Life |ISSUE II
LIFE IN AMERICA THROUGH THE EYES OF A PARISIAN
By Nathalie Moga
Photo Credit: Nathalie Moga
Photo Credit: Nathalie Moga
This is California, seen by a French girl, a girl who is already familiar with the Golden Coast. But each time I come here, the experience is new. Two years ago, I lived in Orange County for a year. It was a time of partying and amusement (I admit that), as I was a student at Cal State Fullerton, a place where I discovered American student life that is significantly different from a French one.
I landed in San Francisco on May 28. It felt so good to be back, to see those big green panels on the highway, telling you of your next destination. But the context of this trip is very different. Today, I am an intern in a Franco-American web television. I’m very happy about the opportunity and I’m sure it’s going to be a great experience that I’ll proudly display on my resume. Next to the professional aspect, there’s the fact that I’m far from my country, adventurously living in one of the most exciting cities in the United States. San Francisco is a cultural sphere, very cosmopolite, where you can meet people from diverse horizons. As a foreigner, I like to think that I notice things everyday that a US citizen never remarks, or simply, cannot see anymore. Like the beggars, drugged as hell, disfigured by their poison. Their disfigurement is touching me a lot, because in France the situation is not that « hardcore ». The state in France - since we are, to some folks, a « socialist » and even sometimes a « communist » country – is about taking a lot more care of its people. Of course poverty and drugs exist too. But I have the feeling that not to the American extent. Misery in the States is striking to me, since it’s contrasting with the limos and other signs of wealth that are also overwhelming to the traveler.
Sometimes, when I walk in the street, I want to laugh. Americans are full of stereotypes: the Starbucks cup in one hand (replaced by a cigarette in France), the snickers on their feet to walk half a mile, the look in their eyes when I walk near the highway (as a good French fellow I have no car and take the public transportations), asking me silently if I am insane. I guess it’s cultural, and that a Californian may want to laugh as well if they were walking in the streets of Paris or Lyon.
I feel a bit like Rica, in Montesquieu’s “Persian Letters,” analyzing a culture far from mine, with all its surprising and new aspects; The culture of a country that is said to be the most powerful, rich and supposedly evolved. I see its goods and I see its exaggerations as well. When I’m walking through the mall, I can’t help myself hating the place. Every mall in America seems to be the same. Same shops, same “Abercrombie and Fitch” smell melted to Victoria Secret’s perfume. “The world as an amusement park” seems to be a place where buying makes you exist. A place ruled by the hopes of becoming a better you, and (let’s not forget it) by the green. A place where a human can be considered – sometimes - less important than a pair of shoes. I can’t help but have flashbacks to some of the beggars faces I’ve seen on the streets of San Francisco. I know that capitalism and meritocracy doesn’t allow paying for the others. The goal is to be a self-made man, to reach success and then enjoy. I understand that philosophy. But I can’t help myself from wondering why occidental civilizations don’t tolerate weakness. Why isn’t it any place for the bad, the ugly and the stupid? There is a throne, and obviously, everybody isn’t able to get on it. Weakness is a major characteristic of human beings; the ultimate proof is that one day, no matter what, we are going to die. When you buy, you can forget that fact for a second. But who can deny that finally, on a human plan, we are equal, that we are all getting sick, that we are all mortal? The cultural rule, telling us to ‘be the best we can be,’ shows in a sense that nowadays, in a supposed evolved civilization, the law of the Jungle still occurs and that occidental world isn’t a peaceful place where everybody can live happily, expressing oneself freely. No, there are some norms and laws down here, ruling the way we live, making us forget that we are human, and that the “loser” sleeping in the street is a human being too.
Nathalie Moga, 25, studied at the Journalism School of Grenoble, France, she also studied in Paris and in California. Born in Strasburg though, from an Afghan mother and a Romanian father.