The French in the United States: An Ethnographic Study

By Jacqueline Lindenfeld | Go to book overview

Introduction

For Mathilde, the long journey ("le grand voyage," as she called it in French) began a few days after her wedding in Paris, at age 18, to an American who had fought in France during World War I. Upon arrival in the United States, she realized that her life would be changed for ever. "I did not know anything about this country, I did not even know English, it was a case of sink or swim, the beginning of a long journey."

Mathilde was 92 years old when I met her in 1994. At the time, she lived with her daughter in an essentially American environment. However, she "sounded" very French to me, not only in her speech, but also in her way of thinking. How could she have maintained a French identity for 74 years, while manifestly adapting very well to life in the United States?

Acculturation is a complex phenomenon; it consists of multiple layers that can conceal one another. Social integration, an outward manifestation of the adaptation process, must be carefully distinguished from more hidden aspects of existence. This distinction is particularly important in the case of an immigrant population such as the French, whose society of origin draws a clear line between public and private life.

-xi-

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