How to Spot an American From a Mile (oops, kilometre) away


As an American living abroad, I sometimes forget how American I am to everyone I met. I’ve been here for over two years now. The Australian accent is no longer a novelty, I understand the Aussie lingo (and is there a lot to understand- the abbreviations are never-ending) and the obvious nuances of culture seem pretty normal now. I forget that to everyone else, especially strangers, I am first and foremost American. There’s no escaping your accent. 

Because of this, though, I can now identify Americans out of a crowd- obviously, it’s a guess until I happen to hear them speak- but it’s pretty damn accurate.

The clues are as follows:

  • Branded clothing: Hollister, Abercrombie, Ralph Lauren… I now realise that emblazoning your chest (and ass) with brand names is not a universal fashion trend. 
  • Really good teeth, and braces. Very American.
  • Lack of spatial awareness. On the whole we aren’t great at figuring out which side of the street to walk on (in this case it’s the left) or how to manoeuvre in crowded areas. 
  • Loud, very loud.
  • Hanging out at Starbucks. (And to this point, this)
  • Big or very straight hair. Also, slightly overweight Dads in polo shirts.
  • Jeans and athletic shoes. Germans have a way of doing this that makes it look pretty good, in a slightly rumpled urban way. Unfortunately, Americans haven’t quite figured that out yet. 
  • TAN. Dear god are we tan. We are so indoctrinated with we don’t even realise it. Tanning beds (“solariums”) are illegal here. Illegal. And in the US we PAY for memberships. I was out for dinner with some friends recently and there were some very unnaturally dark women near our table. My friends were shocked. I hardly noticed. 
  • Loudly exclaiming over everything that’s different. I am acutely aware of this one, because for a while this was definitely me. “The crosswalk beeps at you to cross!” “What’s a flat white?!” “Why are the coffees so small??” “Look- the cars are on the left!” It’s very possible that other nationalities are this loudly surprised at cultural differences, but since I’m AMERICAN and don’t speak their languages, I’m not aware of it. 

This isn’t exactly a scientific algorithm, but it works for me. I love meeting other Americans that live abroad, but if I happen to spot one walking down the street, I smile and manoeuvre around them, as they probably haven’t yet figured out to walk on the left. 

One Comment

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  1. I have never been more painfully aware of my American-ness than when I was in Ireland. I wonder if it’s just something about other English-speaking countries? And yes, Americans are SO loud – I include myself in that!

    Also: “Are you now aware of the POWER of the flat white?!”

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