MARIE-LAURE & RENAUD, Brooklyn, Unites States
A French couple raising their baby in New York city. Combining a world education with dashes of French flair, and a genuine and contagious appetite for life and new experiences.
Tell us about you and your family
R: I am a rare 'born & bred' Parisian, yet I decided to leave Paris and relocate to London as a young adult. I am obsessed with music and was able to secure a great work opportunity in London before I even finished my graduate studies. I spent 9 years in London in total, briefly moving back to Paris after I met Marie-Laure. We then moved to New York together. Music is still a huge part of my personal and professional life, and a passion I intend to pass on to our 9-month old son, Noah.
ML: Unlike Renaud, I was born in the beautiful and remote French countryside, in a small town in the wild Aveyron region I am so proud of. I was big into sports and clocked in 18 years of ballet and dance practice, as well as many hours of tennis and judo.
When I was 9 years old, my dad accepted a job in Paris and started commuting, coming back home every week-end. I have always been very, very close to my family, and this situation made me realise early on, that physical distance does not have to get in the way of emotional proximity. Maybe that's why I got bit by the expat bug early. After moving to Toulouse, then Nantes, I worked in Frankfurt and studied in Dresden, Germany, moved to Canada for further studies and made my way to New York for a job. My return to Paris (mostly for visa reasons) was a total shock, and having met Renaud, we decided to move back to New York together. I have spent almost 6 years here in total.
Can you share with me more about your upbringing and childhood, what are some of the steps that have lead you to where you are today ?
ML: I had this picture-perfect childhood, growing up in Aveyron, in a close-knit community of family and friends. It is not until I was a student, living alone and far away from my family, that I got my appetite for travel. The world became a candy shop. I was looking at pretty, shiny things through the window and slowing going out into the world and experiencing as many of them as possible. In many ways, travel replaced sports as a means to channel my huge personal energy.
My first foreign experience was a class trip to Italy. I took every opportunity to travel after that, making the most of my newfound independence . I decided early on to pursue a dual Masters qualification, allowing me to relocate abroad early in my twenties. I vividly remember living and studying in Dresden, Germany, and getting a bunch of friends together at the drop of a hat, jumping into my car to road-trip through Central Europe. We went to Prague, Budapest, Poland, Munich and Berlin - I was not motivated by specific cultural interests, but rather by a thirst to see new things, meet new people, experience new things.
I had to work really hard to find a job opportunity in New York as a young graduate. The routine and predictability of working in France was stifling me, so New York became where I could experiment with my career. Within 4-month I had secured an advertising job and the associated work-visa.
R: Unlike Marie-Laure, travelling and cultural discovery were at the very core of my education. My parents always insisted on us understanding history and culture. Our holidays were not spent idle at the beach, but rather trodding through museums, churches and various other cultural venues. I remember a family trip to the USA as young as 7 years old, and yearly trips to Classical Italy. There was a clear expectation that I would absorb this cultural capital. My father started investing in America way back, and he practiced his English by teaching me when I was only 3 or 4 years old - a rarity in France in the early 1980s.
I never had a specific dream of living abroad, rather it is my love for music that took me outside of France. Being fluent in English from a young age, I fully identified with American and British indie genres, facilitated by the fact I could actually understand the lyrics! So while my classmates were listening to French pop and Euro dance, I was getting engrossed in the world of Radiohead, Blur and Oasis. I had the guts or foolishness to negotiate a special agreement with my French graduate business school and eloped to London at age 20. There I pursued a guitar professional qualification, in parallel to a career in music management. My London life lasted a total of 9 years, and it is meeting Marie-Laure through mutual friends and the winding down of my music production company that brought me back to Paris, somewhat reluctantly.
You have both lived abroad in multiple locations and for lengthy periods of time, can you tell about your experience ? Do you immediately live like a local, or do you recreate a mini-French community ? When does home-sickness kick in, if ever ?
R: London was a funny experience, in that it accomodates such a large and diverse French community, that you can have a rich and varied ’French-style” social life, mostly cut off from the British local scene. I had many French friends, including some very close friends, relocating to London at the same as me. Thankfully, my professional life in the music industry had a very British centre of gravity, where I formed many long term friendships. In effect, I was splitting my time between both worlds and never experienced home-sickness. I actually never think of myself geographically - I construct my own life and can anchor it in any location. For example, I do not feel American or think of myself as living in America. Like a chameleon, I can maintain my identity and adapt externally to my new surroundings. Of course, I absorb local culture, but without ever feeling as if it changes my core.
Our son Noah was born here, so he has dual French and American citizenship. It is a source of great pride, that comes with the realisation that his dual culture marks him as different from Marie-Laure and I.
ML - What attracted me to New York is the intensity of experiences here. I remember when I first moved to the city, I was cramming my days with gym classes, work, dinners with friends, after-work parties. I was literally on the go from 5am to midnight and beyond. My love for New York is deeply rooted in the city’s frenetic energy, openness and diversity. Living abroad and living here in particular allows me to meet people from so many walks of life, which is both a source of inspiration and humility. Nevertheless, with the birth of Noah came a newfound melancholia about being physically removed from family and friends, and from French life in general. Yet, I still can’t imagine trading in the excitement and energy of New York for French proximity ! If we ever decide to go ‘’back’’, we are more likely to settle for a place like Berlin and its idiosyncrasies.
How do you live your Frenchness, living so very intentionally outside of France society ?
ML: I remain deeply attached to French values, including with regards to education. I have always admired the French flair and the quality of our critical thinking. Only with a fellow French person can you debate and fight all night about life, politics and philosophy, whilst still remaining the closest of friends ! It is an art that often raises eyebrows with our foreign friends, who expect us to fall out and never speak to each other again.I am very dedicated to ensuring that Noah grows up equipped with these French values. For example, I work hard to ensure that he flawlessly masters the language.
I am much more ambivalent about the French social conformity and pressure. Paris, in particular, is an unforgiving city. I sometime feel like an imposter, cherry-picking what’s best about France and leaving the rest on the table. Yet, I don’t think you have to live in France to be French and participate to French culture and aura. My attachment to my country is almost primal. I can’t wait for Noah to physically experience the land of my ancestors. My family has been located in the Aveyron region for several centuries and our love of our land runs deep.
R: On the contrary, my maternal grand-father was Italian and my paternal grand-parents are from Algeria. So my French lineage is a happy accident, shaped by wars and forced migration. Therefore my French identity is a collateral to my family identity. I have a strong sense of having been shaped by my family's past, and being French is merely incidental. Maybe that’s why we behave like ‘’apatrides”. I have a brother who also lived in New York for a long time, and my sister lives in Venice, Italy. We all talk everyday on the phone, not letting distance get in the way.
Does foreign travel remain important ?
R- We make a point of travelling outside of the USA and Europe regularly and experience the diversity the world has to offer. Our need for travel is driven by the desire to experience local life, not to tick sites off a tourist bucket list. We have fallen into the habit of always organising our holiday around a days-long hikes. We stumbled upon this solution, which is ideal too quickly connect with locals and truly experience local life, no matter how remote. When you walk, you have time to connect with your local guide, you have time for the unexpected (like a meal with a local family), you have time for conversations and you have time to absorb and reflect on your experience, shaping opportunities to ask more questions.
ML- We had home-made quesadillas in a remote Mexican village, talked with a shaman in Brazil… We have less interest in discovering large metropolis, as urban codes are getting more and more homogeneous worldwide. True diversity is best experienced in remote regions. There is comfort of the homogeneity of big cities and excitement in the unknown outside of urban centres. Our next trip is Hong Kong and Japan, and it will be Noah’s first big foreign trip. We believe babies are like sponges, and any exposure - no matter how young - will mark them for life. It is for the same reason I bring Noah to art exhibition, these are formative experience for impressionable young minds!
What is your parenting philosophy and what is the impact of a multicultural environment ?
ML - We have a French parenting style with some American touches. Like all French parents, we want to foster autonomy and self-reliance. Noah has slept in his own bedroom from birth and we have encouraged him gently to sleep through the night. My food culture is certainly French and I really follow French principles for baby feeding, in order to introduce maximum diversity and build perseverance in accepting new tastes. I consciously make sure he is exposed to little French touches throughout the day, through food or stories. We do appreciate how American parenting style focuses on building self-reliance, entrepreneurship and confidence, but we are much less keen on helicopter parenting, a decidedly non-French construct ! We combine these somewhat diverging influences to create our own parenting soup. Noah is still very young, but I am sure starting school in the American system will be our family litmus test !
Thank you Marie-Laure and Renaud for so generously opening up your home and your life.