Last night, I was standing next to my friend as she busily texted away, trying not to look too bored. I noticed this guy walking toward me, and I did one of those accidental-eye contact things, where I remembered to look away just a millisecond too late. He came up to me and said something which I genuinely could not understand.
“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you!” I raised my voice over the music.
“Oh, you’re English? Never mind.” I thought he was just going to walk away, so I returned to the business of checking my cuticles and waiting for my friend to finish typing her short novel.
“I’m just kidding!” he said. Super. “Where are you from?”
“Really? You’re American? Shouldn’t you be happier to see me?”
“Ummm, why should I be…?”
“Well…because American girls are like that. Like, you know “Oh my God, that’s so cool, I LOVE you!”
“Oh, yeah…sorry, I forgot…Omg how ARE you!?!?”
I’m not trying to start a pity-party, because I feel like the last people who need sympathy are the privileged American girls who get to travel to Europe. But I do feel like this stereotype merits a little discussion. Like any stereotype, parts of it are offensively generalized, parts of it vary depending on the person you ask, and parts of it are eerily accurate.
I’ve gathered some visual aids to really capture the essence of what I’m talking about:
So, there’s that.
I’m not trying to brag or anything, but A few times, I’ve been mistaken for a European. After my cover gets blown, people exclaim things like “But where is your makeup?” “Why aren’t you orange?” and “Can you do a Texas accent?” From responses like this–as well as flat-out statements–I’ve gathered that people expect Americans to be extraordinarily superficial. You might say it’s our defining characteristic. At least, that’s what they are saying about us.
Is it blasphemous? Is it true? Does it apply to all Americans? Well, my dear reader, here is the profound philosophical answer I’ve cooked up for you: kind of.
Stay with me here. The way that (most) Americans interact with one another goes beyond mere politeness. Americans are really friendly. College-age American girls–such as myself–are the prime example of this. We are queens of hyperbole and hyperventilating. When things are good we LOVE them, and yes, sometimes we jump up and down. We’re talkative, and aren’t very good at keeping our opinions to ourselves. We grew up idolizing Cher Horowitz and quoting Regina George ad nauseam. High school was like that. Being well-liked seems equivalent to a superpower. When popularity is paramount, it makes sense that we go a little overboard sometimes, trying to make people like us.
Some people I’ve met say they love Americans because they’re so friendly. Others get irritated by the phoniness of it all. I’d never considered acting that way to be anything more than being polite, but apparently it can seem a little over-the-top. For now, I’m just practicing keeping the enthusiasm to slightly below sorority-girl level. Besides, the less I say out loud, the more people mistake me for a local.