Today I was talking to a woman in my Pilates class who said she was Irish American and that her Irish blood sometimes gets her into trouble. Her Grandparents were Irish, Her parents born in NY and she has never been to Ireland. In my eyes she is American, and no more Irish than I am (my grandparents were also Irish).
This isn't the first time I have heard this type of claim and this over emphasis on 'heritage' may not be exclusive to Americans but in the US certainly is where I have noticed it most. Perhaps it is because America is a huge melting pot of immigrant nations and so heritage is a point of difference, I have no idea. I really haven't quite worked out why there appears to be such a desire to be '______/American' and not simply 'American'. I can't imagine describing myself as Irish-English or if I get Swiss citizenship as English-Swiss.
I often get asked where I come from. In Switzerland it is clear from my appalling German (and some would say my colourful dress sense) that I am not Swiss. After I have answered by saying that I am from England then the conversation usually moves on quickly with a focus on my appalling German, the latest football disaster or my capacity to drink a large volume of alcohol whilst wearing stiletto sandals in the middle of the winter.
During my current stay in NYC I probably get asked where I come from at least 2 or 3 times a day. The minute I open my mouth to buy something, ask directions or simply say thank you it is clear I am not American. And so the question is asked. Again my usual answer is to simply say "I'm from England". Often this is sufficient and the follow-up can be anything from "I love your accent" to a story about how the person I am talking to was once in England or knows someone from England etc etc.
If the conversation develops then things get more complicated. Sure, I was born in England, but I haven't lived there for almost 10 years and 'home' is now Switzerland (I'm even going through the citizenship process). So when people are asking me if I know the restaurant they once went to in Manchester and I stop them to explain that I haven't lived there for 24 years I can tell by their faces they find it a bit confusing. Perhaps the same confused face I have when I meet someone from the Bronx who tells me they are Italian-American and that they can recommend a great restaurant that does Italian style deep pan pizza.
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