“And all the people sing, long live the king for he’s a godly thing, an eagle with just one right wing.”
— “Moving to Canada” by Cloud Cult
Whenever I travel I tend to fall into a pattern of strategic lying.
My falsified past usually centers around my country of origin: Once I leave America, I have no ties to it. My command of Western European languages is just enough to pass for non-American — I claim to be German in Italy and Italian in Germany. Failing all else, I emphasize being from California, because strangely enough, it’s better to be from California than America.
One of the benefits of interacting constantly with strangers while traveling is that no one knows who you are, and it’s not your responsibility to inform them. The reality is that I haven’t lived in California for years, and I have absolutely no claim to Western European citizenship.
But that’s not important. For all they know I could be anyone and anything.
Why then do I take such pains to keep from being American? This country has done nothing wrong by me — with the possible exception of my public school education — and American citizenship is one of the most coveted in the world. But there’s still some part of me that would rather be German, English, Brazilian, Vietnamese or Palauan — anything before the dreaded “Ah-murh-i-cun.”
Drinking wine in Rome Tuesday night thanks to my senior essay research, I met a woman from Amsterdam named Mareille who had deliberately never been to America. While traveling around the world seven years ago, she had deliberately rerouted her flight so that it wouldn’t go through America.
When I asked her why she’d taken such pains to avoid us, she explained that she thought most young Europeans felt the way she did: America and its inhabitants are like its foreign policy — ignorant, pigheaded and rude, with nothing but misplaced priorities.
No wonder I’d never wanted to be associated with America. Who wants to be burdened with that kind of reputation?
The worst part is that the reputation isn’t entirely undeserved. Even I — aspiring to a somewhat more worldly perspective — had no idea that Italy happens to be in the middle of a critical shift in government. America is gearing up for its regularly scheduled election charade, and therefore nothing else matters. Stereotypes hurt more when they happen to be based in truth.
So what exactly is a Californian-American with fading language skills to do? Eventually I’m going to have to own up to being an American when I’m in Europe, and maybe it won’t be as bad as I’ve made it out to be. Even Mareille confessed that meeting actual, live Americans helped replace her disgust with a more general mistrust.
Hopefully it’ll be strategic for me to stop lying about my country of origin someday. Until then, don’t believe me when I start telling you I’m German.
In the spirit of talking and drinking — two things which always break down preconceptions — the following is a classic Italian cocktail named after gli Americani.
1 oz. bitter Campari
1 oz. red martini
Mix in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into glass and garnish with lemon. You can add some seltzer to dilute it, because we all know that Americans like their drinks weak.