This page is a collection of posts that I group under Reflections on Crossing Cultures. It's got my frank views on everything from integration/assimilation to language learning to identity.
What I hope is, as you cruise through the list and maybe click on a link or two, that you find something that will resonate with you or someone you know.
(Just for info the most popular post I ever wrote in this category was A Day in the Life of An American Emigrant back in January 2012. I prefer A Hippy Childhood myself :-)
Reflection on Crossing Cultures
What Software are You Running Today? (February 24, 2016) A trip to Molenbeek and a new way of looking at language and culture.
Americans and Cross-Border Relationships in France and Japan (February 23, 2016) More experience leads to a few more thoughts about "mixed" marriages.
My Experience is Where I'm From (October 26, 2015) Taiye Selasi in this brilliant Ted Talk
Fear, Shame, and the Expat Memoir (July 14, 2015) Not my favorite genre and this is why.
Travel/Expat Books (May 30, 2014) I love Paul Fussell's books. Yes, he is an arrogant SOB but he writes well and he is never more entertaining then when he is being condescending and cruel. If Americans are widely reported to be "nice", Fussell takes great pride in being an exception.
Global Portable Identities (April 30, 2014) Identities that ground you wherever you go in the world.
The Trials of Learning and Maintaining a Second Language (March 10, 2014) The Holy Grail of language learners everywhere. That magical moment when the ears hear, the brain engages with no effort, and perfect sentences spill forth from one's mouth.
The Battle for Bi-Lingualism (February 26, 2014) When I listen to people in France or the United States who are shocked that there are innocent children out there whose parents are foisting another language on them at home, thus destroying any chance that they will learn the official language of the country, I literally erupt in laughter.
The American/L'Américain (February 4, 2014) Here is the perspective that we lack when we read the autobiographies of Americans abroad - the perspective of the native citizen spouses, the ostensibly bi-lingual/bi-cultural children, the colleagues at work, and the other members of the community with which that American interacts.
Cancer and Culture (January 18, 2014) When someone is diagnosed with cancer (or any other life-threatening illness) he or she steps into a role that is defined by whatever culture he or she happens to be in. To be a human with cancer in France is not the same as being a human with cancer in, say, Canada. Same disease but different expectations, models and scripts. One culture may ask those in this role for quiet, dignified suffering; another may be the complete opposite and ask for cheerful public optimism. In some worlds it's a heroic battle; in others simply and purely a tragedy.
Why France Can Be Hard on Les Américaines (January 7, 2014) For every "American in Paris" book out there that says that integration was a breeze and claim they are now fluent in French, living in a fabulous apartment in Paris with their charming successful husbands and perfectly bi-lingual chères têtes blondes, there are many other untold stories of isolation, depression, problems learning the language, dealing with the extended French family or finding a decent paying job.
The Lost Generation (December 26, 2013) All those late 20th century books that I have read about Americans in Paris (the ones that I refer to as "fairy tales") have a long pedigree. Americans have been coming to France and writing about it since the days of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) and James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851). But the ghosts that haunt today's Americans abroad in France (and perhaps, by extension, all Americans living outside the U.S.) came in the period between the two World Wars (the 1920's and 30's).
A Close Encounter with a French Evangelical (December 15, 2013) "You know who can help you, Madame? Jesus." Took me a few seconds but I finally realized that I was standing in the presence of a French evangelical - a creature I had heard existed but thought was a myth or an over-reaction of the French to the idea of religious diversity.
A Liberal Critique of the US, UK and French School Systems (November 22, 2013) The Demands of Liberal Education and a look at three school systems from a liberal perspective. And see the previous post about Autonomy and Learning to Think for Ourselves.
Stepping Beyond the First Migration (November 6, 2013) Susan Ossman's Moving Matters: Paths of Serial Migration.A lot of food for thought in this book. Ossman is talking about a particular group of "people who move around": a type of migrant who immigrates once, and not having suffered enough the first round, chooses to migrate again to a Third (or Fourth or Fifth) place.
Why Did You leave? (September 28, 2013) Ah, that old question that keeps coming up over and over again: "Why did you/they leave us?"
Not Everyone Wants to be a Citizen (August 8, 2013) Not every migrant hits a distant shore with the intention of seeking full citizenship. This may be because he or she does not plan to stay very long (though he might change his mind over time) or because he or she sees that it is clearly not in his best interests. Yes, you heard me: Becoming a citizen of a nation-state is not necessarily a good deal for everyone.
How to Raise Frenchlings bis (August 4, 2013) The other day the younger Frenchling turned 18 and that meant that I no longer have children at home. My two daughters are a source of delight and wonder for me. They are so much smarter than I am and much funnier, too.
Expats, Exbrats and Guests (July 12, 2013) At some point in one's migration journey using the word "guest" to describe your status is ridiculous. Someone who is still living in someone's house as a "guest" after 5 or 10 years or so is really pushing the limits of the term. Most of us would consider such a person to be an annoyance and an embarrassment, if not a freeloader. Remember Ben Franklin's words? "Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.
Bi-Cultural Families: the Culture Wars (June 6, 2013) What happens when you are the "foreign" half of a couple and the children are being brought up in a country other than your own.
A Hippy Childhood (May 8, 2013) What I remember about the American internal exiles I grew up among... (Olympia, Nanny Noodles, the Evergreen State College and the feminist and gay liberation movement)
The Flophouse French Canadian Connection (April 19, 2013) I've mentioned before that my American family has a connection to French speaking Canada. In fact the first of my ancestors from Europe to hit North America weren't headed for the U.S. at all - their destination was la Nouvelle France.
The Conundrums of the Exile (December 23, 2012) "It was when I realised I had a new nationality: I was in exile. I am an adulterous resident: when I am in one city, I am dreaming of the other. I am an exile; citizen of the country of longing.”
The Little House in Porchefontaine (October 20, 2012) We received some very good news last week. The notaire has completed the "dossier' and we will close the purchase of our little house some time next week. The real estate agent has graciously handed over the keys so we can get started on the "travaux" (renovation work).
My Two French Weddings (September 29, 2012) The very best part about getting married in France is the possibility of having two weddings. That means two ceremonies and two parties. Twice the fun and, let me tell you, the French sure know how to party
Emigrant Dreams (September 8, 2012) "À quoi rêvent les américains?" (What do Americans dream of?)
Neighbors I have Known (July 18, 2012) Yesterday. our cat Minouche had her lunch, strolled out of the house, installed herself in the sun on the stone wall between our apartment and the neighbor's, and then leaned over and threw up her Carrefour Bouchées Sauce in a discreet corner of the neighbor's patio.
Citizens and Their Foreign Spouses (April 23, 2012) There are special challenges when two people from two different countries decide to make a go of it. For one thing, there is a choice to be made: In which country do you plan to live?
Letting Go of the Language Wars (March 29, 2012) Learning another language isn't easy but all too often, we are unreasonably harsh with ourselves. Almost all of my French friends have said to me, at one time or another, "Je suis nul en anglais." A common topic around the table when I meet up with expats from all over the world is the shame and the frustration they feel at not being able to communicate fluently in the local language.
Journée défense et citoyenneté (February 16, 2012) In today's mail we received a note from the Defense Ministry addressed to the elder Frenchling reminding her that, as a French citizen who has reached her majority, she is required to attend a "Journée défense et citoyenneté" (National Defense and Citizenship Day).
A Day in the Life of an American Emigrant (January 30, 2012) Some of the articles and comments I've been reading about overseas Americans leave me shaking my head in disbelief. Americans in the homeland seem to think that I spend my days plotting to escape taxes as I sip my wine in a plush Parisian bistro. I thought it might be instructive to open the "volets" (shutters) and give a glimpse of how one American emigrant in France spends her day.
Foreigner's Rights When Traveling Abroad (January 6, 2012) Know before you go. A focus on something that all of us who travel or reside abroad ought to understand: our rights if we are arrested and detained (or jailed) in a country outside of our home countries.
Fairy Tales (December 17, 2011) Why I hate most books about living in France. Moving to France or any other country does not mean that the normal rules of life cease to apply. Things happen and they are not always good...
Local Knowledge (September 25, 2011) When a migrant arrives in a new country the natives often make assumptions about what newcomers already know and what they will need need to learn based on stereotypes about their country of origin.
A Thought Experiment about Illegal Immigration (September 26, 2011) How would you react if you were in a foreign country and discovered a fellow-citizen of your home country in an "irregular situation?"
The People Paradox of Globalization (June 13, 2011) Goods and capital are highly mobile, people are less so. Not all migrants, however, face the same challenges...
The Migration Equation (August 15, 2011) A few of the factors I thought of that go into evaluating the decision to migrate.
Casting Errors (July 19, 2011) A few words about people I meet who I think are horribly out of sync with their culture of origin. These are not necessarily rebels - on the contrary many of them go to extraordinary lengths to try to fit, but they don't. The people around them are singing in the key of C but everything in their hearts wants to sing in C#.
Love Where You're From but Bloom Where You're Planted (April 16, 2011) Why I love Seattle and also why I most likely will never return "home."
Cultural Scripts (July 29, 2011) How I have experienced the "shopping script" in France, Japan and the U.S.
Taxi Blues (July 10, 2011) An encounter with a French taxi driver in a very bad mood.
Countries of Immigration are also Countries of Emigration (April 19, 2011) Some figures on emigration from various countries: France, U.S., U.K. and Canada.
French Feminism: Seduction and the Cultural Exception (June 29, 2011) A report on a fascinating exchange between the American historian Joan Scott and some French feminists.
The Turbulence of Migration (February 11, 2011) Nikos Papastergiadis' book, The Turbulence of Migration - rethinking migration in the context of globalization.
Alien (January 31, 2011) This is the question I ask myself: if I had stayed in the US and not moved to France in my early 20’s, would I be today, at 45, fundamentally the same person with the same character and personality? Are the changes that come with integration/assimilation so deep that whatever it is that makes me an individual is someone radically different from the hypothetical person I would have been if I stayed home?
Immigrant Rage (January 13, 2011) The dark side of integration/assimilation. "Immigrant Rage" is a state of high sensitivity where any innocuous statement can set you off because you feel fragmented and lost when all you really want is to feel “normal”.
Where I Sit (September 9, 2008) The very first post I wrote for the Flophouse.