It starts before you even leave. That thought-train choo-chooing through your brain asking if maybe, just maybe things will be different in Europe. When you go to Europe the people there will find you wildly interesting, when you go to Europe, you’ll be more exotic, when you go to Europe, your slightly nasal, Midwestern twang will garner widespread appeal and general European man-awe.
For all the boasting we Americans like to do on how big and diverse our country is, how powerful our powerful military is, and how our economy is the core of the wheel that makes the world’s go round, …or something…, we really should be considering how our outsized influence on the international entertainment stage really does us average Midwestern white girls a serious disservice
As an average American white girl abroad. You’re either stereotyped as the “crazy American party girl” that someone saw in some movie somewhere, or the “oh, it’s just an American girl, meh” that someone [everyone] saw in zillions of American movies and TV shows over the course of their European lives. Thanks a lot, Hollywood. Your sick hegemonic infiltration of the world’s movie and televisions screens is more pervasive and pernicious than any trade agreement. And it strips away the one opportunity us average American Midwestern white girls have to be that other-worldly, different, cool, exotic person that all the Europeans get to be when they come to our country.
We welcome our heavily accented European pond-neighbours with open, exuberant, friendly American arms. Their otherness and differentness brings an unparalleled charm and appeal that we never tire or become desensitized to, because hardly anyone watches other country’s movies! We won’t know we’re you’re from or where your country is located, but we sure love your fancy accent and Euro style! And no amount of period feature lengths or BBC Masterpiece Classic dramas ever fatigue the allure of the British/Australian/Irish/South African accent. Take virtually any European-accented English speaking male, plant him in a large public university quad, give him a puppy, and every woman in a 100 foot radius would find him the most interesting person they’ve ever met. Same goes for women. Men like European women, women like European women. We think they dress cooler, sound cooler … they’re on coolness overflow.
Generally in America, we stereotype Europeans and the idea of Europe across multiple, contradictory fronts. They are (depending, of course, on who you’re talking to):
- intellectually enlightened and progressively superior in their politics, have transcended humanity’s more base inclinations towards racism and discrimination
- more fashionable and generally way posh
- make artisanal, very luxurious, high-quality, expensive things
- think Americans are stupid
- think Americans are arrogant
- are cooler/know about all the cool things that are still under the radar
I had all of my early-stage formative years to dream up what Europe would be like and attempt, often in vain, to temper those dreams and expectations. (Example: thinking I would be exotic and different overseas and people would think it was cool that I was a foreigner.) But nothing, of course, can destroy your conceptions or confirm them like actually going to the place from which they arise and meet the people in which they’re rooted. There is no substitute for actually leaving your continent and going to another. The truisms, however large or small, are at the foundation those stereotypes, but there are just as many equal and valuable truths that broad brushing misses. And, you uncover beliefs you didn’t realise you had, until you encounter something or someone that counters it.
So, yes, in Europe, there is fancy chocolate, and cool clothes, and the American accent/demeanor/culture is nothing novel. But Hollywood can’t replace the people. Stereotypes can’t wrap up people and label relationships. And that’s a lot to miss if you never leave your place and go to theirs. Even with a nasal Midwestern American accent.
Cover Photo: Shinya Suzuki (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-ND 2.0