5 Things People Assume About Americans Living Abroad

1. You Don’t Speak A Word Of The Language

I think the general consensus is that Americans speak two languages: English, and Screamed English. We essentially walk into any local establishment, disregard any customs or basic human decency, and start screaming at people to get you burgers and Coke. The only time we ever speak a word of the native language — or even attempt to — is in a hilarious, farcical parody of common phrases. We might yell a heavily-accented “DOMO ARIGATO HAHAHAHAHA” at a man in the subway in Tokyo, but of course, they would know we were not being serious and therefore not judge us on our deaf ear for language. We would remain the charming, bawdy American who is just so lovable in his complete ignorance. In fact, when Americans move abroad, they do it with the intention of avoiding all potential learning by osmosis of a new language. Any time someone starts to speak to you in the native tongue, we plug our ears and start singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic until they stop. America.

2. You’re a pampered trust-fund kid.

Essentially, every American to ever step foot on foreign soil only does so with a gold AmEx in their back pocket that they throw at the vendors while making them dance for their amusement. You see, to actually come over and do anything resembling work or any kind of integration into society would be an affront to both our collective manifest destiny and our pampered disdain for manual labor. The idea is that we’re all essentially Gatsby-era playboy WASPs who have grown weary of the party scene back in the States, and now just want to carry out our Roman orgy-esque social life in a land that’s both “exotic” and offers a slightly different wine list. We’re just flouting through for a few months, spending limitless money and drinking ourselves into an imperialistic stupor at the neighborhood pub, only occasionally stopping to call our parents and have our checking accounts re-filled.

3. You are essentially a tourist on extended stay.

As an American, it is your job to remain in a state of perpetual, be-fanny packed bewilderment. We walk the streets with our necks craned up, looking at something that can’t quite be identified but which makes us walk extraordinarily slowly. If we live in Paris, we spend most of our time languishing at Shakespeare and Co between trips to the Eiffel Tower; if we’re in London, we ride around on double-decker buses with Kate&William t-shirts, taking pictures in front of Big Ben; if we’re in Tokyo, we walk in circles around Harajuku looking for hilariously-dressed young women to photograph. As Americans, we are incapable of learning anything about another culture that isn’t perfectly superficial and in no way interferes with our deep-seated American elitism. We’d fall on a sword before we learned about the local parliamentary structure.

4. You are just there to sleep with sexy locals.

Apparently, inside every unassuming American lurks the passionate, red-hot heart of a complete skeezball who just wants to traipse around his/her new environment like a scantily-clad fly strip and pick up everything within a 10-mile radius who has a hint of an accent when speaking English. We are just here to sleep with everyone, and everything, and our only motivation for starting a new life in a new country amongst a new people was the vast opportunity for intercultural boning that was just eluding us back in our old neighborhood haunts. Our goal all night, every night, is to go to a bar — and which one really doesn’t matter — to find a partner both sufficiently drunk and attractive to be our partner for the night. We take them home, give them a healthy dose of free-range American genitals, and then put them back out onto the street at the first sight of day, only to start the process over that following evening. We also never wear condoms, because as we all know, Obama’s foreign policy protects us from both unwanted pregnancy and STDs.

5. You think that “this doesn’t count.”

The most important part of an American’s life abroad, according to society, is this idea that whatever you do during this time — remain drunk for months on end, father several bastard children, develop a crippling heroin addiction, go bankrupt — magically doesn’t count when you inevitably return back to the States. This is a part of your life that is just erased forever, and you hold absolutely no emotional or personal ties to the area. As soon as you’re gone, it’s like “Foreign You” never existed, and you just start all over again once you get back to your “real” life on American soil. We’re all just floating around, looking for a good time, going on a booze cruise through a foreign territory that lasts as long as you desire. I highly recommend it, we could all use a couple years’ vacation, couldn’t we? TC mark


image – Ng Matthew

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.


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  • http://garde.tumblr.com E

    this is life in tokyo for a white american

  • Jenny

    Things People Assume About Canadians Living Abroad:

    1. That we are actually American. Drives me freaking insane…

    • Ria

      Why is it bad that people might think you’re American? Tell me, exactly, why Canadians are superior.

      • Jenny

        I actually didn’t say it was bad. It’s just that is gets annoying when people automatically assume you are from the country you aren’t. Don’t you think it would get annoying if everyone just assumed you were German or some other nationality? We Canadians have national pride too, like you guys, so it’s not nice when we constantly have to say that we aren’t American.

    • Robert

      Ugh, me too! Happens all the time. Annoying for sure. I mean, I love my American friends, but there are some…ummm…shady politic dealings on the part of the USA which just makes it uncomfortable at times. There’s a reason many Americans have Canadian flags on their luggage when they travel!

      • Ria

        People need to accept that we are not our governments. There are shady politics in SO many countries. Americans who put Canadian flags on their luggage should instead focus on breaking down the idiotic stereotypes of Americans. If we are living or traveling in another country it probably means that we are open-minded human beings with a strong interest in learning about life outside of America. Generally speaking, I don’t see a huge difference in US and Canadian cultures.

    • MM

      well TECHNICALLY you are are American…North American…that is…

    • Katherine

      It’s just as annoying when people ALWAYS ask if you’re Canadian first because they’re worried about offending you by suggesting you might be American. Cuts both ways.

  • Meghan

    I’ve never experienced this abroad.

  • http://twitter.com/courtleee catney spears (@courtleee)

    you should write a book about living abroad, it could probably be done by just compiling the amount of TC articles you’ve written on the subject

    • anon

      no that book would be horrendous

  • Rolyn

    Soon enough this will be my life. Thanks for the heads up!

  • http://twitter.com/geology_rocks Haley F (@geology_rocks)

    Maybe I should write an article for TC about things people assume about ex-pats living in America. Because they’re 100x worse than these.

  • http://www.facebook.com/annamarum Anna Marum

    I just got back from a semester in Spain and this made me laugh my ass off. But I’ve gotta say, there is a grain of truth to all of these…

  • Finn

    Jesus man, these are not “american problems”, these are foreigner problems. If you have an accent, people switch to English. It doesn’t matter if the accent is German or English, people will treat you the same. And I’m sorry but you just can’t move to a country and expect to be treated the same as the locals. Also, I’m guessing you’re white in Japan? You have something called white privilege, and to have moved to a different country while obviously not being chased from your homeland is a sign that you have it pretty good. Not everyone is out to get Americans. People just know you’re from somewhere else. That’s it and you are, so suck it up.

  • zzz

    From what I’ve seen on my time, these apply just as much for any foreign-looking person or people, in general, living abroad. But number 5 holds more truths than all the others. It’s a weird mentality people adopt because there is a totally different feeling being a foreigner in a different country (you’ll never see these people again and you’ll be out of this country in time) and a local where you live (people around you could be your potential colleagues, neighbors, friends). Granted, it still doesn’t permit people to act sloppy drunk and obnoxious in their visiting country.

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