About a week after I got back from Europe, I was merging onto a congested highway on my way back from my Grandma’s house. I joined the flow of traffic in front of a gray truck, in the only gap I could find. Since my merging lane was dwindling, I’m not sure where else the truck expected me to go, but apparently I was unwelcome in front of him.
His flashing headlights drew my attention to the rearview mirror. He was clearly yelling at the top of his lungs and waving his middle finger at me in rage. And as if I could have been unclear about his message, his wife proceeded to hang her entire torso out the window, cussing me out as their truck sped by.
All I could do was smile and wave in bewilderment as they passed. And then, as if my life was some redneck American satire, “Aint That America” came on my radio.
First of all, welcome home Ker. And yes, I suppose that is America in some people’s eyes.
There’s usually a reason that stereotypes are born. Perhaps from my example, you can see how Americans could have a reputation of being impatient, egocentric, and uncultured. I expected my experiences abroad would further demonstrate these downfalls, and I expected to find the European way of life more sensible and desirable. And in many ways it was.
Italy showed me a society that was less wasteful and more in tune with their surroundings. Conserving energy and resources was a moral obligation many people felt to the earth. The country’s history was everywhere—respected and embraced by every Italian. The people were patient and appreciative, careful not to miss the joys of each day that are often undervalued in a hurried lifestyle. Passion was poured into the making of foods, wines, and goods. Time with friends and family was valued above all else, and the cornerstone of their culture.
Although the Italian society has plenty of problems of their own, the essence of the culture that I experienced was refreshing. Yet instead of yearning to stay there and never leave, I gained a completely unexpected perspective. Despite the juxtaposition, I gained a greater love for the very place I hailed from…
My time abroad made me realize that Americans are a unique culture like every other culture in the world. Our country may be nearly two thousand years younger, but that doesn’t make our history any less important or foundational to our identity. Our traditions and holidays are grounded in the same importance of being with the ones you love and giving thanks. Although I’ve fallen in love with Italy, I know I don’t have to be an Italian to live each day more sensibly, never forgetting the blessings I’ve been given.
And while we’re on the topic of giving thanks, I’m going to go ahead and say I’m thankful that stereotypes are neither all-encompassing nor permanent. God help me if, ten years from now, I’m missing my front tooth and hanging halfway out a car window while my very own Ricky Bobby husband flicks off surrounding cars. I experienced that being American is often a stigma in others’ eyes, yet all it takes is one positive interaction to make someone change their opinion of you and everything you represent.
When an Italian friend told me how much he appreciated my effort to understand their culture, I knew I had done just that, if only on a small level. In the past seven weeks, I’ve been pushed farther outside my comfort zone than ever before. I’m proud to say I’ve achieved every goal that I set for my self, and saw everything I set out to see. I want to thank everyone who made my experience perhaps the best one of my life (you know who you are gattis), and want to thank my parents most of all, for believing that this experience could be as valuable as it was.
I’ve fallen in love with this country. Ciao Italia, until we meet again!