My American Problem

“Just say you’re Canadian.”

Before heading for foreign soil, Americans are often told to brush off questions of nationality by saying they’re Canadian.  The U.S. isn’t exactly the darling of the global community. And, I mean, it’s close enough, right?

The River Lee

The River Lee

For some, fudging the border lines is a non-issue. But for me, I have a hard time claiming I’m from a country I’ve only visited three or four times in my life. Luckily, I’ve never been in a situation where I had to lie, and I figured it wouldn’t be much of a problem while in Ireland

Four days in, though, and I’ve heard from a few locals that leaving the U.S. out of it might be the safest route.

As soon as I arrived in Cork, I struck up a conversation with a taxi driver as he drove me to my new home. When I mentioned to him that I’m a journalism major, the conversation quickly turned toward Syria. I wasn’t at my best after a six hour flight and a four hour bus ride, and I had a difficult time following him. I do, however, remember him telling me that it was probably safer if I avoid discussing politics with the locals.

Later, after I had settled into my room, I introduced myself to one of my Irish roommates. She’d been to the U.S. before, and while she said she admired our diverse wildlife, she did have some decisive opinions about how wasteful we all were. She couldn’t get over how big everything was there – the roads, the cars, the food. There isn’t even public transportation, she said.

University College Cork

University College Cork

All my encounters with the locals so far have been beyond pleasant, but I worry when I walk down the street. Not for my safety, no; I worry that they’ll recognize me as an American by the way I dress or the slightly dazed look on my face and think I’m yet another lost tourist. I fear that my slightly nasal midwestern accent will make them assume that I drive a tank and only eat McDonalds.

What I want is to be recognized as an individual. I want to be able to discuss politics and to hear other views. As I slip further into the culture here, I’m certain that my fears will vanish. I’ll learn the right way to approach a touchy subject. I will be proud of where I’m from without discrediting where I am. I’ll recognize that I have just as many preconceived notions to banish as others have of me. Hopefully, a frank discussion and a pint will be all it takes to air out those stereotypes.

But, at least for now, I finally understand why sometimes it’s easier to say you’re Canadian. Even if the Canadians don’t appreciate it.

 

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