I’m aware that there are worse things to be than an American in Paris
writes Pamela Druckerman
"who took the ultimate expatriate plunge" ("I started doing psychotherapy in French").
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 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
… The biggest lesson I’ve learned in 10 years is that I’m American to the core.