Culture Shock

One thing I find challenging to adjust to is the facial reactions I get when I introduce myself as American. From an outside perspective, I fit the checklist almost perfectly: I sound American, I am accustomed to American society and etiquette, and I carry the experiences of living in America. However, I don’t “look American.” I look, as I have been told-

  • Spanish
  • Mexican
  • Italian
  • Greek
  • Pakistani
  • Indian
  • Persian
  • Arab

But never American.

Don’t get me wrong, I love looking culturally ambiguous. I just don’t appreciate being asked-

  • “But where are you really from?”
  • “Where were you born?” (I literally just said I was American.)
  • “When did you move to America?”

And I certainly don’t care for comments like-

  • “Your English is so good!”
  • “But you’re not really American, though. Right?”
  • “It must be difficult going back and forth from your real home and America.”

This kind of experience for me is really different because in the U.S. I am so open about being Arab-American. Everyone there knows I am American- it’s a given. There’s no question about it. I don’t need to “prove” my American-ness, so I am usually portraying the other half of my identity that not everyone can relate to: my Arab identity. Here in France, it is the opposite. I feel like I have to really prove myself as American, and it feels weird. It’s not like I can flip a switch and change from one part of my identity to the other. They are intertwined, and being a part of both does not mean one is a diluted version of another.

Furthermore, me stating that I am also Arab carries even more assumptions. Because of the heavy population of North-African Arabs in France, small stereotypes are thrown onto me. And everyone always assumes I am Muslim until they see me eating a ham sandwich or sampling their local beverages or wearing my darfash around my neck. There is nothing wrong with being Muslim, but it just isn’t who I am, and I don’t like to be assumed as something I’m not.

I am trying to take advantage of this opportunity, however. With each person I meet and correct and share more about myself, I know that they will think back in the future. They are sure to think back to the American girl who broke the stereotype, and they will remember not to assume, but to ask.

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