Hey America, We Still Love You

by JP Morgan on July 11, 2011

I’ve heard stories from travellers older than myself about how there was once a time that it was great being an American abroad. They say people used to be curious to meet you and they had a wonderfully positive attitude towards you.

Obviously much has changed since then. Everywhere I’ve travelled, I’ve had to overcome stereotypes ranging from the infrequent ‘God-loving-muslim-hating-oil-theiving-mass-murderer’ to the more common ‘annoying-idiot’.

For the first time, this weekend I’ve felt like those American travellers 25-50 years ago must have felt.

The first experience came as a bit of a surprise. I had asked someone if they were from the USA.

This is something many travellers don’t do actually – asking people if they are from the USA. There is even a common habit of asking people if they are Canadian when you are thinking they might be from the USA. You do this because if they ARE from the USA, then you were close enough with your guess and if they are NOT from the USA, then you haven’t offended them. It’s true. I’ve seen people get offended by being assumed to be American. Anyway though, I don’t do this. I’m not that weakly apologetic.

So I digress.

“Are you from the USA?”

“No, from Norway. Why did you think this?” he responded with that rising tone which surprised me.

Was that a positively motivated inquiry? I wondered.

“Oh, your English sounds very American,” I said hedging my bets.

“Well thank you,” he said smiling.

Holy shit! Did he just say ‘thank you’?!

Yes, he did. And he wasn’t the only one. I started telling all the Norwegians I met that they sounded American, even when they didn’t, and everyone took it as a compliment!

Now I certainly don’t want to give the impression that the Norwegians are up America’s butt or anything. They appear to have a strong national identity and plenty of money and cultural pride to not need to identify with the USA. At the same time though, finally, they seem to be a country of people not afraid, not even embarrassed, happy in fact – to call the USA a friend.

England is close to this, but ‘American are annoying-idiots’ is still the common stereotype held by most Brits. It can be quickly overcome of course, but it’s there. To England, America is like their annoying little brother.

“Yes, of course I love you. I have to – you’re my brother. And yes, you can come with me, but just sit there and don’t say anything, OK?”

I had a chat with my American host in Norway about the feeling towards Americans here too.

“They love us. It’s great!” Brock told me.

Usually I rush through answering the ‘where are you from’ bit
when introducing myself to people, but in Norway it has generally been an enjoyable experience. Not that the answer to this question has as much value as it may have once had.

While I was following Brock down the stairwell in his building after finishing the typical Norwegian breakfast he had prepared for us, I asked him “Brock, do you still feel like an American?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I know that I feel out of place when I’m home.”

Like me, Brock has been gone for over five years now.

“Yea, me too,” I said.

I know it may sound ridiculous, but I feel somewhat foreign wherever I go now…even the USA. I feel very much a human being, very much a man, very much white-skinned, very much English speaking, but as for a national identity…it’s not that its been replaced by anything, it’s just sort of faded away.

The dissolution of identity is an interesting experience and one I often encourage when helping people grow and make changes in their life.

But in this case, this weekend in Norway, it has been a pleasure sinking back into the identity of an American. I’ve enjoyed dusting those old shoes off, slipping into them, lacing them up and dancing around and being not only for people the man that I am now, but also for them, as they always desire me to be, the man where I came from.

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kathy crassweller July 11, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Again, have enjoyed the reflections.

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