So it's safer not to say too much - at least with people you don't know very well or even with people you know all too well. And maybe that is one of the most subtle casualties of crossing cultures - you now live in world where you don't necessarily share the same conception of "normal" and so you watch your words, share a little (but not too much) and withhold parts of yourself in order to win acceptance and to outwardly integrate. What's going in your head, however, can be something else entirely. Eva Hoffman talks very eloquently about "Immigrant Rage" - the dark side of assimilation. You would like to feel "bien dans tes baskets" in your adopted country but there is a part that isn't entirely comfortable and perhaps never will be. To this uneasiness, and the terrible ambivalence one sometimes feels about about the compromises one has made in order to adapt, I would add something else: a sense that neither the people you left behind nor the people you now live with have the slightest idea how much all this has cost you.
|Photo from the blog DorpatSherrardLomont|
How to draw a line from that childhood to my decision to move to France and to stay in the Hexagon for the past 20 years? Not obvious, is it? Most of the time I try not to think about it too much but to be completely honest as I search my memories for my first impressions of my adopted country I find that, in addition to the joy and wonder of discovering a new culture and language, there was also a certain amount of resistance and angst on my part. I found much to admire here but I was also put off by the sheer conservatism of the people I met in the beginning. Even the "radicals" were, in my 20-something view, somewhat constipated and very middle-class and conventional in their worldview. There did not seem to be much latitude given for alternative prospectives or lifestyles. And heaven forbid that a woman might defy that convention and dress comfortably (badly in their eyes) just because she wanted to and didn't care what people thought. Like all first impressions, it turned out to be erroneous and I learned to appreciate that things were just different here and not better or worse than where I came from.
But there are still days like the other day when I came across that photo of me and my friends at the college radio station when the nostalgia breaks over me like a tidal wave and I wonder what I might have been if I had never bought that plane ticket. Fundamentally the same person or something radically different? As odd as my American childhood was, it was a formative experience. That it does not translate well is one thing - denying it is something else. That I have often felt compelled to do so over the years is the source of some grief (even rage) and is perhaps an indication that I am not as well integrated here as I assumed.
All things to ponder as I head off to the cancer clinic this afternoon for my third round of chemotherapy.