One of the side effects of living outside your own country is being forced to view everything from a different perspective.
My time living outside the United States has made me appreciate many things about the place I still think of as home. I’ve written about most of them before, and really, how many times can I wax poetic about iced coffee and Goya black beans? Oh, and friendliness and good dentistry, ingenuity and plain old chutzpah too. And cheeseburgers. Mmm. Cheeseburgers.
Through that looking-glass I also get a different view of the other stuff too. The stuff that’s not so mmmm cheeseburgers. Some of it was on the periphery of my vision before we moved, but some of it I needed to see from a different angle, through a different filter. Living in Europe allows me that angle. It also gives me the chance to hear what non-Americans really think about America.
What they think is that we are getting dangerously close to fucking up a pretty good thing.
Most people I’ve met genuinely like the United States. They like its grandeur, its cities, its food, and its shopping. They like the diversity it offers, the geography, the size and breadth. They like what it represents in terms of freedom, (ok, not the gun freedom). They like the opportunities it offers.
They also think that, as a country, we can be incredibly stupid.
Europeans don’t think the U.S. is stupid in a two plus two equals a triangle kind of way. More of an inexperienced teenager who thinks they know everything there is to know kind of way.
From their perch of history most of Europe looks at the United States as an aunt or uncle would look upon a favorite nephew or niece. Young, fun to have around most of the time, full of enthusiasm for the future, but prone to making some seriously questionable decisions.
Before anyone gets their gets their star-spangled panties in a twist, take into consideration this: Being young isn’t a bad thing. After all, youth represents the key to the future. Being young means being able to take an age-old problem and look at it from a new angle, to find solutions to things that the old guard has been struggling with for years. Being young is having the time and the energy to make changes, having the fire in your belly to see them through.
The problem is, that’s not exactly what the United States is doing right now.
Over here in Europe, there’s a lot of head scratching going on.
Over here, what it looks like most is the U.S. acting like a hormonal teenager rebelling against its parents by doing stupid, stupid things they haven’t thought through fully. Things that could have a disastrous knock-on effects.
The Europeans I speak with talk of the far-right challenges to the status-quo in their own countries and of how they were stopped: Not with might and bombs and blowing shit up, but with hard choices, a lot of soul-searching, and slow change. Europeans ask me why the United States doesn’t invest in infrastructure, in a healthy, educated population, in social programs, because from their view on the other side of the been-there-done-that river, it’s the only lasting way to ensure that a country doesn’t implode and collapse in on itself. After all, you can only drop so many bombs before someone comes after you. Or you run out.
True, lasting strength is taking care of your own, not just your white and your wealthy. Strength is progress–scientific, technological, social. Strength is evolution and adaptation. It is survival.
It may sound surprising, but Europe wants nothing more than for the United States to succeed, to keep moving on, moving forward.
Why? They are invested in our future. For all Americans want the rest of the world to butt out of their business when it comes to the matter of electing a leader, it doesn’t quite work that way. For better or worse, the United States is a global player. Americans who want to isolate themselves from the rest of the world will be the first ones crying foul when gasoline prices go up, when jobs go missing, when even more factories close and banks shutter because they’ve become irrelevant in the global marketplace. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t clamor for cheap market goods and then complain about no jobs in the economy because US companies have moved their factories to produce those cheap goods. You can’t say we’re going to deport immigrants because they’re taking your jobs and then complain that those jobs don’t pay enough, while at the same time defending the small (or big) business owners who wouldn’t make a profit if they had to pay higher wages. It’s the teenager who wants all the privileges of adulthood while still basking in the relative irresponsibility of childhood.
You can’t say we’re going to bomb the shit out of anyone who threatens us and then act innocent and confused when you try to figure out why people hate you. That’s like the sixteen year-old who didn’t go to class and then is shocked and outraged when the teacher flunks him.
Right now Europe is watching their favorite nephew balance on the tipping point of a potentially disastrous decision. They’re watching because they can’t look away, because they care, because it affects them. Because they don’t want to see us fuck it up. They know all too well from their own histories that sometimes that young upstart, the one with grand ideas but too much anger ends up going out to the woodshed and blowing his brains out. They know sometimes the brightest and bravest does something incredibly reckless and ends up taking out a whole bunch of innocents in the process.
They don’t want us to fail. They don’t hate us. They don’t think we’re weak.
They just want us to make the right choice.
11 Comments Add yours
The stupid teenager analogy is absolutely perfect. Thank you for this perspective from the other side of the pond.
Sure. I’ve got about fifty half written blog posts about all of this. It’s not like me to be so political all day every day (at least not on the blog) but this has got me really worked up on so many, many levels. And it’s only MARCH! What am I going to do??? I might die. Seriously. It’s all true though. The Europeans I talk to really do scratch their heads and ask themselves why? For the record, most of them love Obama as well 😉
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I know. i think that’s,in a small way, partly why the farthest right jerks here hate him so much. Of course, number one on that list is because those far-right jerks are totally racist and won’t admit it.
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Dina, Here I was wondering why I hadn’t gotten any of your posts in my inbox. Is Dina traveling? Moving? Bored with the sphere?
No. It is an international Word Press conspiracy. You were dropped and not by me! We’re going to have to put Donald Trump on the problem. It’s yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge.
Your teenager metaphor is perfect. But after all this time, you’d think we’d matured a little bit.
One of the things I like most about not living in Europe is not having to explain Donald Trump to friends and acquaintances. Dubya was difficult enough, thank you!
II resubscribed. Because I don’t really want to be beholden to Trump for anything.
Elyse…don’t! This whole campaign/candidate/nominee nightmare has turned me into a conspiracy theorist. My husband is worried about my sanity. Now I have to worry about Trump unsubscribing folks! My heart won’t stand it! ;-). I have turned into one of those obsessive news people reading all the articles and the research and the polls and…well, it’s probably not good for my health. Upside is there is a lot of well-written thoughtful journalism coming out at the moment. Downside? It’s not doing anything to curb my growing anxiety. The only Europeans that I know who are laughing are my Italian friends because they’ve been through this with Berlusconi and now feel like the pressure of their status as laughing stock of the world has been lifted somewhat. It’s exhausting though, trying to explain it when I’m not sure I understand it myself.
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Dubya turned me into one of those people — and while it is good for blog fodder, well, it’s not good for my sanity. Just one more thing we can blame on the GOP.
I can recall being at a party in Geneva in the late 1990s, a German woman, rather aggressively told me that we needed to change our system of government so that it wouldn’t be too difficult to oust an embarrassing leader. “Zat is vut we have done in Gehrmany,” she said. I politely said that our system of government has done pretty well for us so far. I even more politely didn’t add “Oh, and we haven’t tried to take over the world, either, unlike some others I can think of.”
Of course, this was before Dubya and WAY before The Donald.
I’m pretty sure that Americans will come to their senses. Or that The Donald will fatally whack himself in the head showing the world how big his penis is. We can only hold our collective breath until then.
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I will admit to you that I have been having a recurring fantasy involving Obama striding into the GOP convention this summer, locked and loaded (because you know..GUNS!) and letting loose with a Yippee-Kai-Ah Motherfucker! A la Bruce Willis. It would go a little way toward making up for this stress. If the Dems prevail and the GOP implodes as predicted and is left picking their collective lily, white male asses off the floor, I will happily dance on its grave. They have brought this on themselves with decades of hatred and nastiness and it gives me great pleasure watching them now…..as long as we win ;-).
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Of course, some of us ended up in European countries that are having their own ugly right-wing populist uprisings. And we are supposed to be providing a good example to them. Not so much lately.
Ugh. There is that. I must admit you don’t get much news of Poland here, it would seem the news flows north and east these days…
This rings true of what I’ve seen too, in my brief time in the UK and Germany, since late July. The most recent question, from a good friend: “How can a country that’s so big, with so many resources, so many intelligent people…” you fill in the rest. One of my observations has to do with the co-mingling of entertainment and news coverage, how confused it’s all become to where it could spit out candidates like we have now, or produce so little leadership. It spits back in what we feed it.
I’m here on the east coast now for about four days and catching up on CNN coverage of this and that. It’s exhausting, but very eye-opening to watch it first hand, having looked through a filter from afar for so long. I hope it serves as a wake-up call and something positive comes from it, to put it mildly. And yes: not for only how it affects our own people here, but the obvious interconnections with the rest of the world.
I’m having a heart attack over here. I think my heart would simply stop if I were home. Or…maybe I would get so saturated that I would become immune. There’s a whole gestation period left. A lot can happen.