Nationalities I get mistaken for

One of my favorite parts of traveling is meeting people from different countries. To make the standard ‘Where are you from? Cool. Where are you from? Cool.‘ conversation a bit more interesting I always tell people to guess where I’m from. If they do the same, I’ve made a game of trying to guess their country by having them say something in their language (this doesn’t necessarily help). Or often people will flat out ask me if I’m from x or y country. People almost never guess correctly.

This first started happening when I studied abroad in Montpellier in 2010. I loved it at the time, thinking ‘Sweet people think I’m European, not some obnoxious American!‘ I still think it’s interesting to see where people think I’m from, but it’s become less exciting. Once or twice I’ve had someone refuse to accept that I’m American, to the point where it’s almost rude. What’s so wrong with being American? Are we really that bad?

I feel obligated to point out 90% of the time these guesses are made by non-native English speakers. Because otherwise it’s usually* pretty obvious I’m American from my accent.

*see #8

The nationalities I’m most often mistaken for, in order of most common:

1. German

Always the number one guess. I’m not surprised anymore. And it’s been guessed by Germans, too. A couple different times I’ve had someone ask me if I’m German, in German. One time when I was living in Moliets, a seasonal town in France that is invaded by Germans and Dutch in the summer, a guy on the beach kept yelling at me in German, thinking I was just joking and ignoring him (which after 10 minutes I was, because it was getting embarrassing). I think I’m just going to learn German and start accepting that I should have been born German.

2. Dutch

This one always follows German. And has also been guessed by a Dutch person.

3. French

When I was living in Moliets, any non-French person automatically assumed I was French. (And any French automatically assumed I was German or Dutch!) This is less based on appearance than on the fact that I speak French. But this one has also been guessed by a fair few French people who couldn’t detect my slightly merdique, slightly somehow Canadian accent when I speak (despite the fact I’ve been to Canada once for a grand total of 5 hours when I was like 8, so don’t know where I got that accent from).

4. Swedish

Have you noticed a trend? These are mostly countries where blonde hair is prominent.

5. Norwegian

(It’s at this point I can see the wheels turning in the person’s head trying to remember that other Nordic country…)

6. Finnish

(Ah they remembered it)

7. Swiss

Just because it’s the last European country that would make sense.

8. Australian

This one has only been guessed in Australia and, interestingly enough, mostly by Australians. They just assume I’m an aussie that doesn’t have a strong accent.

9. Brazilian

Only twice has this one been guessed and the first time I thought to myself, ‘is that a joke?’ I’ve since learned that in the southern areas of the country has a strong European heritage and people with similar skin tone and hair color to me. So it makes a smidge more sense.

Other anecdotes

I’ve convinced a fair number of people that I’m a different nationality. Admittedly, this is always after I’ve imbibed a tad. I usually go for Irish. I thought I had a killer accent until a couple years ago an Irish lad informed me that my accent was in fact “shit.” But recently I did my accent for an Irish girl and she restored my confidence saying she would have believed me. I one time convinced someone, after speaking to them in my normal voice for a solid 20 minutes, and then randomly deciding to switch to Irish, that I was from there. They may have been drunk. But he just happened to have friends who just got back from study abroad in Dublin and I thought I was done for. But I still managed to scrape by.

Other times I’ve done French. And then one time I randomly threw in Swedish and was literally speaking gibberish, but they still believed me. They may also have been drunk.

And just one more story: this past summer in France, I was talking to an Australian at a bar who was definitely drunk, and who couldn’t quite comprehend that I was American and, yes we speak English there. Our conversation:

-Him: “Your English is amazing!”

-Me: “I’m from the United States.”

-Him: “Ah okay..”

2 minutes later

-Him: “Seriously though, you speak such good English.”

-Me: “I’m from AMERICA where we speak ENGLISH. You know, the same language as Australia?”

-Him: “Ah yeah, yep got it.”

*chugs beer*


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