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Crossing The Ocean Of Cultural Divide

At one point, although it is impossible to know at which point, I am sure I crossed over…

No, not from one political party to another. No, not from one sexual preference to another. And no, not just from the east coast to the west coast.

When I crossed the Atlantic ocean to France and the European continent, that I used to think was one big blob made up of monuments, cobblestone streets, remnants of World War II and those people we called “Europeans,” I had no idea that my view on life would cross as well. I have affectionately called this the “cultural divide” — the distinct differences in the way we view all aspects of life that juxtapose the relationships we have with “the other side.”

These ideas struck me profoundly yesterday in a lively debate at Parler Parlor with three “vrai Français,” a young Argentinean woman, a young man from San Diego with a Mexican origin and me. The Californian had only been here three months and was already filled with questions about the culture he had yet to find answers for. Before coming to Paris, he had been told by friends that the Parisians wouldn’t be friendly and that the French were arrogant and so on and so forth…filling his thoughts with stereotypical opinions (probably by people who didn’t really know, but had always heard those things).

I chuckled, knowing that at one time I had been in his shoes…long before I had “crossed the cultural divide” myself and had only seen life from that side of the Atlantic.

“Oh la, la…what a bad reputation we have,” they exclaimed! One of the French participants insisted she explain: “It’s not that we think we are better. We just don’t care what you think of us, so in fact, what you see is indifference! While you Americans want everyone to love you, we simply don’t care if you love us or not.”

I showed them all the book I’m currently reading by Australian journalist Sarah Turnbull, titled “Almost French.” It is her poignant personal story of crossing the cultural divide thanks to a French boyfriend and a new life in an apartment in the Sentier (in 2nd arrondissement near rue Montorgueil) that hits on many of the finer points of culture shock in a skillfully written and fresh style.

Later in the evening, over dinner with Lisa Rothstein, the watercolor illustrator of our latest publication, “Paris Confidential,” and award-wining screenplay author, the subject took an entirely different point of view. Lisa will be moving soon to Los Angeles to pursue her career as an author, after having lived here 11 years, and what is she most concerned with?…crossing culturally back to where Starbucks is the corner café, where conversations are centered more around diet and exercise than on what exhibit is showing at the Pompidou and where shorts and a T-shirt are perfectly acceptable attire almost anywhere. She’s a little anxious over the prospect, but looking forward to the challenge and concerned she may get entrenched in that other lifestyle, never to return full-time to Paris.

So, is crossing the ocean parallel with crossing the cultural divide?

The answer is yes. And I warn you now, both from personal experience, observation and unofficial polling of Americans living here, if you come to live here for any length of time (at least through one full set of seasons), then expect to cross over, if not totally, than in part.

It won’t be long before you think Starbucks coffee doesn’t stack up to a frothy French roast café crème…that the French are not only amazingly friendly and helpful (once a friend, a friend for life who will do anything for you), but not arrogant either (and if so, don’t they have the right?)…that Lord no, you would never discuss the caloric content of that Mousse au Chocolat you just ordered (or care)…and that dressing well is not something you do once in a while just to impress your boss, but is done every day in respect and in keeping with the esthetic beauty you are surrounded by.

A la prochaine..


Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
E-mail: [email protected]

P.S. For more information on Parler Parlor, visit
For more information of “Almost French,” visit /parlerparis/books/byamericanauthors.html
For more information about “Paris Confidential,” visit


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