I generally avoid writing in this thing if I don't have anything to say. I don't particularily want to use this as a journal, in which I merely recount the things that have happened to me. I feel that is too intimate, and isn't really true to what my expectations are for this creative outlet.
Rather, I'm trying to use my experiences here, whether it be directly related to the kids, or my life outside of Au Pairing to analyze my feelings, and understand why I am the way I am. As I read back over what has happened to me in the last ten months, and I guess anyone who reads this, can get a real and true interpretation of who I am here, and why I am that way. I say who I am here because I feel that I have a different persona in France. Here, I feel more responible (having four lives in your hands, will do that to you). I feel more dependent on other people as well. I feel, most of the time, as we all know, like a sore thumb that sticks out everytime I open my mouth.
But, I also feel like I'm doing something here. I may get crap pay, work usually awful hours, do things that make me extremely uncomfortable, but I'm usually very happy. I think I probably won't stay in France forever (the reason I thought I had to stay is way too complicated, but I won't bother mention it, because it would be describing the trivial things that I am avoiding). And I believe the reason that I am so content here, is my level of comfort. I believe my friend Coco wrote something about traveling to one place gives you the travel bug, and inspires you to see other places. Of course it does. But I've discovered that the best and only way to really see a place, is to live there. Yeah, it sounds obvious, but I am sure that most people are reluctant to leave their comfort zones and be truly different. For me, living with strangers is perfect. I prefer to travel slow. For example, I have been living here for ten months, and I have yet to do a lot of the really touristy stuff. And I'm in Paris most weekends...I also like the luxury of having a different point of departure. From here yes, the United States is really damn far away, but London isn't. Neither is Amsterdam, Nice, Madrid, Prague, Geneva, or even anywhere in North Africa. There is flexibility here, and I enjoy that.
People like to ask me if I like France, if I like France better than the United States, and if they are very different. The answers are yes, not quite, and little things are different, but I see more similarities than not; respectively.
I like France. How can you not love a place with four grocery aisles of cheese? But as far as the French go, I think what I appreciate about them, is that they have a sense of humor, and a sense of self for that matter. They know they do irrational things, like striking, or have ridiculous bureacracy. But they know why, and even if they don't like it, they accept it as a part of themselves. There is a sense of solidarity, that I really appreciate.
Next point, is France better than the United States? Hell. No. But, then again, the United States is home. It's where my family is, I was raised on her culture, her beliefs, her government, her food, her capitalism and beautiful, beautiful commercialism. Her media, her literature, her music, her everything else. I love the United States. I love all of it, while accepting our negative as part of the huge puzzle that is my nation. See, unlike the many French I have talked to, I acknowledge that I will always be American, somewhere inside. I think I do a pretty good job of objectively understanding the nuances of French and American culture, but I accept that my opinion of things will be slanted and slightly different, because of my background. I can try, but I was psychologically formed in an American home.. And I'm not angry about it, I don't think this makes me dumb, but I do feel like culture is deeply embedded into who we are.
I'm not going into a nurture vs nature conversation, because I don't think it really rules your life, and is at the forefront of your identity. I just find it interesting to observe in people. I have met people and instantly could guess their background. I sometimes feel (and I notice that I do it too) that sometimes, without provocation, a gut reaction or comment to something is really indicative of where they are from. It's almost like 20 plus years of living somewhere will just automatically provoke a response. After thinking about it, they may change their mind. But for a split second, it's exactly what they were thinking, because its what they've heard their whole life.
Are the two countries very different? Kind of. I think that the families and school systems and goals of people are the same. S and J want their children to be happy, educated, and successful. They want them to have a well rounded childhood, and of course be bilingual. The kids complain about the same thing as me. They love brownies puppies and movies. So I guess in that sense, yes we are all the same. Beyond the kids eating paté, or strange cheeses, I could stick them anywhere, and they would fit in.
The differences, I have found, lie in the things that you would hope would be universal, the little things that you have never even thought about. For example--the post. The mail doesn't get picked up directly from your house, you have to go to the post office. Healthcare, universal. Speeding tickets, apparently you don't get pulled over. Traffic circles, another little surprise. Believe me, you need to have someone teach you how to use them. Drinking beer out of bottles by women, is apparently not socially acceptable. The school systems are notoriously rigid, and not helpful for kids who have learning problems. Traffic lights are in a different place. I can't remember what's American, and what's French, but it's different. Cell phones and house phones. In my house, I can't call cell phones, because it's too expensive.
But if I'm honest, while very annoying, it's always very interesting to be doing something, and learn, oh wait, we don't do it that way?
I suppose it all adds to the experience.