I talk a lot about cultural integration on this blog. I am, after all, immersing myself in a new lifestyle and way of being. I tend to skim over the parts about my integration that I don’t like so much, noteably because they’re insignificant and worth all the great parts of life here, but also because it’s kind of taboo; you never know who’s reading my blog! Just kidding, everyone within a mile of me knows how much I’ve learned to lovingly hate beurocracy. And that’s just it: everything that’s not comfortable for me here is what I would know had I been born to a different society.
Noteably, there’s the language. I frequently accidentally call things “spécial” here, which has a negative connotation. French food is special (weird), French people are special (strange), you get the point. Most bilingual people will catch my mistake, but it can be especially jarring for someone who is not aware of the good connotations of “special” in English. Secondly, there are new mannerisms. Yea, sorry France, but I carry a water bottle with me at all times and drink from it in public places. That will never change. I also sometimes stretch in public and possibly order food in a different way—all sorts of little nuances that even I don’t pick up on until someone points them out.
Overall, I’ve had a fairly good reception in France and most people find my differences “cute” or “silly”. Sometimes my habits are “strange”, but they are always accepted as simply being different. Occasionally I meet someone who thinks I am the sole responsible party in American interventionism and proceeds to spout of a list of reasons why they hate me and my country (no, really.) This usually bothers me, but I try to keep a straight face and act like a normal human being so that the accuser does not leave with an even worse opinion of Americans. What I would know had I not been born to such a patriotic, loving nation is the shady defense of that patriotism. What I would know wouldn’t be the morning sun streaming through my window in California, or my wonderful opportunities to choose where I live and travel.
The most important thing in any aspect of life is openmindedness. I try to listen to every point of view before developing my own, which will certainly change again in a year. I used to hate putting milk in my tea, but I’ve already been drinking earl grey lattes all morning. Sundays used to be my long run days, and they usually still are, with the added bonus that I have to do nothing else except maybe eat a croissant and try to get to the store before it closes at noon. This of course ignores all the ideological changes I’ve gone through in the past three years.
My ramblings today were inspired by the Poetry Daily post for Thursday, 20 March, which I’ll leave below. Things are not always as they appear. People are not always as you judge them to be, and the only way we can ever know each other is to embrace the strangeness—really stop to consider it—and conversely see it in ourselves. Sometimes the train will take you home, and sometimes away, but it will always reveal something different—something special—that you had never even fathomed until you considered the world without the train between it, without the sun that still rises in two places.
Had She, Elizabeth T. Gray, JR
Had she stayed
Had she not stepped up
Into the train that carried them down
From the hills to the plane
Home through Rangoon and Vientiane
She would know that
In the cripple’s mouth after he spat
At them at the standing boxcars
O Lord Shiva on Mount Kailash
Ocean of Mercy Remover of Delusion
Protect me I surrender