Being American

"Americans are better at presentations," my Swedish friend stated matter-of-factly. He has studied in Sweden, Hong Kong, California at UCLA, and Washington DC. We'd been talking about my mild surprise at being underwhelmed by the quality of presentations I'd seen in my classes during the semester; attempts at charisma or humor were rare and the interaction between group members presenting was often stiff and unrehearsed. There were exceptions, and being a diverse class- half Swedish and the rest from all over the globe- there was nowhere to pinpoint the issue to. From my experience, I just had expectations for a lot more effort, even if people were usually speaking in their second language. My friend's comment made me think about where my expectations are high because I'm from the States, and, where my expectations can be low.

"Well in Sweden we work a lot more with irony and sarcasm than you do in America, so that's why you probably aren't getting the guest speaker's statement," a student in my class said during a discussion in which I was trying to get at the root meaning of the reaction of students to something said to us. I bristled at the possible condescension and sweeping generalization in this student's comment, and thought of so many things I wanted to say back, but all I responded was that I thought my queries had been misinterpreted. Yet again, another broad statement about being American.

I hear them so frequently and I have so many thoughts since I've been here about how Americans are perceived and the situations that make me feel very American, it's taken me awhile to finally put some down.

I feel American when I'm referred to as such. I've never really been called "the American girl" before, as I have been here, because it's never really been that relevant. I did a lot of traveling abroad in student groups in high school and college, so we were an "American group." And in other travels, when you're traveling around a country for just a month or less, you just don't encounter the same people over again in a way that creates a label. There's not a ton of Americans around here, and many of my Swedish friends in Lund don't have any local American friends, nor do they usually have many local international friends. Therefore, the American girl I am.

I feel American when in our seminars we're assigned to take on the roles of varying management perspectives, and as usually seemed to happen, am coincidentally assigned the more top-down, capitalist perspective. It's almost too painfully ironic to be the only person from the States in a room of 20 during a role-play, and debating for something like "these layoffs are just necessary, our business is boat in a sink or swim position, paddle your ass off or you'll be thrown over." I'm likely just imagining this, but sometimes I swear I feel the glare of one of the Eastern Europeans, their eyes saying, "of course you think that!"

I feel American when I feel loud. I don't consider myself to be a loud person, relatively. And I know several Swedes who are often a lot louder than me. But here, more than many other times in my life, I am suddenly aware that as I'm interacting with someone(s), my whole manner is more "loud" per se compared to most people around me... that I'm making more jokes or gesturing more or saying something across a few desks when no one else might do it (note that this is usually only noticed in sober situations). It's a little disconcerting, but not unexpected in being American I suppose, as it's a major stereotype.

And here are a few things I've heard since I've been here about Americans or America that I have thoughts on, but will leave you to sort them out for yourself ;)

"Americans are either fantastically good-looking or really quite ugly. Not too much in the middle."

"American employers care more about their bottom line than their employees."

"Americans love dating. Out for dinner and a movie all that. Seems so awkward."

"Because Americans pay for their college education, they probably expect a lot more in terms of quality and service from their schools. We don't expect as much in Sweden since we don't pay, and they in turn don't give us as much."

"Americans love stories and inspirational stuff... putting a quote at the beginning of your essay is so American!"

"Sometimes it seems, from all the tv shows maybe, that all Americans do is cry and fight!"

More on this topic another time in the not too distant future...

***here's my pin on Santa Barbara on this map of where students in Lund have come from in an International Student bookstore.


  1. i like those observations. studying abroad really is a unique position to be in, with so much to learn about yourself, and how others see your nationality. love the photo!

  2. Fun to read about your thoughts about being "the american girl"! Sometimes culture clashes hurt and sometimes they just make you laugh.

    Great observations! :)

    /Mr Isaksson


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