As an English-speaking white person, I’m often mistaken for a Canadian. This happens to me on the phone as well as in person, and it’s been particularly acute in the last couple weeks (doctors’ appointments plus random calls here and there). As with any other country, there is all sorts of tacit knowledge you have if you’ve grown up here. Little things about how the medical system works, names of chain stores, bits of popular memory, etc. It takes years to catch up on tacit knowledge in a place, and I’m learning, but more than twice in the past two weeks I’ve had to stop someone and explain that “I’m an immigrant, so no, I don’t actually know how it’s done. Would you please explain it to me?” Which is kind of weird. I’d been playing the American card to get a free pass for my lousy French with Francophones for two years (works great, especially because I do know a little French and can occasionally make it through a broken exchange now — beyond commercial transactions — with strangers), but suddenly, I’m playing it in other contexts too.
In many ways, it’s a privilege of whiteness (and a midwestern “non”-accent) that I can pass at all, and I’m sure it’s benefitted me more than once. But like all social privileges, membership in the club comes with certain expectations.
Interestingly, it happens the othe way as well. Americans who don’t know me now have questions about my place of origin and my citizenship. So far, that’s just amusing.