Monday, May 15, 2006

Neither here nor there

I didn't call my mother to wish her a happy Mother's Day yesterday. I forgot, as I do most years, not because I don't love her, but because it's not the same day here. In France, it's the last saturday in May. So I call her on the French one and she forgives me for not remembering and says sweet things like, "That's ok, I get to have two Mother's Days this way."

But the Mother's Day thing brings up a bigger issue. Aside from the big holidays, Christmas and Easter, for example, the holidays are different here. Obviously, you're probably thinking. This is a traditionally Catholic country, and while they could teach us a thing or 200 about real separation of church and state, Catholic holidays do dominate the calendar. All Saint's Day, Acension, Penecost, Easter Monday, these are all bank holidays here. But I don't do much about them, not being French and not being Catholic. Some other big American holidays, Thanksgiving and 4th of July, for example, I don't do much about either. Thanksgiving because, well, it's hard to schedule much on a thursday when everyone works and the following weekend is usually when we celebrate my birthday, (December 1st in case you want to leave a birthday well-wishing comment that day) and spending 12 hours in my kitchen is not how I want to spend my birthday weekend. Gosh, I am SO high-maintenance. 4th of July, well, I guess because Independance day here, Bastille Day, is the 14th, so they both kind of get lost in the shuffle. But as the kids get older I realize I need to get a little more into the spirit of things.

There's a fine line you have to live with when you raise children biculturally. I want them to feel American but I also want them to feel at home here, not like foreigners. And I'm realizing that I've been putting most of the American focus on language, which is ridiculous, as if being American, or any nationality, could be reduced to linguistics. But reflections like that lead me to questions like what does it mean to be American and I don't really have an easy answer. I guess this is just one of those situations where it's best to fake it until it's real. So, Lorraine, get that book published, I could use some great ideas for establishing (Franco-American) traditions in my family. I'm officially pre-ordering my copy.

16 comments:

beth said...

I promise to send you emails updating you on the American holidays - and maybe I'll ship you a care package of my 4th of July cookies (basically choc chip cookies with red, white and blue M&Ms!) I imagine that in a foreign land that being American is not so much about celebrating the special days, as it is an inner feeling - but what do I know being that I live in the US?

Nicole said...

Beth - But I can't really impart an 'inner feeling' on the boys. So I've got to do the obvious stuff. Good idea on the cookies, I'll make some myself.

Lorraine said...

Order duly noted. Thank you. In the meantime, bake more pie.

charlie said...

Nicole - first (and very important), I'd like to wish you a happy birthday on 1st December. I do this now cos it's odds on my wandering leg will have been the death of me by then or, even worse, I will have suffocated on a bank somewhere beforehand (beforeleg?).

Secondly, I visited Texas in March as the first in a series of visits to the States, all with the intention of piccing and writing about how a Brit might view that there country. As part of my 'research' (hollow laugh), I've just finished reading Steinbeck's 'Travels with Charlie'. He confesses towards the end that even he doesn't understand the place, doesn't understand what it's like 'to be American'.

Just thought I'd mention it :o)

charlie

Nicole said...

Lorraine - food and language, that's all I've got. Could be worse, I suppose.

Charlie - First,thank you for the birthday wishes. I'm very big on birthdays and your kindness will not go unnoticed. Therefore, I hereby promise to always throw you back so if you suffocate on a bank, it won't be by my hand. Generally speaking, try to avoid bait. Second, Texas, for the record, is another planet. Third, I'm relieved, sort of, to know I'm not alone in my incapacity to define Americanness. So thanks again.

zeb said...

After all the years you have been in denial you finally admitted you are high maintance.

kim said...

I have been reading your blogs which I find very amusing and interesting to read, but have yet to comment. I am not sure I can keep up with the witty crowd of friends and family you've got reading. When we were living in Belgium, we were there for Thanksgiving. We dressed up, I took a picture of us on the couch and I believe, made chicken for dinner at 6pm after work.
It was a little depressing and somewhat disappointing when you are used to gathering with family. No pies, no turkey, no family. I sympathize...Kim Bolker

kim said...

Me again, I was still thinking about your blog and have more to add. I might be stretching here with my suggestions. It seems to me that many of the smaller holidays are about the traditions you created with your family as you were growing up. Some good, maybe some not so good. I imagine there are some that many of us continue to observe as adults. Maybe sometime in the summer have a "traditional" summer or 4th of July barbeque with burgers and hot dogs (if you can get them in France), watermelon, and sparklers, red white and blue decorations, or how about red jello with cool whip and blue berries decorated like a flag (or maybe not...) Re-create some of your family traditions for your kids to actually experience. We wouldn't want to overdo it, maybe one holiday per year....it's really easy to offer suggestions, when I would not be the one having to do all the work. Just a thought.

Nicole said...

Zeb - I am NOT high-maintenance, you just missed the sarcasm. I might be medium maintenance on my birthday weekend, but that's it.

Kim - Welcome to commentland, I'm very happy to have you here. Thanks for the suggestions. You're totally right, I've just been really slack about the whole thing.

zeb said...

Give me some credit I got your sarcasm it was just an opportunity to remind you of your princess status in a different way.

christi said...

i got a brilliant idea...if you want the boys to feel american....come visit more often!! :) :)

Nicole said...

Zeb - I know, I just wanted another opportunity to restate my non-princessness.

Christi - you're one to talk.

christi said...

ohhhh nice dig. however, i have visited twice in the last 2 yrs. and u? hmmmm....

Diane S. said...

Language is a vehicle of culture, but not culture.

Are your kids old enough to read American books, watch American movies, see maybe American TV shows? Try to think about what parts of American culture you want to pass on to them.

My German great grandmother taught me a love of fine lace, of good German food, and of Wagner. She also had Hummel figurines, but frankly, I hate them. My Irish Grandfather taught me a love of music, of whimsey, of idle time, reverence for The Church, some really great cuss words, and - unfortunately - carried the gene for a love of drink. Luckily I escaped that gene, but most of my family did not.

There's a lot to love about America. We're generally optimistic. We're multicultural. Doing the right thing is important to us even when we can't agree about what it is. We love music. We love animals.

On the otherhand, there's more than a bit to abhor about America. We are the most "entitled" people on the face of the earth. We want to pollute the planet but want everyone else to stop so our pollution can be globally distributed and the outcome won't be so bad. We can't abide anyone thinking we're wrong (especially the French). We think we invented everything. We want lavish credit for tight-fisted giving. We don't support the arts (unless you count making certain musicians and actors very wealthy). Most of us don't get Opera or the Ballet at all.

I don't have children, and I'm in America, but I think if these things weren't true, what I'd want to bring to my children from America would be the idea of our multiculturalism, the idea of co-existence without assimilation, our optimism, and of course, pie. Lots and lots of pie. Coconut cream. Apple and cherry with ice cream on top. I'd want to share old American folk music with them, like Doc Watson or Bill Monroe. I'd like them to know what we did in World War II, because it's the last time our military did anything to be really proud of. I'd like to teach them about the abolition movement, the Grange movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement (Viet Nam and Iraq), the women's movement and even the animal rights movement. I'd like them to know about these things because I'd like them to know that Americans will band together to fight injustice. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but we never flinch from the fight. I'd like to teach them about the founding fathers and the ideology which went into the constitution, because it was really a unique sort of idealism - the idea that I could believe one thing, and you could believe another and that could be okay. It was a new thought. I'd like them to know we went to the moon. We just looked up there one day and said let's go, and a few years later, with huge computers only a little more poowerful than pocket calculators, we did it. I'd want them to see the movie Apollo 13.

And then - and this is just me - I'd want to teach them that we're all part of something bigger than a country or our ancestors. I'd like to try to teach them to be global citizens. I'd like to (buy the world a coke) teach them that any act of violence demeans us all. And I'd like to teach them the importance of doing small things with great love.

For someone with no kids, I've no dearth of child rearing advice do I? What hubris! Humbug with me.

And I'd like to join Charlie in wishing you Happy Birthday, because while Charlie may die gasping on a boat, I simply have great holes in my head through which things fall out with alarming regularity. So happy birthday. Happy birthday to you.

Nicole said...

Diane S. - Well said. Thank you for the birthday wishes and for the suggestions. You are right, of course. There are many good things, I guess I've just been thinking of those as my things and not American things.

Tom said...

Dec 1. sorry i forgot once or twice, but to all the ones before and coming, a big hug and wish for your happiness.
i loved diane's comments - unusual because so well rounded - and good to hear. this might be a bit off but when in italy with friends from naples we have on many occasions had the usualy intense talks about america vs europe (or italy) and primarily I concluded they valued their history as compared to ours, almost as if we had none. visually our built or made environment, with the exception of a say the empire state building, bruce springston, and the golden gate bridge, it may not seem great a great comparison (there's only one Rome) but i argued that we certainly do own one that in someways may be construed as an extention of theirs, and as time moves on perhaps of the whole worlds' (some worth feeling really good about and some pretty damn bad about (which is what we work to change - something many europeans I sense fail to take note of)). but aside from that aspect - I have come to feel the essence of america or americans is our transcience - unsettleness - always searching - always longing - believing that tomorrow really just might be better - theres a bit of cowboy and marlyn in all of us. the long road, the empty sky, the moving on. (nicole, to me, your american to the bone, one of the ones I believe will make tomorrow a better world in your ways for us all). I have to admit i love thanksgiving purly for the cooking. The party is always in the kitchen - its a great time for friends (the other american family) to gather and build deeper bonds.