I've been away from home for five weeks and in Sweden for one month (easy enough to remember, since I arrived on my birthday). So, I'm missing home a little bit.
I have so much to look forward to upon getting home - summer skies, summer weather, the pool, the ocean, my car, Kayla's graduation, barbeques and cookouts, and seeing my friends and family again. But all of this can wait, since I'm enjoying my time in Sweden.
What I'm not enjoying, however, is the attitudes of people towards Americans. I can't count how many times I've been told that Americans are lazy, fat, stupid, uneducated, people who are only concerned with themselves and have no concept of the rest of the world. How could this be true when we are the rest of the world? Every single nation is represented in our culture. Even trying to find something "American" to cook the other night was a challenge, since at home we eat everything from Italian lasagna to Polish pierogis to Mexican tacos. My dad told me that one of his coworkers picked up some Thai food for them the other day.
Maybe what bothers me more than people assuming we all fit into this preconceived notion they have about Americans is that (more often than not) it's being told to me by people who have never been to the US. (Quick digression: I really appreciate when people ask me about my home and tell me that they would like to visit. I understand wanting to experience new cultures, obviously, or I wouldn't have given up six months to see something new. For instance, Marine has told me that she would like to visit America some day and I would like to go to France, we don't dwell on how our countries think of each other, because that would be stupid and you can't pigeonhole an entire nation. Tack Marine!) Anyway, most of the people who decide that they would like to complain to me (why me?) about my country have no real idea about the nation. They have all of these bad things that they can say, yet most of them would love to vacation there. The only thing these people "know" about America is that George Bush is from Texas and they've been told to hate him.
A few people have told me that I'm "not very American" because I don't fit into their stereotypes. I take this as a compliment, since their stereotypes are mostly negative, but here's the truth: I'm just as American as anyone else from my country. I was born and raised there, said the Declaration of Independence each day in grade school, have memorized the Star Spangled Banner and the Preamble to the Constitution. I'm familiar with my rights, liberties, and freedoms as defined by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I celebrate Independence Day by eating hamburgers and watching fireworks. I also am American in the need I feel to help others - American youth are really big on volunteering and community service. I grew up down the street from Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson's summer home and have seen George Washington's fake teeth (which were actually set in lead, not wood). I grew up picking berries from brambles with my sister and cousins on their property, shooting cans with our bebe, visiting Civil War battle grounds with my family, and learning about American heroes such as Dr. King and Paul Revere.
On a more local level, I feel pride not only in my nation, but in my state and my school. Yes, we have our flaws, on all levels, but part of being American is being able to see those flaws and question them- we have the freedom to do that without fear of reprimand. I love being from North Carolina. While I might not sound like I am (for this I blame my parents, but thank them for it, too), I consider myself a North Carolinian, having spent most of my life there. I love our mountains and our beaches, the agriculture, our rich history, our ever increasingly diverse demographics, our education systems, our college sports, our contribution to barbeque, soft drinks, and food service establishments, and our pace of life. At Carolina, I love our opportunities like a decent study abroad program and numerous schools and majors, but especially our basketball.
Sure, the US has only been around for just over two centuries, but we have already done so much. I think that must be because of the make-up of America. No two states are the same, the heritage is a "melting pot" of so many different cultures. If you were to ask me my heritage, other than being American, I would say "I'm a quarter Dutch and the rest is pretty much Scotts-Irish." While others might disagree, I think it's awfully cool to be part of this nation that has so much potential and so much drive to use that potential. True, we still have a long way to go, but look how far we've come already.
So the next time someone would like to tell me about Americans, I would like them to stop and think what they really know about us, rather than what they've heard. We're more than our government, our fast food industry, and our entertainment.
I am not writing this to say that America is superior in any way to other countries. I'm writing it because I'm tired of people dissing America to my face. You don't have to love us or hate us or share your opinions about us with me. I don't mind joking around about it, but seriously I am proud to be an American and I want this trip to be a learning experience where I feel free to broaden my global perspective instead of focusing on how I can get people to stop telling me these rumors they've heard about my country. Sorry.
And to my close friends in Sweden- I am not writing this about you. I love that we joke about our countries by talking about what we call the third meal of the day, sharing our fondness for different types of food (from bread to vegemite), having differences in being promptly on time or perpetually late, and wondering what would happen if Canada tried to invade the states. This is just a means of venting for the people who don't actually know me or my country and would like to tell me about Americans and America. And I'm not really upset, I've just been thinking about it a lot and felt that I should somehow try to put my thoughts and feelings into words.