Which part of France did you grow up in, and did you ever dream of living in the United States? I am from Lyon, in the southeastern part of the country, between Paris and Marseilles. Lyon is known as France's gastronomic capital. When I was a child, I would have laughed if somebody had told me I'd be living in Chicago one day. I wanted to move to Paris, but the idea of living abroad never entered my mind. It was not my plan at all.
And then you married a diplomat and traveled the world? Yes, my husband is a civil servant with the French Foreign Office. We have already completed one full expatriate cycle: three years in Norway, three years in Sri Lanka, and three years back in France (the city of Nantes). Chicago marks the start of our second cycle. We've been living here since summer 2008 with our two daughters. It's our first stay in the United States.
I have a soft spot for your resume as like me, you earned a Ph.D. in politics but chose not to stay in the academy. I will always remember June 1999. My husband was about to receive his first overseas assignment — to Norway, though we didn't know that yet. Meanwhile, I got a phone call from the director of Department of Political Science at the University of Paris expressing interest in my candidacy for an adjunct teaching post. Without thinking too much, I answered: "I'm leaving the country." At that time I was writing my Ph.D. thesis. I could have stayed on my own for another year in Paris to teach at the university and defend my dissertation, but I didn't consider it. I wasn't passionate enough about academe to make it my career.
How does Chicago compare to Oslo and Colombo? It's been easy to settle here because I already speak the language, which was not the case in the other two cities. And the American way of life has been easy to adapt to. It helps that Chicago is family friendly compared to other American cities, Los Angeles for instance.
|ON THE "TO DO" LIST: Bank of America|
Chicago Marathon 2011
Have you made any American friends? As I'm fond of saying, I got to know more people after six months living in Chicago than after three years of living in Nantes, where we repatriated after Sri Lanka. But having a wide social network doesn't mean having many good friends. My daughters attend an American school so I often meet Americans, but in most cases the friendship doesn't go any further than a nice talk on the playground. To this day, most of my friends in Chicago are other expats.
|NO COSTUME CHANGE: Ariel keeps|
bikini top, even in France.
Great story. Can I ask you to follow it up with a "blind men's tale" — an example of how Americans and French people can approach the same topic very differently? Coming from Lyon, I would have to say the style of eating. I still cook everyday which I think is not the case of most Americans. People here are much more convenience oriented — except on Thanksgiving, when they go all out with fancy gadgets. And, although I've picked up the American habit of having food delivered from time to time (I love it!), I always request: no plastic forks, spoons, or paper plates.
That's something I've had trouble readjusting to as well after living in England and Japan. It doesn't feel like a proper meal without real cutlery and china. It's not just that, it's also wasteful. When I first got to this country, I was really shocked by the way Americans consume paper cups and plates, plastic glasses, napkins, etc. all day long. I was doubly shocked when I realized that I would not be able to recycle my garbage in my apartment building. These days, I bring my garbage down to the laundry room for sorting into newspapers, glass, plastic bottles and so. Once a week, I drive out to a place where I can deposit these bags for recycling.
So life isn't "greener" in Chicago? I get demoralized whenever I see bags of garbage on the Chicago streets. Why am I bothering if no one else is?
Even though you've moved around a lot, have you always tried to have a job? I am a mother of two but I am not only that. If my brain doesn't work, I get depressed. My identity is linked very closely to my professional and intellectual activities. But when you are an accompanying spouse and move every three years, it is almost impossible to have a career. Actually, you should remove that word from your vocabulary. You have to find other ways to feel active and comfortable in your shoes.
Tell me more about the business you started up recently. I had always picked up jobs as a trailing spouse, although the work wasn't always suited to my background and skills. When we arrived in Chicago in summer 2008, I was optimistic about landing a more challenging job, but then the American economy tanked. Nine months into our stay, I had no leads, nothing, not even an interview. Almost a year had gone by, and I had only two years left. I enlisted the help of a coach. I began to change my thinking: why not develop a portable job? After a full cycle of life as a diplomat's wife, I had grown tired of having to hand in my notice and search for something else every three years. I wanted some continuity. Just over a year ago, I started my own Web site, Writer Forever, offering freelance writing and editing services. For years, writing had been my passion, and although most of my jobs had included writing, it wasn't always the kind of writing I enjoyed.
Who are your clients? Online magazines, Web sites, publishing companies, and media agencies. I specialize in producing articles in French and English on a variety of topics from a French expat point of view.
You also have a companion blog? I started up Expat Forever this past April to share my thoughts and experiences as a serial expat. People think that "seeing an elephant," to use your expression, is glamorous, but that is a myth. When I was living in Sri Lanka, for instance, I had to contend with the threat of dengue fever, water and electricity cuts, violence and civil war. Another myth people have is that they will solve their problems by going abroad, but this is a mistake. It will only make things worse. Besides writing about my own experiences, I also review books dealing with expatriation, and I just now posted my first interview with a French expat: a painter who has lived in Chicago since 2006.
The blogosphere seems to be full of Americans writing about living in Paris. I imagine they have plenty of French counterparts who are living in American cities? Mais oui. One of my favorites is New York La Dolce Vita, about a Frenchwoman's adventures in New York City.
Julia Child was until I watched the trailer for Julie and Julia on the Internet — and then I knew I had to see the movie. I saw some of my own story in hers. She was an American woman married to a diplomat. When the couple landed in France right after WWII, she had no idea of what what she was going to do with her life. She fell in love with France and the food culture. Her passion became her business. After seeing the movie, I ran to Borders to buy her memoir, My Life in France. A few days later, I wrote an article for Femmexpat proclaiming Julia Child an icon to expat wives everywhere.
Can you channel Julia for a moment and tell us: if you had to design a meal that blends your favorite French and American foods, what items would you choose? I would start with a nice salad in the French style with a real vinaigrette. Then I'd prepare hamburgers and French fries, along with a choice of dips for the French fries — you Americans love your dips! For dessert, I'd serve homemade madeleines with strawberries. And nice wines, of course ...
No Chicago-style pizza? I've tasted it but am not a fan. It's too ... stuffed, too heavy.
|LUCKY SIGHTING: Elephants at |
Sri Lanka's Esala Perahera festival,
Courtesy S Baker
|BATH TIME: Pinnawala pachyderms, |
courtesy Dominique Schreckling