It’s certainly no secret that Americans aren’t viewed too highly in other countries. And with the current state of our politics, well, it isn’t so hard to understand why.
However, it has been hard to deal with how that stereotype affects me.
Being from New York, I have a certain attitude towards tourists, and that attitude is usually something along the lines of “Ugh, get out of the way.” Even in Philadelphia, somewhere I’m still relatively new to, the swarms of people surrounding the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall during the warmer months of the school year have been a bother, not people I want to be like. Anywhere I go, I bring that attitude towards the typical “tourist” with me. I prefer to live like a local, to look like I know where I’m going and what I’m doing.
But here in Rome, it’s so much harder to blend in. The sights are so beautiful, I don’t know how even someone who has lived in Rome their whole life can just walk right by. I feel like I stop every five minutes to photograph a sign, a monument, or a building. I can’t not do it.
I also don’t speak very fluent Italian, and the fact that it takes me several minutes to form a full sentence is a pretty big indicator I’m not from around here. Not to mention the matching American accent that always gives me away. I can hardly get past a sheepish grin and a “Ciao!” before the person I’m speaking to lights up and laughs with an “Ah…..American!” and then switches to English.
It’s been a bit of a struggle, as I’m not used to the immediate give-away that I’m not a local. I’m also not used the feeling of shame I get when someone has to try to speak to me in English, instead of me trying Italian. It should be the other way around! I shouldn’t be going into a country expecting them to speak my language, instead of me trying theirs. It’s also hard to deal with the fact that in Italian, I can only speak like a child. I know simple sentences- I am this, I want that, I think this, etc. I can ask directions, but I can’t understand the answers. It’s frustrating to think that people could see me as stupid here, when I know that I can be smart in English. It does make me think, though, of all the people back in America who don’t speak English, but don’t have the luxury of Americans being able to understand their language. It’s making me try harder, because I don’t want to be seen as someone who’s not trying. I don’t want to contribute further to that American stereotype.
Another thing that comes up a lot for me as an American here is our politics. In the small, once Etruscan town of Tuscania, an elderly man in a bakery tried to talk to me about Trump and Obama on the day of Trump’s inauguration (No surprise here, I really couldn’t understand anything else he was saying).
It sometimes feels that even in another country, it’s impossible to escape what’s going on back home. It’s not an entirely bad thing, though, as this past weekend I got to meet up with a bunch of other Americans, expats, and just general human rights advocates at the Women’s March sister march here in Rome. It was a powerful feeling, being surrounded by other people who, despite differences in race, gender, religion, and citizenship, all felt the same about human rights and equality.
I think it just goes to show that people are not that different after all, if all around the world people were holding similar marches to show support for women and women’s rights. That even in different cultures and in different languages, we all stand for the same beliefs. And that makes me feel that, language barrier aside, I’ll be able to make a place for myself here.