Indiana University Overseas Study

Erik Trautman

Two weeks after returning to Italy, I now know what it is to be an American – well, what it is to be an American through European eyes. Take any 90’s high school movie and that pretty much sums it up: jocks, cheerleaders, lockers, and yellow school buses. They told me I talk like people in movies and they asked if spring break was like the movie. I still haven’t seen “Spring Breakers” but I imagine my road trip stories were a bit toned down compared to James Franco with corn rolls and grills.

I later found myself trying to explain Groundhog’s day, which I realized I knew nothing about until now: the first Groundhog’s day was in 1887, it takes place in Punxsutawney, PA, the marmot’s name is Phil, and he has an 80% accuracy rating according to accuweather. Unfortunately, the large ground squirrel (yes, I also did research on the groundhog) saw his shadow this year, as he always seems to do, however, this got me wondering how far his jurisdiction extends. Senseless daydreams aside, I’ve been preoccupied with this image of American identity. At first it was just fun listening to Italians pronounce Punxsutawney but what I didn’t expect was to learn about where I come from while being 5,000 miles away. This discovery naturally came to a climax during this year’s Super Bowl.

The plan was for Doritos, Mountain Dew, buffalo chicken wings and Budweiser, the commercialized image of an American Super bowl party. Sunday, however, isn’t the best day to do shopping in Italy. Many of the markets are closed leaving the open ones quite packed, and it’s nearly impossible to find buffalo sauce or sour cream. I tossed what I could find on the sporadic shelves at the local Pam into the hand-pulled cart: Pringles, Philadelphia cream cheese, hot dogs, beef, corn, eggs, potatoes, and beans. I proceeded to make chili, pigs in a blanket, potato skins, and deviled eggs. Theò, my friend who agreed to host the party, made a chicken curry. After eating chili, curry, and cupcakes, no one could eat a bite more, and I was left in the kitchen with a basket full of hard-boiled eggs (although I admit I did misplace the mayonnaise).

The game started around midnight due to the time difference and continued till almost four in the morning. We watched the extravagant opening ceremonies, tried our best to explain the game to the inquisitive Europeans, awed at the halftime show, and laughed shamefully at some of the commercials. So is this what defines America: Chevy trucks, Groundhog’s day, Pringles, Katy Perry, and overgrown men bashing into each other while Nationwide tries to scare you into buying insurance? No, America is a cultural empire that I never saw until now, from across the ocean. It’s a fantastic ideal of prosperity, grandness, and freedom depicted that electric night in a blur of red, white, and blue jerseys, flags waving the words “Seattle Seahawks,” Katy Perry on a beach surrounded by dancing sharks, fireworks, the grand canyon, and witty ads. I wont talk about the results of that game but after watching it, I’m more comfortable talking about something far grander, America. Therefore, the Italian word for the day is “paese” or country.

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