This American Life

On Thursday, I celebrated my 14th Thanksgiving.  14 years as a Parisian in America.

My first Thanksgiving was a classic affair.  It was the year 2000. Cranberry sauce, football, and Bud Lights under palm trees and Californian sunshine.  One year, I took my very Parisian parents to a small inn tucked away in central Virginia for a sumptuous spread.  Another year, I made it to the mall at midnight – I am still scarred from the line of people waiting to get inside the Coach store.  Yet another year, I ate cevapi with my then adoptive Serbian family.  Last year I was treated to the most scrumptious feast of love and abundance by my adoptive Virginia family.  This year, however, was my first Thanksgiving spent on the clock, making rounds in the hospital, cooped up in a windowless workroom animated only by my intermittently buzzing pager.

It’s not hard to find things to be thankful for when everyday you see sweet little faces struck by illness and grown up faces awash in anguish.  I am thankful for my health of course, my supportive family, and my gorgeous friends.  For the fact that there are still libraries in this world and plenty of old smelly books to discover.  For not having to worry about my next meal and being left with not so very serious problems such as whether to wear my silly hat or my silly earmuffs on a cold winter day.

Most of all, I am thankful for this American life.  My American Life.  For the chance to grow roots in this crazy, colorful, contradictory country.  For the sound of the crashing waves at Half Moon Bay, the boundless view from atop Old Rag, the azure skies above Mount Lassen, and the sunset over the Western shores of Lake Michigan. For my first time at the Met, my first wheat grass shot, my first football game.  The first time I tried root beer.  The first time I went to Disneyworld.  The first time I booed the Yankees.

When I was at Berkeley in my junior year of college, I took a history class called The Emigrants, or The American Peoples, or something to that effect.  Everyone at Berkeley had to take a class about cultural diversity in America.  My class covered the successive waves of immigrants who came to America between 1850 and present times.  Our final assignment was to write about ourselves and how we contribute to the country’s diversity.  I wrote about the French in America, how we don’t stick together like other ethnic groups have but rather we blend in and get lost in the crowd.  We retain our traditions, but we do so privately.  We do not feel the need to identify ourselves as us vs them – except in New Orleans where the French have there own “quartier”, but really, New Orleans, is that even America?  I came across this article on Thanksgiving, written by an American woman who has lived in Paris for the last 10 years.  She reflects on the French and our strange habits, she longs for turkey in November and she wishes she spoke better French.  But her ah-ha moment is much simpler yet so profound: “The biggest lesson I’ve learned in 10 years is that I’m American to the core.”

I am French to the core.  I will always recognize the smell of an authentic croissant, think of a three hour lunch as time well spent, and believe that stores should be closed on Sundays.  I will always support universal healthcare, public schools, and the superiority of  soccer over football.  I will never bake with Crisco, eat Cheetos, drink out of a 64oz Big Gulp, or buy “bread” that comes frozen in a metal can with a Michelin man on the label.  I will never wear trainers while commuting, or with jeans, or ever, in fact.  I will never understand why the Electoral College exists, why different states provide different levels of benefits, or how a government can shut down.  I refuse to entertain the thought that a groundhog can predict the length of winter.

I am French to the core and I will always be.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t be thankful for Pepper Jack grilled cheese sandwiches and a mean game of SEC college football.

Lucky to be here.  Oui.

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