The Spanish-American Ambassador

I’m talking with my coworkers in Madrid, and they casually mention how Americans are. You know, all of us, all the time—how we act (boorish), how we think (hint: we don’t), what we look like (obese), what we eat (hamburgers, fast food, and generally junk). My pulse quickens, and I feel the urge to say something, anything, because they are oh-so wrong. But what do I say? How can I not act like a know-it-all? Most importantly, how can I convince them that not all of us would choose a greasy hamburger as our last meal?

***

I enter into the local Mexican restaurant in my hometown. Someone I sort of know from high school sees me and quips, “Don’t you get enough of this kind of food in Spain?” Or I’m at a family gathering and someone mentions how much vacation Spaniards get, almost in a despairing way, as if that were the reason their economy is suffering. Here too, my pulse quickens, and I desperately search for the right combination of words to help them understand Spain, Spaniards, their way of life. It’s not all siestas and fiestas, though there is a fair amount of sunshine.

***

Being from the U.S. means I am its unofficial ambassador in various environments. My father-in-law is an endearingly curious man, who has an unending stream of questions about our lifestyle. Am I representative of the U.S., after all? I did choose to spend a year in another country instead of following the traditional path. I try my best to tell him about our way of life, as well as the common person’s, but I realize that I can only do so much, because I only know so much.

When I am in Spain, there is a part of me I feel only Mario understands. When I am in the U.S., there is a part of me that almost no one understands. I see things that are different, and then I compare them. Constantly. I see how we are not energy conscious in the States, and I wonder about it why that is so. I do not believe it is a personality characteristic; it’s not that simplistic. I see that in Spain people strive to be civil servants, to have a job for life, and I compare that to home—and no, I do not ascribe it to laziness.

Sometimes being an ambassador is tiring. Sometimes I do not want to tell you why we eat dinner at 7 p.m. or why you believe Americans don’t know anything about geography. I don’t want to explain why Spaniards don’t eat eggs for breakfast or why there are so many strikes. I’m not trying to be hostile. I just wish (sometimes) that I could return to a time when I wasn’t an ambassador for two countries. Unofficially. (It’d be nice to get some compensation, people! Ha.)

Right now, I’ve got my Spanish ambassador’s cap on, and I’m ready and willing to defend la patria, and I will get angry if you say soccer is inherently boring. Soon enough, though, it’ll be time to put my U.S. ambassador cap back on, as I return to my role as the foreigner.

What about you? Do you find yourself doing the same thing?

About these ads

10 comments

  1. Looking up a job description of an ambassador (USA) helped me.Now, when in another country, I am trying to build people up by changing the focus of a conversation to the best the other nation have. People love it when we see,appreciate, and talk about their national uniqueness.We all are beautiful people.
    Thank you for sharing,Kaley!

  2. Amazingly, I get the most questions about Spain nowadays from my parents! They actually asked me why I was so excited to see eggs last week for breakfast (and I don’t even eat them for any meal). I like being able to know a lot about two cultures, and though I roll my eyes in my mind at some of the comments, I patiently answer. After all, I’m sure you get them from your students and coworkers! The hardest person to change about American outlooks and ideas? The Novio!! He thinks he knows everything about the USA.

  3. Dear Kaley, I’ve been reading your blog for a while, but I haven’t commented. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Hungarian, married to an American guy. We live in Oregon. I hear a lot of misconceptions, too, on both sides, and I always wonder what I should say. Misconceptions bother me, I feel defensive. And now I am defending two countries instead of just one. :-) I enjoy reading your blog, even though I don’t live in Spain.

  4. You just basically summed up my entire life in one post. I’ve been doing this since I could talk with France and the USA. It is a really weird position to be in and you never really get used to it. We once got into a really heated debate about gun control (definitely after some alcohol was imbibed) with my uncle who could not understand why we don’t have stricter laws here. My mother had to jump in (and she’s been doing this longer than I have). Makes life more interesting in some ways.

  5. I definitely do this, all the time. It’s amazing just how emotional I can get about two (and now three) different countries! Wish I could get paid for this job too; it’s hard work!

  6. I totally have to do that. And now that I’ve married an English man I have to defend the US to him and his family and listen to my Spanish coworkers complain about the English (and try not to join in!) It will be interesting to see what happens when we go to the states as my husband’s never been and most of my family is in Hawaii so that’s a totally different culture too.

  7. Thank you so much for posting this. It’s so frustrating defending Spain to Americans and America to Spaniards. I literally have no interest in fighting the battle either way! Glad you can relate!

What do YOU think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s