I’m talking with my coworkers in Madrid, and they casually mention how Americans are. You know, all of us, all the time—how we act (boorish), how we think (hint: we don’t), what we look like (obese), what we eat (hamburgers, fast food, and generally junk). My pulse quickens, and I feel the urge to say something, anything, because they are oh-so wrong. But what do I say? How can I not act like a know-it-all? Most importantly, how can I convince them that not all of us would choose a greasy hamburger as our last meal?
I enter into the local Mexican restaurant in my hometown. Someone I sort of know from high school sees me and quips, “Don’t you get enough of this kind of food in Spain?” Or I’m at a family gathering and someone mentions how much vacation Spaniards get, almost in a despairing way, as if that were the reason their economy is suffering. Here too, my pulse quickens, and I desperately search for the right combination of words to help them understand Spain, Spaniards, their way of life. It’s not all siestas and fiestas, though there is a fair amount of sunshine.
Being from the U.S. means I am its unofficial ambassador in various environments. My father-in-law is an endearingly curious man, who has an unending stream of questions about our lifestyle. Am I representative of the U.S., after all? I did choose to spend a year in another country instead of following the traditional path. I try my best to tell him about our way of life, as well as the common person’s, but I realize that I can only do so much, because I only know so much.
When I am in Spain, there is a part of me I feel only Mario understands. When I am in the U.S., there is a part of me that almost no one understands. I see things that are different, and then I compare them. Constantly. I see how we are not energy conscious in the States, and I wonder about it why that is so. I do not believe it is a personality characteristic; it’s not that simplistic. I see that in Spain people strive to be civil servants, to have a job for life, and I compare that to home—and no, I do not ascribe it to laziness.
Sometimes being an ambassador is tiring. Sometimes I do not want to tell you why we eat dinner at 7 p.m. or why you believe Americans don’t know anything about geography. I don’t want to explain why Spaniards don’t eat eggs for breakfast or why there are so many strikes. I’m not trying to be hostile. I just wish (sometimes) that I could return to a time when I wasn’t an ambassador for two countries. Unofficially. (It’d be nice to get some compensation, people! Ha.)
Right now, I’ve got my Spanish ambassador’s cap on, and I’m ready and willing to defend la patria, and I will get angry if you say soccer is inherently boring. Soon enough, though, it’ll be time to put my U.S. ambassador cap back on, as I return to my role as the foreigner.