Être Française et Américaine, Cristallisations Culturelles
French born and educated, the author lived in Italy and in the US, mostly in California for about twenty years. Upon returning to France, she wrote this essay to comprehend what happens when two very different cultures, languages, philosophical and aesthetic perspectives are at play within the same person. When the “can do”attitude collides with the Cartesian doubt, when“doing” and “being”are constantly negotiating and debating with one another. When “positive feedback” gets under the scrutiny of the French piqueand critique. When simplifying is up against complexifying.
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Nathalie Monsaint-Baudry is a major league polymath whose insights into the cultural vicissitudes of both France and America––particularly Los Angeles—are philosophical, linguistic, artistic, sociological, and just plain on target. Having been an “immigrant” in Los Angeles roughly at the same time as the author was working there, I also found it a new and different world, though I emigrated, not from the Hexagon, but from Cleveland, Ohio. Reading this meaty volume brought back memories and instigated insights as well as provoked the kind of aha’s that come when someone finally provides the words for something you felt but didn't quite know how to express. The painter’s “perspective” is the leitmotif that opens the book and provides us interculturalists with the new way of looking at things, how to come not too close and not too far. Astutely observing that our science-credulous world has programmed itself to prefer for the mental estrangement of Descartes to the hands-on reality of da Vinci, Monsaint-Baudry opts for the concrete expression of Angelino in-your-face-ness. Just as LA County homes have no basements, so too, Los Angeles is not supported by its history, but by its dreams and fantasies, a canvas on which to paint the future. I remember how once a young man from the East Coast of the United States tried to explain to me that he had spent months trying to get on the “inside of things” in Los Angeles, until he discovered that “there was no inside to get inside of.” Los Angeles County has lots of centers but no Center. There are no signs indicating “Centre Ville”, but every street corner could easily be labeled “Toutes Directions”. Places have names like Santa Monica, Miracle Mile, Downtown, and Old Town, but in fact the only center is the place in which you are standing. You are the center and wherever you move, the rest of the world moves about you. The place is centrifugal, not centripetal, so watch your footing. It is the perfect place to go it alone on the path of the self-made myth. It's a flat tortilla, it's a grid, a place to get lost so that you have to make a religion of finding yourself, or as I did and many European visitors do, occasionally motor up to San Francisco in order to breathe. LA is the only place where I have ever lived where the freeways merit a definite article, “the 5,” “the 15”. Circumcision and death are side-by-side, testimony to the US American need to get it right from start to finish. The world of personal trainers and therapists is close by to see you through your addiction to snack crackers or crack snacking. Pay-as-you-go religion, mega churches that squat on the landscape broadcast the intimate connection in the US mentality between faith and capitalism—both coins and currency are labeled, “In God we Trust.” While seeing LA as essentially a masculine environment it is also the home of super mom and the HMF (high maintenance female) a place where products can only be marketed well if they bear the blessing of mother nature (organic, no additives). The book is a Christmas fruitcake of such images and discourse, held together by the dough of Socratic reflection, so I only mention a couple of the nuttier kernels and intensely fruity bits and urge you to munch on the rest yourself—the checklist, the container store, smells and credit cards, over-the-top, cornucopia, and many, many more in this place where the bizarre is never ridiculous. According to the most recent issue of Chief Executive Magazine, California is the worst US state in which to do business, and Texas is the best. It would be interesting to sequel this book with something equally incisive about Texas, which might also tell us a lot about the cultural divisions that both polarize and connect US Americans. Have him Should you think that the USA does not have an abiding culture that finds expression here, think again. The red thread of US ideas, ideals, and idiosyncrasies is traceable through the author’s familiarity with such classic observers of America as Alexis de Tocqueville, Châteaubriand, and Henry James, to say nothing of her vast experience with the abiding themes of US cinema whose output she subtitled for the Francophone market. France is far from forgotten in these pages of countless perspectives. The author is careful to switch to the French frame of reference repeatedly, both so that Gallic culture can be understood as well as serve as foil to the US scene, which in turn exerts certain magnetism on the direction of French culture itself. There are many, many mini illustrations that capture the text in a graphic way. My sole complaint is that they are so minuscule—perhaps one of the hazards of print-on-demand. Much like LA, and much like ourselves as expatriates, Être Française et Américaine seems to aspire to being a work in progress. I hope my short intro will encourage you to have a look as well as continue shaping your own work in progress.
Ce livre a été pour moi une ouverture sur deux mondes que je regardais avec beaucoup de naïveté. Il m'a permis de me défaire doucement de jugements déjà faits. Je suis particulièrement reconnaissante que vous l’ayez mis à disposition librement sur Internet en plus de la version papier Pour moi, la réflexion, les comparaisons que vous faites ont quelque chose d'universel. Elles peuvent servir à d'autres peuples, d'autres communautés qui souhaitent dépasser leurs désaccords et évoluer ensemble. La lecture est rendue agréable par les passages où vous évoquez vos échanges avec vos enfants, vos élèves, vos interpellations. Merci, Sofia El Azri Paris
This uniquely wonderful book is both a personal and intellectually refined reflection on the experience of being French AND American as a woman. The author's keen sense of observation and ability to live fully within each culture while being a "not-so-distant" participant/observer provides readers with a rare lens through which to better grasp complex aspects of each culture, and ultimately who we are in each culture. Like the author, I am myself both French and American. I have read and re-read this book, and found that I always learned something different about myself and my two worlds every time. I would think that this book will not only appeal to those who are both French and American based on their actual nationalities, but also to those who feel INTERNALLY both French and American and wonder about how to reconcile these seemingly unmatchable pieces of a puzzle. Those who are optimistic with a "can do" American attitude but also appreciative of history and the past, who like the everyday friendliness of American social and business life, but may miss at times a proper sense of French hierarchy and etiquette... Both intimate and scholarly, this book is an account of how living life in various cultures adds to our lives while also forcing us to look at ourselves and others and to integrate our multiple perspectives into one coherent whole.
Avoir une connaissance parfaite de l’une et l’autre des cultures française et américaine est le reflet d’une expérience rare. C’est celle qu’a acquise Nathalie Monsaint-Baudry après plus de quinze ans de vie américaine, expérience qui lui permet aujourd’hui d’apporter un éclairage complémentaire bienvenu sur nos certitudes cartésiennes et qui est présentée dans son ouvrage intitulé « Etre française et américaine ». Ce livre, dont les chapîtres sont solidement documentés, est très instructif et, de plus, agréable à lire. Après un détour par la Sicile, au pied de l’Etna où le Cyclope règne toujours, puis un autre par Philadelphie, détours qui permettent de mieux comprendre la suite anglo-saxonne du parcours de l’auteur, c’est une description plus détaillée de la vie en Californie et, plus précisément, dans la Ville des Anges, qui est proposée. Le lecteur découvre non seulement la vie de tous les jours avec ses codes précis, à connaitre, mais il profite aussi de nombreux conseils pour la pratique des affaires, y compris dans le business complexe des sociétés hollywoodiennes du cinéma où N. Monsaint-Baudry a exercé avec son talent biculturel empreint d’une lecture approfondie des écrits de Tocqueville. D’une façon générale, le lecteur trouve dans le texte une foule de renseignements qui peuvent être bien utiles, que ce soit pour un simple voyage d’agrément en Californie ou pour s’y installer pendant plusieurs années. Il faut lire ce livre, même si on a l’impression de bien connaître les Etats-Unis. Il faut ensuite l’avoir à portée de main pour retrouver le détail qui change tout, que l’on veuille acheter du cacao en poudre dans un supermarché, discuter les éléments d’un contrat, ou que l’on soit invité à une réception, pour se comporter en parfait invité …. français.
This book is not only an additional book about differences between French & American cultures. It is a true research study, wonderfully documented that both mundane & scholars will appreciate. And a true story.
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