Thursday, August 8, 2013

What makes an American?

Today's post is for Americans and non-Americans. So, I guess it's for everyone and anyone. 

I have had a number of South Africans remark (enough for me to notice) that I am not "a typical American". The only thing that I honestly, consistently see as the reason this is said is because I'm not overweight. I'm never quite sure what to make of that.

As I've now been living in South Africa for two and half years and just traveled back to the US for three weeks, and am now back in SA again, I've wondered a lot about the two countries' cultural differences. When I'm in the States, I often get multiple variances of the following questions:

"What's the food like?"
"What's a typical South African meal?"
"Can you do a South African accent for me?"
"What's the culture like?" (that's not a broad question...can you hear the sarcasm?)

Likewise, living in SA, I get similar questions about the US fairly often. And sometimes for both countries, I actually struggle to answer these questions. I can tell you what a typical South African meal is like (for a number of the different cultures) but I can't do a South African accent. There isn't one accent. There are 11 official languages in South Africa, so everyone sounds a bit different from each other. 

And when I'm asked about the US, I find that my answers confuse even me. 

"What's the food like?"
         Large portions. (Ok, that's all over the US.)
"What food do you miss the most?"
         Mexican, Cuban...wait a second - that's the American food that I miss the most?

Yeah, I crave a good burger every now and then - like on the Fourth of July (I mean really, what's more American than a burger or hotdog?) And I love hot, chewy brownies with the best of them. 

But what really defines America? What really makes you American?

I was born on the west coast of Florida, grew up in Miami, went to college in Boston, and lived in New Orleans and Washington, D.C. over two different summers. From my experience:

Being American is being multicultural. Americans are accepting (I know you may think that's debatable, but overall, I really think we are), diverse, fun, and hard working (yes, I know there are exceptions to all of these). Americans eat a lot. Many Americans never learn another language. A lot of Americans don't know how to consistently relax (more than having a TV series marathon) and take holidays (vacations) for more than one week a year. Americans loving watching football, eating turkey, and going shopping at 4am in order to try and get really great deals. 

Please do not get me wrong: I know every American does not fit into these statements. But in terms of how the rest of the world sees us, these are a just a few qualities by which I think you can generalize Americans. 

So, I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

What defines America? What really makes you American?

Have you traveled to other countries? What do people in other countries say/think about the US?

Do Americans really have a global reputation for being overweight?

This is a friendly discussion. Please keep the comments light and appropriate. :)



  1. That is a good one Elizabeth.
    Being French and having lived in Germany for 11 years, before coming to the US, at 21, I don't consider myself French anymore than German, or even American.
    I use to live in Missouri, NC, Idaho, and California. I have spent time in Chicago and Columbia MD. To me being American, is being patriotic and having a flag post in the front porch of your house. Spending time with family during the Holidays, like Veterans Day, 4th Of
    July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Eating apple pie, blueberry pie, vanilla ice cream, hot dogs and burgers, turkey with dressing, and warm pumpkin pie, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole and potato roles for Thanksgiving. Corn bread and chili on cold winter night. Watching every single college games and the Rose bowl parade. Those are things that are typically American to me. But there is so much more to that. So many different culture and backgrounds. Traditions from Sweden, Africa, Germany, Cuba, Persia, France, Russia, Poland, Japan, China, and the list goes on and on. This Country, is the United Nation. God has intended it this way, so that everyone can somewhat imagine what it will be like to be in Heaven all together. Without borders. There is a sad thing though. You cannot transport all the different natural backdrop that each countries have, it is impossible. There are something that I miss from each place that I have ever lived in our visited. I would love to go back to Rio and Port au Prince, visit Africa, Asia, India and the Northern Part of Europe.
    I have to be honest sometime I get really annoyed when I am around people that make assumption about Countries, what I usually say, is go visit and find out for yourself, see what the people are like, what they do, what they eat and how they live. Everyone is different. No one is the same.
    I will share with you what I have discover when I go back to France and see how people treat me this time.
    By the way, it is not true that French women are not fat! (Like a certain book claims)

  2. Hi Anne - I didn't know you've lived all over the place! It's funny what becomes "American" based on where you live. Enjoy your time in France! :)


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