February 18, 2006

Hating America

Filed under: Travels, Random — Alex Ravenel @ 11:15 am

I’ve just found the most incredible comparison (for lack of a better word) between the US and Europe. Bruce Bawer managed to put into words the feelings I’ve felt since getting here, that despite Europe’s benefits–respect for learning and culture being primary–there’s just something about it that doesn’t quite jibe with me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, couldn’t quite figure it out… But he nailed it.

It’s a pretty long article, but if you have any interest in Europe, be it for study abroad, having lived there, or wanting to live there, check it out. It’s worth every minute.

Here’s one paragraph that sums it up very well:

“Living in Europe, I gradually came to appreciate American virtues I’d always taken for granted, or even disdained—among them a lack of self-seriousness, a grasp of irony and self-deprecating humor, a friendly informality with strangers, an unashamed curiosity, an openness to new experience, an innate optimism, a willingness to think for oneself and speak one’s mind and question the accepted way of doing things. (One reason why Euro- peans view Americans as ignorant is that when we don’t know something, we’re more likely to admit it freely and ask questions.) While Americans, I saw, cherished liberty, Europeans tended to take it for granted or dismiss it as a naïve or cynical, and somehow vaguely embarrassing, American fiction. I found myself toting up words that begin with i: individuality, imagination, initiative, inventiveness, independence of mind. Americans, it seemed to me, were more likely to think for themselves and trust their own judgments, and less easily cowed by authorities or bossed around by “experts”; they believed in their own ability to make things better. No wonder so many smart, ambitious young Europeans look for inspiration to the United States, which has a dynamism their own countries lack, and which communicates the idea that life can be an adventure and that there’s important, exciting work to be done. Reagan-style “morning in America” clichés may make some of us wince, but they reflect something genuine and valuable in the American air. Europeans may or may not have more of a “sense of history” than Americans do (in fact, in a recent study comparing students’ historical knowledge, the results were pretty much a draw), but America has something else that matters—a belief in the future.”

Perhaps part of the reason this hits such a chord with me is that I see a lot of my own changes in it. When I left to come here, I was looking very much forward to it–it’s Europe, there is so much to see and do, the people are smart, cultural, and tolerant, it’s going to be incredible. And while in many respects it has, I now see a certain naievity in those thoughts. This guy has latched onto those thoughts that were stirring in my head and managed to make them into words–that while Europe has many things going for it, in the end, it’s not the promise land, and America, for all it’s multitudes of problems, has what are in the end the more important things going for it. I feel like I could quote the whole article just because every paragraph has me nodding my head at how accurately it sums up my feelings.

I’ve been saying it for a while, but travelling in Europe and living in Europe are two totally different things, and this does an amazing job of explaining why. For all of America’s faults, I can’t wait to get back.

Also of interest, Donald Sensing has an interesting post series going on about why Europe is going to have some serious problems in the future, stemming from its incredibly low birthrate and massive influx of immigrants. It’s actually where I learned about this article and got the paragraph quoted here.

Hating America, by Bruce Bawer.

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