What am I really? Australian or French?

Rosemary Kneipp 11/11/2012I lobbied alongside fellow expats from the Southern Cross Group a few years ago to have the Australian constitution changed so that Australian citizens living overseas could have dual nationality.

We were successful so I applied for French nationality. Now I can vote in French elections and I have a French ID. I can’t vote in Australia, though, because I have been ‘disenfranchised’ as I no longer reside in Australia.

When I travel to Australia, I use my Australian passport and when I return to France, I use my French passport. It’s like slipping into another skin.

I’ve now been living in France for far longer than I lived in Australia but although I speak French like a native, I still have a slight accent. French people, of course, tell me I shouldn’t lose it and I’ve never seriously tried to. It’s not that I cultivate it, as someone once accused me of doing, but when you learn a language as a teenager, it requires a certain amount of extra work to lose your accent. As a professional translator, it’s also better that I ‘sound’ like I’m an English speaker!

My children, who are now adults, were brought up bilingually in France and don’t have recognisable French accents when they speak English (my son’s is more Australian, particularly as he has been living in Sydney for a year now, and we usually describe my daughter’s as ‘mid-ocean’). They both sound like native speakers when they are speaking French.Rosemary Kneipp 11/11/2012

I’ve just come back from a five-week holiday in Australia after an absence of three years, and for the first two weeks, I felt totally disorientated. First, I couldn’t always understand what people were saying, not so much because of their accents, but because they said things I didn’t expect them to say. It’s a question of approach and I didn’t realise there was such a difference between the two countries.

I also didn’t know how things worked – small things such as ordering food in a pub or café, what sort of shop I needed to purchase a particular item or using the train ticket machines. Not to mention recognising the currency. And, of course, because I still have my Australian accent, people looked at me askance, no doubt wondering whether I was ‘putting it on’.

Fortunately, as time went on, old habits seemed to resurface and I became less self-conscious about asking people how to do things. I began to feel more at ease in my surroundings particularly after meeting up with more than fifty relatives on my father’s side at a family reunion I decided to organise last time I was in Australia. I had no problem whatsoever understanding all the wonderful people who were there. It felt like home again!

Rosemary Kneipp 11/11/2012
But now that I’m back in France, it all seems so distant again. It’s almost as if I hadn’t been there at all. I feel disconnected from Australia and even when I speak to my son on Skype, I get the impression he is here, in France, especially as we don’t often use the video because of the poor quality.

So I don’t know what I really am anymore. I could never deny being Australian but France is so much a part of me now that I think that, if I had to give up one of my nationalities, it would be my Australian and not my French citizenship.

How would that make you feel? Have you had to give up your original nationality?

1. My two passports – French and Australian
2. A typical food servery in a pub
3. A little bit of France in Australia

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Rosemary Kneipp

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  1. Elisabeth Donato Nov 28, 2012 at 11:08 AM - Reply

    This story really feels familiar. I have French-born, and have now lived in the U.S. for 37 years. I feel more American than French. I became a U.S. citizen in 1993, and no longer carry a French passport, but I want to get one back. I need to re-register with my consulate in Washington, D.C.

    I don’t feel overly disconnected when I go back to France (I return for about 3 weeks to a month every June or so), but there is still a disjointed feeling. I guess that, as expats, on vit le cul entre deux chaises….

  2. Elisabeth Donato Nov 28, 2012 at 11:14 AM - Reply

    I meant “I AM French-born.” Sorry about the mistake, I edited what I had started writing, and forgot to change the “have” to “am.”

  3. Rosemary Kneipp Nov 28, 2012 at 8:00 PM - Reply

    Hi Elisabeth. I think it must help to go back to France every summer. The three-year gap, often a different periods of the year, can’t help my situation!

  4. Cyndie Bowen Nov 28, 2012 at 9:53 PM - Reply

    Great post Rosemary. The same is slowly starting to happen to me. I have been living outside France for over 6 years and when I’m back in France for holidays, I feel a little disconnected, out of place or outdated. I really enjoy loving in an English speaking country and also miss speaking English when I go to France for the holidays. Of course I still love it though, it’s my home country and I will never give up my nationality (it would be nice to have dual nationality, I will be able to apply for the Australian citizenship in a couple of years time).

  5. Rosemary Kneipp Nov 28, 2012 at 11:52 PM - Reply

    Thank you, Mslimalicious. I hope you get your Australian citizenship. It does make it a lot easier. Now my children are leaving France of course!

  6. Pascal Inard Nov 29, 2012 at 10:28 AM - Reply

    I know how you feel Rosemary, I have been torn between the two countries since I was twelve when my parents emigrated. Australia was my new home but in my heart I was still French. At the age of 25, I came back to France where I met my lovely wife and we had three children. Unfortunately France didn’t have room for us any more. At the age of 39 I was told I was too old to find a job in IT and my children were confronted with violence at school. We then came back to Australia where our family settle in very well. France is still in our heart (we wrote a book “Dear France, sweet country of our childhood”) but we think the most important thing is to be well where you are, which is what you’ve done.

  7. Rosemary Kneipp Nov 30, 2012 at 12:00 AM - Reply

    You have certainly tried both countries! I’m glad that you’ve found your niche. Maybe your children might eventually go in the other direction – like mine!

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