When Home Becomes Foreign

Post-Trump the world has shifted on its head, and for an American expat in Paris, so has the concept of “home”.

On November 8th, 2016, I, along with many other newly classified snowflakes / libtards / Godless purveyors of equality, sat in front of a television and watched the United States of America have a very public nervous breakdown. From the middle of a friend’s living room in Paris — the city where I have been living for the last three years — I watched blue states turn red, newscasters grow flustered on live TV, polls defy odds, and, eventually, my country wheel itself into the ICU and hand Donald J. Trump the keys to the White House.

To be an American expat in Paris right now is to be torn between relief and guilt on a constant basis

Surrounded by friends from Australia, Russia, Italy and France, the apartment grew silent, and people who had nothing to do with the U.S. still lifted their hands to their mouths in disbelief, picking up their phones to answer messages from friends and family who had begun contacting each other across the world in shock. I was the only American in the apartment, which was a strange sensation in and of itself that night, but this election impacted everyone.

To be an American expat in Paris (and I am assuming elsewhere) right now is to be torn between relief and guilt. Just like our fellow citizens back in the States, our news apps also bing every five seconds, alerting us to whatever the hell he’s just done, whatever insult he’s just Twitter-lodged at an age-old ally within the confines of his 100 word vocabulary. The internet has flattened the world, if I may borrow Thomas Friedman’s terminology, so despite an ocean and multiple hour time differences, American expats in Europe are not that removed from what’s going on at home at all.

I watched this from a country that is not my own, but one that gives me more rights than my own country is willing to!

Except that I watched this man with seven other men, congregate in the Oval Office and, a-fucking-gain, sign legislation about the rights I have over my own body. I watched my newly elected representative in the world get manipulated by smarter, yet sometimes creepily religious men, who bathe themselves in testosterone-driven illusions of superiority while stripping their constituents of their undeniable – yet apparently deniable – rights. I watched from a country that is not my own, but one that gives me more rights than my own country is willing to.

I see Mike Pence smiling at the cameras, knowing he believes some of my friends should have their sexuality electrocuted out of them. I look at Steve Bannon – who didn’t want to send his kids to school with Jewish kids, ascend to LOTUS (Leninist of the United States). I’ve seen Betsy DeVos become Secretary of Education, which I have no punchline for. Our children’s future is the joke.

It is confusing, disturbing, and — especially as an expat who is constantly asked about my feelings on whatever the hell he is doing at any given moment — embarrassing.

I’ve watched most of this unfold from my apartment in Paris – albeit a small, student apartment, but an apartment in Paris, nonetheless. I am aware that my physical presence living here separates me from a majority of the people who voted this president into office. I am aware that I am from New York City which automatically gets me put on some antebellum meet-up-group’s shit list.

But Europe has seen what happens when hateful people manipulate unhappy, uneducated citizens and scapegoat ethnicities and religions. Europe has experienced how easily apathy can be elicited from “good people” who have nothing to lose. We – America – helped save Europe from the very ideologies that we just democratically injected into our capital. It is confusing, disturbing, and — especially as an expat who is constantly asked about my feelings on whatever the hell is doing at any given moment – embarrassing.

However, relief is short lived and replaced with panic for some of us with encroaching expiration dates on our visas

Yet as an expat I can — if even for the duration of an espresso on a terrace — turn my phone off and find solace in not physically being in the eye of the storm. I can procrastinate dealing with my outrage, my French visa serving as a geographical Xanax of sorts. However, relief is short lived and replaced with panic for many of us with encroaching expiration dates on our visas, who don’t know if we want to return “home”.

“Progressive” people everywhere have spent the last few months watching the bubbles we have lived in our entire lives pop, all the more jolted because we did not know our realities were poppable. In one night, every assumption I had ever made about the virtues and morality of my country — and my identity in the world because of them — was found to be false.

What millions of us consider to be basic decency, common sense and the assumed upwards trajectory of our society was so triggering to so many other Americans that they saw our first African American president and raised us a con man who is on record saying this instead:

Donald Trump "Grab them by the pussy" quote

And yes – many first-world nations are having their own nationalist moments right now. England is mid-Brexit, France is having a wonderfully entertaining circus of an election season, and Russia…is still Russia. But the difference is, those countries have not spent the last century claiming to be the proprietor of the world’s moral high ground.

Why must the lowest common denominator of human/political ideology be given a trophy like it’s a millennial sports team, rewarded simply for existing in a democracy?

Don’t get me wrong, I love my country. I am angry with the U.S. because I had higher expectations for it. But after this election, after living in an incredibly international environment for years, I realized I have more in common with people who live oceans away from my homeland, than I do with Middle America, apparently. And I’m grappling with what that means, because I am not suddenly going to join a gun club or become ambivalent to the environment to fit in with half of my country. But I will always be an American, and I will always believe in the idea of America, even if it is becoming less and less recognizable.

Americans are brought up to be patriots. We pledge allegiance to our flag every day as children. We are espoused with virtues of responsibility-to-country and the understanding that America is an idea as much as it is a piece of land. But as my time in Paris comes to an end, I am left wondering what it even means to be patriotic right now. Is home where the heart is? Is it where your ideals are? What if home is just where you are? I always quip that I belong to the country of New York, but this election has confused me. I managed to live 26 years around and in NYC without ever hearing the term “echo- chamber.” Now, I am aware of the detriments of echo-chambers but internally struggle with whether I really want to know people so far out of them. My echo chamber was made of reverberations of the ideas of independence and equal rights for everyone.

My American pride is suspended in the air at the moment, suspended in LBT© (Life Before Trump), waiting to see what he does next, what the world will look like in two days, two weeks, two months.

If over 60 million Americans don’t mind the white supremacy, the swastikas, the climate change denial, the fabrication of terrorist attacks, the banning of a religion — why are we all still insisting we are the “United” States of anything? Where is the cut off line in our inclusivity when that many millions of people adore a man who is compared around the world to Hitler? You don’t have to be wearing a hood to still put yourself on the same side of history as those who do. You don’t have to be a screaming racist to not prioritize human rights in front of your own potential tax bracket benefits. Why must the lowest common denominator of human/political ideology be given a trophy like it’s a millennial sports team, rewarded simply for existing in a democracy?

My American pride is suspended in the air at the moment, suspended in LBT© (Life Before Trump), waiting to see what he does next, what the world will look like in two days, two weeks, two months. Being an expat allows for a certain distance between country and identity. Spend enough years away from home and one acquires the ability – the privilege – to see the world through different filters, with a level of objectivity that can be illuminating. But sometimes what is illuminated makes home look and feel unrecognizable.

Photo courtesy of Pascal Van (Flickr CC)

Jordan Nadler is a NYC writer/journalist who moved to Paris in search of creative fulfillment & better carbs. She can generally be found on the Left Bank w/ a glass of something in one hand and a pen in the other.
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