With Two Feet in Two Cultures
Even though I have both feet firmly planted back on Indiana dirt, my heart and mind are still floating somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. Only a week ago, I was climbing the 680 stairs up to the second level of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, an annual pilgrimage that takes my breath away every time. In the park below, cherry trees and lilac bushes were blooming and the scent told me spring had arrived. My brain was switched to full French mode and my body followed as I gestured more than usual.
Back here in Northwest Indiana, the weather is still deciding what it’s going to do. The first day of spring is no indication that flowers will bloom. The seesawing temperatures are symbolic of how I feel and how I have always felt as a body stuck between two cultures. My brick and mortar home is in Goshen. But where is my heartland?
As I walk into the bakery on Rue St. Antoine, I fall back on all the customs that are deeply embedded in my bones. I say “Bonjour” to anyone who might hear as I enter and “Merci!” as I leave with my baguette and pastries under my arm. After two weeks back on the continent, my brain is thinking in French and some of the English words I want have disappeared. French seems to have so many more nuances and descriptive words. But maybe that’s just my heart talking… The main thing is that I feel at home here just like I do when I am in Goshen. I enjoy the great cheese selection and put up with the long lines at the grocery store. I soak in that particular smell that tells me that I am in Paris and ignore the dog poop on every corner. I enjoy the historical sights at every turn but remember the marginalized living in high rises on the outskirts.
Back in Goshen, it’s easy to pine for what I left behind. It’s not just a culture; it’s family and friends. They are the people I grew up with and who know me in a way that no one else will. The friends I have made on this side will never know me walking on cobblestone paths around Ohain, picking up chestnuts on a Sunday afternoon. They will never know me taking the train into Bruxelles on a Saturday afternoon, walking the whole heart of the city, with a warm sugar waffle in my hand. Instead, they know me as a baker of bread or a runner at Ox Bow Park or as a Saturday after market Goshen Brewing Company regular.
We all carry within us the cultures that we grew up with. Some of us want to keep them in our hearts; some of us don’t. For me, who does, it is an eternal battle. What makes it easier is being able to be myself in either culture. And being accepted as I am by those around me. Thanks, Goshen, for buying my bread, and now my cheese, and accepting my culture. As I leave behind the little hidden green squares, the 17th century buildings, that certain Je ne sais quoi that is so French, at least I know I am plunging back in the American energy, efficiency and friendliness that is also a part of me. And I am pretty sure that I will never give up either in my heart.