We Americans stick out in a European crowd. Even though I'm from the States and even though it frustrates me to no end when I'm 'outed' at first glance, I've come to accept this truth. How can I argue when I too can immediately spot my own kind?
I've studied the phenomenon enough to know that it's not a few identifiable things, but an overall unrestrained way of movement, dress and behaviour. We Americans, as the expression goes, have no shame. Having been raised with expectations of being cowboys, movie stars, or captains of industry, the most desperate failure in American society is to not stand out.
For those of us Americans interested in Euro-assimilation, perhaps the most difficult habit to overcome is learning to not shout in public - I, actually, had to learn that I was shouting in the first place. Even after much hard work, I still occasionally regress: While waiting in line at a bank, for example, I'll turn to a friend and start telling a story. Five minutes later, emerging from whatever tale I had plunged into, I look up to find a tense, reddened face nervously avoiding my eyes. Once again I've embarrassed someone terribly with my volume.
The struggle to not be a typical American doesn't seem to be getting any easier. Every time I've tamed some beast a new one crops up. Most recently I was told by a friend that when I walk into a room and sling my backpack on the floor, people view me as something of a joke. I had no idea. "You Americans," she scolded. "You just throw your stuff around anywhere. We Slovaks take care of our things."
I still don't totally get the relevance of the backpack, and I must admit being habitually confused about such social graces. I wish I could make a pact with all Europeans: I'll try to behave more properly if you'll try not to make generalisations based on facets of my behaviour that don't really cause any harm. A swagger should not be confused with arrogance, and boorishness is not the same thing as stupidity, just as the refined European carriage does not always represent a rounded character and deep intellect. Behind the loud, gawky, and often annoying trappings of the American lies a human being, sometimes a likeable one at that.
5. Jun 2000 at 0:00 | Matthew J. Reynolds