I suppose my journey towards becoming an American at heart began months before I even set foot on the streets of Foggy Bottom. I had decided to leave Europe, the self-anointed cradle of sophistication, for America. Soon I found myself defending my choice over every bottle of wine I shared with a European, whether he or she was a Brit, Swede, Frenchmen or even Romanian.
Why are you going to America? Haven’t you heard they think “Mission: Impossible” is high culture? They don’t know who Botticelli is! Didn’t you see “Super Size Me?” They don’t have salad. You know they didn’t sign Kyoto? Invaded Iraq? Can only speak English? Don’t even know where Stockholm is? Watch Jerry Springer? Drink light beer?
I guess my transformation started then, with all those late hours of defending. It took me eight months, but I started to become an American before I even got here.
Honestly, I wasn’t even sure why I wanted to come here in the first place, since I wasn’t a big fan of you guys either. I thought McDonald’s and Beyonc? homogenized culture across the world, that Bush was the epitome of evil and that football was rugby for the inadequate man. You know, the usual stereotypes.
But I think I fell in love with America the first night I was here. When my British friends and I were trying to get to Georgetown but didn’t understand the road network, we stopped to see where we were going. At that point, a middle-aged lady came up to us, asked if we needed help and then pointed us in the right direction. In Britain, and particularly in London, we would have walked straight past, preferably bumping into the person who is clearly a tourist. We don’t like to help strangers that much – unless you’re in a pub.
For a long time, the overly cheery politeness in 7-Eleven, at Colonial Inauguration or on random street corners annoyed me. I wanted everyone to leave me alone and stop asking me how I was. But it only took a few months before I could readily reply with, “I am good thanks, and you? Oh, lovely weather today, isn’t it? Ah, have a great day to you too.”
After I fell in love, the transformation was a given. I guess the real first sign of me becoming American was when I drank Bud Light out of a red and white plastic cup in some frat boy’s dorm room. After that came buffalo wings at a local bar while watching football. Before I knew it, I was utilizing sayings such as “awesome,” calling an essay “a paper,” and “hooking up” on a night out. My friends back in Europe get so mad at me for the way I talk that they say they won’t be friends with me again until I learn how to talk “properly.”
I advanced even further in my American integration when I learned how to play beer-pong, and by the time my Starbucks order took more than 20 seconds to pronounce (tall skimmed sugar-free vanilla hazelnut latte extra foam) and I drank it on the go, I realized I was over the edge. In Europe we sit down at a caf? and get our espresso in a ceramic cup; now I was an on-the-go American, in soul if not by passport.
I realize comparing the District to the rest of America isn’t exactly good anthropology, but I feel as integrated into the D.C. and GW culture as I feel American. The first thing I did when I got up in the morning in Britain was brew a cup of Earl Grey tea and look out the window. Here, I turn on the television to CNN and check the top Google news stories, four political blogs and The Washington Post and The New York Times’ editorial pages online.
I have an internship, I wear tights with flip-flops in public, I nap in Gelman, I go out to Adams Morgan and a significant amount of my friends are either gay/Jewish/from New York or New Jersey/spent their junior year abroad in Europe – or all of the above. And I love it.
It has been the perfect year abroad for a pretentious European. All I have to do now before I go back is stock up on GW t-shirts and various goods, and buy a Blackberry to keep in contact with everyone.
-The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.