Saturday, May 13, 2017

How we feel about our adopted country

This post is the fruit of discussions in the Americans in France group on Facebook and lunch with Victoria. Victoria has an excellent blog, The Franco-American Flophouse. We met and became good friends about 5 years ago. She's shuttling back and forth between France and Japan and has gone back to university for a degree in international migration. It's a subject we always talked about from the first time we met.
Now, back to that Facebook group. It's made up of mostly Americans, as its name indicates. It seems to me that most of the participants are fairly recent arrivals. The questions are about obtaining and renewing visas, getting student status, finding some kind of work. There is also a core of very long-term residents who are always answering questions. I'm one of those.
Discussions often turn to food and other comfort items one misses from home or where to find this or that. The other day, I put up the link to the Costco website because the first store in France is due to open in June. It was just information. It turned out to be a can of worms. Most people seemed to like that I posted it, but among the ones who chose to comment, there was a lot of negativity. They see the arrival of Costco as importation of the worst of American consumerism, American products and so on. We have to be French, buy French, shop in an idealized, French movie set.
I don't want to discuss Costco, other than to say I'm fine with seeing it arrive in France. What bothered me in the comments was the attitude of some of my fellow immigrants. They were taking such a superior stance. More French than the French. Got to save French from rampant, evil Americanism. My examples relate to Americans, but you see the same thing among the British, and quite frankly, among other immigrant groups.
This is what Victoria and I spoke about over lunch. She thinks it might be a class thing and she can explain it better. There are the wealthier expats, who are abroad on a company contract and who will return home. In many cases, the trailing spouse can't get a work visa and seeks the company of fellow trailing spouses. Their children get to go to the expensive international schools. Then, there are those who came on their own, married a local, and need to integrate into the local culture. They don't have the money to live the movie-depicted elegant life of an expat. They even consider the term expat derogatory. Yet, if they come from an OECD country, they might not want to call themselves immigrants, either. That's a whole other discussion.
My question is "What's with the attitude?"
I first came to France 47 years ago. I've lived here, permanently, since January 1972. I'm French. I feel perfectly well integrated until someone points out that I still have a pretty little accent. France has changed dramatically since I arrived. More women work. Little shops -- the butcher, the charcutier-traiteur, the cheese shop, the fish monger -- have disappeared. There is still the market, with those stalls, but fewer stalls. I like to knit and sew, but fabric stores have all but disappeared and so have notions. Yes, I get nostalgic for the time I could walk into Nogent and find whatever I was looking for, and now I might have to schlep into Paris or troll the Internet. I take these changes as societal changes that would have happened anyway. Look at the changes in society from 1900 to 1947, the same time period -- or any other 47 year span. Another friend who writes about us with great humor is Harriet Welty Rochefort.
The fact that there are so many "hypermarkets" in France is a purely French phenomenon, not imported from anywhere else, and they have drained the life out of many town centers. Costco will not change that; it's happened, already. In fact, it's the hypermarkets that fought to prevent Costco from entering the French market, not the smaller shops. The fact that hypermarkets usually form a ring around the towns is based on the laws that were passed to protect the town centers from the big stores. Instead, they've killed the towns. They didn't need the influence of Walmart for size or for discount stores. The result is, in my opinion, a disaster for many cities and towns all over France. In France, the discount store phenomenon comes from Germany. The same thing has happened in England. There's no turning back the clock, though. Feeling sorry that the Singer store is gone is not going to prevent me from going to Lidl to pick up the sewing machine on special sale. The fact that we have a grocery store on the corner that sells almost everything we want doesn't stop us from going to Auchan to stock up. This is something that the French do. It's something people do. We go for less expensive options.
Now, what about the attitude of turning up your nose when people mention their cravings for things from "home"? Or for the familiarity of a brand or the name of a store? I like to think of these cravings as the impetus for diversity, from all sectors. We go to the 13th arrondissement in Paris to buy Oriental specialties because of the influence of the Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Chinese population, there. There are supermarkets dedicated to those products. Anyone complaining about the imperialism? We can even find small bottles of soy sauce locally! Yes, we can now find Oreo cookies (made in Spain) in France, now. But in the US, Americans now have Lu! Is it because of the cravings of the Americans in France that McDonald's is so successful? I don't think so. If the French didn't want to go to McDonald's, they'd shut down. (I'm not a fan of McDo, so if they counted on some sort of American faithfulness to anything sounding American, they'd shut down.) When newcomers arrive, they might love what they find, here, and still miss things from home. As time goes on, either they find substitutes, discover that whatever they were craving is now available, here. As we get older, our tastes change, too, so we just don't crave for what we did when we were twenty. I no longer have a list of things to bring back from the US.
I hate getting the question on whether I cook American or French food. I cook food. I do not make a point by not making a good hamburger if in the mood. I do not go out of my way to make boeuf bourguignon, either. I welcome the newcomers with their questions and concerns. I'm friends with the long-term immigrants.

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