I often forget, when it’s been a long time since I visited the Loiret, where the Country Boy is from, that Paris is not the rest of France. I even forget as we drive into town, leaving the freeway and slipping along quiet back country roads, looking for pheasant and rabbits as we move closer and closer to the house that raised him. I forget, that is, until the next day, when we head out into the world.
Mindsets are different here, and it only takes a few glasses of wine for people to start sharing their opinions on that trifecta of restricted dinner table conversation — politics, religion and sex. As I nurse my glass of wine and try my best to be invisible, I let the waves of opinions, completely different from those I’m accustomed to hearing back home, just two hours away, wash over me.
In this economic and political climate, conversation often turns to the immigration situation here in France, and for the most part, I stay silent. It’s not that I don’t have things to say, but my opinions differ so much from those of the people I’m with, and while I’m ashamed to admit it, I’m afraid to draw attention to myself, especially because, no matter how long I’ve been here or how much I feel as though France is my home, I have to remember that in the eyes of everyone around me, I’m still different.
Mais ce n’est pas pareil avec Emily, someone always says, after awhile, after I’ve been noticed in spite of my silence. Elle n’est pas comme les autres étrangers. I’m used to hearing it by now; “she’s not like the other foreigners.” At first I thought that it was because I’m white, because I’m Western. Maybe that’s the case, but it’s never the reason that people give. Elle s’est assimilée. She’s assimilated.
What does that mean? Even I’m not sure. It means that I drink French wine. It means that I eat saucisson. It means that I speak French and that I know who Victor Hugo, Zinedine Zidane and Jacques Chirac are. It means that I roll my eyes when I hear about the Findus horse meat scandal, and I occasionally say things like, Ça revient au même or Ça n’a rien à voir… expressions that you won’t learn in a French textbook but, rather, that come to you after time living here, speaking to those who are French. I don’t hear the distinction anymore between these phrases and the ones I had practiced over and over in middle school French class, only to have them roll flat and tinny off my tongue during my first months here, in the North.
I am an étrangère, but it’s not me to whom they’re referring when they talk about étrangers. Here, the word is an euphemism for people of Arab descent; I’m not implicated in the group, in spite of my bright pink carte de séjour and the accent I still have. And what’s more, I don’t feel implicated. I know that they don’t mean me when they talk about étrangers changing things here in France, bringing pieces of home to affect all things Gallic, inserting minarets in the sky scape and halal labels in the butcher’s. And I also know that if I dared to say anything about the subject, I’d say on referring to the French, not to the étrangers… but I don’t have that right.
I suppose that’s the hardest part of these conversations, for me. I have assimilated, in many respects. I speak the language and work in France and pay my taxes. I shop at the French supermarket and don’t (usually) complain when I can’t find brown sugar or jalapeños or corn tortillas. I identify with French characters on television, and I raise my eyebrow when I see the versions of the French that appear in American films.
I like living here. I like feeling Parisian, but as I realize every time I leave Paris, no matter how Parisian I become, I still am not French. I have assimilated, but it isn’t enough. I’m not a part of that group of étrangers — “Ce n’est pas pareil avec Emily“ – but I’m not French either. If I say on during a conversation about foreigners, I belong to a third group, a group apart, a group that isn’t considered at all.
The truth of the matter is, the longer I stay here, the more I realize how lost I would feel without my fellow expats. I may spend most of my day interacting with French people — mainly Parisians — but the circle of expats I’ve come to know has become a sort of security blanket for me. Just knowing that they’re there, that I’m not alone in my otherness, is enough for me to continue trying to integrate — perhaps not assimilate, perhaps never become truly French — but to know enough that when I’m sitting around a table and someone asks the Country Boy, “I thought you had an American girlfriend,” I can draw attention to myself with a wave of the hand — “Oui, c’est moi,” — and relish the fact that, if only for a moment, an étrangère tricked a group of Frenchmen into believing that I was one of them.
Like me, this pizza is a bit of both. Barbecue beef topped with Brie cheese. An amalgam of two cultures, two cuisines. Not assimilated — no “melting pots” here — but coexisting nonetheless. I suppose it helps that it’s delicious.
Barbecue Beef and Brie Pizza (serves 6)
2/3 cup warm water
1 packet (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 pound all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups ketchup
4 Tbsp. dark molasses
3 Tbsp. white sugar
2 Tbsp. mustard
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. black pepper
1 pound stew meat
1 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 15-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes
1 cup barbecue sauce (recipe above)
6 ounces Brie cheese
Make the pizza dough. Put the water in a small shallow bowl and sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the surface. Allow to sit in a warm place for 10-15 minutes, until the yeast foams and doubles in size.
Place the flour in a large glass bowl and make a hole in the center. Add the yeast and water and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough begins to come together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until you have a smooth, soft dough, about 15 minutes. Knead the salt into the dough.
Rinse the bowl and pour the olive oil into it. Roll the ball of dough so that it’s covered in oil. Lightly cover with plastic wrap (allow the dough to breathe) and then with a dishtowel. Leave in a warm place and allow to double in size. Punch down, cover with wrap and dishtowel.
At this point I usually put the dough in the fridge overnight. If you’re doing this the same day, allow it to double in size again on the countertop, then punch down and roll out, allowing the rolled dough to rest for 20 minutes before adding the toppings. If you’re like me, keep it in the fridge, then take it out an hour before you’re ready to eat. After 40 minutes, roll the dough out on parchment paper and allow it to rest 20 minutes before adding the toppings. This makes two half-sized or one full-sized dough.
Heat a small saucepan over medium heat and add the butter and the onion. Cook until translucent. Add the rest of the ingredients and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Use an immersion blender to purée the sauce. Set aside.
In a large, heavy pot, heat the olive oil on high heat. Add the stew meat to brown on all sides. Remove and reserve.
Reduce heat to medium. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the tomatoes by hand, squeezing them to crush as you go. Add the barbecue sauce and bring to a simmer. Add the meat back to the pot. Reduce to low and cover. Cook for about 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender.
Remove the meat and increase the heat to high. Simmer until the liquid has reduced and thickened. Shred the beef and add back to the pot. Up until this point, everything can be done the night before.
When ready to make the pizza, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the dough on parchment paper. Top with beef, using a spaghetti spoon or slotted spoon to make sure you don’t add too much sauce, which will drench the dough. Top with Brie. Bake for 20 minutes, until bubbly.