there is a difference between being an american in paris and being a foreigner.
how can i describe this?
being an american in paris just means you’re an american and you’re in paris. you blend in, you don’t blend in, it doesn’t really, really matter. for the most part, you are going about your business & nobody else really cares. being a student, or a tourist, or a businessman, or a downright ex-pat… whatever it is, an american in paris has nothing to prove. she doesn’t have to know french, she doesn’t have to care about french people, she is not likely cleaning anyone’s toilet. she doesn’t have to explain herself to anybody.
now, you know what a foreigner is. you have either been one or known one or judged one. a foreigner doesn’t speak your language, doesn’t eat the food you eat. their house does not smell like your house when each of you is cooking. their traditions are not like yours. their holidays fall on strange days and have to do with histories you did not learn in school.
a few nights ago, i put a thanksgiving dinner before my boyfriend & his family. he, having lived in the states for a year & having spent his last thanksgiving in virginia, not only knew what to expect, he was excited. his family, on the other hand, gingerly tested their folks against the variety of textures i had arranged on their plates, cautiously eyeing the mysterious ball of homemade stuffing, the orange blob of mashed sweet potato, the too-crisp green beans…
i was in my own home, with my own boyfriend, eating my very own, very first, fully-made-by-me thanksgiving dinner. but as simply as that: i became a foreigner. surrounded by faces as confounded by the cinnamon they tasted in this bite or that, as they were unfamiliar with the story that brought this particular food to the table on this particular day.
for me, being a foreigner is feeling a little out of place in your own skin, sensing that what you have to offer requires explanation, reckoning with the fact that history is as subjective as taste and that your cute little face may be confounded at any moment, with the entire course of american history, the entire panorama of american holiday foods, the entire continent from which you are lately descended.
in part, i left my country to discover this sensation. i think it’s a difficult sensation for an american to come by.