By SUSANNAH CLARK
“Make me look as un-American as possible,” I demanded of my stylist, plopping my Urban Outfitted rear in the salon chair.
The next morning, I would be on a plane to Italy, and the plan was to cut great lengths to avoid any association with the Ugly American Tourist.
I wanted to pass as a local, or at least a fellow European.
My haircut, a choppy pageboy channeling the likes of Audrey Hepburn and a cracked-out Peter Pan, proved effective.
As I promenaded along the cobblestone streets of Rome, tourists asked me for directions in phrasebook Italian, and street vendors shouted to me in French and German. The only English I heard came from Roman men’s cat-calls, though it is now my understanding that “sexy mama” translates in multiple languages.
I seemed to be passing with flying colors.
While I was a pseudo-European superficially, there was the minor issue of my pungent American accent.
Apparently, being able to sing the Prego Pasta Sauce jingle in its entirety does not mean you can speak Italian. After four semesters of college French, I decided to be Parisienne for a week, occasionally throwing in an “Oo la la!” or a “Sacrebleu!” for authenticity’s sake.
While I spoke enough French to order a gelato, if the conversation progressed past “what do you like to do on weekends,” I was forced to admit my shameful Americanism. Or casually walk away.
Throughout my week-long façade, I secretly questioned my theatrical shenanigans (or should I say Susannigans?). Why was I so terrified of my heritage?
My time in Italy was spent eating lasagna and paying 15 euro to blush at Michelangelo’s David; I was the embodiment of an American tourist. Edgy European haircut or not, I was still just a poseur.
Enlightenment came from a hat vendor at the San Lorenzo market in Florence.
Considering I was already adhering to an Italian cliché by buying a fedora, I decided to give my French charade a rest.
“You speak English very well, but aren’t you French?” he asked me in the accent I always imagined for Mario and Luigi.
“No, English is my first language,” I said, pursing my lips and glancing to the side.
“Ahho! Where in England are you from?” He asked innocently.
“Actually…I’m American,” I conceded, bowing my head.
The vendors’ eyes lit up. “You are!? You don’t look it! I love Americans!”
“You do?” I said, tightening the grip on my purse.
Grinning, the man suddenly unzipped his jacket to unveil a t-shirt with a silk screen Barack Obama. In the image, the President was wearing a Hawaiian lei.
“I just got back from Haiwaii last week. I LOVE OBAMA!”he chimed. “All of the Italians do.”
Then he knocked 3 euro of the price off the fedora.
Obama is barely halfway through his first hundred days, and America’s foreign reputation is already improving.
With George W. Bush and his Texan drawl back on the ranch, maybe Americans no longer have anything to be embarrassed about.
On the walk back to my hostel, I realized that rather than accepting and submitting to the negative American stereotype, I should be trying to break it by proving to Europeans that not all Americans are obese grumblers who watch NASCAR.
Plus, in this economy, every country is grateful for any tourism it gets, even from obnoxious Americans.
Or least that’s how I justified my 10 euro lunch in the McDonald’s next to St. Peter’s Square.
Next time I go to Europe, I’ll keep my hair long.