Julia Gabbert

Patriotism is not a character trait I claim to have even on the best of days. I try to keep my nose semi-clean of politics because of the hostile rifts that usually form between people after political discussions. I don’t hate my country, but you’ll also never hear me tooting that “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.”

Before leaving the States, I knew that America and its citizens have a largely negative reputation in other countries, and since arriving I’ve more often been embarrassed of being an American than proud.

My accent, obviously, has been a dead giveaway. Whenever I talk to someone, they usually ask where I’m from.

The United States, I reply.

“Well, that’s obvious…”

(I hope I’m not making Scots sounds mean. Let me clarify that this trip has been amazing. I love Scotland and all the people. I’ve experienced more playful teasing than blatant harshness. This isn’t a blog to complain about how Scotland is a big bully, just to outline the separation I’ve felt for being American in another country.)

When we were in Edinburgh, we landed right in the heart of the Fringe Festival, a month-long, city-wide celebration of comedy, cabaret, musicals, theater, etc. In my free time, I tried to go to as many free comedy shows as possible. They were held in small bars, and the comedians often interacted with the audience. My somewhat obnoxious counterpart would always be the first to scream out “UNITED STATES!” whenever a comedian asked where the audience was from, bringing in a shower of insults.

“Of course you’re American—look how much attention you’re drawing to yourself.”

“American? Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that…”

“You live in America? Why would anyone ever want to live in America?”

“[insert some tease about healthcare]”

“[insert some tease about wars]”

“[insert some tease about overall ignorance]”

And what else could I do than shyly shrug my shoulders and hang my head in shame? I didn’t want to be “that guy” who tried to argue, when the comment clearly wasn’t an attempt at a conversation. The comedians just wanted a laugh. That laugh just so happened to be at my expense. And I get it. Believe me, I totally get it.

Through the Glasgow youth hostel, I met a group of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, one of which is American. We went out to a bar together one night, where one of the beautiful Swedish girls in the group caught the eye of a slightly inebriated native. To divert his attention from our obviously uncomfortable friend, the other American engaged the native in a random conversation. After several minutes, the conversation shifted (as it often does) to politics. Under the influence of a few too many beers, the conversation got a little out of hand. Long story short, the native started verbally attacking us for being ignorant Americans, blaming us for things that we have no control over. By the end of the night, though, the debaters were able to clink glasses and shake hands.

Glasgow and Edinburgh are both big cities with tons of tourists, so as foreigners we’ve been in good company. The America-bashing was mostly all in good fun. I never felt threatened, just slightly shamed. Maybe if I could form the Scottish accent I so badly desire, I wouldn’t have to feel so alienated when traveling.

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