To Assimilate, To Assume, and To Make an ASS out of U and ME, (or rather out of the USA)
even worse than your typical “americanata”: pizza americana with french fries on top.
As ‘mericans, we assume that bigger is better, even when it comes to our egos and our pride. We have an engorged sense of our own importance and an overwhelming desire to be “independent.” While independence, freedom, and democracy are obviously invaluable (as are the corn-on-the-cob and fireworks that accompany said values) sometimes, when visiting other countries, we might consider camouflaging ourselves a bit.
Let me explain. When going in for a job interview or going on a first date, it’s crucial (or as the hip American teenagers like to say: “it’s clutch”) to put one’s best foot forward. It’s not about lying or pretending to be someone else but it is simply being cognizant of what qualities are desirable and how one represents those qualities. Same idea as wearing flattering clothes; at the end of the day when you drop trou and look in the mirror, there’s no denying what lies beneath; also there’s no denying that you look at yourself naked in the mirror but I digress. The point is that it’s about presenting one’s best side to the world. For example, I choose to wear my cowgirl boots in Italy. All the time. And it’s not out of patriotism but rather because they are comfortable (and cute, if I do say so myself). I am comfortable with displaying this American “custom,” so to speak, because it falls under the Italian idea of creating “la bella figura”—making a good impression, best foot forward, etc.
When I don’t flaunt my Americanisms, on the other hand, is when something would be considered an “americanata” (something done in bad taste and particularly American). For example, it is considered an “americanata” to order a cappuccino after 11 AM. One of my friends who ordered one at lunch was told that she was “a stran-geh kind-ah woo-man.” I have overheard other friends say something to the effect of “I’ll order a cappuccino whenever I damn well please and I don’t care what the barista thinks of me” and I find this a little disheartening. Yes, one should never change oneself, but occasionally, it’s important to change one’s behaviors and actions in order to better understand a culture.
So, after realizing that embodying the “bella figura” is just the Italian equivalent of being young&fabulous, I no longer feel like I am compromising myself. Instead, I am just translating fabulosity to another language! And, assuming that familiar American traditions are better than Italian customs makes not only an ass out of u and me, but it also makes an ass out of u-s-a (figuratively). So, it’s time to stop doing things “americanata” and time to realize that folks, bigger isn’t always better. It’s just bigger.