You probably already know that there is a margarita cocktail and a margherita pizza. But before I studied abroad in Europe, I had no idea that ordering myself a salty, limey, tequila-y beverage might actually yield a plate-sized cheesy, doughy meal. Call me an ignorant American; I don’t deny that I was (and still often am) one.
Ingrid Anders understands, and in her debut novel “Earth to Kat Vespucci” (iUniverse), Anders’ title character makes all the mistakes in the book (except for the margarita mix-up) on her first trip abroad. Kat Vespucci is a senior at Rutgers University when she runs from heartbreak by signing up for a year abroad in Berlin, Germany. The school year marks her first time abroad, and the mishaps start as soon as Kat leaves the airport and attempts to buy a pass for the train: Kat is confronted by not only the different ways in which transport operates outside the US (you mean you buy a ticket, but no one checks it?), but also an often-befuddling European bureaucracy.
Other topics Anders covers include such light-hearted ones as water-saving showers, country-wide Sunday store closures, sexual freedom (yes, fellow Americans, we are just a little bit repressed), the difference between pepperoni and peperoni, and many European males’ lack of macho-ness (is her roommate gay? A metrosexual? Or simply European?).But there’s also the stereotypical stuff that often gives Americans abroad a bad name — our lack of geographical knowledge (at her first school dinner, Kat hides a map of Europe on her lap under the table in order to place where all her European classmates are from), our lack of political and historical knowledge of anything outside our own country, and often a lack of knowledge regarding America’s role in world politics — and the way the rest of the world views us.
The book is in no way anti-American, and I don’t want to give that impression at all. Rather, Anders skillfully and humorously navigates a sheltered young woman’s eye-opening experience abroad. Fortunately., Europe is a tame introduction to the “rest” of the world, and Kat is a curious and intelligent explorer. Anyone who took their first trip abroad as an adult will likely identify with many of her bumblings, and with this character, Anders shows herself to be a promising new novelist.