Of all the ups and downs of being an expat, I found the questions about the United States as a country, and Americans as a people, to be alternatively bemusing and embarrassing.
I’m not talking about questions like ‘What is the capital of Michigan?’ Sometimes they were silly questions- meant to serve as a good-natured teasing, but often times, the questions were complicated. A sampling:
- Why so much gun violence?
- How did George Bush get elected twice?
- What’s with this Edward Snowden thing?
- Why do Americans love peanut butter so much?
Look, I appreciate my country and certainly would not trade my passport. But sometimes, those questions made me want to claim Canada. Except the peanut butter question- I’ve got no trouble defending that.
My answer to difficult questions was pretty much the same. ‘Weeell.’ I’d say, with a drawn out pause of uncertainty. ‘It’s a pretty big country. There’s a lot of diversity. Not all Americans feel the same way.’ I don’t know why I bothered, as no one was ever satisfied with that response. They wanted ANSWERS.
While some questions were difficult, others made me smile. I spent a lot of time answering the question ‘What do you know about Florida?’ The state should have hired me- I was asked that often. Once, I spent an entire pedicure answering questions about Miami.
Speaking of cities, another popular city is Los Angeles. Once, at a Costa Coffee, the barista asked if I had been to LA, because he was going there… someday. When I nodded affirmatively, he commanded me to tell him everything he needed to know- the best places to go and where might he run into Kim Kardashian?
I suggested Beverly Hills over Compton.
Not all silly questions were geographical. I’ve been asked how Americans can stand Hershey’s chocolate and why we call football ‘football’. They asked questions I could not possibly answer, so assumed my only recourse was to acknowledge and apologize.
Yes, occasionally, I had to apologize for the behavior of Americans I’ve never even met. No one can accuse me of being un-patriotic! I’ve smoothed international relations so often, that I deserve some sort of honorary award for diplomacy.
Sometimes, they asked ‘Do Americans know anything about other countries?’ I knew what was coming. They had a cringe-worthy story and I was going to have to explain. A Scottish friend recounted a meeting at her company’s NYC office. She was chatting with an American colleague and he interrupted her with this tidbit- ‘Can I just say, your English is SO GOOD!’ Oh, yes. He did.
If you are American, you may even recognize yourself in the next question: ‘Why do Americans love British accents so much?’ Once, this question was followed by a story about a night in an American city where my British colleague was asked to repeat words and phrases at a bar because his accent was amusing the table next to his. He performed, on command, like a circus dog.
I apologized but asked why he didn’t just tell them to ‘piss off?’ He shrugged and replied ‘They were really enjoying themselves.’
Why are the British polite to a fault?
That’s another story.