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What Makes Home, Home [Secret Life of an Expat]

As I fly away from a picturesque New England town where American flags are already hung from porches in preparation for Memorial Day weekend, I’m feeling reminiscent. Reminiscent of the  time when I rued the fact I was American, my teenage years. Back then I thought that America had no culture, America was nothing. Just a baby country, a mixed up group of different peoples who abandoned or were taken from their “motherlands” to come live in America to form a group of immigrants with no central focus.

I don’t feel that way anymore, something has pulled us together in my mind, and seeing how i am different from my new French surroundings makes me realize that we Americans have a very clear culture. You can see it everywhere, in big ways, and in small. As escargot and baguettes are are part of what make France, France. And there are also things that make the great motherland of America who she is. Especially through the eyes of someone who now lives in France.

on the streets

Big yellow school busses.

Highly organized, uniformed and fleeted delivery services

Where I live, there are two or three delivery services that bring packages to your house. One of them is part of la poste (the postal service of France), the others are private. In and around Paris, the mail people, in a uniform vest, ride marked bicycles or push three wheeled carts to bring your mail. But in my town, if you receive s larger package, it gets a little skeevy. Usually a guy in regular clothes rings your doorbell. He has a scanning device, so at least you know he’s legit, but then he opens an unmarked white van and searches for your package which is on the floor somewhere amongst the others that have been strewn there, no doubt sliding around on top of each other as he drives from house to house. You’ll see the occasional UPS or DHL truck in Paris, but I miss the fleets.

Three way stops.
In France, there are fewer of these. The rule is, the right has priority. So, if you are to the right of the car coming at you from the left, the other car must yield. My first few months driving I was terrified of a certain nearby intersection where I have to pull up to a T, and even though I’m the one turning, the cars coming from the left have to stop for me.

In the restaurant

free refills – never, ever will you see a French waitress come to your table with a pot of hot coffee offering you a warm up.
paper cups – a few places have these, like Starbucks and coffee vending machines. I found myself repelled by cafes where everyone inside was drinking from paper cups. Why get it to go if you’re going to stay?

The “you all doing okay?” visit from a waitperson – this is so dependable in the U.S. that you can say “we’ll ask when the waiter comes back,” but you hardly ever see it in France. You just have to politely get their attention again and hope your food doesn’t get cold while you’re waiting for mustard.

ice cubes – I really don’t get why European drink sellers ration their customers to two ice cubes per beverage, but they do.

tipping – while i appreciate the friendly service the American tipping phenomenon usually induces, I also appreciate not having to think about the tip if you’re on a budget, and being able to get up and leave without wondering if your server is offended by the percentage you left them.


Peanut butter. My coworker doesn’t believe that it can be made with just peanuts. There has to be butter in there, right? I’ve brought jars over and tried to get my step kids to like it, it’s supposed to be like kibble for kids, right? On crackers. Apples. Celery. Sandwiches. Cookies. Not to mention its household uses, like getting gum out of hair and driving dogs crazy. My family hates it. Who cares, more for me!

Squirrels. They’re cute. They’re fuzzy. They’re big tailed rats who live in trees. However you feel about squirrels, the only one I’ve seen in Paris was in a zoo. On display. Supposedly there are a few in the south of France, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

And finally, the you don’t know how good you got it luxury that I had forgotten about until I made a Trader Joe’s run for hummus and crackers, cash back.

Jiffy image credit: Cheryl Smith

featured image credit: Davide Simonetti

school bus image credit: Larry Darling

coca cola image credit: wikiccommons