My name is Marie-Laure Rodriguez. With this information, you can easily figure out where I’m from. My first name tells you I’m French - and my last name reminds you my Spanish origins. The two countries are not very far away or not too exotic to each other, but still allow you to spot differences between cultures. This mix is already a reason not to know exactly how you should define yourself, and how you should answer the question “where are you from?”.
When I was a kid, my family used to go every summer in Spain. Once the frontier crossed and the francs converted into pesetas, the summer holidays could fully begin. We felt home there: we had some friends and even family in the country, we knew the food, the habits of the people, and loved this summer climate. As my family spoke Spanish & because of our name, we weren’t considered as French people. More like people with Spanish origins, from Lyon. The nationality didn’t really matter, when the city could. Because… Football. It’s of course one of the easiest way to go for a friendly fight with your acquaintances. Especially in a country like Spain, where football is almost a religion.
Back in France, I would never think myself as a French person, except maybe for big sports events. I would rather speak about my city and my region instead. The food, the drinks, the words we use… These were the important identifying things for me. When I moved to Paris as a student, the funniest thing for me was to notice when people couldn’t understand a word I used. And I would insist on the fact that, yes, I live in Paris, but I’m not from there. Even though I had a feeling of belonging to my neighbourhood. Then the identification would come with the origins. But not the nationality.
This is why when I arrived in Latvia, being “the French one” was a whole new experience for me. Every day, I would meet these new people from all over Europe, even the world, and discuss our point of views. When you’re in an international crowd, the conversations can easily slide into a “oh in my country it’s like this, how is it in yours?” scheme. In a way, it’s quite a good one. It makes you learn new things, and makes you reflect about your own habits and behaviours.
In the end, I feel like being French for me is all about the small details. No baguette in Latvia will ever be crusty enough. I will never be ok with the concept of sweet or semi-sweet red wine. I will always enjoy long talks about politics and protests. And for sure, I will always criticize a lot what people and politics in my home country do. But what can you do, this is how French people are, right?