October 3, 2008
By Torrey Klett, Setauket, NY

It was a hazy, humid day in Mittenwald, Germany. There was so much moisture in the atmosphere that the air itself was sweating. The sky, which was usually a piercing bright blue against the sharp contrast of the dark mountains, was gray with thick clouds. For my family and I, it was the perfect day for an indoor excursion.

Entering the large indoor pool area, we targeted several lounge chairs by the side and began scoping out the people for possible socialization. My parents spotted a couple about their age, probably local, and therefore ten times as interesting as anyone back home. A little after our arrival, a lively, rambunctious group of boy scouts arrived. They were slightly older than my brother and I, placing them at about sixteen or seventeen. Straight out of London, England, they were the perfect group for us to have fun with. Swimming over, they were just as eager to meet us as we were to introduce ourselves. Out of breath, the first boy to reach us said in that oh-so-endearing accent, “Hey, I’m Sean. Who are you?”
I smile and say, “My name’s Torrey, nice to meet you, Sean.”
“That’s a nice name, are you English?”
Laughing I respond, “No, we’re from New York.”
“What, really?” says he with a chuckle, “You’re a Yankee? Oh, no!”

Confused, I continue smiling and wait for the others to introduce themselves. They’re all kind and charming, and we have a ton of fun playing around in the pool, but I still can’t shake that first reaction—surprise that I was an American. Are all Americans expected to be obnoxious and rude? Over the course of the following two weeks in Europe, I learned that it was not an uncommon presumption. Everywhere we went, we would chat with locals and see the look of surprise on their faces as they registered that there was such a thing as a kind and interesting American. After a while, it stopped being funny and became offensive. I began to wonder, what have Americans done to deserve this reputation? I left Europe without a viable answer.

Back home, I started paying closer attention to views on foreigners. For the most part, all I heard was a conglomerate of stereotypes and racist comments. Suddenly, I was less offended by my European friends’ surprise. It seems to me that there are more exceptions to the rule than those who fit it. For every foreign person I’ve ever met, there has been a stereotype for their ethnicity, and not once have they fit it. Moreover, defying these characterizations strengthens pride in their backgrounds. In Europe, just like any other place, it’s not only America that is being judged by unfair standards, it is also every other country. This is because no one is capable of believing that any other country besides their own could have the same caliber of humanity. Everyone believes themselves to be the best. And I like that. Everyone should have that same pride in themselves and their origins, regardless of what stereotypes may be applied to them, regardless of how others see them. So, as I sit outside looking up at the piercingly bright blue sky, I am proud to be a loud, uncultured, superficial, and fast-food-eating American, as well as the true person people know me as.

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