Your American is Showing

During a recent family gathering this summer, a someone said to me in regards to my expat life (in a somewhat-joking manner), “I’m going to raise my daughter to be all-American.” Although I am used to hearing these types of comments, I didn’t hesitate for more than a few seconds before responding, “Just because I don’t live in the United States doesn’t mean I’m not American.” 

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Milwaukee, Wisconsin, aka my hometown

I have always been a proud American, but after college, the only goal I had was to leave the United States. Although almost everyone I love lives in the USA, I wasn’t happy with what life in the United States had to offer at the time. Because let’s face it, there are a ton of things that I absolutely despise about the United States. I am uncomfortable with the fact that some of our most powerful politicians are unable to separate Church and State. I am terrified of my country’s mentality in regards to guns. I have no personal interest in sports or cars, but unfortunately it can be extremely difficult to live without one in most parts of the country. As a traveler, it turns me off that only 38% of Americans own a passport, and that American culture bases the quality of life around money and things over experiences (although I do believe this is changing with millennials). I am equally appalled by the skyrocketing amount of student loans debt, the lack of paid parental leave and vacation time, and the fact that healthcare in this country is a privilege instead of a fundamental right. Finally, the presence of racism, sexism, and homophobia, though vastly improving, still lingers. 

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High School sports are a huge part of American culture

I’ve lived in France for over a year now, in addition to a two-month stint living and working in Japan. Besides that, I have traveled to over a dozen other countries and have gotten a taste for what many other countries are about. The Netherlands was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage. Scandinavia is expensive, but there is no place in the world that is better for women and gender equality. Japan is extremely safe and clean. France’s healthcare system is affordable and accessible. The work-life balance of Spain is phenomenal. Europe’s public transportation system is so economically-friendly.

However, despite all of that, I have found that the more I travel and the more globalized I become, the more American I feel. Overall, I believe that traveling and leaving the United States has made me a better American and better citizen of the world. I am more aware of myself, my privileges, and the influence of my own country of the rest of the world. Because let’s face it, there are many good things about the United States. All in all, the more I travel, the more I appreciate where I come from. 

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Because, what could be more American than dressing up as Harry Potter characters, posing for pictures with other randoms, and showing up to the movie theatre four hours early in anticipation for the latest film? (Yes, I know Harry Potter is British.)

Americans are optimistic, and to be frank it is such a welcomed change from the pessimism I often encounter in France. As much of a cliche it is, I embrace the idea the that anyone can be whoever they want to be with a little elbow grease, despite the harsh realities of racial and socioeconomic privilege, among other complications. Overall, I love the positivity in this country, and how we encourage people to make positive changes in their lives, whether that be changing careers, going back to school as a non-traditional student, or starting a new fitness plan. The educational supports for people with special needs are also overall very accommodating in the United States. Additionally, I love the sense of community among Americans. As a nation we people go out of the way to give a helping hand to others. The United States is also so, so diverse, with people from every different nationality, ethnicity, and religion living within the borders. There is also no official language. Furthermore, the United States is truly the land of convenience. Almost everything is available at any given place or time, and the customer service is phenomenal. Even though I am not a religious person, I like having religious freedom and expression more than I like living in a secular country. I love the cultural customs of high schools, barbecues, tailgating, and patriotism. I love putting Christmas lights on my house, watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, and eating turkey on Thanksgiving. I love having access to fast food at literally any hour of the day, and the fact that almost any ethnic cuisine-style restaurant can be found here. Finally, the United States offers a wide-range of landscapes and climates, as well as infinite travel opportunities.

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Boston, a city drenched in American history

Overall, I have never hesitated to tell travelers or locals I am American (I am proud of it!) When teaching English, I am often encountered with questions regarding various stereotypes about my country (ie: “Are Americans fat, lazy, uneducated, crazy religious, ill-traveled?” “Do students sing in the high school hallways?” “Do high schools really have lockers like in the movies?”) When living or traveling abroad, I sometimes find myself subconsciously practicing my American habits and mentalities, because let’s face it, as “global” as I become, there are certain quirks and traits that will always stick with me simply because I am American. Examples of this can range from simple to extremely complicated, from piling all of my food onto one plate instead of eating it in courses, or going to the market in my pajamas or hooded sorority sweatshirt, taking my coffee to go, shaking someone’s hand or giving a close friend or family member a hug when meeting them, smiling at strangers in the street, being overly optimistic, having extreme workaholic habits, laughing a little too loudly, or having a passion for competitive marching bands and women’s gymnastics. When an American talks about how American culture “doesn’t exist,” I can’t help but to shake my head in regards to how wrong they are.

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Celebrating Hmong culture and influence in the USA

When I witness cultural differences unravel before my eyes, it spreads a smile across my face. I am able to say to myself, “This is because our culture is more like this, whereas in this culture, it’s more like this.” I find these differences fascinating and intriguing, instead of weird or standoffish.

Overall, despite the many things I loathe about United States, there are still an equal amount of things I love. It’s still my home country, and even though I am away from it more than I am in it, I  will always come back, and do not ever see myself giving up my citizenship. The United States, its people, and my nationality will always be apart of me.

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The ultimate American statement: Cap & Gown (though perhaps we are missing the red solo cup)

Bisous,

Dana

15 thoughts on “Your American is Showing

  1. A great post! What does it even mean to be or not to be American? Or French? Or whatever? Why does wanting to travel mean to so many people that you’re rejecting your home country? I completely agree that being abroad helps to better appreciate being born and raised in the United States and to have a better idea of what you love about your home country.

    1. Awesome question!: “What makes an American, an American?” I’m really not sure. I feel like because I have traveled I am more aware of myself, my nationality and the impact on the world. I feel like a better American because I’ve traveled ! I love being an ambassador for my country.

  2. I have a love-hate relationship with the United States. I have missed family during the times I lived abroad (Mainly when I think about them) but I haven’t missed them enough to stop living abroad.

    I know this is obvious but no country is a utopia. There are things I don’t like about France – such as the ostracization of those in the banlieues, national ID cards and the refusal to embrace multiculturalism and on a lighter note, buses not running on Sundays and national holidays in the small Normandy town (Eu) I once lived in. But I’ve learned to deal with those things and hope politicians improve those things.

    1. I agree. I love living in France and when I’m in France, I’m great. Coming home this summer was a really great chance for me to see my family again, but I’m not ready to come back permanently (I don’t think.)

      You’re right that every country has it’s pros and cons. I hate France’s secularism laws because I think they are hypocritical and Islamophobic. France, though more progressive in some ways, lacks in others. It’s still quite a racist country, worse than the US in my opinion and that’s saying something. And yes, OMG the buses, being closed more than opened, and being so slow with administration and paperwork.

      Yet it’s a country I love dearly! Thanks for your comment, as always, Rashaad!

  3. I’ve been gone 8 years and it’s still the same things you mentioned that I love and hate about the US. I don’t plan on living in the US again, and I definitely want a 2nd nationality/passport so that I don’t have to go back, yet at times I do want to go back to visit family and friends. I still say Michigan is home, but I feel so disconnected from everything that I don’t really know where home is anymore and I’m ok with that.

    1. I’m glad we are on the same page when it comes to love/hate with the US. I know what you mean about the Midwest no longer feeling like home, although during this summer I saw myself perhaps being able to live there again in the future. (Although you’ve been gone much longer than me.)

      Thanks for commenting! Bisous

  4. Great post. Absolutely agree on the cult of so-called secularism in France and their blindness to the issues of freedom of expression and non-Christian traditions. I’ve never been one for patriotism and flag-waving, but I do find that after 20 years in France, I feel more Canadian than ever. Yet also very French. You are right to defend your right to see both the positives and downsides of your homeland. Bravo!

    1. Thank you so much!!

      Yeah, I will never get past the Islamophobic tendencies intertwined in “la laïcité.”

      I am so much like you in the sense that I feel so foreign or French at home yet still so American anywhere else 🙂

  5. It is absolutely appaling to me the only 38% of Americans have passports. I think I remember reading a while ago (of course a cursory Google search did not help me find the article) that an unreal percentage of people who get married in their 20s don’t have one…which baffles me.

    1. Crazily enough it was closer to 30% for a long time, before passports were required upon entry into Canada. I’m not surprised by that statistic. It also states that those who marry quite young have higher chances of divorcing, or not completing higher education.

  6. To be honest, the way France applies secularism scares me just as much as the USA is unable to separate church and state from official government matters. It’s ironic because the way they practice secularism is just like a religion. It IS their religion and it baffles me that they don’t see that. Just a few days ago I was talking to my friend’s boyfriend who is from France. He was complaining about Hollande wearing a yarmalke in some official picture and that it shocked him to see him wearing one, since usually French presidents don’t usually show any religious affiliation.

    I looked him square in the eye and said, “You do realize if that picture was taken in a temple, that Hollande was wearing one out of respect? Most men, regardless of their religious affiliation, are expected to wear one when visiting a temple. It’s a symbol of respect, just like non-Muslim women wearing headscarves in a mosque.” (which I realize not all mosques require this, it depends where you are). He seemed thrown for a loop because I was so adamant about it but then I grew up in the most Jewish part of the USA so I know things like this, even though I’m not Jewish. French people need to stop freaking out every time they see someone wearing a religious item. (And I did some quick research–Hollande wore the yarmalke on an official visit to Israel which makes TOTAL sense to me. It was a sign of respect and courtesy. Nothing more.)

    But other than that great post. All countries have their pros and cons. 🙂

    1. OMG, great points here. I had no problem wearing head coverings in Istanbul and covering up my shoulders and knees in Morocco out of respect for the country. One time my host family in France once told me that they thought it was absolutely wrong that George W. Bush swore over the Bible while addressing the nation. I must agree wholeheartedly on that one. But I agree with you so much in the fact that secularism in France is sometimes an excuse for “Islamophobia”. I once argued that if they want to ban headscarves in public schools, then they should be creating all-girls public schools taught by all women, so that these girls do not have to choose between not wearing a headscarf and not going to school. I will not ever agree with France’s burqua ban, either

      1. A lady who worked at my foyer in Rouen told me she found it was odd that American politicians spoke frequently about religion. I didn’t think much about her remarks but her opinion seems similar to many French.

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