If you're not calling me an American, what do you call me?

I've had a lot of private conversations with friends since I published my article "Don't call me an American." Admittedly, the title is meant to be provocative. I don't get my feathers ruffled if someone uses the A-word. I still use it from time to time and "God Bless America" will easily bring tears to my eyes.

The follow-up conversations I have had are with people who have spent a significant time immersed in the culture of England, Belgium, Japan, Germany, the Czech Republic and Brazil and those who, like me, live in a multicultural household. 

The basic gist from the perspective of U.S. Citizens living abroad?

  • They do hear the American versus U.S. Citizen argument from time to time, but don't usually engage in it. 
  • There is no preference for people from the U.S. who live in another country. 
  • And there was also good bit of, "If you aren't going to call me an American, what would you call me? Nothing else is practical."

I think the last comment is worth exploring. If you're not going to call me an American, what are you going to call me? 

It is unlikely you would say someone is an United-Statesian (unless you are speaking Spanish - then you can say estadounidense). U.S. American works and is easier. Usonian does the trick, has been suggested before but hasn't really taken off. Colloquially U.S. citizens are frequently called gringos, yankees and yanks but those terms are sometimes used in a derogative fashion and unlikely to take off for all of the U.S. 

Unless we adopt Usonian or U.S. American, we are going to have to revise the way we speak. The English language evolves all the time, so let's examine a similar situation.

Look at the use of "illegal immigrants." For many years people have protested the use of the term "illegal immigrants." How can a person be illegal? Actions can be illegal, but a person cannot. The Associated Press and some other news organizations are starting to make a stand against this and are revising the way they write. Many other new sources will follow suit and eventually we will change the way we speak about it. 

Here is the argument the Associated Press uses.

"We had in other areas been ridding the Stylebook of labels. The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of schizophrenic, for example.

And here is the official new definition:

"illegal immigration Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.

So to modify the argument for the U.S. Citizen versus American case. Where you might have said, "I am an American" you can now say: 

  • "I am from the U.S."  
  • "I am from the states."
  • "I am a U.S. American."
  • "I am a U.S. Citizen."

There are plenty of options, you just have to rethink about the way you respond. It takes a bit more effort but the outcome is worth it. 


P.S. A rewrite of this and Don't call me an American is now on Medium