Sunday, January 16, 2011


As I sit here at my computer on what is an American three-day weekend, I can't help but reflect on my homeland. This has been spurred as well by a slight touch of homesickness, but I'll repeat again that homesickness for me is more of a 'people' sickness and my desire to be near those I hold dear than it is a longing for a certain territory.

At the beginning of my time here in France, I got coffee with a French friend who expressed to me that he never felt more French than when he spent time in the states for a Fulbright grant. Four months later, I understand what he meant. Being in France has made me realize how truly American I am, because the French culture has thrown my American propensities into sharp relief.

This realization was a stark moment of what Hegel calls 'reciprocal otherness,' meaning that this friend is as much of an 'other' to me as I am an 'other' to him. But as Hegel says, this 'otherness' must be overcome...which is why I am a huge proponent of travel. Though I can't say I've done much of it yet, travel is allowing me to overcome the 'reciprocal otherness' of being American and to appreciate other ways of life. More on that later, I suppose.

My feeling of utter American-ity surfaced on Saturday on my train ride home from the Bois de Boulogne, a large park on the western edge of Paris near La Defense, where I've been training with a group for the Paris marathon. Content but damp from the 13 mile run, I listened to my music play list on shuffle when Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" popped into my ears.

I adore Journey, but with this band's music come layers and layers of memories. There's of course "Faithfully," and "Wheel in the Sky," which I will always remember my dad singing in his truck when I was little...there's "Lights," which reminds me not only of San Francisco, but singing with high school friends...there's "Don't Stop Believin'," which is at once my running anthem, the official song of Cal football, and I could go on. But I won't.

What matters is that at the particular moment I heard this song on Saturday, I missed the bay and Marin and the sun. And I missed my friends. I also knew that no one on the train with me at the moment would either recognize nor appreciate the song if I had starting humming it. It was a true moment of entirely bittersweet 'otherness.'

My reflections on America are rather pertinent, as the French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid visit to President Obama this past week in Washington, D.C., so my reflections on myself are almost microcosmic of the relations between the two countries. I am a curious, curious hybrid animal, to the point that The Latvian called this week called me his "American French girl." I find it curious that he did not say "American-French," as if to signal that I am a creature of dual nature, but no. He left it at "American French," which seems to say rather that I am both American and French and that these are two separate pieces of me housed in one casing. But I digress...

Sarkozy went to talk monetary matters with Obama, specifically involving the International Monetary Fund, as France also hosts the G-20 and G-8 summits this year. This somehow urged Obama to call the France one of the best friends and allies the states have. I find this mightily ironic, as Sarkozy is far from popular here, and many French people accuse him of trying to "Americanize" France. Needless to say, America and France have shared a storied and tenuous history together.

Nonetheless, while the French do not want France to become America, they sure do like to imitate a lot of American things. Half the music on the radio and on television shows is American, American letter man style jackets are all the rage, and you can even find Friends dubbed into French for your viewing pleasure. If you're a teenager, you want desperately to own Abercrombie and Fitch clothing, because it's a status symbol: it means your mom or pops has actually BEEN to America and has bought it there for you.

So in other words, there is a HUGE amount of ambivalence in this country toward my home country: we'll imitate you, but we don't want to be you is the message.

Curiously enough, while listening to "Don't Stop Believin'" on the train home Saturday, three young men, all wearing letterman style jackets and Converse sneakers, got on the train at Nanterre. And all I could do again was miss my home, but also know that even though I felt like a complete 'other,' I understood why and how and what the cultural implications of a letter man jacket are, and how the culture that furnished those jackets has never existed in this country.

I may not entirely agree with everything my country has ever done, is doing, or will ever do. But this does not mean I do not miss certain aspects of America. In the moment that I saw the young men in their letter man jackets, I smiled. I was proud to be an American girl, because an American girl I'll always be.

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