Extraordinary, Ordinary Women: Questions of Expatriate Identity in Contemporary American Paris
I used to refer to myself as a "guest" in France - something that today I find highly amusing. Here I was desperately trying to avoid the words in the Rogers quotation and, unintentionally, I selected what I thought was a fairly neutral, slightly humorous term, that I learned later has nasty connotations here in Europe - as in "guest worker." It wasn't funny at all; it was sad. Hopefully, those who heard me use it in the early years had the wisdom and kindness to understand that here was a woman migrant in the grip of a terrible identity crisis.
Trying to make sense of that life lived "out" of my home country and culture has been a lifelong preoccupation. At times I've felt slightly ashamed of that because the messages I get back is that contemplation along those lines is interdit because, after all, "You're living in France!" So, shut up already or write us a pretty book about it that confirms all of our positive stereotypes about the life you surely must be leading.
Having a bit more gumption these days (I am a woman of a certain age now and no longer a sweet but naive child bride) my response to that is: stereotypes, my friends, are simply excuses not to think.
Worse, I would argue that actively colluding with them is to bow to the tyranny of other people's expectations, something that that is hardly conducive to our growth as human beings. To cease the search for meaning in the seminal events in our lives (and our reactions to them) is to be perpetually in a state of arrested development. As Carl Jung said:
"The serious problems in life, however, are never fully solved. If ever they should appear to be so then it is a sure sign that something has been lost. The meaning and purpose of a problem seems not to lie in its solution but in our working at it incessantly. This alone preserves us from stultification and petrification."In the quest to confront those stereotypes, and to find models and research by which we can try to understand our own experience in a broader context, we are hampered by the dearth of serious academic research into American emigration and identity. The few that I have found and profiled here (like Gabrielle Varro, for example) were like spring water in the intellectual desert around these topics.
I was very pleased to see, however, that there is another work out that looks very promising. The book is called Migrants or Expatriates?: Americans in Europe (Migration, Diasporas and Citizenship) by Dr. Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels of the Brussels School of International Studies. More information about her study and her initial findings can be found here. The book is the product of that research and I will be reading it and reviewing it here on the Flophouse.
Please note as well that Dr. von Koppenfels will be speaking in Paris this month on February 19. This is an event sponsored by the Association of Americans Resident Overseas (AARO). I will be at this talk and I hope you'll join me. More information about how to register for this event can be found on the AARO website here.
I'm off to Montréal tomorrow morning. Next Flophouse post will be from that fair city.