It never fails to amaze me how things can look totally different depending on where you’re standing. Where I grew up, we were politely referred to as “the Spanish people” (the locals being too dumb to know there’s an actual word for that – Spaniards) and impolitely called lots of other things. In Spain, my siblings and I were “los americanos” and we were both despised for our perceived worldliness and valued for the cultural information we could impart.
This phenomenon is why I ended up in a third country. In my homeland (the US) I was aware of being different for most of my life and in la patria, people were quick to point out that I wasn’t really from there. Here in France, people think I’m American or Spanish or just plain foreign and they don’t really seem to have any negative feelings either way.
All of which means I have something in common with Count Ladislaus de Almásy and frozen bagels sold at a national chain here in France: we are all identified by how people experience us, not as we are.
The Count in question is the protagonist of The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje’s novel (later adapted into Anthony Minghella’s film). Almásy gets his alias after he’s found almost dead by Allied forces in the remnants of an airplane in the desert. Since he’s mostly covered in burns, the only means of identifying him are his accent, which is determined to be English although he’s Hungarian. Over the course of the narrative, which is told mostly in flashbacks, we come to learn that earlier the Allies mistook him for a Nazi sympathizer due to his foreign name, a mischaracterization that ends up causing lots of death and destruction. It’s ironic and tragic.
Bagels are delicious bread products that came over to the US with Jewish Eastern European immigrants. Any city with a self-respecting Jewish population has a decent bagel, but New York clearly has the best. Marketing them as “Little American breads” is a much easier sell, but that doesn’t really justify the misnomer.
I think everything should be referred to in a way of its choosing, which is problematic on the bagel front since they’re not sentient. I think the count would have self-identified as Lover of Katherine since nationality didn’t mean anything to him.
Me, I’m like Rick from CASABLANCA, “a citizen of the world.”