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Emily Monaco, matchmaker of cultures

A bridge over the Atlantic

 

The American journalist Emily Monaco has been living in Paris for ten years and uses expatriation as her favoured subject. Her articles are as many stories on the cultural differences that exist between both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

 

From Lille to Cannes, from Cannes to Paris

Expatriation is almost always seen as an uprooting. It implies an effort to adjust and grow new cultural branches, but it is often tempting to stay on the branches of likeness. The integration method is at the heart of the New York journalist Emily Monaco. She thought of this theme during her many trips to France and the US: she studied in two exchange programmes in Lille and Poitiers from 14 to 16 years old before studying languages and communication at the International Campus of Cannes and continue her life in Paris in 2007, where she still lives.

"At 19, when I arrived at the American University of Paris, I became a sort of mediator for students who couldn't speak French", she remembers. "They turned to me for translations; both linguistic and cultural! At the time, I took the habit of writing down in a notebook the differences between the French and American culture".

Social study of life in Paris

One notebook was not enough to study the ocean of values and habits that separates France and the United States. Ten years after her arrival in French capital, the first notes of Emily Monaco took a turn much more oriented toward social studies. Her studies gave birth to a series of articles published in the Wall Street Journal. The first of the kind, "The Power of ‘Bonjour’", analyses the way of saying hello in France and the US. "I had previously worked in a big Paris office where people used to see me as an antisocial or rude person because I did say hello when I arrived", she recalls. "I was intrigued by this, because in the United States courtesy is more in the smile and the tone of voice than in phrases."

For Emily, not knowing these customs leads to many misunderstandings, both for the French and foreign nationals. "An American who sits at a table in a café will certainly ask for coffee without saying the mandatory 'hello, please, thank you'". The French waiter will certainly be offended and become unpleasant, and the American tourist will think that all French waiters are grumpy!", likes to tell the journalist.

Sharing a cultural heritage

There is an aspect of which cultural misunderstanding is excluded: cooking. "Any foreign national, whether as an expat or simple tourist, experienced this: food is often the simplest way to bond with another culture", says Monaco. In France, food has a very important part to play in society. Several concepts don't exist in the US, such as the "terroir" (local products or dishes) or "art de la table" (gastronomic meal), for instance".

Food and cooking are Emily's favoured topic to talk about France to her fellow Americans. On her blog, "Tomato Kumato", she mixes recipes and her own thoughts about her life as an expat. She also shares her cooking discoveries: a product, a chef, a grocery store, etc.

With such knowledge, she can also pinpoint opposite aspects of French cooking, such as its contradictions and snobbery. In a recent article published on the website "Vice", Monaco confronted the image of bad American food the French use to call "malbouffe" to the reality of new Parisian trends. Gourmet burgers, trendy bagels, overdecorated cakes... these new products from the Americas are a huge success among the same people that turned their back on American food ten years earlier.

However, Monaco bets on gastronomical exchange. "A new trend from New York seduces the young Paris generation. Though the cooking is less sophisticated than French gastronomy, it is much more focused on the quality of products and healthy recipes. French chefs could really improve it if they used it".

Finding balance between here and there

Now that populations are much more inclined to move, Monaco's thoughts on expatriation are more than ever news. Uprooting and rooting are rewarding, but often painful experiences. For the American journalist, writing has become a catharsis and her compatriots offer a point of balance.

"When I arrived in France, I wanted to cut myself from my own culture to better blend in", she remembers. "I soon realized that I had more to win if I improved my identity rather than tried to hide it. Today, I find balance by meeting other American expats with whom I can share experiences and find my roots back".

 

Pictures © Samuel Cortès/Animal pensant