Becoming An Outsider: The Other Side of Studying Abroad
People are going to ask you if you like Obama and you’re gonna ask for some ice in your lukewarm whiskey coke.
If you’ve read my bio, then you know I’ve been living in Ireland for the past while. I’ve been here for a little over two terribly wonderful months. Although I’ve never been the biggest fan of the great United States of America, I catch myself pining for American normalcies I never really craved in Seattle or Birmingham.
Still, I don’t stare misty-eyed at the stars and stripes. I left for the poetic land of Ireland hoping to be inspired, much like the great literary geniuses that preceded me in my ancestral nation. A few months later, life as a lazy student in Europe just isn’t as glamorous as I expected.
Lots of people will tell you that Europeans don’t use ice. That point becomes painfully clear when you order a gin and tonic only to find that the gin is warm and the tonic is unrefrigerated Sprite. Not to be an ass, but come on, Europe! Getting loaded on warm alcohol is like trying to shave without water: it’s messy, ugly, and in the end you wish you hadn’t started.
If you do power through and consume a surplus of warm booze, you’ll undoubtedly stumble your way into a shop the next morning with your sunglasses on and your dignity off, wondering what the hell they call Gatorade over here.
In fact, a lot of brands in Europe are slightly different, such as Doritos. I love trying local food; but when I’m weak from too much warm alcohol, all I want is a jug of Gatorade and some Wendy’s. I know I shouldn’t miss an electric-blue beverage and fast food, but I can’t help it! I miss eating the garbage that is American cuisine and drinking watered down, cold cocktails.
Sometimes you need a new pair of pants in addition to alcohol and food. Maybe you ripped a pair right at the crotch before you had to go to lecture, so you crossed your legs but that only made the hole bigger.
No matter why you need new pants, you can’t drive yourself to get them.
Nobody is going to rent a car for a few months or learn to drive on the wrong side of the road with kilometers and roundabouts. If you do, I tip my cap to you; but I’m forever at the mercy of bummed rides and public transportation.
I’ve been driving for five years, but I can’t get behind the wheel. I don’t have the freedom to just leave anymore, a US staple as American as apple pie (originally from the Dutch).
So if you do manage to get downtown for new pants, knock back a few warm drinks, and start chatting to a smoking girl, she’ll immediately know you’re an American.
Next she'll ask you, “Where abouts in America are you from?” You’ll say a place and the questions start about the US and pop culture. If you’re like me and you’re not the biggest fan of either, then this conversation just got pretty damn boring.
I can’t blame them, but at a bar you get tired talking about Donald Trump’s comb over and the fact he shaved a man’s head on WWE (skip to 1:50 for the good stuff). Nobody actually asks you about yourself, so you become the conventional American. Not Clayton, not a failing novelist, or even an asshole; just “The American.”
I realize I must be guilty of doing the same thing. I had some British friends last year that I constantly asked about England. We innately judge people based on where they are from. It’s just made a lot worse when we become more or less novelties in a far away place.
So for all you thinking of becoming an ex-pat I warn you: you’re not gonna be like Hemingway. People are going to ask you if you like Obama and you’re gonna ask for some ice in your lukewarm whiskey coke.
Don’t be discouraged; everybody should leave America for a bit and see a world outside of Chipotle and right-on-red turns. I’ve toured through Europe—especially Ireland—for years. Those travel experiences are nothing compared to the total immersion that living here provides. My time in Ireland has been the best education I’ve ever received and I have absolutely no regrets. But it’s not all Guinness and redheads in green pastures; it’s a lot of Chinese takeout and warm Canadian beer, too.
Feature photo by Sofia Sforza/ VIA Unsplash