Being an American living in Austria

Being an American abroad has really opened my eyes to things I’d never realized before about my country and its relation to others.

     In my younger years, I didn’t know much about other countries.  I pretty much regarded the USA as the center of the world..  But as I got older and learned about other countries and cultures, I realized there’s so much more to the world than just my country.  After I did a little bit of traveling and saw other countries, I had a sort of epiphany: the US is just another country, it just happens to be the one I’m from. I believed this for a few years, but once I moved to Austria, it became pretty clear to me that the US was “something,” and this was one of my biggest sources of culture shock.  

    In my first few days in Austria, I realized pretty quickly that the US was everywhere.  Even though I couldn’t understand much German at the time, I would hear “America” or “USA” or “Obama” on the radio, TV, or daily conversation all the time. Out in public I would see people wearing American flags on shirts and bags. Stores were selling hats, socks, sweatshirts, and phone cases that said “LA”, “California Republic”, or “NYC” on them. (Fun fact: at one store I bought a 3€ shirt that had an American flag on it and said “City of California – Golden State of Los Angeles” on it) Almost every song I heard on the radio was from the United States. In everyday speech between Austrians, especially kids and teens, English words and slang were thrown into the middle of an otherwise all German sentence.

Don’t get me wrong on this here: I love my country. However, this presence of my country all around me made me ask a question:

“Why does everyone care about America so much?”

In my first few months in Austria I asked this question more than once to my host mom, my host dad, my Austrian friends, other exchange students…anyone I thought could give me a decent answer. Of course the answers varied: Because everything comes from America (music, movies) and because America is a strong leader in economics, politics, technology. A “highly influential country.” I’m not sure if there is an answer set in stone, but the presence of my home country in everyday life, despite it being 5,000 miles away, is an observation that I’ve made.

When people ask where I’m from and I say America, there are mixed results when it comes to reactions. I sometimes get the response, “I’ve never been to America before but I’ve always wanted to go there.”  Some people jump at the opportunity to talk to an American.

But I sometimes also get “Oh, America!” in an indecipherable tone. (Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Who knows)

And then there’s the questions.

Most commonly I’m asked, “How do you feel about the election?”

Other common questions include,

“Can you drive?”

“What is the drinking age in America/have you drank before?”

“What is prom/is prom real?”

“What do you think about Trump?”

“Do you eat a lot of fast food?”

“Can you vote in America?”

“Where is Wisconsin?”

“Do you own a lot of guns?”

And, my personal favorite: “I have a friend from America, do you know him?”

I answer these questions to the best of my ability. Although some might seem a little ridiculous, they’re a good insight to cultural differences and to stereotypes that other countries have of the United States.

At the beginning of November the US held the Presidential Election. Due to the 6 hour time difference, watching the election results roll in required me to stay up all night with the help of Pringles and 3 SparBudget energy drinks. I unfortunately had to go to school directly afterwards. Of course I had plenty of classmates and teachers talking to me about the result. Most people in Austria have been kept pretty updated on the US elections and the candidates via news channels (another example of the US present everyday life on the other side of the world).

During the time of the US presidential election, Austria faced a very similar situation. A presidential election between a far left and far right candidate; the vote of the country split 50/50. Many political conversations I had with Austrians drew a lot of parallels between the two elections. For this reason, a drastic change was predicted for the Austrian polls after Trump was elected. No one was sure which way the votes would swing, but knew many people’s votes would be influenced in one way or another by the outcome of the US election.

The left candidate ended up winning the election, but the presidential role in Austria really isn’t as big of a deal, as they aren’t making all of the decisions.  After Van der Bellen won, I rarely heard anyone talk about it.

So, there you have it, folks.  As a conclusion, it’s definitely a learning experience to be an American living in a different country. It’s been fun, it’s been frustrating, it’s been educational, it’s taught me about my own country and my host country.

Christmas is coming up soon, I’ll write again soon about my Christmas time here in Austria!

xxx Ashlyn

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