What It’s Like Being an American in Europe
“Oh, you’re from the United States…so do you like Trump?”
I could not even count the amount of times that I have heard this exact line whenever I introduce myself to a European. The conversation usually consists of them trying to see if I fit the image of a stereotypical American. They first ask me if I am a Trump supporter and once I assure them that I am not, they jump to the next round of questions. “What do you think about the gun issue in the States?” “Is it as bad as it seems?” “Do you support gun use?” Those are the main two things I hear constantly; the Europeans I have had encounters with have an image of America as a place full of Trump supporters and gun lovers. I can’t blame them though! Given everything that is on the news and the amount of shooting that have occurred without any real change, it can be confusing as to what the American opinion towards our current political situation is. This alone says a lot about what is happening in our country, if people around the world have an image of us as a reflection of the man in power. Not to mention, the fact that I then feel embarrassed to even be associated with that image. It is something very eye opening because when I’m in America I live in a very liberal city where most people automatically assume, I am anti-Trump and anti-guns. Aside from these awkward conversations, having the label of “American” tattooed across my forehead does impact the way I handle myself in Europe.
I am studying in a program of only American students and as a result, most of my friends in Spain are American as well. So that means when I am walking on the streets I am usually accompanied by a bunch of other Americans and we are all chatting and speaking English to each other. So basically, we stand out like sore thumbs most of the time. That being said, since I know a lot of people will immediately associate me with the label “American,” I almost feel a responsibility to always be on my best behavior to ensure I do not add to the bad stereotype and reputation that Americans have in Europe. The Europeans that I have spoken to view America as somewhat of a mockery. Most young people here HATE Trump and ridicule the way he is governing the United States. Some have said they are scared to visit because of all the gun violence that occurs. My friends and I have conversations about how we all experience this and how we cannot blame people for thinking this way because from the outside looking in it must look even more chaotic than it does for us living in this political situation. A part of me wants to tell them otherwise and show them that there are so many people opposing what is happening in our country right now, but another part of me realizes that their perceptions are valid in so many ways. It really has opened my eyes to how destructive Trump has been to the view of American globally. It has also opened my eyes to how my perceptions of other countries are probably skewed a lot as well because they are based just off what I hear in the news and the few figures that create the most noise.
The main positive experience from all of this is the way it opens us up to a lot more discussions about politics in the United States and globally. Once the topic of politics comes up, most of the Europeans I have spoken to are very open with discussing their own thoughts. I have gotten the chance to hear about many people’s thoughts on Trump and what is happening in our country, as well as comparing it to what is happening in different European countries. This is especially interesting to talk about with Spaniards because there is a political party in Spain called “VOX” that uses a lot of the same rhetoric as Trump. Some Spaniards view VOX in a positive light but speak poorly about Trump. Others speak about the connections between VOX and Trump and how all these issues are rooted in the same overarching system. This is something that I never could have learned about to the same extent in the United States. These conversations have also helped me to see the similarities between the youth in Spain and the youth in America. We are all fighting against these oppressive systems in our own ways and with different faces, whether that face is VOX or Trump or something even larger.
At first, I felt embarrassed to be associated with all the stereotypes of being an American, but in reality, it has allowed me to have a lot of unique experiences and get a more global perspective on politics and the image of America. I have gotten the chance to talk to more people and learn about their own opinions and how they are different or similar to my own. I’ve been able to learn more about politics in Spain and how Spaniards view the different political parties. It has opened my eyes to how sometimes we view our own political circumstances as different from those of other countries, but at the end of the day it isn’t too different. Being an American in Europe requires a lot of self-awareness and reflection on how others interpret your actions, but also gives you a chance to learn more about how people interpret the world.