On a French Train

On a different continent and among different people, Theodore Dalrymple writes about a commingling of cultures much like the one I described in an earlier blog about Honolulu. Dalrymple is in France on a train heading for the airport on his way out of Paris.

“There was nothing distinctly French about the passengers, not ethnically, culturally, or linguistically. There was a Babel of tongues, but not much French among it. There were Indians, Chinese, East Europeans, black Africans and North Africans; I did, with effort, spot a couple of French speakers at the other end of the car.”

And like the way I sometimes feel among the multi-ethnic people of Honolulu, he felt a bit uneasy. Not so much because he wasn’t sure where he was, although “If anyone had been placed on such a train without a previous clue as to where it was, he would not have the faintest idea what continent, let alone what country, he was in.”

Rather his unease stemmed from the guilt he felt over feeling uneasy in the first place. But why? He knows that he is also a foreigner…that “I was also myself the son and grandson of refugees. Should I not have rejoiced at this sign of the increasing openness of the world, of crumbling barriers, instead of finding it deeply unattractive…?”

Rejoice? I am not yet there. It is hard enough to make sense of where I am and whom I am amongst. I know there are places in this city where I feel more comfortable, more “among my own.” And when I realize that, I find myself just as unsettled. Why in that part of town and not where I am? For me understanding has to come before rejoicing

Dalrymple concludes: “Of course, time and common experience would eventually meld them into some semblance of people with a shared mentality. If not they, then their children would have enough in common to become French; and by then the French, perhaps, would have become just a little like all of them.”

So I will probably have to leave it to my children, and to theirs, to rejoice. I know they already have and little by little they are showing me the way.