I thought that the transatlantic experiences of my long-time online friend, Alison Kerr, would be of interest to the readers of My French Life Magazine… and she agreed to be interviewed.
What’s my connection with Alison Kerr
I met Alison Kerr around the mid-2000s, in what we used to call the ‘blogosphere.’ I was keeping a blog at the time, and following a few bloggers, including Neil Kramer, a New Yorker who was then living in Los Angeles, whose writing I found both gripping and hilarious. Alison would often comment on Neil’s blog, and I soon realized that she was an American expat living in France and that she was originally from Pittsburgh, where I had lived for 10 years. She had also gone to college not far from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where I was teaching. I decided to follow her blog. She was (and still is) an incredibly creative woman and a fantastic writer.
A few years later, Alison returned to the U.S., where she settled in Lexington, KY. She would travel back to France regularly and, on one of her trips in June 2010, we managed to finally meet in person and have dinner in Paris with another fellow blogger, an American woman living in France. I met Alison in person again in March 2016 when, while visiting her family in Western Pennsylvania, she swung by Clarion and had lunch with me.
Soon, we all moved on to Facebook and gave up blogging. I have kept up with Alison ever since – even after she left Facebook for Instagram.
A few months ago, Alison embarked on a journey back to France, where she plans on staying for at least six months, managing a property that friends of hers, a Franco-American couple, own in the Cognac region. Alison is also a writer who is finishing her first novel and is very interested in all kinds of creative endeavors.
This is part 2 of our conversation:
First trip to France
Part 2 – this one
French citizenship, to USA & back to France
Artist colony & reconnecting with France
Favorite places and advice
On becoming a French Citizen, back to the USA, then back to France again
Q – You acquired French citizenship. Was that a very tough process? What motivated you to do that?
A – I don’t recall much about the process because it was more than 20 years ago, but my main motivation was so that I could take the CAPES and have some job security. I was tired of working three part-time teaching jobs. I had two small kids, and even though I was married, I was their main caregiver. I just remember always being on the go, between my work, the garderie, and the maternelle. These days I’m very glad to have French citizenship because American democracy is in a very precarious spot.
Here’s what I do remember about the process, and it is probably very different now: I had to have my American birth certificate translated (I may have been able to use the translation I had done when I got married a few years prior), and I also had to provide a casier judiciaire, or my (non-existent) criminal record from the States. I’m sure I had to produce other documents. My then-husband and I had to go for an interview at the gendarmerie (if memory serves), where we were asked about our lives, a bit like in the movie Green Card.
And then I waited.
Ten months later, I got a certificate of citizenship in the mail, signed by Martine Aubry, who was a ministre at the time. I think there was also a letter signed by President Jacques Chirac as well because my then-husband joked about Chirac’s (in)famous quote about “le bruit et l’odeur” of immigrants.
Q – You returned to the U.S. When was that, and did you experience some sort of reverse culture shock when you did?
A – I returned in 2006, after a difficult separation and divorce. I really needed to leave France for a while. I think the biggest shock was how different things felt in the USA post-9/11. I knew things would change, in fact, on September 12, 2001, I was interviewed by the local France 3 affiliate, and I remember saying, “Ça ne sera jamais pareil.” But I only went to the States twice after that, for fairly short visits, and I didn’t really get a sense of how things had changed, and honestly, I can’t give specifics, except for a general sense of fear that did not previously exist.
Q – You recently returned to France for a stay of at least six months. How did that come to pass?
A – When my daughter was a baby, I met this couple, Christine and Dan. She’s French, he’s American, and in one of those wonderful “small world” moments, he and I established that I went to high school with his cousin within two minutes of meeting each other. We’ve been friends ever since.
My friends import French spirits to the US, and a few years ago, they were able to purchase a property in the Cognac area, to use as a home base when they come here to see their suppliers. They come a few times a year.
I visited them last summer, and Dan knew I was sort of in flux in my life, so he proposed that I return to the property to be a live-in caretaker. Their son had been living here but had recently purchased his own place. I jumped at the opportunity to live in France again.
Have you had similar experiences to Alison or if you’d like to comment or ask questions please do so in the comments below.
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Merci Mille Fois