When I moved to Los Angeles from Vienna Austria, I was in my mid- twenties. I just had spent a postgraduate year at the National Conservatory for Acting in Paris and leaving my new French friends behind had broken my heart.
It was hard to believe that I felt so close to them, since half a year earlier they had been acting snobbish and cold towards me. I was “La Etrangere”, who struggled with their beautiful language and had not yet proven to be as talented as them: the French students of an Elite Parisian Drama School.
I was isolated and homesick and none of the other students whose class I had been invited to join, wanted to work on acting-scenes with me. So I decided to work alone on a Monologue. I was scheduled to perform it, right after the Winter break.
By coincidence, the Drama School from Strasbourg came to visit our school that very same day.
Our teacher – the actor Daniel Mesguish – proudly introduced his students. I saw how his face registered with shock that it was me, La Autrichienne, who would present the first scene. Can she even speak a word of french? Can she even act?
Suddenly all my nervousness fell off of me and I calmly entered the stage. I never had more fun during a performance, than that day, when I presented Arthur Schnitzler’s Monologue “Fraeulein Else” in front of two hundred students and teachers. The scene ends with the character of Else undressing. In the end I was naked on stage, but never felt more protected than from all these hearts that opened up to me.
From that moment on I belonged and my fellow students treated me as if I had been part of their “inner circle” forever. I remember the second half of my Parisian year as one of the most exciting times in my life, surrounded by friends, who deeply cared.
Then I came to America. In L.A. People didn’t mind my accent, they did not even seem to notice it. They shared their life story, after meeting me for two minutes. Nobody cared, that I was from a foreign country. I was invited to the homes of perfect strangers and they called me their new, best friend.
I might have felt isolated these first few months in France. But now I literally was frozen in my culture shock.
I should have known: My Austrian friends – often focusing on the negative – had warned me: Americans are superficial! You cannot find true friendship in the US.
But than again, they had warned me about the French as well : the Parisians are snobbish and their social circles are closed and they never will open their hearts to a foreigner. Well, they had been wrong.
And they had been wrong about Americans as well. Now that I live here since over a decade , some of my most extraordinary friends are Americans. It just took a while until I could decode their way of communication. As a global citizen, this I believe: No matter if people are initially snobbish Parisians, crumpy Viennese or superficial Californians: True friendship takes time and true effort – everywhere…
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.