“Oh, God, You’re American?” // Thought Catalog

by WildChild

I cannot even recall how many times while traveling abroad I have seen the rolling of the eyes combined with a look of absolute disgust cross over a foreigner’s face when they find out my white blonde hair and straight cut bangs are not Swedish, but American.  If only the ninny waited until I walked around the corner before I watched them stroll into a McDonald’s after this comment… Yes I know, we are McNation. Stop fueling our companies with your business and put down your Big Mac if you have an issue.  Note: this is not aimed at all the lovely people I did happen to meet during my travels.

Even my British professor would tell the class full of international students… “NO AMERICAN ENGLISH”.  Guess what my royal highness, or should I refer to you as Professor Snape?  I WAS THE ONLY AMERICAN IN THE CLASS OF 100.  I was also your Student Representative and Exhibition Coordinator for the whole MA program.  Don’t be so sordid you bugger.

As most people who’ve lived abroad as an American can attest to, one is often left playing the Token American, there to field questions and comment about every unpopular decision our home country has made over the past 100 years. As America is a culture that permeates the world — in language, in entertainment, in foreign policy — it is only natural that people would form opinions about it, and not always flattering ones. It’s easy to feel inundated by American culture no matter where you are. You see signs, hear music, and read news stories that make you feel as though you could be living in the middle of Kansas when you’re standing in a small town in southern Spain. And unlike with most other cultures, people in your new countries will feel more than at ease when making any and all critical or even slanderous statements about the good ol’ US of A. “We’re the big boys,” the mentality seems to say, “we can take it.”

But what’s most shocking to me, I think, is the idea that we are just supposed to take it without the slightest trace of offense. And now more than ever, with the xenophobia and racism spilling over Europe like a nice, warm blanket — along with the economic crisis–there is not one inch of Europe’s house that is not glass. Yet they are more than happy to lob the biggest stones they can find at my home country. But to me, and I imagine to most Americans, the idea of meeting a Dutch or Italian person who came to our country and launching into a 10-minute diatribe about how much you hate Geert Wilders’ immigration policy or how much of an embarrassment Berlusconi was would seem incredibly inappropriate. It would be so insulting and wrong to just insult someone’s homeland like that — especially over things that the person visiting may very well not like themselves. To put the blame or the accusations indirectly on this person’s shoulders and have them make excuses for what other people who share their nationality have done would be cruel, and would work to undo the good being done of them coming into another land and learning a new culture and language. It would teach them that, on some minuscule level, they are not welcome. They are not like us. There is something inherently different, and in a way, worse, about them. It would make them feel uncomfortable and out-of-place. We just wouldn’t do it.

Americans, though, seem to be fair game at any and all times. Logically, I get why this is the case. We are omnipresent in terms of culture and exposure, everyone believes they know our own country better than we do. And I likely would, too, had I been raised in Europe, for example. I would probably think that America puts its national neck out there, and shouldn’t be surprised if people hate it. They shouldn’t be surprised if they get a backlash, even down to an individual level. But Americans are not our government, we’re not our foreign policy, and we’re not Michael Bay movies. We’re individuals who have a million reasons for traveling, or for meeting new people — and it hurts us just as much as it would hurt someone from Japan, Kenya, or New Zealand if you started off the conversation with how much you hate what our homeland stands for.