French by birth, Prudence Hubert-Lajournade grew up in Los Angeles, is a European citizen at heart and never knows how to answer the dreaded “Where do you come from?” question.
Anyone who’s in the least bit familiar with me knows for a fact that I am an imposter, an alien posing for a French person – in that I often joke that I’m 93% peanut butter not water, that I hate cheese and do not speak English with a French accent. If you are curious to know why, please read on. And if you are not, let’s be friends!?
When I turned three, my family relocated from France to Los Angeles, California. To say it was an adventure would be an understatement: first time out of my mother country, first time flying, first time everything.
I distinctly remember the in-flight snack – salted peanuts (dear readers, as you will soon realize there is a peanut theme to this essay) – and spending close to twelve hours “drawing” and coloring on the aircraft floor in between two seats. Believe it or not, there was a time when there was enough legroom on planes for a 22 lb-child to fit in there!
I also distinctly remember my first day of school, sitting at my tiny classroom desk, crying my heart out because I couldn’t understand a word of what was being said to me – let alone make others understand a word of what I could ever say to them. How frustrating! I remember the principal kneeling beside me, looking so confused and heartbroken, and uttering what must have been soothing and encouraging words that to me was only gibberish.
Next, I remember my first Halloween, dressed as a bee with tiny antennae. By then I had worked out the local language. I remember Thanksgiving in a nice mansion. I remember winter on the beach, and peanut butter sandwiches and peanut butter cups. I remember the babysitter’s mascara stinging my eyes after she had specifically been instructed not to do my makeup. I remember the tacos and the churros, and my purple Flintstones LCD wristwatch. I remember the countless hours stuck in traffic as well as the caressing sun whenever I stepped on the back seat to peek through the sunroof. I remember Big Bird and the Sesame Street theme song. I remember my Minnie Mouse stuffed toy from Disneyland and wanting to ride “It’s a Small World” again and again because it made me feel like I belonged.
Surprisingly, I don’t remember saying goodbye to California, or having the chance to. Our last night was spent at some hotel. Out of the blue, my brother and I were told to enjoy the American-style breakfast buffet, because it would be our last.
Fast forward a few weeks and I found myself halfway across the world, in another classroom, crying and crying my heart out again because I couldn’t understand a word of what was expected of me – but this time, it was in my home country.
Learning resilience and adapting, somehow, has made me even more different than my peers. It has led to long, repeated years of anguish… but it has also made me who I am today – whoever and whatever that is. For that reason, I guess I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
PS: For those who were only here for the cheese – I didn’t have any while I was in California, and still wouldn’t have any once I got back to France. It’s that simple. Sorry.
© Prudence Hubert-Lajournade, 2020