• Alex

My French-American Childhood

Sometimes I find myself switching between languages as if my two native languages were one and the same. Other times I’ll realize that I do not truly belong to any one country’s culture. These are only a few of the effects of growing up in a household which felt like stepping into a different country.

My parents moved from France to the United States in their early thirties. Decades later, a visit to their home means being greeted with a strong French accent, the smell of thyme or rosemary from whatever French dish my mother has prepared, and an invitation to “apéritif”. Growing up, French was the language of our household. From the time I was 5, my parents claimed that they didn’t understand English at home. Of course, my sister and I speak English together, but with our parents it is always French. Every Saturday morning we would go to French school, study classic French authors such as Molière, and learn the nitty gritty of French grammar. We remain close to our extended family- all of which live in France- and speak to our grandma every day. However, our weeks were spent in an American public school, soaking in American culture. Quickly I noticed the effect this double culture environment is having on me. In kindergarten, I would confuse the letter g and j, as well as e and i, due to their similar pronunciations in French. Whenever my friends would talk about Nickelodeon or Cartoon network, I could only question what those were. I grew up watching “Barbapapa” and “Cité d’or”, not “Dora” or “Phineas and Ferb”. Confusing, overwhelming at times, I still wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. I love finding quirky similarities between the French and English languages or jamming out to both French and American music. That being said, here are three things growing up half in one world, half in another, taught me:

  1. There are different sides and perspectives to every story, even history: As I get older and more interested in international events and politics, I am surprised to see how different the French and American perspectives are. I was also surprised to see the difference in what was taught in world history. The first example of such difference that comes to mind is Lafayette’s perception; in the U.S., he is a noble war hero who helped lead the Americans to victory against the British; in France, he is a perfectly average politician who did little for his country.

  2. Every culture is beautiful in its own way: Being immersed in two cultures meant I rarely have a moment of realization where I think “Oh, not everyone lives just like me”. I celebrate both cultures I grew up in, and this helps me appreciate other countries cultures as well

  3. One’s lack of knowledge is someone else’s insult: I may be fortunately blessed with my dual culture but there were a few moments where ignorance stood out to me (moments like “oh your from France, that’s in Paris right?” or “You’re French, does that mean your parents smoke cigarettes?”) as the easiest way to insult someone. I can only imagine the unintentional offence people from a multicultural background may feel on the daily, due to such lack of knowledge. This has made me want to learn as much as I can about other cultures around the world.

Overall, growing up the way I did is, for me, a gift that I would not change for anything. I’m proud of being French and American, and I hope that every other kid who grew up in a different culture is proud of their heritage as well.

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