In an uncommon respite from my rather morbid social life of recent weeks, I spent Saturday evening in the company of several people that also swim in the deep end of the pool. It's become something to cherish when one meets another open-eyed dweller of these fly-over states. Oh, the joy of having conversation avoid my inability to discuss local real-estate prospects or the multitudinous ways a Jetta bests a Camry.
The topic: life in the States versus Europe. The contestants: myself and former residents of Denmark and Germany. The verdict: a draw. While I've often been misconstrued by the readers of this journal (both of you) as some sort of unbalanced, anti-american american; the truth is that I'm rather balanced on the matter. While I do prefer the way of life in Europe writ-large over the American one, I have often extolled the relative virtues in reverse to other travelers. You decide why when I travel I meet so few Americans and so many Europeans. Anyway, the discussion pretty much concluded this: America is both great and lamentable for its openness and disregard for culture. European cultures are both great and lamentable for their introverted perspective and cloistered attitude. My two cents: the American way will ultimately prevail as the EU systematically trades culture for the open-market globalisation mania that defines our age. And that just plain sucks.
This state of mind implores me to share a duet of nonsense. The first is this article
from the UK paper The Times (the paper without Page Three girls). The gist: IQ tests across Europe indicate Germans and Dutch are the smartest. The perspective taken by the English: "At least we're smarter than the French and beat the Germans in WWII". What is it with the French anyway? Why does EVERYONE have a problem with the French? While I'm no Francophone Francophile France-geek the French and their ways rank very well on some of my personal lists. Very Imporant Lists like the one titled "Wine, Women and Song." Hey France, it's official: we're all jealous. The topic of endless vilifying Germany over WWII is a topic for another time.
One of the things I genuinely like about the US - and increasingly dislike about the EU - relates to this identity crisis. I recall a moment standing on a summit in the Alps, turning circles to see Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy all at once. Even the memory of the moment makes me smile but while there I overhead the equivalent of "If it weren't for the Italians over there, this view would be perfect." Huh? Get over it. This typifies an attitude that's at the root of Western Europe's current immigration problems. Immigrants - particularly from Turkey and/or Muslim cultures - are largely failing to mesh with the homogeneous local cultures wherein serious conflict tends to result.
I'll return to a point I often try to make about America to other travelers. For all our faults, once one actually arrives in America people tend to treat each other pretty equally. We have the whole multi-culturalism thing figured out better than any other place I've seen in the world. Today do people tell you you're not American because you speak with an accent, or don't share their physical features, or practice a different religion than they? Not often, and it's certainly not institutionalised. Women can vote, drinking fountain technology now serves all colors and churches here are burnt down for sport instead of malice. I'm purposely ignoring the heaping portions of xenophobia and jingoism on America's plate so I can justly claim to have posted one pro-american comment publicly. Play along.
Which brings me to the second feeling I need to share today. Being in Chicago is tough on me. I've learned from my travels I have a need for the outdoors and a love of the ocean. Chicago is an asphalt oasis in the car park of man-made pleasures. There's crap beer in the watering can and cigarette smoke in the hothouse. Nature's law has been replaced with parking laws. Nine out of ten curmudgeons agree:
We just expect to keep running American society exactly the way it has been set up to run -- as a nonstop demolition derby, with hamburgers and fries between laps around the freeway.
And from Robert Crumb
OK, enough wallowing in my own crapulence. Off for a cleansing run past Walmart, around McMansion Park then finish at Starbucks.