musings on identity & being an american


at one point, i thought that the longer i lived here, the more immersed in all things czech i would be to the point of “no going back”. and sometimes that feels like the case. the way i was wondering what i was doing getting on the airplane going back to the states this summer (that thought actually occurred). but then another thing happens: the longer i live in europe, the more thoughtful and also grateful i am to be an american. this is not to say another place is somehow “less than”, but rather, that i truly realize all the ways in which i am so american, but wouldn’t want it any other way.

the way i actually am proud of my country.

i am somehow proud to come from european ancestors (majority polish, swedish, & german) who took it upon themselves to uproot their lives in their homelands to emigrate to the united states. that is huge – to make a decision of that sort of staggering proportion is something beyond me; that i can only just think about with the same awe reserved for contemplating galaxies and outer space. i mean, i didn’t even have a farewell party when i left seattle for five-going-on-six years because it felt “too permanent”.  the dedication to start a new life in this new north american land is something i find just so admirable. i even have a great-great-grandfather that jumped off a swedish naval ship into one of the great lakes in an AWOL situation – too dramatic and cool.

i know there’s a lot of rhetoric floating around these days, especially considering who our country’s commander in-chief is, about being embarrassed to be an american. you see it a lot, especially among travelers or expats in europe. the way some americans travel with a canadian flag on their backpack (or so i have heard – eyeroll). the fact that americans talk way louder in public spaces than anyone else does. (you can fight me on this all you want, but it is absolutely true beyond a shadow of a doubt)

my country definitely has done some shady things in the past, and our government continues to do some shady things in the present.

despite this, i am proud to be from such a vast, great land. i am proud of my fellow americans that care about our country enough to be loud, make their voices heard, and resist what they feel isn’t right. i continue to love american pop culture and feel a little sad when almost nobody understands our frame of reference (or halloween costumes). i do feel reverence for our history.

if i hadn’t moved abroad, i probably would have continued on the course of blind patriotism that we are all taught since early childhood. because of course you stand, remove your hat, and place your hand over your heart for the pledge of allegiance or the national anthem. because of course you celebrate independence day as if it’s better than your birthday because it’s america’s birthday. why not have that flag sticker on your car after 9/11? we do so many things in the united states because patriotism is almost akin to religion, and we are taught not to think about why we do those things; to just do them. i have woken up, and i think i love my home country all the more. it takes distance to think about nationality, patriotism, and pride – or lack thereof. to think for yourself and not blindly follow or be influenced by any herds. (i can assure you there are no herds here to follow)

having just celebrated my fifth “expat-iversary” last week, i’ve realized that i’ve been here in the czech republic so long that some american things (like the way “normal families” celebrate thanksgiving) just become some kind of legends or lore. or how i pay for my meal in a restaurant (wait – so we don’t pay at the table?), sitting there trying to figure it out so long that our friends or family members felt so awkward they picked up the tab. when i walk into a bank and just give them my cards because i have no idea what my account number is or how to even do anything at a bank anyways.

but the feeling of one’s nationality, of course, doesn’t rest in these forgettable daily life routines but in who you are – how you were raised. what feels right.

i may continue to remain here for awhile yet, but i find i am happier when i embrace who i am and not try to “blend” or fit in with the locals. yes, i’m much more tolerant and much less passive-aggressive than i used to be when nobody pushes the button at the crosswalk, but inside i’m that same lady.

final summation

i love living here. i love my home in the USA. i think europe is beyond incredible. i’m proud to be an american. i love new cultures. the best thing of all is that those things can all exist together. happy thanksgiving. x

this post is a part of wanderful wednesday.