September 18, 2015


Emigrants? Migrants? Ex-expatriates, Patriots, Americans again, Oaklanders?

Still settling into this new/old thing .  So here it is, we lived the first 4 decades of our lives as Americans…..

one decade as frenchmen

back to a reality.

Back to the house we have owned for a long 18 years, but lived in only 4 and its all so strange and familiar.

As we unpack our “stuff” we found some of the items landed in their spots from 12 years earlier, and some floated off with a question mark. There were things we didn't recall owning, things which didn't fit into our new lives, things we tried to get rid of 12 years ago, the boomerang stuff that has returned to treasured status and some of the treasured stuff which is already adorning the shelves of Goodwill…
The last bottle af an extreme vintage

The house is wonderfully sparse, as are the closet rods the bookshelves and our agendas,  but we have notice the french stuff is soon to be NYK METEOR and will crowd our lives by mid-October.  Perhaps by then we will remember which cabinets are for cereal and which are for spices. So far the kitchen is a grab bag,  knives and spatulas co-mingling, pot lids in one room, pans in another!?!? Monty Hall would appreciate the randomness.

Andy Goldsworthy's Wood Line

But what I want to try to understand is the changes in life that our re-patriation has wrought?  I only sort of understood what it meant to be an “ex-patriate”, a heady mix of belonging to several cultures at the same time.  We were part of a French community, the local American community and the Absent from America tribe as well.  

Re-patriation was a process,  starting with the straddling of the previous 3 communities and the decision to exit, stage east. First there was an element of quitting a club, perhaps because there was a shared challenge to living offshore. In an ex-patriate community there was a brotherhood of complaints and compliments autour the society you are invading. Second there is a loosening of the laces, maintaining a fit snug enough so as not to trip, but preparing your exit. Third, but not last, there is a reweaving of relationships from proximate to distance.  Its a bit of a roll reversal that I hear echoed in my voice when I say now, as then, what I miss is my friendships (and the cheese).   So we quit that!  We left some soldiers behind, but America is undesirable enough that we will be replaced. May they love it as much as we did.
Exploring Tahoe

So we are back in our new & old life. It is not really a challenge, it’s oddly easy. Life in someone else's culture is challenging, life here is home and familiar, I think a french person would feel the same returning to their shores. Perhaps life in France is more challenging on a technical level, but their complexity might in fact be what we are missing now.  Obvious differences, turning on the machine of daily life is a breeze, buying/ renting/ turning on a phone or a gas line is so streamlined here it boggles the mind that it could be so simple. No-one is asking how long you will stay, instead there are the open arms which presage a hug. There is not the tensing of the posture before a double kiss, wondering is it 2 or 4 and do I start on the left or the right?  But neither is there the acknowledgement that we have grown so fond of. When you walk into a store in France, you ALWAYS say “bon jour”  to the store!  or whomever might be listening.  In a doctor’s waiting room, you say hello to the collected masses, in an office, or a party, the custom is to bon jour everyone first, THEN chat, or work, or wait your turn.  In America, California version, the greetings are sadly unimportant.  They might happen, but just as likely, there are people you might never say hello to?!
Too often it becomes a “hello& goodbye”.

The food is expensive here, but deliciously innovative, the service is over the top, the pace is on speed, the cars are too big and there is traffic of epic proportions! I am happy to see there are high heels, there are silly little jackets on enough of the men and the proliferation of yoga pants is not as bad as all of the french think it is. The weather is better, the amount of Organic food is off the hook, but then again, the majority of the already less expensive food in France is of a better quality than here in ‘the states’.

12 years has made some inroads.  There are farmers markets everyday, there is “grass fed” beef at every store I have visited, tipping has climbed from 15% to 20, but I understand that wages haven't moved, so its a decent way to tax the rich and gastronomically inclined. The radio stations are still bad (download the app “FIP), and the cable TV bills are whack!  Cell coverage has improved and your prices are starting to drop.  We have been used to paying a fraction of what you pay, like 10 to 50%, that’s crazy!

We have given up succulent duck on every menu for the welcome plethora of Thai, vietnamese, mexican….. We are getting used to short showers and smelly toilets, still surprised by the homeless camps behind the never closed shopping centers, the cars everywhere, the outrageous prices for bread! And OMG how early ya’ll eat! still not sure what you do all night after you leave the food behind before the sun has set!?

But its our heritage too, and we are happy to be back within it, hoping that we manage to hold onto whatever bizarre or sensical habits we were exposed to over the 1.2 decades as frenchmen!
Oscar and cousins at UCDavis

Oscar heads off to UCDavis tomorrow, starting a new chapter in the history of P(O)D. Its disturbing that when I type that it reminds me of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Once again, in so short a span, we will be redefining ourselves.  But that was a bit-o-the plan, to hide all these transitions into each other, hoping the change of scenes and acts and principle players would go un-noticed by an appreciative audience happy to have scored last minute tickets in the front row of our own broad ways!