Secret Life of a Nerd Girl: The Secret Life of an Expat
a blogumn by Gudrun Cram-Drach
The first time I went to France, I stayed in an adorable little town on a lake, with canals running through it and 400 year old churches—it was just what I expected France to be like, quaint and calm. A place where people went out with their baskets on Saturday mornings and shopped at outdoor markets. A place with no malls, and the only chain restaurants were American, and empty, because no self-respecting French person would eat at McDonald’s.
Boy was I wrong.
When M came to visit me in LA, he wanted to do some shopping. I decided to show him a ‘Real American Box Store,’ to try to upset his sophisticated, European sensibilities. I took him to the Target in West Hollywood, not the biggest box store on the block, but horrendous enough. When I prompted him to express his shock and moral outrage at seeing such soul-less American consumerism, he said “What? We invented stores like this.”
I don’t know if that’s true, but there are malls everywhere, and our supermarket is enormous and on two floors. There are moving ramps that go to the second floor with magnets in them so you can bring your cart upstairs and throw a television and some car tires in next to your yogurt and wine.
And things even feel more commercial here, but maybe it’s because I don’t know the brands. After years of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods patronage, it was a painful adjustment to eat non-organic frozen foods again, to not be able to find the biodegradable cat litter that was made from wheat and lasted 6 weeks before it smelled bad, to buy my whole grain flake cereal from Nestle, a company I had written off in college as “worse than the devil,” and to actually walk into McDonald’s (the kids already think it’s great, I wasn’t there to prevent it) and eat something. But after I do half of my shopping at the supermarket, I can go to the outdoor market too, and to the bakery and the butcher. I can have a café at the local bistro, or find a Starbucks in Paris. There are lots of chain restaurants too, many of them American, like McDonald’s (always packed), but there are also European places dotting the autoroutes like Buffalo Grill (a not-quite-politically-correct ‘Old West’ themed resto), and Leon de Bruxelles (a Belgian place known for their moules frites).
So I’ve had to make some changes, figure out where I like to go, what I want to eat. I was recently surprised to learn that, some of the changes have changed me. When I was in Maine over the holidays, I had a list of foods I absolutely had to eat because I haven’t found good sources for them here. Pad thai, tacos, caesar salad, and chai tea. My caesar salad, from a restaurant where I know I love their caesar salad, was too salty. There was something hard and cold about the dressing that I didn’t like. And my chai, exactly the same cup of non-fat Tazo chai tea that I have adored since they started selling it, burned my throat. All I could taste was pepper and I couldn’t even finish the cup.
How could 6 months in a new place change my sense of taste? What else will it change? I’ve met a lot of long-term ex-pats here who say their families back home don’t understand them anymore. I doubt it’s because they forget how to speak English, but I wonder if they forget how to be American.
So, the original theme of this blogumn, “to talk about animation and life as a single girl in LA,” is obsolete. I haven’t animated anything in a while, I’m married, and I left LA more than a year ago. From here on, I’m going to talk about living in France. About the little things that I never knew about, like the cooking appliance I got for Christmas, or how sick days work when you have a full time job. I hope to entertain you, and I welcome questions, because it seems like everything here is just a little bit different than what you expect it to be.