information on events.

BORDEAUX
Association Bordeaux-USA (not sure for this year, contact them)

STRASBOURG
Nov. 28: Americans in Alsace (looks like members only, contact through site)

GRENOBLE
Nov. 25: France-Etats Unis Grenoble (under “calendar”)
Pumpkins restaurant (contact them)

NANTES
Nov. 28: France-Etats Unis Nantes

MONTE CARLO (MONACO)
Nov. 25: Stars ‘N’ Bars

NICE and CANNES
Nov. 25: Expat Meet-Up Nice
American Club of the Riveria (I’ve heard they hold Thanksgiving, but call to confirm).

CAEN
Nov. 25: France-Etats Unis Caen

BIARRITZ
Nov. 26: France-Etats Unis Biarritz (soirée gala, Thanksgiving dinner)

Wanted: American/Franco-American family for French TV Thanksgiving special

November 5th, 2010 2 comments

100% Mag is a program on French TV channel M6, and as part of a special on Thanksgiving, they are looking for an American or Franco-American family in the Paris region, good in French, that would be open to being interviewed and filmed for this program between now and the week of Nov. 15 (so including Friday. Nov. 19).

A Thanksgiving dinner would have to be prepared for the filming, and they are interested in learning about how to prepare the dinner, what traditions go into it, and presenting Thanksgiving to a French audience that does not know much about it.

I know there are many American expats out there in the Paris region, so if you are interested in this, please contact me at michaelbarrett1984@gmail.com and I’ll get you connected to the right person.

I’m not getting any commission from this and have no connections to M6; I just think an American family would find this a great opportunity! You’ll be on French TV!!

Make sure to contact me ASAP.

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