The term “American” is often misused in everyday conversations. Residents of the United States of America are commonly referred to as “Americans”. This abbreviation is so common that most people do not give it a second thought. Panamanians often do.
Websters Dictionary will tell you an American is anyone who is from North, Central or South America. Many Panamanians I know become offended when they hear the term “American” used to describe a US citizen. Upon hearing the term used in such a way, my friends often say “If you are going to call a US citizen an American, you must also call Mexicans, Canadians, Costa Ricans, Panamanians, etc, – American”.
I gather from the Panamanians I have spoken to that they do not want to be referred to as American, they just don’t think it’s fair that the US has virtually trademarked the term for their residents. I find that idea a little funny, since as a Canadian I often correct Panamanians who call me American. I suppose I too have become so accustomed to the term being used to describe those in the US that I often forget that all residents of North, Central and South America are in fact American.
While in Canada I never heard anyone object to how American is most commonly used, and I don’t think there is any anti-American sentiment to the objections I have heard in Panama. It seems to me many just feel the usage of the term should be much more inclusive.
Not all Panamanians will take offence to US citizens being called American, but I know quite a few that will. Enough so, that when in a conversation with anyone in Panama, I make sure to not use the term so narrowly. I admit, while living in Canada, I always described our neighbours to the south as “American”. It’s great that spending time engrossed in a different culture can open your eyes to issues and circumstances that would otherwise never have been given a second thought.
Have you ever been corrected by a Panamanian on the usage of the word “American”?
|Written by Rebecca Tyre|
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