Saturday, January 28, 2012

Expats and Exchanges

After telling ourselves for months to do so, we finally connected with some Meetups in town. (These are casual group meetings of strangers with common interests.) A Friday evening happy hour with expats sounded like a good place to start, so we donned our Frenchiest going-out garb and made a dashing appearance at Bugsy's. The bar was packed with people who couldn't help but butt up and nearly knock off the walls the various images and photographs of (of course) Chicago. In addition to a trend for historical eras, we've noticed a funny Parisian obsession with Chicago itself. Maybe it's the el, or the jazz, or the lake, or the high rises that they find fascinating and perfect for decorating bars and clubs -- because that would be closer to appropriate. But no, anyone from outside the U.S. just loves Chicago for Al Capone, gangsters, and tommy guns. Sigh.

Getting back to the meetup, we met some wonderful, friendly, outgoing Americans, nearly all of whom had some connection to the embassy. A notable camaraderie built once we realized these "regulars" from the embassy were in the same boat as us: trying to make some new connections and get a little taste of "home" (and Guinness and Magners and Stella and ...).

Speaking of taste, we met a couple who share with us an appreciation for food and cuisine. Well, okay, so we're wannabe foodies. He's a chef with a catering business who works for the embassy. By the end of the evening, we were planning a double date, probably dinner -- no, wait, let's take it easy and start with drinks somewhere. How 'bout smokey martinis? Yep, that's right: gin martinis with a splash of Talisker. Awesome. Let's do that. Done.

A few days later, we joined another group for a Pub Quiz language exchange. It was a fun evening, a bit confusing at first, but we ended up with a team composed of some French, some Brits, and us, the Americans. The first half of the evening comprised of questions in French and team discussion in French. Then we switched for the other half. At one point, we had to hang our heads in shame when one of the Brits had the answer for an NFL question rather than us, ha! It was a good chance to practice speaking and listening in the new language, especially considering the loud atmosphere of a pub. Oh, and again, the pub had random Chicago paraphernalia, such as life-sized Blues Brothers statues. We wrapped up the evening with amicable goodbyes and a "see you next time."

Now, Bridgette and I have been told on several occasions and by several people that there is a distinct difference in the way Americans are friendly versus that of the French. And we shouldn't judge too deeply based on two bar experiences, but we can tell a difference. For now, I might simplify this as: Americans are more outgoing and open in their friendliness, yet do so with a shallower intention; the French are more closed with a harder shell, but may be more sincere ... if you can get to that point. It's the getting-to-that-point that we're working on. We'll keep you posted.

For now, we have a smokey-tinis double date to look forward to.

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