Monday , February 26 2024
Life isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. It’s painfully clearer.

An American’s Uneasiness with the American Way

As an American citizen living overseas, it is with great interest that I read articles addressing things like American arrogance. I have been recently asked by some here in my host nation of Germany about things like the Burger King fiasco. (Burger King is documenting — for want of a better word — their search for “Whopper virgins” around the world – those who have never tasted their burgers.)

It is sometimes difficult — as someone who represents all things American, whether I actually do or not — to remind a citizen of another country that not all Americans think like this or act that way. When pushed for some kind of explanation, what other answer is there for the Burger King-esque behavior than greed, arrogance, and blatant insensitivity? Again I assert that most Americans are not like this. Sometimes, though, Americans are the ones who challenge that assertion.

Much of my community is made up of Americans who live here, not American tourists. When those of us who live here do come across American tourists, it's sometimes nothing less than embarrassing – the pedestal upon which so many arrive. I honestly don't think most of them even realize what they're doing or how utterly offensive it can be to others – to include their fellow Americans.

We have several friends with children who were born overseas and have lived overseas their entire lives. They visit relatives in America more or less as tourists, not citizens. As these parents retire from American government work overseas and take their children "home," they are hit with culture shock and taken aback by how much it impacts their kids.

You’d think a life spent overseas would add a little glamour to the resume, as it were, of a child (usually a teenager) in a new school in America, but it often ends (quickly) with that child being thought of as snotty and aloof because they're well-mannered compared to their American soil-born-and-raised peers, they often speak another language(s), and they don't actively participate in conversations where foreigners and the bilingual are disparaged. They don’t quite understand the allure of binge drinking, and they can be seen staring — in that special way teens do — at those who would whisper about someone speaking a foreign language or wearing foreign dress.

My own teenagers have left me notes saying things like, "Remember I’ll be in France all day. Back later tonight." More than once my children have lamented to their friends, "I can't go bowling with you because my parents are dragging me to Maastricht – again!"

To further answer the oft-American-asked question, "What's so great about Europe?" is to invite all manner of insinuation that my children and I are — at best — unpatriotic. Now that they’re in college in the States, their group of friends being mostly American citizens (who were not all necessarily born on American soil) doesn’t matter to those who become aware of, and judgmental about, the dozens of kids they associate with who were most decidedly not born American.

Curiously, when my husband is stateside, he can speak negatively about his experiences in Asia without impunity, but he only made the (relative) mistake of speaking longingly about Africa once. Every word, good and bad, is heard as a comparison to America. This is the oddest dynamic, and one that is almost exclusive to the non-traveled American.

To visit the States and tell these stories within earshot of Americans who are not my relatives is like spitting on the floor of a restaurant: you’re going to get stared at and someone just might ask you to leave.

It seems only right and fair to some Americans that immigrants should abandon their language, culture, and history in exchange for the American dream. It isn’t until this myopic mindset is applied to an American child — who lived overseas their entire life — that the almost murderous implication of being told to “leave it all behind” is felt.

Who would ever ask an American child to forget life as they’ve known it in exchange for something they’ve only marginally learned and have only peripherally felt? It is only from another American that they’ve ever heard that everything they’ve ever been and everything they’ve experienced and learned somehow doesn’t count.

I dearly love my country (the freedom and opportunities is never more heartwarming and starkly defined than when compared to another country), but as time goes by, my love of country has less and less to do with its citizenry.

About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.

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