How to Handle Racism Abroad (with Grace)

Oslo Harbor. Via Wikimedia by Quistnix.

Oslo Harbor. Via Wikimedia by Quistnix.

This might come as a shock to many, but not everyone in the world likes America or Americans. I know, I was shocked too. However, this is one of the realities I have gotten to see up close while living my life abroad. I wasn’t naive when I decided to move to Norway. I knew I was leaving the safety of my American borders and expanding to a world where perhaps people might judge me, or not accept me, solely based on the fact that I was American—which in my opinion is just stupid. But that’s how the world is apparently operating these days; people are capable of hating or judging a person, their culture, their country, anything really, without actually knowing that person. I was smart enough to realize these judgmental or anti-American occurrences could happen to me, yet not prepared enough for when it would happen to me—and it eventually did.

While at work one day during my first year here in Norway, I was called “another Capitalist American” by a girl I had met not one minute prior to her calling me this. During our short introduction, I had simply said I was from San Francisco, California; however, what she heard was “I, like all Americans, am money hungry and power happy!” She went on to tell me about myself and all Americans for another five minutes or so until I told her I actually didn’t classify myself with any particular “ism” and in fact agreed a lot more with the Scandinavian views on politics, and that pretty much shut her up.

One of the more humorous encounters I’ve experienced came from two girls who could not believe I was American because I wasn’t fat. They were so shocked that I was thin and healthy looking and could not wrap their heads around the fact that not all Americans were fat. I remember asking if they had ever actually BEEN to the U.S., to which one of the girls replied a big “no” to. She said she had wanted to travel there for vacation, but changed her travel plans because she didn’t want to get fat. Ahhh, ignorance. I hope I ate a burger after this.

Bygdøy peninsula, Oslo, Norway. Via Wikimedia by Inisheer.

Bygdøy peninsula, Oslo, Norway. Via Wikimedia by Inisheer.

At parties, I still occasionally get drunk people coming up to me wanting to talk politics. I usually try not to get into heated political discussions with people out here, mainly because the people who feel the need to drunkenly ambush me at parties once they hear I am American also happen to be the people who like to tell me what all is wrong with the U.S., tell me what is wrong with the American people (based only on what they see from reality TV), and blame me for problems the U.S. government has given the rest of the world. If you ever run into these political party ambushers, smile and try your best to end the conversation. And if you still can’t avoid them, thank whatever is above for the mighty, mighty cocktail.

During my first two years in Norway, I was fairly lucky to encounter just a few ignorant or stupid comments that were easily able to brush off. However, by my third year here, I started seeing a different side of what racism could actually look like. I had a customer at work one day who didn’t want me to be her server because I was a “fucking American,” as she put it. I also used to work at another restaurant where the entire kitchen was very anti-American, often making comments to me like “fuck America,” “fuck Americans,” “I don’t like America,” or calling me a “brainwashed American”—also all without knowing anything about me other than the fact that I was American. For these instances, I picked my battles, won a few, and left a few battlefields knowing that sometimes, you simply cannot fight to change stupid. Sometimes it’s better to walk away knowing you are the bigger person and hope for their sake that one day they change, or get attacked by a bald eagle.

What every person moving abroad must realize is that sadly, there are douches in the world who will discriminate, hate, judge, make outlandish comments to you, you name it… all based on nothing. I’ve seen this firsthand, which was actually quite a surprise because Norway is a country that has really great and wonderful people, not to mention some of the most accepting people I have ever known. Though I must admit, 90 percent of these encounters during my time here in Oslo came from other foreign people living in Norway. You would think us foreign people would stick together, eh?

Oslo National Theater. Via Wikimedia by Fiulploii.

Oslo National Theater. Via Wikimedia by Fiulploii.

I hope you don’t encounter any such racism, but it is wise to be prepared for the day when it could happen to you. And DON’T say you are Canadian—by saying you are Canadian when you are American while traveling abroad, you are showing people you are ashamed to be American. And what’s worse, you are showing people you think you have a REASON to be ashamed of being American. Knock off this nonsense before I slap you with an American flag!

The best advice I can give is to be the best person you can be at all times while abroad. The world is full of amazing and wonderful people for you to meet, so try not to let negativity influence your travels, but be prepared enough to be able to handle it if the situation arises. Be the best representative of the American people you can possibly be and give these backwards thinkers reasons to like you and more importantly, reasons to make them rethink themselves and their racist ways.

Molly Feeley

About Molly Feeley

Molly is an American girl living in Oslo, Norway trying to adjust to her new Norwegian life. Though she occasionally misses the sun and spicy foods, Oslo has become her new home and she has a lot to say about it!