Sunday, February 11, 2018

"I'm Not Like Other Americans"

There's a meme that's been around for a while called "I'm not like other girls." It goes like this: some female on the Internet claims, "I'm not like other girls" because she doesn't wear makeup or doesn't like heels or does stereotypically masculine things or however she chooses to identify and describe herself and her interests. All of those preferences regarding how she chooses to dress or spend her time are, on the whole, completely fine. What makes this trope annoying enough for it to have become a meme is that "I'm not like other girls" is almost always presented in a way that implies the subject is better than or preferable to "other girls" for being different. This great satirical piece in The New Yorker nails it.

So why am I introducing this concept? Well, because as an American living overseas, I feel like I keep running into a version of this I can't seem to escape: the self-righteous expat who proclaims, "I'm not like other Americans!" In this expat's conception, "other Americans":

  • are too loud
  • expect everyone to adapt to their way of doing things
  • only eat at McDonald's and Starbucks
  • never learn the local language
  • don't care about offending people
  • and on and on and on...

Of course, there are American expats like that. I would place money on the fact that there are expats from pretty much every country in the world like that. There are also incredibly kind, thoughtful, culturally engaged Americans almost everywhere, as well.

What irks me most about this mentality is the fact that cultural understanding and exchange should be a two-way street. I do agree that we should do as the Romans do as much as possible when in Rome, but at the same time I always try to be charitable to immigrants or tourists or anyone coming to the United States who hates our food or gets really frustrated with the way we do things or just wants a break from speaking English once in a while. I think we should be afforded the same generosity as much as possible when traveling and especially when living abroad - because, let's face it: sometimes being an expat is really tough.

There are jerks out there, but a lot of Americans are just trying and kind of stumbling their way through adjusting to a new culture and lifestyle, as are travelers everywhere! At the end of the day, I'm fairly certain anyone can think of something kinder to say than "I'm not like other Americans", anyway.

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