Nine years ago today, I boarded a plane that whisked me away to the other side of the pond. I had no idea how long I'd stay on this side or even what would become of me, but it was an adventure and you all know how much I like adventures.
Funny how much of my life is now focused on explaining my people to the people I live near. It's as if having a walking, talking American around them is the chance to finally understand if everything the French see on TV is really true.
"Is everyone really so fat over there?"
"Does everyone live in such big houses?"
"Nothing happens in the middle of the country, right?"
God forbid, they start asking about "The Experts: Miami" or "C.S.I." I haven't a clue if a crime lab is really like that. But I can tell them with conviction that my attorney sister has never inspected a crime scene with a cotton swab.
It's weird finally admitting to myself that I am an expat and most likely will be for the rest of my life. It's fun, it's entertaining, but there are moments when I just wish I knew my own culture still. Things have changed dramatically in the US during the last 9 years and sometimes I feel very far from the source. Even when I go back, sometimes I'm shocked at what's changed while I've been here.
I'm from there, but not anymore. I've been outside the major cultural forming events these last years and though I understand what's happened, I've missed the undercurrents explaining the "whys." I'm looking in, hoping I haven't been left behind.
That being said, you can't have it both ways. What I've missed out on not being there, I've gained by being here.
Being a long term expat is more than just learning about the food, language, or day to day idiosyncrasies of your new home. It's about learning how to remain yourself, the self you became a long time ago elsewhere, while evolving under a new sky.
What I didn't realize when I moved to Europe, was that I had inadvertantly gotten a job as a junior diplomat. See, for a lot of people in France, I am the only American they've ever going to met. So regardless that I'll never speak French like a native or understand the attraction to foods made from odd animal parts, it's up to me, horrible grammar and all, to babble about chez moi way over there, across the sea.
Even though I'm not living in the loop, it's up to me to show them who an American can be and explain that life over there isn't at all like what you see on TV. And I have to admit, this is one of the best jobs I've ever had.