Benson: So you think you’re American, eh?

I have lived Argentina for three weeks now and needless to say I have learned a lot. The culture is very different yet intriguing; for instance, when saying hello or goodbye you must greet everyone in the group. Strangers and family members are greeted by leaning in for a hug and making the kissing noise on their right cheek. Dinner is served no earlier than 9:30 p.m., and the weekend festivities do not start until 2 a.m. This, of course, means it is perfectly acceptable to sleep in extra late on the weekends. Coming from the fast-paced United States, it seems as if I spend a lot of time waiting. For instance, while I am with my family I can expect to sit in a restaurant for at least three hours. Waiters do not check on tables because it is considered rude, and if you need something you must flag them down. Beverages are served in glass bottles, and there is no such thing as a free refill. Water is not free, and everyone splits and shares the cost of the bill rather than having separate tickets. I have learned how to live in 80-degree weather while wearing jeans, and I’ve learned to live without air conditioning. Also, I’m slowly learning that what we consider dressing up is a very casual outfit for them. Now, I could go on and on about how much I love their culture and values, but I think there is a lager issue at hand. This issue lies in “America.” What is America, and is it always a good thing to define your self as an “American?” This has been one of my biggest challenges, because at times, being from the United States is by no means a good thing. To state the obvious, I am embarrassed to be from “America.” I hate to admit it, but at times I, as well as other group members, have told people we were from Canada to avoid what we interpret as discrimination. Of course when we say Canada, Vancouver is always the topic of choice, but being a foreigner make us targets for pickpocket and discrimination. For example, a few of us went out to eat for a birthday. Upon seeing a table near us receive a birthday song and complementary cake, we too told the waiter we were also celebrating a birthday. While we received the free cake, no one sang to our birthday boy. Instead, we watch yet another table be sung to and receive free cake. Now obviously we weren’t that upset, but when things like this happen more than once, it is sometimes hard not to think it is because we told them where we were from. Do not get me wrong; most people here are beyond friendly; my host family is better than I could have every imagined. I really feel at home, yet I can see why others have this preconceived notion of “Americans.” We are often loud or obnoxious in places we shouldn’t be; we draw attention to ourselves at times, and we tip too much. So what can we do about this? While I think I can change the opinions of my host family and Argentine friends, I do not know that I can change the opinions of the waiter at the restaurant or the people walking down the street. But what I can do, and what I hope to give to you, is the simple fact that we “Americans” are not the only ones. We share this beautiful word with several other countries! We alone are not American. Instead we are North American, and we are from the United States. This simple word choice can make quite a difference in what others think of us. If we continue to say, “I am American” or ask, “Do you listen to American music?” we only feed into the misconception that we think we are the center of the world. I have to catch myself from saying this all the time. However it is a constant reminder that there is another “American” world out there, yet, sadly it sometimes goes unnoticed. America’s people are from the North, Central, and South, and while their world may be different than ours they are just as “American” as we are.