Me, American?


A friend once said that travelling abroad is the way to learn to love America. He said he felt more in tune with the US when he was away, and more able to see what makes him American and what makes America great.

I suspect that he just didn't like the toilets in France amd was feeling homesick for Charmin.

Living abroad has helped me recognise what makes me American, that is true. But I find that they are not traits that I think are particularly good. Here's what I see in myself.

  • Violence. I'm not running around beating people up, but violence creeps into my speech (kick ass) and my actions (smacking someone playfully) in nearly unconcious ways. Japanese and Europeans don't seem to do these things.
  • Volume. There's no doubt that I (and maybe the average American, too) would be a great soliloquist. Not only could my normal speaking voice carry to the stalls, but I have a large quantity of things to say. Usually mundane, uninformed and purposeless. I've learned to be quieter, but it's still hard to stop talking.
  • Frankness. My life is an open book (or an open weblog as the case may be). There is no reticence about discussing my personal life with near-strangers. Not all Americans are this way, but a vast majority of them that I've met talk about themselves without hesitation. And usually, as in my case, without any reason.
  • Ignorance. Americans are not very well educated (but not stupid). Although I try to seek multiple sources, many times I don't seek more information than what's handed to me. Maybe this is not an American problem alone, but it's a hallmark of the "ugly American" and I know I've found it in myself. I am working to change this.
  • Laziness. Probably not too many people who know me would think I'm lazy, but I will insist that I am a slacker. If I did everything I could do, instead of just what I bother to do, I'd be a whirlwind of productivity. In the general case of Americans, I think that most people prefer to take the easy path than to work hard for something. This does not seem to be true in other cultures.

I can think of other traits that i think stem from my American upbringing, but I'm too lazy to write them out now. No matter what I write, it doesn't negate the American-ness of my existence. But I unlike my friend, I can't see that these traits make me or my homeland great.


When going abroad you have two options. You can use the opportunity to confront, question, and grow out of your inherent American ethnocentrism or you can choose to view the world through that singular American view-point and actually re-enforce your perspective that there is only one truly great way, the American way. It's a shame when people pick the second, they're missing so much :(

I think that it's good your self-conscious about the qualities you listed, I see them often in myself and try to adjust. Again, it's a great chance to grow as a person ;). But the key is you have to be honest with yourself and analyze your actions. A lot of people aren't brave enough to do that.

Btw I read your blog pretty frequently, but first post.

I'd agree with all of the traits as American with the possible exception of laziness. I find Americans much more willing to put in long hours at work, at sport and other endeavors than many other nationalities.

I think your thoughts are very interesting and possibly due to something I'm calling the reverse ex-pat syndrome (or choose whatever cutesy name you'd like for it). When we're expats living in a foreign land, we struggle to define ourselves. One of those ways is via nationality and the common traits of our nationality are often shown to be very different than the place we are living. Thus, we look for ways to get rid of those qualities, to de-accentuate them, in order to live more harmoniously in our place. That begins to transfer into, "These qualities are bad." This is especially true when one sees extreme examples in tourists and the negative is accentuated.

After being abroad for so long, those very traits that previously defined us, that we toned down, are thrown in our faces again. Of course it is natural to see that negative rather than positive.

Now that we've been back in North America for over a year, I no longer have that strong need to see that defining characteristics of North Americans. I've just slipped back into society and can see a bit of the otherside too. I fully agree that there is much to hold up the stereotype of the poorly dressed, fat, culturally uneducated American. But there is also an amazing generosity, a passion for freedoms (even if the government doesn't seem to share it) and ideals that is here.

I could go on, but the basic point is made.

I think the key is balance. No cultural way of living is right or wrong. Just different solutions to the same problems. I don't think the American way is right, nor do I think it's wrong. It's just one solution.

"... but I have a large quantity of things to say. Usually mundane, uninformed and purposeless."

I always thought that was just an extroverted quality in general.

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