Shaking the Shadows of the American Flag

I was just watching this video of Mac DeMarco on Le Blogothèque (a music and video blog from France) and noticed he was wearing a shirt (in the beginning of the video) with an American flag on it. Yes, ‘Old Glory’ was a’flyin’ on his shirt…in Paris.

It was March 1st of 2005 when Jen and I moved to Paris. I remember the months of trying to get used to living abroad pretty well. We holed up a lot at some friend’s house (not the best way to ’embed’ in a new culture) but we still had to go out and do grocery shopping and sit at cafés and stuff. So we weren’t expat hermits by any means…even though that’s kind of what I was just saying.

I’m rambling now.

Back to the flag shirt.

When we first moved to Paris we were deep into two wars in the Middle East and it wasn’t a great time to be an American living abroad. I became pretty comfortable letting people believe I was from England if they didn’t press me on it…the French couldn’t tell the difference in my accent any more than I could tell the difference between a person from Quebec or Paris (which is a significant difference). If people did find out that I was American the first question I got was, “Did you vote for Bush?” -or- “What do you think of Bush?” -or- “What do you think about your country’s war?” Take your pick…they were all questions that were an attempt to bait me into ‘a discussion’. And the French love their discussions.  All this to say it was a time when being an American abroad meant that you most likely were on ‘social-trial’ for the actions of this country.

Fast forward to 2013…I’m now living in Barcelona, Spain. We had lived in the wonderful world of Barcelona for 3.5 years and had made friends from all over the world. Other Americans, French, Dutch, Brits, Irish, Brazilian, Chilean, African, Pakistani, and of course Catalan and Spaniards as well. I’m trying to remember, even though I’m now 34 and my memory isn’t what it used to be, “Did anyone in Barcelona ever put me on trial?” I’m sure there were conversations about the war in the middle east or the States non-involvment in other crisis, but I don’t think I ever felt ashamed to be an American.

[That said, the difference between the culture of Paris, France and Barcelona, Spain are pretty different. This alone could debunk what is not really becoming the point of me writing.]

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting and reminiscing since leaving Barcelona four months ago and returning to a place that I swore I’d never live in again. And that American flag on Mac’s shirt, while playing in Paris, made me remember is the shame that I carried for who I was when, once upon a time, I lived in France. You try to not let that stuff get to you when you’re there to do something good, but sometimes it does…and it’s a shadow that’s hard to shake.

I contrast that to how I felt about myself leaving Barcelona after 8 years in Europe…I was the only American on my ‘futbol’ team. And maybe only one of 2 or 3 Americans that played in my whole league. (If Steve Varley reads this blog post, he’d probably tell me who the others were:). I wasn’t embarrassed when my teammates chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!” to joke around with me. It was almost as if coming to rearms with being from the States in Barcelona is symbolic of me coming to terms with myself in Barcelona.

I’m still very-much-so trying to navigate the whole identity thing now. Moving back to a small town in the US and changing careers and having a newborn on the way tend to shake up ones identity. But I no longer have my identity wrapped up in a flag or country that is accepted or rejected by others. And I no longer have my identity wrapped up in whether or not I am rejected or accepted by others…at least I try poorly to pretend I don’t.

There was just something about seeing that flag on that shirt…it got me thinking not only how different it was to be an American abroad in the past 8 years, but how different I’ve come be as an American living abroad these past 8 years. I could not be more grateful….

Here’s to images whose meanings and significance come and go…and here’s to meaning and significance being more than just an image.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: