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We’ve just returned from a spontaneous visit to Puerto Vallarta. The rates in Mexico in early December — both airline and hotel — are almost a gift. The town is just lively enough to keep everything simmering, but the Christmas-week throngs have yet to arrive. And the weather? Well, the weather is a gift, especially if you’re coming from the Northwest where the rain is like a toothache that won’t go away.

Foreign travel always broadens one’s perspective. That’s one of the reasons we like it so much. The perspective explored during this trip, quite accidentally while talking with a PV shopkeeper (also a Gringo), was, “What is our nationality?”

“Americans” is far too broad. There are multiple American continents, extending from Chile to Nanavut. How about “North American”or “norteamericano”? Nope. Not specific enough. In Puerto Vallarta, it seems there are more Canadians than those of us from the States, and Canadians can certainly claim norteamericano-ness. (So, in fact, can Mexicans.)

Did you see the one I slipped in? “The States.” Nope. Can’t use that either. Mexico is “the United Mexican States.” Thirty-one of ’em. A Mexican is as much a resident of “the States” as I am.

My discussion with the shopkeeper, carried on at length while Louise poked around the store (that can take hours), offered no resolution. We toyed with US American, United Statesian, gringo, estadounidense, and Yankee — all to no avail. Too awkward. Or ambiguous. Or derogatory. Or unpronounceable.

In the end we agreed that there is no solution. It’s hell to live without an identity.