XPAT Spotlight – Interview with Tania Stappard, who has been living the expat-life since childhood. Born to expat parents she learned early on to juggle two cultures and different ways of life.
Tania Stappard was born to German parents, who raised her in Paris, France . Her mom was from Hamburg and her dad was from Munich (North meets South, this was a cultural experience in itself). Tania’s father, a diplomat, saw her mother, an actress, on stage in Munich and fell in love with her and “kidnapped” her to Paris. Growing up in Paris, Tania attended a German school in Paris (DSP) and spent the last four years in boarding school at the Pädagogium in Baden-Baden. After the Abitur, she moved to L.A. with her sister and spent her twenties in West Hollywood. Later, when she started a family of her own she moved to Santa Monica and now lives in Ventura County, about 37 miles from L.A.
Tania, what made you decide to move to California?
My father was a big fan of the USA and the summer of my 15th birthday we visited and spent time in several cities on the East & West Coast. I remember to this day how I felt an instant connection to L.A. and fell in love with this city. At 17 years old I begged to go back to improve my English language skills and spent a summer at a language school in San Diego. I knew then that I wanted to live here. I felt such an overwhelming sense of freedom, creativity, bottomless opportunities and optimism the like of which I hadn’t felt anywhere else. We had traveled quite a bit with my family so I was familiar with various cities & countries but my love for L.A. was unshakeable.
How did your family and friends react when you decided to move to California for good?
The first time I moved to LA was in the summer of 1985. My family and friends were excited for me and supportive. I had signed up at the famous Lee Strasberg Institute, where many notable actors such as Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino etc. had studied their craft. I don’t think that I had any specific expectations of living in LA, I just loved living there and resonated with the Californian way of life, their lightness of being, their openness and big-smile friendliness.
After studying and working on minor acting gigs I decided to return to my hometown of Paris to continue working as an actress. There I joined the Atelier Andreas Voutsinas to further improve my craft. After four years I realized that my heart was still in LA so I decided to move back for good in 1991. By that time the acting bug had left me and I worked as an assistant at the now defunct German film production company called CineVox.
How does life in California look like for you now?
My life now is certainly different from when I first arrived in L.A. . I married an English gentleman and we live in the suburbs where we are raising our two daughters. Our 15 year old daughter is a Sophomore and our 20 year old daughter moved out last year and is pursuing acting.
Once I got pregnant I left the production company, CineVox, and chose to work freelance as a voice-over talent. It is and has been a great creative outlet and I enjoy the freelance side of the business. It has allowed me to raise my girls and not miss out on anything.
When I’m not recording from a studio in L.A., I record from my home studio, where I record equally as much in French as in German.
How has living here in California changed you personally?
It took me a while to get used to living in the suburbs as I used to be a city slicker. I love the energy, excitement and fast pace of a city. However as a suburbanite I have now learned to enjoy the calmer pace and the rejuvenating effects of all the beautiful parks in my neighborhood. I enjoy hikes, going bicycle riding and practicing hot yoga. Every year we go back to Europe, primarily England, and I would say that now, after having lived here longer than in Europe, I’m more American in my approach to life.
I believe that the Californian way of life has made me more positive, laid back, less critical and judgmental and I consider L.A. my home. I have spent the most important years of my life here and have created a loving family with our 2 token Californian girlies ;).
Did you encounter any challenges when you moved here to California?
I can’t really think of any obstacles or challenges when I moved here, as it was a dream of mine to live in L.A. . Being from two cultures already (French & German) I had to learn to deal with different mentalities early on and resonated with the West Coast way of life surprisingly easily and seamlessly. I loved speaking English & reading English books, so I was fluent when I moved here. The only challenge of sorts I can remember was acquiring my green card. It was quite a process, but eventually, it turned out positive.
You have worked in both countries, France and the United States. How do the work cultures differ from each other in your perception?
Since I came here when I was 19, I didn’t have a huge work culture experience. In the 4 years I returned to Paris afterwards I worked in an ad agency and in a film production company as a secretary and can only confirm the cliché that French people love to take long lunch breaks and easily mix work and personal life. When I worked at the film production company in L.A. we had very short lunch breaks, worked long hours and there was not much time for personal stories.
What do I like better? Both work cultures have their pros and cons, but I remember being asked to smile more by my American colleagues. I was perplexed by this demand and didn’t understand why I couldn’t just be true to my feelings and forgo smiling, but still be professional. Initially, the plastered smile felt fake to me, but over time I realized that smiling, even if I didn’t feel like smiling, did make me and everybody else feel better. I learned that the old saying “fake it until you make it” even applies to behavioral habits!
In addition to your work as a voice-over-talent, you are getting ready for an exciting new career! Tell us more about it.
Of course. What I love about L.A. is the fact that you can reinvent yourself at any age, nobody looks at you funny or tells you that it is silly, unreasonable or whatever negative comment comes to mind. At the prime of my life, I will start studying to be a life coach over the course of this year. I’m very excited about this new adventure and feel like it is perfect timing. I believe that my varied & colorful life experiences, my intuition and my acquired wisdom over the years will be highly useful for this new job endeavor. Since this is a freelance job I can easily combine both and will still work in the voice over industry at the same time.
What do you love about California and why?
Like most people who move to California I love, love, love the mild weather. The sun makes me very happy and I will never get tired of the blue skies, the abundance of breathtaking nature spots and the gorgeous beaches.
As you have probably heard or read a zillion times, you can go skiing in the morning and spend the afternoon at the beach. Hello? Heaven on Earth if you ask me!
As a vegetarian, I enjoy the multitude of fun vegetarian restaurants. It seems that L.A. has a never ending stream of new spots to eat at. Another reason I love L.A. is the wellbeing movement. You can study and experience any form of healing, exercising and wellbeing your heart desires. I appreciate the openness with which most people here are willing to try new things and I find this trait to be very contagious and uplifting.
Another thing that comes to mind is the childlike quality of Californians. Some Europeans and others tend to criticize Californians by labeling them as childlike and superficial. I can say that the childlike spirit is exactly what I love about them, because it opens the door to unadulterated fun, great inventions & concepts and a myriad of possibilities due to a lack of overthinking. Also, in my opinion, their friendliness can sometimes be misread as superficiality.
Anyway, these are these are strictly my opinions and I feel very lucky to have the best of both worlds, a European background and a life in California. Since I go back to Europe once a year I don’t have any “Heimweh” and the fact that I have many European friends here helps as well.
Do you have some advice for other Expats?
If I had a couple tips for expats I would say:
1. learn to love driving long distances and learn to deal with awful traffic! 2. try to not compare the American city you’ll move to to your home city or the city you just moved from. Everything in LA will be completely different: the weather, the people, the language, the way of life, the mentality etc. Try to have a blank slate when you come here and be receptive and non-judgmental to new experiences.
Moving to another country gives you the great opportunity to start fresh and to experience sides of yourself you didn’t even know you had. Even though Jack Kerouac called L.A. the loneliest and most brutal of American cities I can say that I love this city with all my heart and I hope you will too, if you choose to live here!
Thank you, Tania, for talking with us! We much appreciate your sharing your expat life story with us as well as your thoughts on what makes living in California so special!
Images: ©Tania Stappard