Thoughts on Being American While Not in America (4th of July Post)

Happy 4th of July! To most Americans, that means having the day off, possibly going to a bbq or picnic, and seeing fireworks at night. Many Americans are wearing red, white and blue, lighting sparklers and eating corn-on-the-cob. Today, I went to work. It felt like any other day. I didn’t think about it being the 4th of July except when I wrote the date and when I logged into Facebook (and saw all of the other Americans posts). I even forgot to wish my American coworker a happy 4th of July. It just didn’t seem like a holiday without all the hype surrounding the date.

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While living in Japan, I have never once forgotten I was American; yet when I was living in the US, I never once thought about being American. It wasn’t something I thought about – I just was, and so were most of the other people around me. Even the people with accents, who wore ethnic clothing or didn’t speak English were often Americans. These are some of the great things about being American (the diversity).

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America is like my family: I can talk about them, but no one else can. If anyone who is not American criticizes America, I either jump down their throat, politely correct them, or walk away with some sort of disdain for them. I have learned what topics are appropriate to talk about around non-Americans, because often people have strong opinions of American culture, which I deem wrong and therefore get angry about. No matter what I say, I usually cannot change their mind, so all I can do is show by example.

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Many people in Japan LOVE Americans (Amerikan, as it is said here). America has infiltrated Japan’s entertainment, making most Japanese people aware of at least some portions of American culture. Native English Teachers (NETS) teach at many of the schools in Japan, and many of those teachers are American, so children grow up learning about American culture. For this reason, many children think that ALL foreigners in Japan are American.

Some of the stereotypes I have run into while being in Japan (some good, some bad):

  • Friendly
  • Outgoing
  • Happy
  • Fat
  • Violent
  • Own many guns (one of my adult students said she saw something on TV about pink and blue guns being sold in America for children)
  • Have tattoos
  • Loud
  • Lazy
  • Not hard workers
  • Arrogant
  • Selfish
  • Generous
  • Laugh a lot (and often loud)
  • Fun
  • Dip their french fries in milkshakes (this one was an odd one… a Japanese coworker read an article stating that Americans did this)

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This weekend, a group of us Americans are getting together for a cook-out/picnic to celebrate the 4th. It will be on a different day, but the sentiment will be the same. We are all bringing different American foods, and one person said they were bringing tacos. This, of course, spurred the debate about tacos being Mexican. The person bringing the tacos is from California and stated that they think of tacos as being American. This is just an example of one of the things I have grown to appreciate about America: its a cultural melting pot and for this reason no one thing is classified as American. Instead, often things that are ‘American’ are more or less borrowed from other cultures. Sure we claim apple pies and Chevrolet, but there are many grey areas such as tacos where Americans associate them with America.

Happy 4th of July to all; I can’t wait to spend next year’s 4th in America!

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