BRESCIA, Italy — A popular song in the discos not long ago was a remix of a Neapolitan song from the 1950s called “ Tu vuò fà l’Americano” – “You’re a wannabe American.”
The glamorization of America has existed in Italy for a long time and, like the song, it has grown and changed with the times.
It is interesting to look at the way Italians view America and Americans. Before I came here, a lot of people who’d traveled to Italy in the past warned me that I might encounter disdain simply for being American.
They said Americans abroad have a bad reputation for being the annoying, rude, overweight tourists that you often imagine in Hawaiian print shirts and socks with sandals.
Others, though, told me that everyone would think being American is the coolest thing in the world.
Luckily, I have encountered far more of the latter attitude this year, especially with people my own age. Every now and then, I’ll encounter someone (usually someone elderly) that’s perfectly sweet until they hear I’m American and then they narrow their eyes and get all mean and judgmental, but it’s pretty rare.
When Italians think of America, their immediate associations mostly include New York, Hollywood, Miami, movie stars and Barack Obama.
Usually when I meet new people and am introduced as “the American” or they hear my accent, they get excited. There’s often a bit of fist pumping and chanting “U.S.A! U.S.A!”
Italian teenagers love the idea of American high school as they’ve seen it on television shows and movies. Yellow school buses, halls lined with lockers, football games – it all seems like a perfect dream to them.
There are parties and themed nights at discos where everyone is supposed to dress up like an American high school student, which basically means all the girls are cheerleaders and all the boys are football players.
America seems very glamorous to them, I guess. They think it’s like living in a movie scene every day.
There is also America as a fashion statement. Lots of clothing companies and stores advertise being “All-American” and they’re often places I’d never even heard of before I came to Italy.
Everyone wears the American flag. Stars and stripes go on shoes, scarves, jackets and T-shirts. There has not been a single day this entire year that I’ve gone to school and not seen at least one classmate wearing an American flag somewhere within their outfit.
I’m not sure that all of the associations my peers have regarding America are completely accurate – I’ve had to explain that no, I don’t have hamburgers every single day and yes, we do actually do work in school – but it’s nice to know that they’re so enthusiastic about it.
It makes me feel accepted and gives me a subject that nearly everyone is automatically interested in discussing with me, which is pretty cool.
Chandler West is a Rock Hill High School student who is spending her senior year in Italy. She writes about her adventures abroad each week in The Herald and heraldonline.com.