European Acquaintance: So, Nicole, where are you from?
Me: Um. I’m currently between countries.
European: No. I know you are American, but are you from North Carolina?
Me: I’m amongst the Tarheels whose intentions are good, dear lord, please don’t let us be misunderstood.
When I was 18 and living in Europe I used to lie and tell people I was Canadian. It was the 1980s and an incredibly embarrassing time to be an American. Ronny Ray Guns was in office and the dollar was so unstable I used Swiss Francs as exchangeable currency under the advisement of European friends.
This was much to my advantage at least twice when Banco Central in Madrid mistook them for French Francs and I was rich — for about an hour or so anyway.
That’s about the time a kind yet bossy Spanish banker appeared at my apartment in Arguelles with copies of the exchange and the amendment paperwork. He was accompanied by an armed guard. Franco may have been dead for a decade or so, but the bully mentality of authority still reared its ugly head — both inside and outside of the corrida. I forked over my wad of pesetas and feigned “stupid American.”
I got no arguments there.
This was as close as I’ve ever come to international monetary fraud — and as close as I’d ever want to get to the Guardia Civil — but it did bring to a head a nagging question: Why was an American girl claiming to be a Canadian (at least socially) and using Swiss currency?
It’s like I said — being American in America was bad enough, but having to defend myself in a foreign country in a foreign tongue was even worse. The rest of the world saw America as a soaring hard-on of nuclear proportions and a cultural wasteland responsible primarily for egregious misuse of the shoulder pad and ozone violations associated largely with aspirational hairstyles from MTV.
As for money, we were the Gordon Gecko Generation — a place where greed is good and “Dynasty” is destiny. We were invincible — at least to ourselves. The stock market crash of 1987 solidified my move to travel and deal in safe-at-the-time monetary units, I just had to do the math for Spanish bankers from time to time. This came much to my mother’s amusement who liked to remind me that for years I thought she was referring to her stockbroker as her “stalk broker,” but her being so thin, I just assumed that a bespoke seller of celery was not out of the question.
Socially in Madrid I eventually came clean with folks and admitted to being an American but then, of course, they wanted to know more. Ugh. Admitting you’re from North Carolina during Jesse Helms’ reign was just another layer of international embarrassment so I decided to go regional and just say I’m from the South. The immediate response I would get would be, “¡Ah! Ho-tay Air-ay!” I truly had no idea what these lisping Madrilenos were saying about the first 200 times until their Castillian accents revealed that that they were referencing the television show “Dallas” and that they were actually saying “JR.”
My guess is that US geography — much like Swiss to French Franc conversion — was not their strong point and that, in their libro, Texas was the South.
I guess that it’s no real shocker that almost 30 years later I’m still experiencing the same geographical identity crisis. Only in this hand, Trump trumps Reagan in the international deck of embarrassment and the Old North State is still playing the Victorian card game Old Maid — and losing badly with Pat McCrory holding all the cards. Culturally we reside in Kardashistan with “Real Housewives” as our matriarchal ideals and Bachelorettes as our ingenues.
So this time, I’m not relying on geographical games of chance. I’ve decided to tell people I’m from the future and to be very careful that history doesn’t repeat itself once again.