Being American

Living abroad, I thought I’d be a lot more embarrassed about being American (and more reluctant to admit it).  It turns out that (to my face, anyway) I haven’t encountered a lot of anti-American sentiment.  People are much more likely to react with interest, rather than derision, when they hear where I’m from.  (So far, the only people I’ve met who make me embarrassed to admit that I’m American are other Americans who are behaving badly — but that is the exception, rather than the rule, as well.)

At home, we’re all from someplace else.  As you are getting to know someone, it’s very common for them to identify themselves with another country/culture:  Italian, Irish, French, Puerto Rican, Indian, Chinese, etc., etc., etc.  Even people born in the US — even people whose parents and grandparents were born in the US — will identify themselves by their country/countries of heritage.  People have a lot of pride about where their family is from.  I’ve heard (and been involved in) arguments about how much of your family has to be from somewhere for it to “count”, and heard cultural/nationalistic stereotyping used both negatively and inclusively.  It’s part of the “mixing pot” mentality, I suppose — since we’re all from somewhere else, we find and share our common bonds.  There’s strength and tradition in identifying with our culture of origin, but it also creates divisions and can create discord and dislike.

At home, I’m Irish.  (Well, mostly.  More or less.  More than anything else.)  Dan is Colombian (that’s legit, though, as he was born there — but his family likes to point out that they’re really Spanish, by way of Colombia).  Our kids are Colombian/Irish/???.

When we first arrived here, we’d find ourselves equivocating, the way people do at home, about where we’re “from”.  Living in Austria, that just confuses people.  If you say you’re Irish, they expect you to have an Irish passport, to have been born there . . . or at least to have BEEN there sometime in your life.

Here, we’re just American — no further explanation required.  I find it ironic that I didn’t really identify myself that way until I left.

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