Work Abroad but earn in USD

Monday, May 02, 2005

Note to Argentines: Stop Blaming "U.S. Nationals" For Calling Ourselves "Americans"

I got a comment today that I have to respond to, since the author is way off and has no idea what he's talking about. I experienced this quite offten when I was in Argentina -- people getting upset that Americans call themselves Americans. I just have to address this because hopefully our Argentina reader will read this and then pass it on.

Reader's Comment

I refuse to call you an American since America is first a continent and then it could be used as a country nick name. Therefore when I listen someone says "American", I say I am American too, since I was born in South America, a part the American Continent. Anyone who whishes to refute this should read the Set theory, in particular they should at the Subsets definition. Basic geography will also work. This is just another way the US people show that they are the only one living in the American continent or worst, in the world. No other citizen of any other country call themselves as the continent name and mean just their country...

Its About Language, Not Arrogance

The name of our country is "The United States of America". That's quite a mouthful. Simply put, you need a one-word way to refer to people from the United States. Many countries have this. We refer to people from Argentina as Argentines. People from Spain are Spanish. If you're from Mexico, you're Mexican. So, look at the name of our country -- The United States of America" and give me one word in English that can be used to describe us. The only one that works is "American."

In Spanish they have a word, estadounidence, that is used to describe U.S. nationals. When I'm in Argentina and someone asks me my nationality, I always say, "Soy estadounidence." In English, that's "I am American." So, when I'm speaking in Spanish, I will continue to use the proper Spanish word for Americans. However, when you're speaking in English, you should just accept that the English word for people from the United States is "American".

The Real Problem

In English, when you've been talking about someone and then they walk in the room and you want to let them know you've been talking about them, you say, "Speak of the devil..." However, in Argentina, the way you say this phrase is "Hablando de roma..." If you actually translated the phrase, "Habla del diablo," it would give you an incorrect meaning. The same goes with the word American.

The root of the problem is that your TV translators are doing a poor job of translating our speeches. When the President of the United States is on TV and says, "We are Americans," the proper translation should be, "Somos estadounidences." The reason is that in the context of the speech, he is referring to "Americans" as people from the U.S. not people from the American continent.

However, all your translators screw up and translate this literally as, "Somos americanos," meaning "We are people from the American continent." So, the result of this is that everyone in Argentina thinks that Americans have this attitude as if they are the only important people on the American continent, when in reality, this is just a language issue. There's no other way in English to describe Americans than by using the word "Americans."

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14 Comments:

Anonymous Jen Churilov said...

This article is well written and well said. Thank you for putting what I have been thinking during the past year finally into words.

5/03/2005 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger elizabeth said...

While I appreciate your clarity in explaining that this is a language issue and not necessarily an arrogance issue, I do believe that there is an insensitivity by some people from the states, that even when aware of the potential of sounding arrogant, feel an entitlement about calling themselves "american". The reality is that there are over 1/2 billion people that consider themselves "american". This insensitivity only perpetuates their perception of us.

5/03/2005 10:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Greg Churilov said...

I'm an Argentinian who's lived 20 years in the States. One thing I'd like to add: "America" IS the name of the Country. It is not a nickname. The full name is "United States of America". By the same token, the full real name of Mexico is "Estados Unidos Mexicanos". Therefore it would be just as valid to refer to Mexico as "Los Estados Unidos". Which of course would lead to confusion. So Mexicans call themselves Mexican, not "estadounidenses".

Of course I realize that it rubs people the wrong way when U.S. nationals say "Americans" - and I understand that it'd be perhaps more diplomatic to say "Estadounidenses" - but I believe it's important for non-U.S. people to understand that U.S. folks refer to themselves as Americans and know themselves as such, and that it's valid, as that IS the name of their Nation.

If we're going to blame anyone, we should blame the people that came up with the name - LOL, which was probably a bit undiplomatic a move. After all, there's no European Country called "Federal Union of Europe" or "United European Provinces", right? But that's a whole other story.

5/03/2005 08:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post, you are correct, shoddy translators are partly to blame. It is our name which makes it ok for us to call ourselves Americans... Just like we can call our country the United States or the US anywhere in the world & most people know what we are talking about even though other countries like Mexico are also the United States of... We can call ourselves Americans and everyone knows what we are saying when its done in English. It's a bit touchy & insecure for people to take offense to something like this though. I'm not saying some Americans are not arrogant but by calling themselves American they are in fact correct.

Also, estadounidenses does not translate directly to Americans, but literally people of the united states, or united states(ers). Americans is Americanos, but this is a syntax issue, here Americans (in English) refers to citizens of the US and so it would be a false cognate to translate to Americanos in Spanish. You are correct that in this context Americans should translate to Estadounidenses, shoddy translation for sure is part of the problem.

5/04/2005 03:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've often tried to be polite about this in other coutries, referring to myself as from the United States or the USA. I'm almost always greated with blank expressions until I say "America". These days, though, I just say I'm from California...and then I apologize for our president.

-Mark

5/06/2005 03:22:00 AM  
Blogger Turribeach.com.ar said...

>> I got a comment today that I have to respond to, since the author is way off and has no idea what he's talking about. I experienced this quite often when I was in Argentina -- people getting upset that Americans call themselves Americans. I just have to address this because hopefully our Argentina reader will read this and then pass it on.

I am the one that made that comment and unfortunatelly I will not pass on. Perhaps it is indeed a language problem. Or perhaps it is just that you think that "America" is just USA. In either case ignoring the feelings of billions of Americans (with this I refer to the people living on the American Continent) is at least arrogant. There are many countries that do not have words to refer to people from their country. For instance the United Kingdom (although they have words for parts of it, such as British, Scotish, Welsh or Irish). If you keep looking, you will find more. If somebody asks you where are you from, you could simply say "from the US", "from the States", even from "North America", and you wouldn't be harming anyone's feelings. There are many cases where society changed the way it used some words because htey could be offensive for someone. Most notably it comes into my mind when the US decided to rename all "french fries" to "potato crips" simple because France was against the US in the Irak issue. So it seems that when you DO want to change words, you can do it. This issue doesn't apply for the Mexican case, since Mexico is only a country, not a continent. I could also add that the American Continent was named well before the USA. Or perhaps the following phrase: "Christopher Columbus discovered America", found on many English text books, means that he discovered the USA?

5/08/2005 05:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wife is from Argentina and I have this problem EVERY TIME I go down there. It's more than just a linguistic issue -- it's political. I can't stand it and I get really sick of it, just as I was sick of political correctness. I hate having to police the way I speak. Now I instinctively say "I am from New York" instead of "AMerician". But why should I? It's the name of my country, God damnit. And I hate my government just as much as the next knee-jerking Latina. But, Christ, leave me alone; it's downright unnatural to force people to monitor their words.

If you are worried about national nomenclature, well, they are all fucked up. After all, the identity of every single nation in the Americas was created by outsiders (the SPanish) and I don't hear any of these complainers asking Natives what they want THEIR land called.

I get repulsed by the arrogant Argentine attitude about Los Gringos to the north. I am usually in complete political agreement (my wife's family was nearly "dissappeared" as members of the left). However, they are so hypocritical, particularly in their patronizing attitude towards the indigenous peoples, who they infantilize and still confine to the fringes of power.

5/16/2005 01:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I have to say for Turrlibeach is that this is his issue and not about Americans. From the time we are educated people from the United States of AMERICA have learned to refer to themselves as Americans - it is the name of our country after all. It would not make sense for an Argentine to say they are American given that this is not the accepted reference point as the name for their country or nationality.

Honestly some people like to over react - they like to be angry and to find a point on which to hang their anger and then to deny any logical argument that attackes it and Turribeach is one of these people based on his posts. I think having a discussion with him about this is like banging your head against a wall - it will do nothing productive as he wants to hate Americans and this is the reason he has fixated on and nothing will persuade him that there is another way to look at the issue. Prejudice is intolerable wherever it is found; arrogance and intolerance are insupportable qualities and the irony is that Turribeach is exhibiting more of those than he is able to allege in the people he accuses of the same.

And as for the french fries thing; please. This did not happen - they are still french fries everywhere I have been in the US. Turribeach go ahead and hate Americans if you want to but that makes you the arrogant hateful one that is full of spite and ignorance. It makes you worse than what you aim to attack. It lowers you to the level of being lower that what you claim to hate. No country I have found (and I have lived in 4) has a monopoly on arrogant people; they are everywhere in the world.

You say YOU so strongly in your post - so very strongly - so hatefully - you are not even skilled at hiding any part of your very obvious hatred and intolerance. Your arguments are baseless and so ill-founded that they do not stand and allow your real motivation to shine through.

5/28/2005 08:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Alice said...

Hello,
I am from New York, one of the states in the United States of America. Don't want to offend anyone by giving the location where I live. Just want to visit family who immigrated to Argentina from Italy. Looking forward to a nice vacation in a beautiful country & hope that my country of orgin doesn't matter.

5/28/2005 09:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is great!!!! jajajajaajja

2/11/2006 06:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Jens said...

Travel enough and you will see that every country has it's ups and downs. The important thing is not to focus on the negatives, but rather on the positives (in so doing, nurturing understanding, cooperation, building value, etc.). Argentina is a beautiful country. So is the United States.

10/01/2006 09:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nycenar@yahoo.com.ar

In case you wonder, nycenar stands for Nacido Y Criado EN ARgentina (for the language challenged among you that means born and raised in Argentina.)
By the way, I visited Northern California back in 1971. It was a very nice State back then and I fell in love with it, so much so that I stayed.... I lived there permanently until 1997, so I know what being an expat is all about.

I remember back then my English teacher getting mad at me for saying that I had a right to call myself an American as well, due to the fact that I was born in the southern part of the continent called The Americas.
“WE AMERICANS, you SOUTHamericans !, period. End of the argument !” she used to say, getting red in the face (matching her neck color)

So, what would be the proper way to call citizens of the U.S.A. ? It is an old worn out issue as far as I am concerned and I am afraid we’ll never hear the end of it, let alone reach an agreement.
I don’t care much one way or another so I have no problem with U.S. citizens calling themselves Americans, as long as they don’t object when people who live in other parts of this continent do as well.

Having said that, I also have to say that I understand the resentment people in Latinamerica have and why they feel the way they do about this issue, and it is not just a matter of linguistics, it goes way beyond that.
America is a continent, and Latinos south of the Rio Grande perceive those who call themselves “Americans” as being not only arrogant but chauvinists as well, that is one of the reason they resent the use of the word Americans by US nationals..
Furthermore, and in case you did not notice, they distrust your government, like most people around the world. They reason they do is because your government is always trying to find an excuse to invade other (weak) countries and to support, covertly or not so covertly, the overtrow of democraticly elected governments and even assesinate their leaders when they are not “cooperating” with Washington. The current administration is not doing much to help change that perception, to say the least.

By the way, you also said that the people from Spain are called “Spanish” and the people from Argentina are called “Argentines”. I think the correct words are “Spaniards” and “Argentinians”. Over here, however, we affectionatelly call the people from Spain “Gallegos”, even if they are from a city other than Galicia and we call the italians “gringos” or “tanos”.
You also say that we don’t properly translate the words of your president. Well, you may have a point there, but the problem may not be from our end. I heard many of your countrymen saying that most of the time they have a problem understanding what George W is trying to convey, particularly when he talks without a script. It seems that his grammar and syntax could use some improvement, to say the least.

In the end, it doesn’t matter much how you call yourselves, though. I’ll tell you why.
In Mexico, for example, white U.S. citizens are called “gringos”. There are other words commonly used there, such as “gabacho” o “bolillo” and of course the polite “Americanos” is often used by the media.
In Argentina “Norteamericanos” o “estadounidenses” seems to be the words preferred by the media, but informally we call you “Yankies”.
That’s right, and in case you didn’t notice it yet, we pronounce the “LL” and “Y” as you pronounce the “J” in English, so when you hear the word Yankies, to you it’ll probably sound more like “junkies” (no pan intended).
.

Unless you just arrived here, you know that we call ourselves “criollos” or “porteños”, but people elsewhere in latinoamerica often refer to us as “Los Che” (as in Che Guevara) and of course in some English speaking parts of the world they prefer to use the word “Argies” when the refer to us.

So like I said, it really doesn’t matter how you call yourselves, people in each country or region are going to find the word they feel is appropriate. Here is not different, because politically correct we are not, and neither are you. In the US for example, when was the last time you said “the African-American guy...” when talking about a black male ?. Speaking of which, if you hear someone, particularly a woman, calling you “negro” don’t be offended regardless of your race. Believe or not, it is not an offensive word here, but rather a term of endearment, and it is often used by women to call their mates. It has nothing to do with race or skin color at all.

In closing, to my countrymen I say: be careful about what you call the yanquies and be nice to them, otherwise the cowboy currently occupying the White House will bring “democracy” to us too, after he gets the “job” in Iraq done, of course !

And to you, Yanquies let me say this: I think that (most of) you are nice, decent people and I trust you are all Democrats so I won’t blame you for what the dry drunk up North is doing.
Besides, you are here now, so welcome to Argentina. Enjoy the low cost along with the quality of living, and the freedom and civil liberties our country offers. Those of you who are old enough to remember the sixties and seventies in the US will appreciate it more and feel like traveling back to those times.
Here you won’t be asked to remove your shoes to board an aircraft, nor will you be subject to embarrasing searchs or fingerprinting or to show an ID to board a domestic flight. There are no profiles, so you can’t fit any. There are no biometric measurements of any part of your body, so make your own algorithm you miss your number.
Our government couldn’t care less about what you write in your emails, or what you say over the phone. Leave your worries and paranoia behind. There are no earthquakes here, no tornadoes, no floods to speak of. No drive by shootings. No terrorist threats.
The fruts and vegies are great, steaks are superb, the beaches are nice, the beer is good, the wine is better, the girls are cute, the nightlife exciting...
What else you want...? what do you miss...? your junk mail...?
So I for one am glad you decided to quit the rat race and join us, because, let’s face it, even if you win that race, you still be a rat !

So enjoy life, take time to smell the flowers, don’t worry, be happy and don’t sweat the small stuff !
and when someone in Buenos Aires ask you “de donde sos...” tell them proudly “soy Yanqui !” and watch them smile... You’ll be perceived as a rarity, a humble and simpatico norteamericano !

Feliz Navidad, prospero año nuevo para todos.

Cheers Salud

Hector

12/25/2006 08:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow... speaking of arrogance. Those last comments are a bit offensive. When I lived in South America I was referred to as "estadounidence" The problem there is all the other countries that have used the term over time, namely:

United States of Belgium, a confederation that existed during the year 1790
Republic of the United States of Brazil, the name of Brazil between 1889 and 1968
United States of Colombia, name held by Colombia between 1863 and 1886
... And others. Even Mexico today is referred to by their "United States".

No one of course has any problem calling people "Mexicans, or Colombians or Brazilians".

To be honest I think the problem is has more to do with envy. I received the same kind of disdain when I moved from California to Utah. And while living in South America there were people who apparently knew more about what "Americans" were like than I did... without ever having even been there. Amazing really.

8/22/2008 05:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post, I am from Canada, and we refer people from the U.S as Americans and we don't have an issue with it. Although I sympathize with South Americans on the issue, but I do find contradictory as in Spanish some use the term ''Notre Americano'' or in English ''North American'' to refer to Americans.

Well Canada and Mexico are both in North America and we in Canada do not like being confused as Americans so a term that I invented that could solve the problem is United Stater.

I found in interesting that there was a term for one country that actually refers to 3. Imagine my confusing and anger when I first heard this.

10/19/2009 12:56:00 AM  

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