I never felt American until I moved to Australia. And then when I moved to Queensland, I felt really, really American. Being American, ironically, was never a category I applied to myself even when I lived there.

Nationalism is a strange disease. Like a bad cough, or a runny nose, it infects some people worse than others. Many are quite simply immune to it. I must have been inoculated at a young age, for blind allegiance to anything other than sleep, food and clean water fails to lure me.

I’ve learned to take pity on those of us who fell under the spell of collectivism. Was it a choice, I ask myself watching them march by in parades each year—or, like most of what makes us who we are, purely circumstantial?

Living on the Sunshine Coast with a strong pronunciation of the letter “r” presents challenges—like most people assuming I am a tourist. I cannot leave a shop without questions. “Where are you from? Oh, you live here? When did you move? Really, ten years ago and your accent is still that strong?” These are the typical enquiries with “how are you finding it?” sometimes thrown in.

And after we tick off the basics, I must either stop and listen to an opinionated rant about American geopolitics or the holiday this person took to my motherland and how, surprisingly, they found Americans to be quite lovely and polite.

It’s difficult to live up to a stereotype. Most people assume if I am American, I am therefore a fat, lazy, ignorant, rude, war-monger and generally unaware of the location of most continents. Being of average weight, average intelligence, peace-loving and well-travelled is a confusing disappointment.

I have been, at times, tempted to colour in my past with a story like “I grew up in Las Vegas, my mother was a stripper and my father worked for casino security—but was really just a member of the mafia. I’m living here under witness protection because my first job at 14 involved smuggling weapons from Mexico. I love eating spaghetti out of a can. I have no idea where I actually am—can you help me?” Isn’t that what the media would have them believe?

The other common belief, and one I find quite baffling, is that if a Canadian is assumed to be American by an Australian, they are very much offended. Since moving to Queensland, my accent has evolved. The southern twang I came here with didn’t jive with the locals. Canadian-style enunciation eases the communication difficulties so I roll with it—which is why many people think I’m a far north, North American. I have checked with Canadians and they confirmed they do not get upset when confused with Americans and do not know why Australians think this. Strange, truly.

Sometimes, when my fellow Australians find out I’m an American with Australian citizenship, they get a bit upset. “We’re secretly invading,” I tell them. “That’s why all the military bases are here.” As their face wrinkles in horror, I laugh and ask them a few questions from that test I had to take to get a passport. “Do you know who the Governor General is?” They never know.

And if I’m really feeling combative, and they want to dig in and go head to head, I get philosophical. I chose to immigrate to Australia, whereas most Australians simply fell out of their mother and landed here. I ask them, what makes you more of a citizen, consciously choosing to immigrate to a country or the fact you being born here is purely circumstantial? They often say that being born here wins, so then I point out that Aboriginal people were not official citizens until 1967 and they’ve been here for over 50,000 years. The conversation typically ends after I make this point. Citizenship, a legal classification or a nationalistic construct—you tell me?

So, every year when the big festival rolls around, I’m keen as ever to pack my stuff and camp out. Woodford, and the people who come to celebrate, don’t ask me questions to make me feel different or separate or unwelcome—they ask me things like “how many times have you been to Woodford? Who have you seen at this festival? Who are you going to see at this festival? Do you know where the loo—bar—water refill station is?”

At Woodfordia, each one of us is an immigrant. But here, when strangers meet, instead of finding out what alienates us, we look for things to bond us and make us feel more alike, unified and part of the greater community. At Woodford, a five-minute conversation with a person can turn into a friendship that spawns decades.

It’s too bad the country of Woodfordia only exists for seven days. Like a magical kingdom fading into the mist, I watch as the tents disappear and my fellow-festival goers ride off into unknown places only to reappear again next year. Which is why rather than patiently waiting for them to return, I became a citizen of Woodfordia. I see them from time-to-time throughout the year and refill my love cup. And fortunately, to become a Woodfordian, I didn’t have to take a test!

This piece was written for the Woodford Folk Festival’s LORE SOCIETY publication by Christina Cannes