American Abroad

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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For as much as I love traveling, the more I travel the more it becomes blatantly clear that I am American. No matter how far I run, America finds me. More so in Buenos Aires than in Europe do I stand out—it’s hard to hide a six foot tall blonde among a sea of well dressed, dark haired and dark eyed portenos, believe me, I’ve tried. This morning walking down Corrientes toward the university, a beautiful young girl with a bright purple backpack and lovely long brown curls was walking with her mother to school and for the whole 2 blocks I was behind her, she acted as an owl and swapped her pretty brown curls with her equally gorgeous eyes and simply stared. Yesterday, also while walking to the university, three twenty-something year old men saw me, opened their car door and yelled out the windows, “Hey! American! You speak English, no?” and to my continued walking they responded with more jest and whistling. I know that beyond my looks there must be some brand that labels me as from the United States, and I’ll figure out what they are eventually.      

Part of being American (or rather, North American) is accepting how you comply with the perceived American reality of the region you visit, and also accepting the reality that the perception of Americans can be and often is different than who you are. Not yet have I experienced hostility for being from the EE.UU. personally in Argentina, only annoyance at my pathetic excuse at speaking their language. I know, though, that in my rare appearances with the full strength gaggle of American students with whom I am traveling that as the loud bunch progresses down an avenue, strewn from building wall to road, that portenos sipping their café con leche form opinions of Americans, favorable or not (though judging by the graffiti, to which I owe an entry in and of itself, I’d imagine the imagine is more often than not negative).     

I’ve always been cognizant of the negativity that surrounds the image of Americans, but I didn’t really fully understand it until two days ago. Let me explain.  

For those of you unaware, I attend the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. Our rival school is the University of Georgia in Athens. As a Tech student, every essence of school spirit contains in it somewhere a slight on Georgia, or simply our favorite expression, bluntly put: “To Hell with Georgia!” Now, I know many a fine Georgia student, my brother included, but believe me, that does not stop me for finding “truth” in the stereotypes Tech students find pleasure in spreading about the institution (example, a joke: What did the Georgia student say to the Tech student? ‘Can I take your order please?’ or How many Georgia freshman does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, it’s a sophomore class!!)

On Tuesday a group of UGA students arrived at our residencia, studying abroad as well, and I found myself faced with my own indoctrination of anti-Georgia feelings. By the simple fact that I am a Techie, my immediate inclination is to skeptically assume these students will confirm my expectations. I dislike them from the moment I meet them. Consciously forcing myself to step back and re-orient myself and open the apparently narrow door to my mind. 

It dawned on me that this feeling I experience with UGA is exactly how some foreigners feel about Americans.

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” –Maya Angelou

vances says:
Yes, diversity is diverse! (i.e., there are so many differences beyond religion and skin color which cause discomfort). Thank you for sharing that profound observation....and the beautiful quote from Maya!
Posted on: May 19, 2006
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