It’s easy, when you first move to a foreign country, to over-generalize everything.
First, you generalize based on stereotypes, expecting that all French men have a moustache, a beret and a striped shirt, that all French women are impossibly thin, smoke, and have a lover for every day of the week. You arrive; you get to know a handful of real French people that don’t come from billboards and 1950s movies. Your expectations change.
And yet, it’s still easy to generalize, though the new generalizations come not from cardboard stereotypes but rather are based upon the people you meet. You hang out with a handful of French people who drink whiskey, and you start to assume that everyone here drinks whiskey. You meet some people who are left wing; you start to think that everyone is left wing. Maybe it’s just me; maybe it’s a mechanism I’ve developed to define or categorize the people that live in this country, a way to make sense of the ways in which we are different from them.
But if that were the case, I wouldn’t be boxing myself into stereotypes as well.
Because there’s another kind of over-generalization happening in my life: the longer I live in France, the more I start to cling onto things that are “typically” American… whether they were interesting to me when I lived in the States or not. For whatever reason, in the past six years, this native New Yorker has become a country music fan, the proud owner of no fewer than three pairs of cowboy boots and an amateur student of the American Constitution and the values of our founding fathers. My Masters thesis involves a comparison of these values in France and in America at the beginning of the 19th century, and yet when we studied American history and politics in school, I couldn’t have been more bored.
I over-generalized the French when I first arrived here, assuming that all families were like my host family, that all girls were like my host sister. Later, I assumed that all boys were like my first French boyfriend, all of which I’ve since learned not to be the case. I know that there’s still a wealth of different sides of the French that I have yet to see, different people I have yet to meet who will expose yet another facet of the nation I love. I know that, even today, as aware as I am of how silly it was to generalize when I first arrived, I’m still doing it; I’m still assuming that because the majority of my French friends studied computer science, like to dance and sing at karaoke bars, and ride motorcycles on the weekends that most French people do those things… and while I realize how silly it is, I have a hard time stopping. I want to be able to make sense of the cultural differences between America and France, and yet I know that neither one really exists as an entity, but rather as a composition, made up of hundreds of thousands of differences that form a heterogenous whole.
And yet I’m still doing it, for whatever reason. Trying to draw lines between “the French” to create a portrait, while simultaneously grasping at anything and everything that seems “American” in order to feel closer to the country that is such a part of me and yet remains so far away.
Case in point: jambalaya. My first ever jambalaya was one I made on request in Paziols a few years ago. It was good but nothing special; after seeing Jennifer’s – yet another American expat in France — I decided I needed to try my hand at this dish once again. The new version was delicious, though far from traditional, as the chicken legs are roasted instead of stewed, and even further from all-American, with merguez sausage and a bouquet garni on the ingredients list. But all the same, it made me feel slightly closer to home… wherever that is.
1 pound headless jumbo shrimp, shells on
3 cups homemade chicken broth
1 bouquet garni (bay leaf and thyme, held together with kitchen twine)
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
220 grams (7.75 ounces) fresh chorizo, merguez or other spiced sausage
6 chicken drumsticks
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup long-grain rice
salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco sauce, for serving
Shell the shrimp, setting aside the meat. Place the shells in a medium saucepan. Add the chicken broth and bouquet garni. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cover and turn off the heat. Allow to infuse 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy stockpot with a lid. Cut the sausage into bite-sized pieces and add it to the oil, turning to brown on all sides. Remove to a plate. Salt and pepper the chicken drumsticks, then add them to the pot to sear on all sides. You are not looking to cook the chicken and sausage through; just to sear them. Remove the chicken drumsticks to the plate.
Add the onions, pepper and celery to the pot, along with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables have cooked down and just begun to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
Open the can of tomatoes. Use your hands to remove each tomato, crushing it as you add it to the pot. When all of the tomatoes have been added, reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, line a baking dish with foil, and lay the chicken drumsticks on it. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
When the tomatoes and vegetables have thickened, add the sausage and any juices that have run off from the chicken and sausage to the pot.
Strain the broth into a measuring cup, reserving the bouquet garni. Add the juice from the tomatoes and water if needed to get 3 cups of liquid. Add the liquid to the pot, and then add the rice and the bouquet garni. Cover and cook on low for 25 minutes, or until the rice is tender.
Meanwhile, place the baking sheet with the chicken drumsticks into the oven, and roast 25 minutes, until cooked through with crisp skin.
When the rice is cooked through, season to taste with salt and pepper. You can also add more liquid if needed to achieve the consistency you like. Turn off the heat and add the shrimp, tossing until they are just cooked. Serve in bowls with the roasted chicken drumsticks and Tabasco sauce.