«As a couple, we are fragile, we now even talk of getting separated. The love we have for each other is still there, but we believe the different ways we each experience living abroad is where the problem is ». Martha and Alan are in their mid-thirties and already have little to say to one another. If they do not really know how they got to this sad point in their relationship, the fact is, that the three years they spent together in Paris created a gap between them that is difficult to bridge.
«We met at Berkley and as soon as we could we came to France to realize our childhood dreams, live in a country rich in history and arts, and experience a culture we thought at the time was what exactly we desired ». Both working successfully in finance, Martha and Alan share today a beautiful apartment in the 16th arrondissement. Life is treating them well and yet, they feel like two strangers to each other.
«Together or separately, through the American community or with our Parisian friends, we have taken full advantage of the city’s euphoric energy, fun and creativity. Unfortunately, while our careers were going very well, I had the impression Alan was gradually hiding his American background particularly with how America is currently perceived abroad. He was trying to become another character, some kind of Parisian self-caricature of himself. I found this ridiculous and quite unattractive», laments Martha. « And for my part », adds Alan, « I have seen my wife behave like a shy, clumsy and provincial California girl, unwilling to merge into this exciting city which has some much to offer ». Our two former lovebirds are no longer in sync. They even think about divorce. Martha would go back to her native Oakland and Alan would stay in their apartment in Paris « because the USA is no longer for me! »
Sitting at a table at Chez Mimi, their favorite neighborhood restaurant, they have decided to talk to each other as sincerely as possible, hoping to get out of this painful situation and enjoy life together again. Knowing that they don’t live abroad the same way, they take turns explaining what fascinates or bothers them in the City of Light. Alan starts first. What pleases him the most here is that French people are not always talking about money but know how to appreciate life, good food, good wine, and real friendships, « I also love their manners, here when I open the door to a woman, she smiles at me and says thank you. In America, I get the rolling eyes, guilty of being chivalrous, therefore misogynous ». His positive feelings toward France are so strong that they have become addictive, « here, I am found to be elegant, educated, intellectual and above all, not to be looked at with contempt and disgust when my accent says I am from Trump country! » Martha shrugs her shoulders. Contrary to what her husband thinks, she feels happy and comfortable living in Paris and could see herself living there for several years. What deeply annoys her is her husband ultra-negative attitude toward his native country, « Alan, sometimes I wonder why you’re are so ashamed of your origins, and for God’s sake, why do you like so much to be called Alain ! it sounds so immature to me ». What Martha just said makes Alan think, at last. « Darling, you have always been my elegant, intellectual and well mannered Alan, but as soon as you landed in Paris, its as if the opinion of those who do not know you at all is more important than mine or those who love you on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean ».
Being an American in France (or elsewhere) is for us, expatriates or immigrants, much more fun and stimulating than being an American in America. While this natural enthusiasm is most often the bearer of good promises, it can sometimes be a hindrance and hurdle to the professional, intellectual or emotional growth that one has come to seek in a foreign country. Alan might feel French but he is not, and it is ok. That is what he has understood while having dinner with his wife at Chez Mimi, « I am overdoing it. Since there is a long and precious history between our two countries, I do not need to act like a born and bred Parisian to be welcomed and loved by them ».
What separated this couple became its cement. Alan, who stopped calling himself Alain, shared with the woman he always loved his discoveries and his new convictions, « I do not want to lose you living in the beautiful City of Light, at the contrary I want to charm you again, I want to be your Gene Kelly, your American in Paris, forever and ever ! »
Author: Nicolas Serres Cousiné
An American and French citizen, New Yorker for thirty years, trained at New York University and accredited as an Associate Certified Coach by the International Coach Federation, Nicolas has returned to France, his native country, where he has currently been coaching English-speaking expatriates and their spouses, all willing to commit to a better, richer and deeper professional or personal life. www.nicolasserres-cousine.com
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