Don't call me an American

This article is not going to be about how everyone hates (or doesn't hate) Americans. There are plenty of other people talking about that. Pew did a great study last summer that thoroughly examines what various countries think about the good ole US of A. About the citizens. About the policies. About culture. About the U.S. pre- and post-Obama era. Pre- and post-drone strikes. etc.,

Because of extensive research, and a little bit of self-consciousness, we walk around thinking that other countries are thinking about us all the time. There is a great article that reminds us that few people are impressed by us, and few people hate us. (10 things Americans Don't Know About America)

What I'd like to talk about why we should rebrand ourselves, because, you know, American is a pretty ego-centric term. 

I'm a citizen of the US. 

By owning the "American" handle, we're giving the shaft to the 34 other countries who are in North, Central, South America and all associated islands. The Americas account for 28% of the land on earth, but only a small percentage of the human population (or 953,600,000 of the 7 billion, or so, people on earth). Of the 953,600,000 residents of the Americas, 313,900,000 live in the U.S. See how there are more people who live in the Americas that don't live in the U.S. than do?

ut, yet:


"Without a clarifying context, singular America almost invariably refers to the United States of America." 

And further:

"Speakers of English generally refer to the landmasses of North America and South America as the Western Hemisphere, the New World, or the Americas, to U.S. citizens as Americans and to the United States as America. This sense of America, in modern usage, is used almost exclusively to refer to the United States of America."

(thanks Wikipedia!)

Blame Europe?

When I traveled the first 30, or so, years of my life I traveled mostly through Europe (with a little bit of Canada and Mexico mixed in). Most of the countries I went to were eurocentric. And I got lots of lectures from my parents about not acting like an "Ugly American" when traveling in other countries. (Don't even get me started on the time I accidentally walked into a picture someone was taking in France. You would have thought I broke some international law by the way my parents acted about it.)

In my 30's I visited Central America for the first time. I realized pretty quickly that citizens of Central America get quite offended if you call someone from the U.S. an American. Even the friendly Ticos in Costa Rica will quickly remind you that you're not the only American in the room. They're all American's, too. 

All of a sudden a belief about my identity was totally debunked. OMG. I was not an American. I was from the U.S. I was totally selfish to be call myself an American. And then, like a total person from the U.S., I started to see the opportunity; this was my chance to help get rid of the "Ugly American" label we all get. 

"Use in English of this sense [referring to the term 'American'] has caused offense to some from Canada or Latin America who avoid this usage, preferring constructed terms in their languages derived from "United States" or even "North America".



"People who are not connected with the United States rarely call themselves American, … the word is sometimes used by Latin Americans when they are speaking English because they also consider themselves American, and feel that using the term solely for the United States misappropriates it."

(hey, thanks again Wikipedia!)

So why does this matter?

We're totally offending millions of people every day when we us the label "American" for someone from the U.S.! OMG! It is like we are being, how do you say it, an "Ugly American!" And we're influencing everyone else to say the same thing! And we probably didn't even start it, Europeans did! We're just running with what they named us!!!!!!! (Europe, you know I love you) 

Or, in non-OMG-speak: Despite our various nationalities, we live in a very eurocentric world where"eurocentrism permeates every vestige of knowledge, culture, and society today." 

With populations booming everywhere, except for Europe, this progressive terminology change will make non-U.S. citizens realize that you're a bit more understanding of how the world operates beyond the U.S. People from the U.S. need people (who are not from the U.S.) to understand that we CAN see things from a perspective other than ours. 

How do I transition?

First, it might be worthwhile to start thinking of yourself as a citizen of the world. You just happen to be a member of one (or two) countries. I am a U.S. citizen. My husband is a U.S. citizen and a Costa Rican citizen. (See how he is better than me?) 

Second, start thinking about how you answer questions. When you're traveling and someone says, "Where are you from?" you should respond with "The U.S." or "the states" or the long, cumbersome "United States of America." 

I have conscientiously tried to change this behavior for about 6 years and I still don't remember every time. It's a difficult transition to make, but once you do you will find that individuals who are not from the U.S. may think you have a global perspective. You might actually impress them. 

P.S. After a lot of conversations, I wrote a follow-up to this article. "If you're not calling me an American, what do you call me?" Check it.

P.P.S. A rewrite of this and If you're not calling me an American, what do you call me? is now on Medium