“¿Y de dónde eres?”
Desperate to retain an air of experience, I felt my face crimson and my hands dampen as I sputtered out incoherent Spanish babble. It was like my first time all over again.
“Soy … soy … estadounidense.”
And there it was, the admission, where I’m from. I am an American.
You would think after three semesters of drooling through Spanish class, I would at least possess the capability to identify myself. After all, with a haircut a la Ellen DeGeneres and a demeanor a la Larry the Cable Guy, my nationality practically leaps out of me and into a bi-curious Texas Roadhouse. And yet, two weeks into my semester abroad, I found myself struggling to spit out the most basic phrases to the poor madrileño who dared to ask.
But it wasn’t as if I didn’t know the vocabulary. Hell, telling someone I was from the States was just about the only phrase I bothered to memorize on the flight, aside from “where exactly does it itch?”
I knew the question. I knew the answer. For once, I was prepared.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the apparent shame in admitting my citizenship. Behind the lexical blunders, the linguistic faux pas and the really sweaty palms, behind all that was a red-faced American who couldn’t bear to reveal her nationality. And apparently needed stronger antiperspirant.
Being an American had never really been a point of pride for me prior to leaving the country, but it certainly wasn’t a point of shame either. To be honest, I hadn’t really given it much thought. I knew how to point out my hometown on a palm. I could croak out the national anthem, and I think I saw a commercial for NASCAR once. In other words, I was just about as American as a bleeding heart who prefers Ricky Gervais over Steve Carell could get.
And I thought nothing of it.
But then I stepped off of my international flight. I hailed a hybrid taxi. I confused a bidet for a Verne Troyer-sized drinking fountain. And as I sat back in that cab, I started to wonder, why was I from the U.S.? I mean, yes, I know. Because of some unfortunate incident in the handicap bathroom of a K-mart in Flint some 19 odd years ago. But after nearly two decades of taking up space in the States, I had never considered what my life would be like outside of America. Or if some other country might be better for me. But now I was starting to wonder why.
It’s not just me getting the red, white and blues. Whether or not they realize it, other American students I’ve encountered while studying abroad seem to echo the same shame when speaking of their American-ocity.
“I don’t really want to travel with some big American group, you know?” “Last night I totally convinced some guys that I was German.” “Hey, DeGeneres, would you please stop eavesdropping?”
At first I thought maybe they just didn’t want to come across as tourists, but as the days go by it becomes more apparent that feigning a different nationality is preferable to pulling out a U.S. passport. It’s gotten to the point where American has become a pseudo-insult, as in, “Is this too American?” “She’s so obviously American.” “Does this American make my America look big?”
I guess it’s hard not to get sucked into the European way of life. In Spain, the kids can drink, the gays can marry and the prostitutes can take business when they please. Oh, and everyone’s as high as a drunk, gay-friendly whore of a kite. And I know, for the average Ann Arborite there’s hardly any difference between Europe and a visit to the People’s Food Co-op. But what about for the rest of the country outside our 27 square miles of socialism and hairy legs? Well, it’s like Disney World without the price of admission.
So what’s an American, bespectacled curmudgeon to do? Renounce all American connections? Start humping The Communist Manifesto? Take up space with a mess of rhetorical questions? The best I’ve got so far is to adapt and find ways to fit my American habits within the Euro-lifestyle.
Or better yet, just come clean. Yes, I’m American. Yes, my country still forbids marriage rights to about four million citizens. And yes, we still have a death penalty. There may be shame, but I promise, there’s always more alcohol. So drink and be merry. Forgive and forget. But mostly just forget.