Understanding America and its European Roots

Before coming to America, I had never seen so many people so keen to show off their European heritage. Sure, people from Europe are happy about where they come from, in a general sense, but I’ve never heard it said with such pride. This is also despite the fact that a lot of American who state this, have never been to Europe themselves.

Here, being ‘European’ seems to mean something very different, and people are quick to tell you where their ancestors come from. Their grandparents nationality becomes their own, even though they are American citizens, have been raised in America, and sometimes have never visited their ‘home’ country. Being from Europe, this is baffling for me, as I’m sure it is for many other Europeans alike. For example, my grandparents are Spanish and I have a Spanish name, but I do not identify as Spanish…why would I? I cannot speak the language, have never lived there, and know only a limited view of the culture. Yet, if I were American, would be I saying something different?

After living here a couple of months, and being used to hearing the ‘Oh you’re from England? My uncle once visited London’ comments, I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of an average American, and understand their strong grip on European culture.

We all know that the America we see today is a ‘young’ nation, compared to the long stretching history of other places around the world. It made me wonder how I would feel if all my relatives, and all my friends relative were from other countries, and you knew you were still at the beginning of a race of ‘pure’ Americans, whatever that may mean.

Having discussed this with my European friends here in the States, it seems I am not the only one to have noticed the American’s fondness for a European connection. I have many people in my classes that label themselves as German or Polish, when they are clearly not, at least not in the way that I would recognise anyway. This concept of being patriotic and proud to be an American, whilst also boasting of being Polish, European descent is very confusing to an outsider like myself. Whilst I do not know many Polish people, I am sure that if I were to place a person from Poland next to an American saying they is ‘Polish’, the differences in culture would be vast and they’d actually have little in common. The person from Poland may also be offended that a technical American is claiming to be Polish.

Again, however, I do not know how it feels to live in country where so much of the history originates outside of the nation. And I know enough to understand that whilst someone may be an American citizen, this does not mean that they disregard their French or Italian or German ancestry. Perhaps, in a way, most Europeans ‘have it easier’. Most of us are clear in our lineage, and the place we call ‘home’ has always been home for most of our family line. The fact that I have Spanish grandparents is somewhat a rarity in England – in the town where I grew up in, most of the third generations were born there too. However, this is not the case for a lot of Americans. You get a ‘melting pot’ of many different cultures in a lot of big cities, combining their traditions to get the diverse American identity.

In response to those American’s who I meet who tell me that they ‘once visited Manchester’ (which, in case you didn’t know, is many many miles me…in fact I’ve never been) when I reveal my British accent, I’ve come to learn that this is mostly to do with the size of our country. In comparison to the U.S.A., the U.K. is tiny – to an outsider everything must look so close together and in that case why hasn’t everyone visited Buckingham Palace or Stonehenge? Reverse the roles, and we’d probably get a strange look if we told a new Californian acquaintance that we went to New York last year on a city break. Anyone that knows the cities will know that they differ dramatically, so the statement would be somewhat irrelevant.

The European connection is just another one of the many things I am learning about American culture. Being an American Studies student, I would have thought I would have heard something about their views on this before, instead of just about how patriotic the country is. However, I suppose a European professor cannot teach a class of Europeans how Americans feel about their roots here. They have never stood in their shoes and felt what means to be part of a ‘new’ nation and its pioneering attitude, even today. We all need something ‘familiar’ to hold on to, and for many Americans, that ‘familiar’ is also ours – Europe.

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