mardi 4 juillet 2006
Several months ago I was talking with an American man married to a French woman. He has lived over here in France for the past twenty years or so, and they have three teenage children. He said some interesting things.

The first is that he doesn't really feel like he fits in anywhere. Here in France, though he speaks excellent French and is quite used to the customs and way of doing things, he is considered to be an American with American thoughts and points of view. When they go back to the US for a visit, he feels out of place as well. While he doesn't speak English with a French accent, he still has a bit of the French or ex-pat point of view on things- American politics, events, etc. So if you don't quite feel like you fit in your birth country or your adopted country, what are you?

I asked him how long it took before he felt that he was really fluent in French. He said that he doesn't yet. Which scared me. But he went on to explain that while he feels that he can just as easily express himself in French as in English, that he still feels that he thinks in English. His children spoke English very well, but an American could tell that they had a bit of an indefinable foreign accent.

I was talking with my French teacher the other day and he was talking about things I could do to lose my accent. Now don't get me wrong, I would love to speak French with perfect grammar and vocabulary, to not get messed up with the verb tenses, okay now does that end in -ais or -ait?
But would I really want to completely lose my accent so that a French person talking to me casually would not guess that I am a foreigner at least? Or is your accent and the way you speak (intonation and the "musicality of the language")part of personal identity too? When you run into a Texan in a hotel in Dubai, you know something about him and know that you share something in common with him. It is a starting point for conversation at least.
But if I never loose my accent, do I want to have that moment of "Oh, you are a foreigner"-reaction every time I go to buy bread? There are times when everyone wants to just blend in and not be noticed instead of being That Foreign Woman who Lives in That House There.

More than just accents, there are different frames of reference depending on where you grew up. For instance, an American living in the United States at the time would have a different view on the events of September 11th than an ex-pat who watched it on TV. Neither one is better, they are just different. A person in the United States would have more of an idea of how fellow Americans reacted while the one outside of the US would have more of a feeling of the rest of the world felt about it and portrayed it. And I would think that the two discussing the event would have a hard time really understanding the other's emotional viewpoint about it.

National holidays- sure, you can celebrate 4th of July by inviting other American families over for a BBQ and sparklers in the backyard, but you aren't going to get the parade down the street with the regulatory firetrucks and kids on bikes with red white and blue streamers, followed by the big band and fireworks after sunset. How important is that to you? Is it strange to see everyone else not giving two hoots about a day that is important to you? Even holidays that are shared, such as Christmas, feel different, especially in mixed nationality families.

What are you going to instill in your children? How will they really feel connected to this country that they are a citizen of but only visit once in a while and read about in books? And especially if your children do not live in/visit regularly the US, how would your grandchildren be connected to it at all? After a generation or two would the Americaness just die out of your family line?
Will you vote? Do you really care whether Colorado State Senator What's His Name gets re-elected for the billionth time? Do you feel that you still have a right to vote for issues that don't concern you directly? Will you keep your driver's license up-to-date? Will you go to your high school reunion?

Why do you have two nationalities if you are never planning on going back there to live? Some countries do not allow a person to have dual nationalities. They figure that you can only really be a Citizen of one country at a time.
For your children? Do you care if they don't have the same High School experience- Proms and football games and trying out for the Cheerleading squad? What if they don't care about the things that you consider an important part of the national consciousness- the history and literature and art?
How do you keep your cool when others start saying bad things about your country? Does it make you a bad American if you don't defend your country, ? What if you do defend your country, are you defending it just because you feel you have to because you are a representative of it in the outside world?

After all this, can you REALLY still call yourself a citizen of X country anymore? Is the American-born person who spent their entire life outside of the US really more American than an immigrant who has spent almost their entire life inside the US but is still not a citizen? If so or if not, what is national identity?

On this 4th of July (or whenever you happen to read this entry) please leave a comment saying what National Identity means to you.
Thank you and Happy 4th of July.

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