Last week, I talked about clichés concerning race and culture. More often than not, a cliché is there because there is a basis for it. I get to see it from all sides because I’m an American who looks Asian.
When I was living in Spain, no one knew what I was. I was obviously not Hispanic (usually) though I spoke the language fluently. Most people couldn’t even tell I had an accent. I looked Asian, but I spoke English. Most of the time, that meant I could blend in, and no one assumed I spoke their language.
You know that American cliché? The one of the tourist who talks really loud, wears ridiculous clothes and assumes everyone speaks English?
They actually exist.
I had a friend dress up as an American tourist for Halloween once. He wore a very bright Hawaiian shirt, a large camera, and socks with sandals. It was hilarious. Until I saw someone dressed just like that in Madrid, right down to the socks and sandals. He had his wife with him, and at least three or four kids. I watched in a strange mix of fascination and horror as he shouted to his family, “Come on kids! They’ve got trains underground here!”
In the metro, American speak as loud as they want, assuming that people don’t understand what they’re saying. To tell the truth, probably sixty percent of us did. English is a language that most other countries teach their children to speak. If they don’t feel comfortable speaking it, I can guarantee that most of them at least understand it.
My husband told me that most of the videogames he played were in English, and he had to figure out what they were saying so he could advance. He understood me when I thought no one spoke my language. My friends and I were at a bar in Sol (center of the city) and someone came up to us, and asked in broken English why so many Americans hung out in the bar.
It’s a little scary, to think of the impression that we make on other cultures without even realizing it. From TV shows to travelers, we’re everywhere, and on display. Sometimes, I wonder if we know how much other countries watch us.