Travel

"Do you own a gun?" And other questions American expats have to answer

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I moved from the US to Spain about a year ago to teach English. And after 12 months of eating Spanish omelettes, traveling around Europe, and meeting a ton of unemployed people, I've noticed when I tell anyone I’m from the US, they invariably have questions.

Some are simply curious, while others are outright offensive. But people always have questions. At this point, I have stock answers for most of the ridiculous things strangers ask.

These are the questions and their variants I have to answer most often.

Why do you hate Canadians?

My answer is always: What are you talking aboot? I love Canadians.

Why they ask it: This question caught me off guard, until I realized most people get their information about US-Canada relations from shows like "How I Met Your Mother" and "South Park", which give off the perception that Americans think Canadians are stupid or inferior. Which, to be fair, the US is better at everything, except maybe friendliness and maple syrup. But Canadians are never the bad guys in American movies or TV shows. Can you even imagine a Bond villain from Vancouver?

Related Questions: What don't you like about Canadians? Why do you think Canada is so terrible?Do you know that some people think Canada is nicer than the United States?

The United States, what part of England is that?

My answer is always: It is no part of England. That's what Christopher Columbus fought for in the War of 1812.

Why they ask it: Some people think because I speak English, I am English. By that logic, every person who speaks Spanish would be from Spain -- and in reality, less than 1/10 of all Spanish-speakers are from Spain.

Just as some of my family and friends back home assume Spaniards eat tacos, play mariachi music, and can’t drink their tap water, a lot of people I've met do not know basic differences between the United States and the United Kingdom. 

Maybe I just need to meet new people.

Related Questions: How often do you eat fish and chips? England won the football match yesterday, aren’t you proud? How close is your city to London?

 

Why is your university tuition so high?

My answer is always: This questions requires such a detailed response, I'll answer with a question of my own: How much time do you have?

Why they ask it: Tuition is generally cheap throughout Europe -- take Germany, for instance, which just entirely abolished tuition fees, or Sweden, where students receive a stipend.

Having such a different culture makes it funny to see how high European eyebrows shoot up someone's forehead when I tell them the cost of college tuition in the United States. Their obvious follow-up question is, of course, "Why?"

I still don't entirely know. But it sure is expensive.

Related Questions: Is university (college) a big party in the US? Do people really drink from red cups at parties? Is Harvard the best university in the US?

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Do you own a gun?

My answer is always: No, I don't have a gun, and have never fired a gun. Yes, I know many people back home who have guns. Yes, I have also heard that (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit...) is a very dangerous city.

Why they ask it: I suppose it's a reasonable thing to ask an American, because so many American households own a gun. The gun debate in the United States is often presented as a 50/50 argument, but it's the only developed country in the world where that is so.

Related Questions: Have you been shot before? Do a lot of people in your city have guns? Do a lot of [insensitive stereotype] people have guns?

 

Is America really like in the movies?

My answer is always: Yes, my high school really did have lockers. Yes, fraternities and sororities do exist. No, my high school was not run by an evil gang of cheerleaders. No, no one can afford to live in an apartment like in "Friends", unless they're really rich.

Why they ask it: Much of what people know about the United States comes from movies and TV shows; if all your only point of reference about college were Van Wilder, you'd think anyone could stay in college for seven years and still score prime-era Tara Reid.

But the same goes for the average American's understanding of the rest of the world. Australia is filled with guys like Crocodile Dundee, right?

Related Questions: Have you been to Hollywood? What's it like to have famous people come from your country? Is prom real, or is that only in "Gossip Girl"?

I met a guy from Florida. Do you know him?

My answer is always: No.

Why they ask it: I suppose they figure the odds of meeting two people from the same place are very low, so they might as well ask.

But if you've never been to the US, and you've only just seen it on a map or a globe, you'd really have no sense of just how gigantic this country is. Really, the US is just slightly smaller than all of Europe, with the US coming in at 3.8 million square miles compared to Europe's 4 million square miles.

Translation: The US is gigantic, and so is every state, except Rhode Island. Rhode Island is tiny.

Related Questions: My friend's grandmother lives in your state, do you know her? I saw something that was filmed in your state; were you there for that? I met another American last week, do you want to meet them?

Are you a "patriot"?

My answer is always: Everyone is proud of their country, right?

Why they ask it: It turns out that not all countries are as intensely patriotic as the United States. Like, there's not an equivalent of Toby Keith in every country spouting, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" or whatever colors its flag is and talking about putting boots in people's asses.

When I lived in the US, I never thought twice about how much we love our country, and that in fact maybe it is a little creepy to make school children pledge their allegiance to their country every day at school. But hell if it isn't American.

Related Questions: Did you support George Bush? What do you think about the Iraq War? So, the NSA was spying on my country...what do you think about that?

 

How close is your city to New York?

My answer is always: I have no idea how to tell you in kilometers. But it's not all that close.

Why they ask it: Many foreigners seem to know of New York, California, and whatever state their favorite television character is from, except the Simpsons, since nobody knows which state Springfield is in. But for most places in the US, I have to explain in terms of where it is in relation to New York and California. So that's only a 3,000-mile margin for error. And the whole concept that six states can fit between the north and south borders in some places doesn't exactly put that into perspective, either.

Related Questions: California is next to New York, right? Is New York a city or a state? Is Canada a state?

Why aren't you fat?

My answer is always: Because I live in Europe.

Why they ask it: Again, I suppose this is a reasonable thing to ask an American since something like a third of American adults are obese (35%, actually). And, unfortunately, Americans have become famous for around the world for being fat. We've perfected Cheetos, the Big Mac, and Mountain Dew. Coca Cola is the world's most recognizable logo. Our portion sizes are totally out of proportion with what humans need to survive. Type-2 Diabetes is our greatest export. Seeing a skinny American, for most foreigners, is like spotting Bigfoot.

Related Questions: Are a lot of your friends in the US fat? How often do you eat hamburgers? What's your best hamburger recipe?


Kate Peregrina is a writer and English teacher living in Spain. Read her blog and follow her on Twitter @kateperegrina.