But here, in my presumption, I trespass the limits of anthropological understanding.
- The Harkis: The Wound that Never Heals (2011), pg. 30
There’s a French word you hear a lot if you stop and listen: formation. Like its English counterpart, it suggests an ongoing act of creation, of shaping. One could be said to se former [to educate oneself, to take form, to appear], to be en formation [in training], or even en forme [good shape, healthy].
I find it significant that, at least loosely, the act of being educated bears a connection to one’s state of well-being. Moral and physical integrity intertwine; and there’s something admirable, I think, in being formé. It is both a statement and an acknowledgment, as if to say, I have been shaped from outside as from within.
The more time I spend in the field, the more I think about what brought me here. Without a doubt, there was the initial intellectual curiosity. But with every new person I meet, I ask myself: Is it morally legitimate, if even reasonable, to pick apart people’s lives out of curiosity? Then I ask myself what seems to be the more pertinent question: What keeps me here, even after I realize that curiosity is not enough?
I’ve been ruminating a lot, caught as I am in the immediacy of fieldwork, friendship, and the awkwardness of anthropology in practice.
That last bit is the most complicated part for me, since anthropological research doesn’t exactly resemble “research” so much as it does hanging out. An encounter with a JFK TSA agent made this abundantly clear, as he lectured me and a fellow graduate student on the merits of hard work and scolded us for touring the world on the backs of hard-working tax payers. Even the French Consulate found it problematic - though I admit part of the issue was bureaucratic - and made me apply for a visitor visa.
One of the most wonderful things about anthropology, for me, is its flexibility. Unfortunately, that flexibility is the very reason for all of the impasses I’ve faced, bureaucratic and otherwise. Because while one can do anthropological research, there is never a clear divide between “research” and “non-research” modes.
I seem to always be out of the country when big things happen, like when healthcare reform was upheld by the Supreme Court. See, that’s really the only time - or maybe it was the last time - that I cared to ask a French person what they thought about America’s progress.
Now it’s the Americans who ask me, “What do the French think?” And I kind of just sigh, because my own excitement about healthcare reform taught me that the French - and maybe the rest of the world - are just annoyed at this point. When I excitedly shared the news of the Supreme Court’s decision on the PPACA, my friends just narrowed their eyes and said, “Yeah, so? What took you guys so long?”
At this point, I’ve grown accustomed to people’s passing remarks. “What’s wrong with your country?” I’ll often be asked. Not too long ago, I walked into my local bakery and the man behind the counter yelled out, “So, is your President going to attack Syria? I can’t believe you people.”
All around me people are annoyed and exasperated that the world’s most powerful nation could be so absurd and prone to violence. To many, our country appears to protect certain ideals but not its people And so, when Congress decides to throw a political temper tantrum, the exasperation just grows. We are a walking, talking platitude on an international scale: nothing can stop us but ourselves.
Recently, Texas Representative Pete Sessions answered a heckler by shouting out, "We are not French. We don’t surrender!" The World World II allusion certainly highlights the severity of the matter, but I think it’s misleading. Grossly so.
I realize that not everyone wants this particular brand of healthcare reform. I’m willing to accept that. However, as someone who spent the majority of his childhood in hospitals, I have to hope that we can agree that some degree of reform is necessary. And opposing the very idea of reform, based on some egregiously dangerous principle of freedom, is plain shameful.
I study a particular aspect of France’s social care - an aspect that I think is just spectacular for what it affords those in need. Yet, I will readily admit that there are major problems with it. In fact, there are major problems with the whole social care apparatus, as it becomes a heavier burden on the State. But at least it is something that is being openly discussed.
In my second week in Paris this summer, I encountered a terrifying incident that, due to all those cumulative years spent in hospitals and my family history, I knew could very well have been a stroke. I dialed up University Health Services back home and a panic-stricken nurse urged me to go to the ER immediately. So I did.
At 11 PM, I walked myself to the hospital. I was asked for my insurance card, by which the triage nurse meant French State insurance. Because I had none, my ID was photocopied and my address taken down. Shortly thereafter, I had a consultation with a doctor who gave me something to eat after he discovered my blood sugar to be dangerously low. I was then moved to the waiting room while other patients with more immediately life-threatening conditions were treated.
After an hour and a half of waiting, I was seen by not one but two doctors. Residents, to be exact, but they consulted with the head doctor, who surely was busy with the woman I saw wheeled in on a gurney. They spent two hours with me. Many tests later, including an EKG and a battery of cognition exercises (to rule out the aforementioned probable stroke), I was allowed to go home. I immediately went up to the front desk to ask how much I owed, though the nurse refused me, insisting that I would be billed later and to not worry.
I was baffled, really. I come from a country that refused to treat my neighbor for a severe dog bite because he could not present $500 - in cash, no less. Forget about insurance. Not even a consultation was offered. He was flat out turned away. Of course, there are laws in place to protect against such things, but what we can perhaps come to realize is that an insidious form of triage is happening in US emergency rooms.
A year or so ago, I received a slightly odd phone call from a fellow graduate student. Something was wrong and he wanted to know if I was at home. ”Why?” In my mind, I filled in the blanks: he definitely needs a ride. Probably to the health center. He probably cut/sliced/chopped off his finger like those other two grad students I took to the health center in the past few weeks.
I sighed, “You sure everything’s okay?”
"Well… I’m not sure, but I think I’m having a stroke."
I dropped what I was doing and advised him to immediately call an ambulance, only to be rebuffed, “Do you know what that will cost me? I can’t afford it right now!” Even with our health insurance, the costs would be plenty, so I urged him to call campus security, and I even offered to drive back home as quickly as possible. In the end, he did call the ambulance.
While my friend did not have a stroke, he was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, and for the next few months, he wore a distinct scowl that I could never properly attribute: were the effects of his disease lingering, or was he still upset over the bill he had been stuck with for a mere 1.5 mile drive to the local hospital?
With so much at stake, it pains and embarrasses me to see our leaders decide to throw their hands up and create an unnecessary crisis. It would be bad enough if it were just shameful, but it’s flat-out dangerous. Those who are uninsured are refused medical treatment, and even those who are insured think twice or altogether hold off treatment in an effort to save money. And let’s not kid ourselves, medical costs in the US are substantial. Even with insurance, ER visits could lead to bills in the thousands.
Some people might not agree with the PPACA, but I don’t see them proposing alternatives or even contributing to a productive discussion. And when I look at the bill that I just received (4 months late, thanks in part to the illustrious French bureaucracy), I look at my itemized list of treatments and want to scream.
I want to hold my hospital bill up to Congressman Sessions. I want to go through each and every item, including the fee for late-night admission, and I want him to tell me why it is that I, a foreigner without proper French insurance, can get an EKG and a slew of other tests without the government shutting down. For no upfront cost at all, I can have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that I won’t die. And when it comes time to pay for that peace of mind, which I am more than glad to do and have already done, I am not faced with a sum that will bankrupt me, but rather with the full, non-insurance price of 143 euros, or the equivalent of about 200 dollars.
No, Congressman. You most certainly are not French.
Beneath the finely pressed suit that he wore, beneath his polished exterior, she could sense a muscled physicality about him, an animal nature, as if his suit were just a facade, a secret skin.
- In Between Days (2013)
Reminds me of Run River.
This one’s for you, celebrity gossip columns. Hire me. Now.
MSN’s Wonderwall recently posted a story about Dina Lohan’s DUI arrest in NY this past Thursday (mug shot here, courtesy of CNN). In it they revealed the fact that Dina’s poor choices extend to her inability to hire a decent lawyer (Mark Heller, seriously? Did Lindsay teach you nothing?). Furthermore, Wonderwall thought it would be cute to point out that among said incompetent lawyer’s many failures (like his suits, his hummer, and that hair), he also possesses a propensity for bad puns, namely, referring to DLO as a “Parent Trapped.”
Let me take a deep breath before I say this, Wonderwall.
Nothing about my time in Paris makes any logical sense, and I suppose that’s what makes it alternately the most exciting and the most frustrating time of my life. As a good friend and fellow anthropologist (one with a job, that is) put it recently, fieldwork is ” a time out of time.” And in particular, it’s the summers that are this way.
Before coming to Paris, I had no idea that days could be that long - that the sun could rise around 5:30 AM and not fully set until well after 10:30 PM. I still remember my first night in Paris: the strangeness of being so tired after a 12-hour flight and looking out, at 10 PM, and thinking it was 6 o’ clock. I could hardly let myself sleep. There was so much time, so much to do, and yet I was absolutely overcome by fatigue.
Soon after, I began to think of the long days as a sort of magical time - a special time that was even more exciting than the 3 hours the east coast gave me over the west coast. During my first year at Princeton, I used to be so upset when I had a lousy day that I would be all huffy into the evening. But then I would remember: I still have time. The day is not yet over back home.
There’s a long story I won’t bore you with, but I managed to break my computer’s SD card reader (I kept my music library on an SD card). I’ll bore you with another story and tell you that I’ve spent the better part of two weeks looking for a soldering iron to fix it, though everyone tells me I’ll just break the computer in the process.
The Universe is kind, though, so my earbuds recently broke as well. It went something like this:
Me: Ugh, I need music.
Universe: Here, let me break your earbuds. There. Now quit your bitching and get back to work.
I love a good train wreck. Who doesn’t?
Unfortunately, as is often the case, train wrecks are funny more for the voyeuristic spectacle they offer than anything else. There’s a certain uncomfortable truth to be found in public meltdown’s like Britney Spears’ back in 2007. Of course, she’s since recovered (despite always sounding medicated) and we’ve gone on to celebrate her path to redemption while cracking jokes at her expense.
Humor is a slippery and mysterious thing, because while it helps us distance ourselves, as it does with celebrity train wrecks, it also helps us get closer and to find a way to talk about something. It’s just very difficult to ever know what laughter is doing - condoning or bemoaning. Few people can say to truly understand humor and what it does for us as humans. The late Alan Dundes had an idea or two about it and he was a formidable guide through its many intricacies.
One of my favorite activities in France is to try and uncover people’s misconceptions about life in the US. Or anywhere else that I might be familiar with, for that matter. I mean, it’s the reason why I subjected myself to the torture that is El Rancho “Mexican” restaurant in Paris. I guess calling it a restaurant is a little too generous. It’s really a chain that serves you sweet salsa and Doritos as an appetizer. It’s funny but not very tasty.