Ciao dall’ Italia! Hello from Italy!
“Hey, my name is Chloe, I’m American.”
“How awesome! I’m (insert Italian name here). What part of America are you from?”
“Pennsylvania. The closest big city is Philadelphia.”
“Oh that’s near California, right?”
At this point, I start giving the memorized American geography speech. I normally have to resort to telling that New York City is close for people to truly understand where I have come from. While NYC is four hours away, enough time to go from one side of Italy to the other, it is very close if you consider how enormous America is.
This leads to questions about Lititz, which I describe as a fairly small town surrounded by countryside, where there is corn and a lot of cows. I tell how we have a quaint atmosphere and that everybody is very friendly. There is always a bit of disappointment that we do not have gangsters walking the streets and sky-scrapers. After all, the cities in the films all have those.
Thanks to films and music, not all of the stereotypes of America are like the reality. Of course, it is nearly impossible to clump together the whole of America and summarize it. How things are done varies from city to city, from state to state, and from region to region- but as far as I know, not every girl is a cheerleader who dates a hunky blonde football player. Though yes, the school buses really are yellow.
In fact, the taxis really are yellow, too. You would not think so, but this is a common question. I have been asked if it is true that we can buy milk in a little carton and if we really have school lockers where we are allowed to store our things. People are awed when I confirm that we do in fact eat lunch at school, too, since here lunch is a very important meal and everybody eats at home. It is so important that all the shops shutdown from noon until about four o’clock every afternoon. Prom and yearbooks are common question topics, also. These are some of the things that the films do a mediocre job of displaying.
While the scenery may be correctly laid out, the actions do not represent America fairly. People here think that everybody either carries a gun and wears a plaid shirt or is a stuck-up workaholic –that is, if they are not a gangster or a drama queen who spontaneously jumps on a table and starts singing… Thank you High School Musical. It is always a shocker when I deliver the news that we play soccer as much as football, and we do not party every weekend with red plastic cups.
As is assumed, there is also the fast food and fat people stereotype. I have been asked if this is true so many times that my immediate response at this point is a blank stare. I then try very hard to keep my cool and put the fact on the table that I have eaten more Burger King and McDonald’s here in Italy than I had eaten for years in America. (Though I will admit that “Shamrock Shakes” definitely do not fit into this equation.)
Of the many crazy questions I have been asked, the best was, “Have you ever seen a UFO?”
I started to laugh, but then stopped myself when I realized the little boy who asked me was completely serious. I replied, “Well, no. I haven’t.”
“Hmm strange, the Americans always see UFOs. Maybe you’ll see one when you go home. Anyway, is ‘Paranormal Activity’ real?”
I was not quite sure how to respond to that one.
Despite how ridiculous America sounds through the stereotypes, the majority of Italians adore America. Many have a dream of traveling to Florida, California, or New York. There is writing in English all over the place here, and I see tons of American flag patterned objects every single day. Converse, t-shirts, and scarves are the most common. To top it off, on a balcony across from my school there are two huge, proud American flags. With all the American music and movies, it does not take much imagination to pretend I am still in America.
But wait. I walk around the corner and turn onto some little cobblestone side street. I look up to my right, where there is laundry hanging out the window to dry. A rusty bicycle leans against the stone houses, and there is silence, except for a faint melody coming from a tiny café. A melody in Italian.
I settle in here with a notepad and a cappuccino, ready to spend an hour or two mentally absorbing Italy. When you know where to go, it is possible to escape America’s influential grip.
This is going to be a good day. The bartender accepts my rugged Italian without even asking where I am from, and I end up with exactly what I wanted to eat. That is always a bonus; I am still trying to figure out how I once ended up with barbecue sauce when I thought I asked for a cup.
Chloe Eberly of Warwick High School is currently studying abroad in Urbino, Italy. Her column, documenting her travels, appear monthly in the Record Express. More ITALY, page A3