By mid-2007, I started an assignment as a consultant in Tennessee. I was living in Paris, making trips to Switzerland from Monday to Friday and suddenly was asked to spend every other week in Knoxville, TN. Soon after, it became three weeks a month there, and by January 2008 I moved to the States with a three years working permit. Here are a couple of funny topics I'd like to share about my experience, five of them actually.
1. Language... Leaving the office at 5pm I would always be puzzled to hear from my workmates "Good night" instead of "Good evening" (so was I taught) knowing that it was August, hot, sunny and far from dusk out there. In the same vein, being greeted by "Good morning, how are you doing today?" at 3am on a Sunday morning by the receptionist of my hotel, while I was obviously drunk and stoned, was really weird to me! I didn't know either there was a third gender in the United States until I realized that "You guys..." at the beginning of a sentence would mean both male and female genders as a group of people. And my favorite expression above all was "Have a good one!": let's be clear guys, have a good WHAT? A good f... you mean?
2. ...and pronunciation. My father, visiting me in New York City, who almost got in jail when he asked for "children" instead of "chicken" to the butcher in Ireland, was good enough in English to me when he enquired what "Oh My God!" meant, since everyone would say that in almost every sentence! I was already making a lot of fun myself when hearing "I'm SO sorry" so often around me that the only one time I really needed to hear that, I got nothing! Well, to be fair with my father, my tongue slipped one day in the middle of a workshop, probably exhausted by so many weeks auditing counties in New York state, when I asked my boss "Can I borrow your mouth?" instead of "Can I borrow your mouse?" since mine went completely crazy while drawing processes during the interview!
3. French stuff. Some days I wanted to write a book about all these "French" words in the American language. Let's be serious: French fries are NOT French, they are Belgian! The misunderstanding comes from the time when French speaking soldiers at war, back the American history, were making fries out of potatoes at night. Indeed they were speaking French but there were Belgian troops actually! As well the so funny "Excuse my French" I would always reuse mischievously instead of "Excuse my French accent" when trying to break ice in trivial conversations. My accent was very attractive indeed to potential partners who wanted to try my French kissing (so they said) until I realized the most exciting thing they wanted to discover was the part of my body that was uncut...
4. Dating! Let's talk about the American dating system, let's say in New York City: really? We don't do such things in France! When we are seeing somebody, we are already committed to he or her. We mean monogamous otherwise it's considered cheating! And we are boyfriends and girlfriends from the very first kiss. Imagine the complete misunderstanding when dating a New Yorker stating in our first date "I am monogamous", I was so happy that I thought I could call him my "boyfriend": that was a total mistake and we broke up soon after. In my spare time as well, I was dreaming I was writing a book about first date, second date and third date restaurants. We don't either have this kind of classification! That was such a heavy protocol to me.
5. French stuff again... Alright, I'm French and you noticed it: once, in Washington, DC I was called by car driver while on the sidewalk. I gave her directions since she was next the old stadium and was looking for the new one. Back to the sidewalk, waiting for the green light so that I could cross the street, she shouted at me in this amazing black american accent: "Hey you! I love your accent!" And then she went... Another fond memory is about this dispatcher on the Newark free shuttle platform staring at me on how I was dressed (scarf and fancy glasses) then shouting at me "You must be a New Yorker!", I answered immediately "Sorry dear, I'm a Parisian!". We all had a good laugh on the platform.
Sylvain Naudeau is a blogger in the French edition of the Huffington Post. He used to live in the States as an expatriate for a French based company: one year in Washington, DC back in 2008 then two years in New York City by 2009-2010. He had then to move back in Paris, missing by time to time his years in the United States.