Diaries Magazine

Talking Heads.

Posted on the 10 September 2013 by Ellacoquine @ellacoquine
Being in an intercultural couple, a conversation that Aurelién and I like to consistently indulge in is comparing the differences between our two backgrounds. Never in a competitive manner because neither one culture could claim superiority over the other; they are both so different. But just simple observations, as well as cooking up scenarios imagining how it would play out in both France and in the States. 
Being placed in new situations outside of our French life during our one month excursion in the US provided fodder to one of our favorite pastimes, adding more contrasts to dissect. Aren't we just total party animals?
What amazes him almost every trip abroad, but especially this one since we were out in California where perhaps it's heightened, was how most people are so open and willing to chat with total strangers. Had I not spent as much time in France as I have at this point, hearing this observation would have fallen flat because up until this extensive experience abroad, I thought that most people engage in small talk with random folks you're sitting next to at a bar or a restaurant. It's taken a few years to discover that this is an American trait, that we look at dining or having a drink as a total social experience not always confined exclusively to our personal present company. 
In San Francisco we experienced one of the more extreme cases of a random interaction with strangers when a group of locals that we had struck up conversation with at a cocktail bar, invited us that evening and treated us to dinner at NoPa, the city's most buzzed about kitchen in the Bay AreaThe handwritten thank you card I sent (after cleverly getting their home addresses), to me, still seems rather trite and have since been keeping an eye out in paying it forward somehow. 
Throughout our entire trip in America we engaged in small chats with random characters who offered us slices of information, portals into their lives; a restauranteur who had lived in LA for 15 years before moving up north enjoyed an espresso on his day off at the legendary Cafe Trieste; a young bartender at Tart who wants to be a real actress and is terrified of the idea of having to resort to working on a reality show; the server at Bottega on Long Island who has a cousin studying abroad in Paris and couldn't believe that restaurants don't serve mimosas here; the guy sitting next to me at the DMV who lost his license at a bar the night before his plans to drive out to Arizona for the weekend and who had a boyfriend who used to live in my old building in West Hollywood; the vintage boutique owner who mistook our request to finding a good place to get a drink for a good place to get a joint, and actually gave us directions on where to legally purchase pot (ah, California). The stories were endless, each time leaving Aurelien amazed with how much information we were being given at such slight insistance. I don't even know what most of the parents of the kids I teach actually do for a living, but I do know that Roxanne, our flight attendant on our flight back to New York prefers full-bodied, buttery white wines to the fruitier selections. 
Last week, taking advantage of the last warm summer's eve in Paris, in an unscripted change of after-work plans, Aurel and I decided to sit along the quai at Île de la Cité to watch the sunset, feel the last of the warm air, and to enjoy our farewell bottle of rosé for the season. Arriving, we saw that others had the very same idea and we had to squeeze in tight between other groups of friends and couples to get a good view of the shadowing bridges behind the setting sun, letting our feet dangle over the sparkling Seine.  talking heads. talking heads. Being in such close proximity to strangers it would never occur to us to even consider striking up conversation. It's just not done here. If there was a group of Americans, perhaps, but the French would just think it was intrusive. With our rosé buzz kicking in, we entertained ourselves with hypothetical plot lines of us asking our neighbors about their wine and snacks, professions, and what part of town they lived in. (I'm chuckling now just picturing this scene.) It was then that we were handed an opportunity to test our theory; a couple to the right of us were sharing with their friends animated details about their current trip to...California.
If there was ever a moment to chime in...
"Go tell him we were there!" I nudged Aurélien in a loud whisper reminiscent of someone's grandmother ordering them to shove the bread from the bread basket in their bag while the server's back was turned. 
"That would be weird." He responded flatly, turning to look out onto the water, sipping his wine. "Oh come on, it wouldn't. We were just there, share a memory with one of your compatriots!" And then I got the French huff, followed by a shrug, and a dramatic shoulder toss, "Yeah, my compatriots. N'importe quoi." Just then, a Bateau Mouche came charging by, shining their offensive tanning-salon, high voltage lights along the water, blinding all of us who were enjoying the moonlit glow against our end-of-summer bronzed skin. Everyone shared a collective round of disgruntled moans while momentarily looking away from the water where a lot of our eyes met. Seizing the opportunity, I leaned over to the couple, wished them a bonsoir, and said that I couldn't help but overhear that they were in California over the summer, offering that we were there as well! Hurray for Hollywood? As it turned out, they were in California. It was nice. They ate well. It was sunny. And that was it. And this is where the cultural differences between my husband and I swooped in: Aurel thought they were really outgoing and forthcoming about their trip while I thought they were fucking rude. I didn't learn anything about their summer vacation. 
But I suppose that was the point. The two of us had a good laugh about this on our Vespa ride back home with me of course, reacting the scene in his ear. In reality, I'm sure the couple is quite lovely and I had just caught them off guard. I guess the stereotype that first impressions of Americans are that we're brazen and arrogant, and the French are cold and demure will never cease to exist, okay and allow me to take some responsibility here, I also do talk way too much. But who would ever want either culture to change? I for one would not, because it's these kinds of differences that remind me that I do live in another country while deepening my understanding of how people from different backgrounds function, respond, and interact; somewhat of a character builder in my opinion. 
I suppose I will always be somewhat out of my element here, which keeps my two feet firmly on the ground as I am constantly learning and evolving with my surroundings. And you know what, there's something really comforting about that.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog