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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

Ally Gimbel | When kiwis fly

There are two things that you are constantly warned about when preparing to study abroad: Don't lose your passport, and everyone will probably hate you a little bit at first when you tell them you are an American … it might even be best to just say you're from Canada.
    Now, while liking your country is always a given, it truly irks me that the rest of the world loathes Americans so much. Not that I don't understand why — pointless war in Iraq, excessive lifestyles, globalization, just to name a few — but to negatively label me for it, without even knowing who I am? I just think that's a little unfair.
    I mean, I'd consider myself a pretty cool person. Besides being your average 20-year-old college student, I have a passion for reading, cooking and walking barefoot. I like music and art and seeing movies. I read the newspaper and I actually do give a crap about endangered animals and the global food crisis.
    I am also an American, and yet for some reason unbeknownst to me, I was told to act like I wasn't.
    When I came to New Zealand, I initially felt extremely self-conscious about my appearance as a foreigner and did everything I possibly could not to stick out like one. It was difficult at first — constantly having to remind myself to walk on the left side of the sidewalk so as to avoid awkward pedestrian pile-ups, and alter my style of dress to fit in with my indie/hipster peers. Even my alcohol consumption habits changed, as I learned that being legal affords me the opportunity to actually enjoy drinking socially rather than making a complete ass of myself in frat basements.
    I've learned how to dress, eat, drink and even act like a New Zealander. Though I could never fully adopt the accent, I've begun to lower my voice and inflect my speech accordingly. I now champion the correct sports teams, use proper phrases (like "hiring a car" and "having a shower") and converse about the weather using the metric system. I tell other Kiwis about red Solo cups and, yes, we all have a good laugh about it while we pretentiously sip wine out of glass stemware.
    But in the end, I do still feel like the same person I was in America. I'm still over-opinionated about politics and I salivate over celebrity gossip, and guess what? Nobody hates me for it.
    In fact, being American has been more of a social catalyst than anything else. Kiwis are genial folk and find stories about American culture amusing and intriguing, as it is so misrepresented by the media. Clearly, we understand that American life is nothing like Hollywood's portrayal, and yet I can't even calculate how many times a week I have to explain that not everyone in California looks like Marissa Cooper and that high school is not as one-dimensional as it is in "Mean Girls."
    Furthermore, people like it when you are genuinely interested in their daily lives. Asking lots of dumb-sounding questions is probably the best thing you can do if you want to avoid seeming like an aloof snob. Rather than going in with a mentality of American superiority, it's important to be open-minded to other worldviews.
    I've realized that when you make the effort to exchange cultural outlooks with Kiwis, they don't label you as an "American." They see you as a friend, just with a few cultural differences that really only take some patience and tolerant conversation to overcome.
    One of my Kiwi flat mates posed the issue of anti-American sentiments in New Zealand this way: "We don't necessarily like America, and we have our prejudices about Americans … But we know you, so we like you."
    Well, I like you, too, New Zealand. But please, don't steal my identity.

 

Ally Gimbel is a junior majoring in English. She can be reached at Allyson.Gimbel@tufts.edu.


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