A couple months ago I was talking with a good friend, a Frenchman who was about to make a move to the United States. He was excited but nervous about his upcoming life change. Not a sports guy himself, he asked me this question:
“Is it necessary to learn sports in order to integrate into American society as a man?”
I pondered. I think I responded something to the effect of “it’s not 100% necessary, but if would make integration and understanding of society go a lot faster if you did.”
Since then, I’ve though a lot about that question. I’ve thought about it from both sides of my experience. What does it take to integrate into American society? What does it take to integrate into French society? And more generally, what’s important/necessary for integration into any society? I’d love to know your thoughts.
Last night I had an experience that showed me how far I’ve come and how far I have to go, as it relates to integrating.
An American friend and I went to see a movie. Usually we’d take public transportation, but knowing I had a few other stops to make I offered to drive. Two turns away from my apartment I regretted that decision. We hit stopped traffic and I immediately remembered that Marseille’s soccer team had a game that night. And not just any game; Marseille vs Paris. The two biggest cities in France. The two biggest egos in France. Probably the two most popular teams in France. Think Red Sox - Yankees, UNC - Duke, Ohio State - Michigan (as it relates to French soccer). And I live a few blocks from the stadium.
Once reminded of the game, I knew the traffic pattern and was eventually able to break free and get to our movie theater. During the movie I received a text from a friend at a restaurant by the port. It seemed a cruise ship had docked and the port was overrun by Americans and other foreigners generally making a fool of themselves. My friends there were people watching. Clearly I was far more integrated than those tourists.
After the movie I went to visit a friend (who’s not a huge soccer fan... prefers American football actually). We tracked the soccer match online, and about an hour after it ended I thought the roads would be clear enough to get home. I drove home and was successful in avoiding jams. Again, I knew the traffic patterns, I knew the timing of the game, I knew what to expect. Driving home I rolled down my window to watch and listen to the jubilant displays of fandom around me. Marseille had won. Horns were honking, fans with flags and scarves and team jackets and jerseys were dancing down the sidewalks. I understood it all.
Yet, I didn’t feel it. I was happy for Marseille. It’s my city, my local soccer team now too. But I didn’t feel the pride, the joy, the need to dance in the streets like most of my neighbors did. I understood it all, which was far more than the oblivious tourists in pubs and bars, who may have wondered why the city had no French people before midnight. But I didn’t feel it like they did.
I’m learning there’s a difference between understanding and fully integrating. I understand my new city, my new society. I really like it here now. I do feel like home. But I’m not truly local. Not yet. May never be. But I want to.
What do you think? What does it take to integrate? A new city, a new country, a new society... Have you ever moved?