Friday, November 13, 2009

Why do the Europeans get it so often wrong?

By Tom Kando

See, I told you that I would switch sides next time. So here I go. Now everyone can be mad at me: If there is a way for Europeans to misunderstand America, they’ll find it. Here are some examples:

1. This week, Elsevier Magazine (The Dutch Time or Newsweek) has a major story about American politics. In it, there is a great deal of emphasis on the popularity of people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, and Fox News. The Dutch (and other Europeans) have the impression that most Americans are mesmerized and brainwashed by these right-wing demagogues.

To be sure, millions of Americans are. But what most Europeans don’t understand is that more Americans are not. I estimate that three-quarters of the American people find these demagogues unattractive, and one-third finds them positively repulsive - as I do. Certainly the vast majority of people on the East Coast and on the West Coast, in the major cosmopolitan centers, find people like Glenn Beck a bad joke, convinced (as I am) that ignorant, vulgar, dishonest and self-inflated people like that eventually end up in the ditch, as Joe McCarthy did. But most Europeans believe that these people represent America. That’s wrong. We elected Obama, remember?
Besides, we have our Glenn Becks, but they have their Geert Wilders, their Le Pens, their Jorg Haider, their Istvan Csurka and many other cuckoos.

2. A recent dialogue with some Dutch friends went like this: The American visitor says: “Why are Europeans so ungrateful? Don’t they remember that Americans fought and died by the hundreds of thousands to free them from Fascism?”

The European replies:“Ha! It’s not the Americans who freed us, it was the Canadians.”

Apparently, some Europeans will deny America credit for anything. Yes, yes, I know, technically, it was the Canadians who played the major role in Holland’s liberation in 1945. But for crying out loud, everybody knows that the Normandy invasion and the entire defeat of Hitler in Western Europe was an overwhelmingly American affair!

3. The Swine flu? Some of my European friends like to call it the “American flu.” When I first heard them use that label, I questioned this, and they replied:

“Well, it comes from your country.”
“I thought it came from Mexico,” was my surprised answer.
But they insisted that it originated in the US.
“Well, let’s just call it the H1N1 flu,” I suggested graciously. That way, no one gets blamed. But they kept calling it the “American flu.”

4. There is this guy Maarten, who publishes a provocative Magazine called Maarten! I picked up a recent issue totally dedicated to America, under the title “Maarten Goes America.” It contains political and cultural analyses of the US by many Dutch authors. There is some sympathy, some understanding and some refreshing thinking. Maarten questions some of the stereotypes which Europeans hold about us - things like the “superficial” American (p. 3). Good. He points out that we handle immigration better than they do (p. 62). Thank you, Maarten!

But there are also some stupid things: One article lists America’s ten most important films. Number One, as most representative of American culture, is The Godfather, followed by movies like Dr. Strangelove, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, JFK and Wall Street (p. 82). Apparently, only conspiracy movies made the list. This is neither good film history nor good sociology.

Maarten also avers that Baseball and American Football are “lame,” i.e. boring. Now that gives a whole new meaning to the words “pot” and “kettle”!
I can’t think of anything more boring than European soccer - sitting through a dreadful hour and a half to see a bunch of men run up and down a field and score one or zero points, usually by penalty! Contrast this with the rich, mathematical and psychological strategies required in baseball and American football - games comparable to chess in their intellectual complexity - not to mention the awesome organized,controlled, violence of American football - magnificent sports! leave comment here