Europeans are forthright in telling me all the things wrong with Americans. We are fat, we live in big houses and we have big mouths. Oh, and we smile – incessantly. I accept it. We are that group of people who are targeted to receive the world’s commentary and are expected to accept it unflinchingly. I suppose we might be expected to smile. If we do retaliate, we are immediately branded “the ugly American” (and yes, I have seen some ugly Americans). But really, is it possible that more than 300 million people can be broad brushed as having the same short list of negative attributes? Let’s cover these one by one. And I do want to get to the smiling issue.
First, we’re all fat. I must admit, returning to Colorado after a two year absence, I am a bit concerned how much the leanest state in the union has grown. That said, I lived in Slovakia and now live in Hungary. Neither of these countries is particularly small – at least when it comes to their people. The world is getting fatter. The US might be towards the front of the line – but every single westernized country ought to worry about this issue. And that worry might as well begin at home.
We live in big houses. While not all Americans super sized their McMansion, we live in bigger houses than Central Europeans. Learning you could happily raise a family in a 500 square foot apartment was a big reality check for me. I am relieved we have purged our “stuff”. I now find the pursuit and maintenance of things to be stressful. I hope when we eventually return, we don’t one day realize the closets are cluttered, there are boxes pushed under the bed and we just dusted a heavy bronze pig playing the violin which we swore we donated to Goodwill. Buying an exceptionally small apartment will help. Our 800 square foot Budapest apartment keeps us in line.
And lastly, we have big mouths. You got us on this one. From the guys chatting behind us on the plane to the man who placed his very loud breakfast order at the restaurant, we are a nation of loud people. When you live in really big houses, sometimes you must scream to be heard. I am guilty of this, but I’m working on it.
This brings me to smiling. For the life of me, I don’t understand why smiling is perceived negatively. “Gosh, I hate you fat Americans. You talk loudly and you smile.” What’s wrong with nice? Blame the exercise endorphins, the lack of oxygen at altitude, or the legalized marijuana; for whatever reason Boulder, Colorado is the nice capital of the world. The last few days I have wallowed in a Zen alternate universe where people engage in small talk, smile, say hello, and remove charges from your bill without question. I couldn’t sleep – not acclimated to the eight hour time difference – so I walked to a bagel place. It was still closed yet the manager noticed me outside, waved me in, made me a cup of coffee and asked me to keep him company while he finished setting up. And I liked this. I left the bagel shop happy…. and smiling.
Fat fannies, big houses, loud mouths, I’ll accept it all. Being home, I am hyper vigilant to these things – and they do jangle my nerves. But I will never accept that nice isn’t – well – nice. When I return to Budapest, I’m going to smile and say “hi” to everyone. I’m sure some will mutter under their breath, “Here comes that smiling American.” They might scowl or scoff or turn away. But I will beam my brightest smile and in the softest voice possible say, “Have a wonderful day.”