Remember the foreign exchange students in high school? Everyone knew who they were. Maybe you were or are the foreign kid. Then you will know exactly what I am talking about. People greet you with a sort of curiosity and then talk to you about the things they know about your country. You are immediately informed if they have been there before, or anywhere near it. Your last name immediately becomes your country. "I'd like you to meet Alysha From America." Alysha America. Oh well. It has a certain ring to it.
Converstations in a group of aquantances either completely circles around you or is completely outside of you. The two questions I get the most are: "So do you like Obama?" "What do you think about the oil spill?" Basically the two things that are on the Italian news about America. After everyones knowledge of your culture is spent the conversation turns away from anything familiar to you, and you go from the center of attention to a spectator. The ability to adjust is necessary in this funny business of traveling.
It's funny to see what people assume about you based on your country. I remember a guy being incredulous when he found out I don't smoke marijuana. Or when I didn't like being hit on. He told me that one of his favorite movies was American Pie, and light was shed on why he thought what he did. Now he was more of an extreme case of course, but you get the idea. Though I must say that there are Italians that genuinely know more about the States than some Americans do.
Some of the people I have talked with listen with a shocked curiosity as I tell them that not all American's go out to discotecs every weekend, or like to shop all the time. You must imagine their confusion when I proved time and time again to be shy and not the immediately crazy outgoing American that they see on tv.
It's funny to see the look on people's faces when they hear a foreign language coming out of my mouth. In the store people turn their head and look at me as I talk. I'd better soak this in while I can. I may never be so well listened to again. But I must say when I get back it will be nice to be able to talk in a store and not draw attention. You feel like you are interrupting the rhythm of the store, dinner, or party when you speak a different language than everyone else in the crowd around you.
I am the foreign kid.