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.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

A big family weekend

May is the month of long weekends.  May 1st was on a Monday and that coincided with the May Bank Holiday in the UK, so Claire organized a family get together. It was supposed to be a big family birthday celebration since it's so hard to come together on birthdays. So why not designate a date that we could all agree upon? She queried us all about our availability for the date. She set the place as Toulouse because it's not really all that hard for us to get there. The Parisians and Brits could fly in. Paul and I drove down because we expected to extend the weekend. Emma and Gabriel live only an hour and a half away, by car.
Add to that the difficulty of seeing the Lebelle cousins more than once in a while and never together, which led to extending the invitation (for a Sunday lunch) to Pierre and Gillette's family. They answered the call and we were really looking forward to having everyone, but a couple of weeks before the date, one of theirs had to drop out. He was returning to France from a business trip just the day before and had to leave on another the day after, so his family stayed home. And another of our nieces just finished her exams and stayed home. That meant a group of 21 instead of 26 for Sunday lunch. Not bad!
The participants and some extended family have received a link to the shared online photo album and since almost all the pictures are personal, of us, I'm not sharing them, here. However, here is a photo of the yard of the house we rented. We had a cat and three chickens.
It was a big old farm house with lots of rooms that had been transformed into small apartments big enough for each to have a separate bedroom, living room area, bath or shower, and kitchenette. Each family unit had its own apartment ("gite"). On the ground floor, there was a big kitchen and living room, so we didn't use the kitchenettes in our apartments. We arrived on Friday and, after a little rest, went to the airport for Anne, came home, had a spaghetti dinner before I returned to the airport to pick up the British contingent. Saturday morning, I returned to the airport for the Parisian group and those arriving from Tarn-et-Garonne arrived. Claire had a visit from one of her Toulouse friends and, after a pizza lunch (really good pizza, for once), we headed off on the tram to visit the Airbus site, where we had a visit to the A380 assembly hangar. It being the May 1st weekend (that's the sacred Labor Day, here), the line was closed down, but we could see just how enormous those planes are. It's a shame the guide we had was not more enthusiastic. She rattled off her numbers and was a bit impatient with kids who were trying to ask questions.
Sunday, we walked along the Garonne to the restaurant, where we met up with the others. I think we all had a good time: loads of varied conversation. The children all played well, together. V. is closer to adulthood and seemed pleased to discover her dad's cousins. We continued the visit back at the house until they had to leave. Monday, May 1st, everything was closed -- almost everything. There was no public transportation, no tram. Some took our car to go into Toulouse for a short visit, a walk around the city center. Others went into Toulouse in the afternoon, after the first family left to return to Paris, and took a boat ride on the river. We emptied the house and dropped the last ones, the British contingent, at the airport late in the afternoon and headed towards Najac.
Spring is so lovely. There is such variety in green. Everything seems to be green, except the colza, which is in full yellow bloom. This is the southwest and there is a water deficit. In summer, it'll be all dried up but for now, it's beautiful. Our home away from home is the Hotel Le Belle Rive, where we are really welcomed as old friends. We spent Tuesday with Emma and Gabriel, but because I had a sore throat and back ache, we decided not to prolong the stay and returned home on Wednesday.
We had an adventure! A tire blew out. A few years ago, this happened to me in England, the right front tire. Well, this time it was the left back tire. We were very lucky to find the emergency phone safety zone just a couple of hundred meters away. We called; a really short time after, the highway emergency van came by with a very friendly guy. Handshakes all around. He called the local garage to find out how long they would be, but almost as soon as he hung up, they were there. They installed the spare tire you are not supposed to drive much on in a very short time and we were also very lucky that the next exit was just a couple of km. away. This gave us the chance to drive slowly through the green countryside, again, where we saw lots of sheep (and lambs) and cows (and calves) and wheat fields, still green, and colza, all yellow. The idea was to find a tire shop somewhere on the way to Limoges, and we did. In fact, in the shopping zone just outside of Limoges and on the road we were on (no extra detours!) there were two shops opposite one another, Feu Vert and Norauto! Once the tires were mounted, we had a quick lunch and hit the A20. I think the entire tire incident cost us less time than the traffic jam around Paris, when we hit it before 5 pm. We didn't get home until well after 6.
The only thing I'm going to say about the election is that I'll vote early, tomorrow and I don't know if I'll volunteer to count the votes as I did two weeks ago.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Spring Update

It's no surprise; I don't feel like writing much these days. Looking back, though, over the past 3 or 4 months, I haven't been sitting, watching the world go by.
We went to the UK at the end of February for a lovely visit with the family, there. No, we didn't do much -- just appreciated the family! That's enough for us. On my birthday, the very day, at the beginning of February, I found just the knitting machine I'd been on the lookout for -- a brother "bulky" machine with its ribber. It was my birthday. I figured it was meant for me, so I arranged to buy it from the very nice lady in Bedford -- not far from Northampton, really. I asked G. if he could pick it up for me, pay the lady in cash.... And he did. So, when we arrived at the end of the month, by car, it was waiting for me and all I had to do was pay G. back.
I managed to set the machine up just before leaving for the US in mid-March. I even managed to make a scarf for T. for his birthday! There were a few sloppy patches -- dropped stitches in the Fisherman's Rib -- that I had to repair by hand, but nothing catastrophic. I also made a scarf for my high school friend in Florida, T.
This leads to the trip to the US -- first a night in Philly with M. T. and her husband. Very enjoyable evening with these old, old family friends (our grandparents were close friends, already) and then into Philly in the morning for an agreeable meeting with the Commissioner for Elections at the Election Board to discuss some of the glitches in the absentee system -- between the Board of Elections and the pavoter site.
After the meeting, I took the train to the airport and caught my flight down to DC, where I got a new metro card and hopped onto the metro to go out to T. and B.'s. Friday evening was T' 90th birthday party! Earlier that day, I had a cup of coffee with K. and talked about what was happening as far as our overseas Americans issues were concerned. He's been working with the Republicans Overseas on their tax proposal, which promotes territorial taxation. He's also been involved with setting up a Congressional hearing on FATCA, to be held later this month. He's also very homesick for France. When I got back to the house, I saw my cousin T. and R. for a little while, before we all went off to get ready for the party. It was a wonderful family reunion. Cousins not seen for a long, long time. Family never met before. My brother, J., and T, of course, down from Pittsburgh. Lively conversation. A successful party!
Sunday, I moved out of their house to go to the airbnb room I had rented in DC. It was simply a room this time, not a whole apartment, as I had no one to share with. The apartment belongs to a charming young engineer. We didn't run into each other very much. The only complaint I could have was the spotty wifi connection. I could connect if I was in the living room sitting in front of the box, but as soon as I went back to my room, the connection was gone. It was not far from the U-street station and just a little farther to the Dupont Circle station.
On a map, nothing looks far. I got off the metro at Dupont Circle and walked down to the Staples at 19th and L to pick up the printing of our position papers that I had ordered on line. It was a bit longer walk than I had thought it would be, but since I stopped for lunch on the way, it was a nice walk. On the way to my room though, it was a much longer walk, even if I didn't go back up to Dupont Circle, and dragging my suitcase and the printing was not pleasant. The room was on 15th, between R and S.
Early in the evening, I walked over to Dupont Circle -- the others were staying close by. We met at the Cosmos Club, which is just behind the Phillips Collection. I arrived early enough to spend a little while at the Phillips. They had a Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit on. My back gave out after only half an hour, so I wandered off to the Cosmos and ran into N. just as I entered the building. I distributed our position papers to the others.
We had some interesting meetings both on and off the Hill. I've written my reports and talked about it since coming back and do not want to dwell on it, here. For me, the week was over after the meeting at the State Department on Friday. I went back to my room to collect my suitcase and then took the metro to the airport.
There was a big P family gathering in Orlando to celebrate Roger. BIG. On Saturday, 18 of us went to the New Smyrna for a day at the beach. I fell asleep and the back of my legs got a bit burnt. In the evening, there was a big dinner party for family and then more people came as dessert time for the celebration of his life. G. has published a wonderful book of his musings, poetry, and artwork, which I was able to pick up before leaving. Sunday morning, we all gathered at the house for brunch. It was ever so pleasant to be with the clan. The day went on and we had scrumptious leftovers and not just leftovers. After the week in DC, I felt relaxed, at last.
Monday, I took off, on my own, to visit T and her husband on the west coast of Florida. First, I left the road to go to a yarn shop in Winter Haven, Four Purls. They couldn't have been nicer, but they did not have the kind of inexpensive cotton I was looking for. They had plenty of other beautiful yarns and if any Floridians who knit or crochet are reading this, I recommend the place. Then it was back roads through rural Florida -- horse farms, mostly -- to T's. And we gabbed and gabbed and gabbed and watched a movie (Lion) and gabbed and gabbed. I must compliment her husband on his patience with us. They treated me to a great buffet style restaurant -- nothing special, just plain good food.
I guess I wasn't as relaxed and back to my normal state as I thought I was. I managed to convince myself that my flight back was on Tuesday, so instead of spending the day and another night at T's, I ended up rushing back to Orlando, picked up the book from G., and rushed to the airport. There, I discovered I didn't have my passports and French wallet. I had left them in the safe at the hotel in Orlando on Monday morning! Panic. Calls to the hotel and finally the receptionist on the phone with me got into her car to bring them to me. Then, the realization that my ticket was for Wednesday, not Tuesday. I was so upset. I gave the receptionist a nice tip and thanked her but did not mention the date mixup! I couldn't. All this had taken quite some time. I would have missed my flight had it really been for Tuesday. I was still upset at having gotten all mixed up. I went to find an inexpensive hotel near the airport with shuttle service (I had turned in the car, of course.), ordered a pizza, and watched TV until I fell asleep. The next morning, I spent about an hour by the pool and took the shuttle back to the airport with lots and lots of time before my flight, so I managed to get off my thank you notes and have a nice lunch.
Back to France and departure almost immediately for four days in Valencia with our Pierwige friends. Not all of them. This time we were a group of 3 couples. Valencia is a beautiful city. The architecture is grandiose and each building is different. It's a change from the Haussmann uniformity of Paris. Different colors, different styles. This was a pleasant break. M. had done all the organizing, so kudos to her, and I just relaxed and got over my jetlag.
Upon return to France, this time, we had the AARO annual general meeting on March 31, which I had had the responsibility of organizing. It went off well. A. had gotten us our guest speaker, Jim Bittermann, who was exceptional. He spoke on the state of the media. It was a refreshing subject -- not American-centric, not Paris or French-centric. The following week, it was the Tax 202 seminar (Tax 101 was on March 6) and I had had the responsibility of that one, too. During that week, we also had a 5-year-old grandson staying with us. We had done some gardening in the gorgeous Spring weather and my back was killing me on Thursday. It still is, in fact.
The first week of Spring break, then, we had S. with us and this past week, he and sister and mother have been at her parents'. It was A's birthday, this week. We went to the Al Thani jewel exhibit at the Grand Palais.
I've done some knitting, but can't sit for long periods because of my back. Writing this has taken me to the limit, today.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Happy New Year!

The month is not over, so in the French tradition, I can still wish everyone a Happy New Year. Since I haven't written in a long time, I've managed to wish the a happy new year to friends and family personally over the phone.
There's not much to say. The US election is about to enter into effect. The new Congress has already started. Their busy confirming Trump's cabinet nominations. What strange nominations, too. It seems to me that each one is in opposition to the post he or she has been assigned. For education, someone opposed to public education. For housing, someone opposed to housing. For energy, someone who couldn't even remember the name of the department back when he was a candidate, and who doesn't believe climate change is caused by human activity. For the State Department, someone who has had close business interests in Russia. The list goes on like that. The hearings are interesting, but it's not as though the Democrats will be able to stop the confirmations.
The president-elect, himself, is still in candidate mode. He doesn't believe anything the FBI, CIA, or NSA have to report to him. He seems to get his information from twitter and deliver his thoughts via twitter. His behavior is childish. He's easily angered and reacts immediately to anything that disturbs him with insults. As far as the intelligence reports are concerned, well, he finally concedes that, yes, the Russians were behind much of the campaign havoc, the hacking of the DNC emails, for example. There's a rumor of his being subject to blackmail because of a sex tape the Russians made a few years ago, but it's a rumor and every legitimate news organization is saying it's an unconfirmed report, yet he treats the media as being the source of it and treating it as news. Of course, without the recording, it will remain a rumor - unconfirmed.
There's a campaign to boycott the inauguration coverage. That's easy for me. I won't go to the American Library in Paris to watch. They always show the inauguration, so it's not a big thing that they are doing it, but I won't go. I won't watch any channel, here, that might be covering it. Of course, here, it doesn't matter. It is not something that will enter the ratings. But in the US, the boycott is more difficult because for it to have any meaning, people will have to turn on their TVs in order to be counted, but tune in to a channel that will not be covering the inauguration. The next day, there is a women's march in Washington, protesting the president, protesting the Republican schemes to overturn the Roe vs Wade decision, to do away with legal abortions, planned parenthood, the Affordable Care Act, and more. There are sister marches all over the country and in major cities around the world. I'll be going to the one in Paris. I accept the election. I don't like it, but I accept it. That said, I'll support whatever possible to let the President know it was not a popular or landslide victory and whatever possible to make sure all the progress made in the past 50 years is not swept aside.
Meanwhile, I'm knitting away.