Reactions to an American in Ireland – the good, the bad, and the ugly

A leprechaun greets two ladies
I'm not sure what I expected when the waitress handed me an extra platter, but it wasn't this: a plate, sprinkled lavishly with parsley, and bearing a heart-shaped piece of white bread.

“The lads in the back are being silly,” the waitress says, rolling her eyes, as my friends and I look at each other in total bafflement and then back at the heart – and then at the door to the kitchens, where more than one dishwasher is peeking through and laughing uproariously. Apparently, they wanted to send some kind of token to our table: “the table of cute American girls.”

We all turn bright red, of course – but we do take plenty of pictures, with the plate of bread in our midst. I mean, really. How often does that happen?

I wish all of my stories were that charming, but I have to be honest: being an American in Ireland definitely elicits mixed reactions.

In fact, it was one of the things I worried about most before coming here. I hadn't traveled much outside the United States before coming to do my study abroad in Cork. Granted, I have been to Canada a couple of times, and I enjoyed one memorable trip to London at the tender age of sixteen, but other than that, I hadn't really traveled internationally. As a result, I was unbelievably excited about spending three months in a foreign country... but also a little nervous. Let's be real: we are all aware of the negative American stereotypes, and I was a bit wary of coming into contact with them.

My fears were not unfounded. Two months into my semester, I can honestly say that I have received the full spectrum of reactions.

Luckily, most are positive! After all, many people have traveled to the States, or have family there, and as a result they have a largely pleasant and realistic impression of it. Those who have never been, on the other hand, usually carry much more lavish images in their minds, thanks to films and TV. After learning that I'm from an obscure Colorado city, they brush the information aside and demand dramatic stories of Florida, California, or New York, which have received the most media hype. “I've always wanted to see the States,” they sigh.
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Some even confess to me that they plan to move there, once they've got their degree. Miami, San Francisco, or Manhattan are the most common locations, although that's a generalization. My favorite reaction came from an Irish friend of mine, who was in ecstasy over my nationality when we first met. He confessed to me that his life’s dream was to pack up, leave County Kerry forever, and move to North Carolina. Obviously, I told him he had excellent taste (I love the South dearly).

Another friend holds the dear ambition of taking a road trip from sea to shining sea. Every state is so beautiful, she says; how can you only visit a few?

But others have not been so flattering.

One particularly vicious lad in Galway, after catching a hint of my American accent, accosted me in the street and informed me that I was from the single most ignorant country in existence, and that I probably didn't know a single thing about the rest of the world. I was speechless for a full five minutes, I think. What a thing to say to a stranger!

Another girl immediately wanted to discuss our policies regarding Native Americans, which I will be the first to admit are far from stellar... though I don't think she particularly cared whether or not I agreed with her, in retrospect.

A third person launched into an attack on the state of the political system in our country, including the lineup of candidates for the 2012 election (this was after Perry's televised gaffe, if you were wondering).

Upon reflection, I'm glad I had all of these conversations. I love my country as anyone loves their home nation: in spite of her flaws, and because of her virtues. But this whole entire semester has been a learning experience, and rightly so. Whatever your nationality, the point of study abroad is to take a step back and look at your culture with a fresh perspective, isn't it? And in order to do that, you need the wisdom that comes from a full range of opinions – which Ireland has certainly provided.

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