What am I really? Australian or French?
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.
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!
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