Saturday, May 26, 2012

Travel Blasphemy #4: "American" is OK

One of the first questions people ask a foreigner:

Where are you from? 

You'd think that'd be an easy thing to answer.

Am I from the US, the USA, or America? 

I used to answer carefully that I was from the U.S. because, in order to be accurate and respectful, I must recognize that two continents share the name American. To say I was from America would be at best, gauche, and at worst, imperialistic. I didn't want that

Now I use "the U.S." or "America" interchangeably, depending on whichever option my brain pushes forward first. The reason why is in the section below.

Am I American or USian?

Fake question. Because in truth, USian was never an option for me. USian is just stupid, though if you want to call yourself that, go right ahead. I think we have the right to call ourselves whatever we want.

I used to feel awkward self-identifying as American (see first section for why), so I generally reframed my answer as "I'm from the U.S.

But over time, I noticed something interesting. Almost everyone outside of the U.S. refers to people from the U.S. as Americans. And almost as often, they use America following "going to," "visiting," or "living in."

In other words, they don't trip over what is, in my current view, an artificial issue. By artificial I mean that we North and South Americans don't talk about being American (with a larger capital A than is already there) unless we're talking in the context of North America or South America. In other words, the distinction doesn't usually come up in casual conversation. Which is what the question "where are you from"? is -- casual conversation. 

I noticed something else here in Georgia. Sakartvelians don't complain about being called Georgian even though they refer to their country as Sakartvelo. (They do get a mite annoyed about being called Russian.) 

Speaking of Georgians, they don't shy away from calling themselves Caucasian simply because billions of people outside of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia might also self-identify as Caucasian.

So anyway, I'm American.

But what if this offends people in North or South America? 

Bottom line: All of us have the right to self-identify as we wish.


AE Challinor said...

The only thing that really bothers me is when someone talks about a cultural/linguistic attribute as being "American" when it's actually North American. That invariably leads to dumbshit assumptions about Canadians being complete barbarians. Yes, Americans speak English, are punctual, love going to the mall, drive everywhere, like privacy, respect and demand personal space... and so do fucking Canadians!!

Mzuri said...

Canadians are so cute when they get angry.