By: Maddie De Pree, Contributor
I am about two weeks into my study away program, and let me say: it is amazing. This is my first time visiting Europe, and I’m loving all of it – the architecture, the history, and the different slang (who says “queue” instead of “line”? British people.) The 20 of us have bopped around Stratford and Galway, seen a bunch of great theater performances, and eaten pounds of scones with clotted cream (which is apparently just half-churned butter. Mmm.) Overall, incredible stuff.
Here’s the thing, though: Americans are obnoxious. I mean, seriously obnoxious. Our international reputation is well-earned. We cannot seem to help it: we generate noise, and at times, we radiate incompetency. Studying in the U.K. is like letting a group of children run wild in a large and gloomy Chuck E. Cheese’s. There’s so much to see, everyone’s tired, and we cannot shut up.
I have learned two things about Americans during these first few weeks abroad. First of all, we are the only ones who want to split the check at restaurants. Splitting the check is not the norm here at all – here, when friends go out for dinner, they just take turns footing the tab. And, when our group goes out to eat, even in groups of three or four, we almost always have to ask for split checks – at which point I can literally see the patience drain from our waiter’s face. It is amazing. Most people pay with cash here, too. I try to blend in and pay cash most of the time, but sometimes I don’t carry a bunch of cold hard Euros, at which point I shamefully resort to my debit card.
The second thing about Americans is this – we are insanely loud. So much louder than I thought possible. When our group enters any given space, be it a café or a Neolithic burial ground, the noise level goes up by a factor of 200. I’ve seen locals cringe. Most Europeans seem to have mastered the art of the inside voice; our group clearly has not, but I have high hopes for the next few months. I talk pretty quietly when we are out and about, but my accent still sounds stark next to the British and Irish voices. I always thought of American English as the default English sound, but it turns out that my accent sounds as unusual over here as a British accent sounds in the United States. Weird.
Oddly, I’ve bumped into a few folks from the U.S. while I have been in Ireland. Usually they hear a familiar accent, turn around, and ask where I am from. Then they want to talk about Hurricane Irma. I have talked to about five random Americans so far, and we all seem to share a strange camaraderie. Maybe it is because we all know that we are out of place.
That’s what I love the most about being abroad, though. Everything is unfamiliar to me, and I get to learn how it all works – mostly by messing up again and again until I do something correct. When I do dumb American things, it reminds me that staying in a host country is a privilege, not a right. I do not belong here yet, and that’s okay. As an annoying American, I will take what I can get.