I would like to talk some about what it means to be an American in the eyes of people I have met around the world and how it differs drastically from the way I feel about my heritage.
First of all, let me just say that while I hate being in the USA, I don’t necessarily hate my country. I just don’t fit in here. To put it simply,
a crappy American —
I’ve never fit in. I’ve never really had friends. I’ve never been “cool.” I’ve never been like everybody else. Unfortunately, I come from a beach part of the country, and I am just not made for the beach. Even when my weight was no longer an issue for me, I just can’t stand the sun. It’s hot. It’s uncomfortable. It’s the sun. Don’t get me wrong, I am a water sign, and I love the water, but I just can’t stand beach culture. Or, for that matter, heatstroke…
When I moved to the North-East for my sophomore and junior years of high school, I did fit in a little bit better, but it probably had something to do with the fact that a great percentage of my school was non-native. And, apart from this, the people – even American – that I was lucky enough to attend school with seemed to be just as diversified as me. Of course, there were the popular cliques that I had nothing to do with, however they did not see themselves as “the cool kids” the way it had been for me previously – those were just their groups (and not mine). And I didn’t mind.
As a senior, I was lucky enough to attend school in Italy. I have many humorous anecdotes, misconceptions, and just plain crazy moments to share, but I will save those for future posts. What I would like to share tonight is just how different Italy felt to me than the U.S.
For the first time in my life,
everything just felt
Just like me, everybody was open, honest, and straight-to-the-point. There was a warmth and an acceptance that I had never felt in my mother-country. I felt loved by the family I was living with, in a way that was different even from my real family. Sure, I don’t doubt that my blood family loves me unconditionally, but with their expectations of me for my future, it didn’t always feel that way. I guess deep down I knew that my parents would love me either way, but the pressure to become a law-practicing-brain-surgery-ing-stock-breaking-millionaire was always on.
In Italy, it seemed like people loved their kids no matter who they were (or weren’t). People live at home long after their 18th birthday, people experiment with many different fields (many unconventional or fiscally unpromising), and, for lack of a better word, some people just fucked up. And nobody cared! They were still loved and la nonna always made sure that they got a second-helping at dinner.
When I didn’t get into NYU early decision, I was heartbroken. I cried. I wanted to go home. I felt like a failure, and I wanted to give everything up. It didn’t matter that I had gotten into Vassar, Sarah Lawrence, the New School – none of this mattered to me, it felt like my life was over. I wasn’t able to achieve what I had wanted to.
But with a choice
from la nonna
Suddenly, the conventions of my upbringing no longer mattered. Suddenly, I was free of my emotional shackles. Suddenly, for the first, brief moment in my life, I was me. I still had time, so I applied to an American university in Italy. They didn’t have anything I wanted to major in, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to stay in Italy, this ancient country that had liberated me from the land of “freedom and liberty.”
University started, and though I eventually left it to “travel the world” (big dreams, big failure – but more on that later…) with my Italian dog and the Italian boy I had met (who would eventually become my husband), that period of my life was the one and only time I can say I was completely and utterly depression-free. I was far away from the expectations of my loving family; I was alone in one of the oldest cities in the world, and yet everything seemed so fresh and new; each day I was inspired by the people I met and situations I encountered.
I danced – boy, did I dance!
I had never felt the freedom to dance before. And though I was in an American university, I had no American friends. I was completely immersed in Italian culture (and, honestly, before my husband, many Italian boys ;). For the first time in my life, being “L’Americana” was something cool. I was cool. Though, in all honesty, that being the American meant nothing to me. I could care less about the fact that I was cool. And, maybe it was all the dancing, maybe it was just my happiness, but
the more pasta I ate, the skinnier I got —
I had real relationships. I mean, apart from the boys (that had never paid attention to me Stateside), I had my first real friendship. Then there were a few. But there was that one girl. And, as sad as it is that we hardly speak anymore, I still think of her all the time. I actually just recently sent her a message in a very emotionally unstable moment because I was thinking about what could have been in my life had I not made the uneducated decision to put our friendship on the back-burner for the new things I was experiencing with my (later-to-become) husband. My ancestors on my grandmother’s side were from the part of Italy that her family is from, and we often joked that
we understood each other
that our great, great grandmothers
will have certainly been
the best of friends —
But this was certainly the only time in my life that being American meant anything (useful) to me. I was an expat (and, at heart, I will always be). It was a conversation-starter, a reason to stand-out, when being different finally meant being something good.
And, as soon as possible, I’m out of here again with my copy of The Sun Also Rises in my backpack.