10. March 2007 · Comments Off on THINGS I LIKE ABOUT EUROPE · Categories: European Disunion, Pajama Game, World

Sgt. Mom’s post got me to thinking about some of my past experiences in Europe. I first started travelling there on business in 1987, when I spent quite a bit of time in Burnley, Lancashire in northern part of the UK. At that time, we had just entered into a joint venture with Lucas, aka The Prince of Darkness, to develop a multifunction column switch for a U.S. auto company. Despite the seemingly endless rains (the sun broke through only one day on my first visit, with the local weatherman reporting that the temperatures “soared into the seventies” – this being July), it was quite a nice place with a small town feel to it. They serve a particular type of beer there called bitter, which, once one acquires a taste for it, is a pleasant way to end the workday. The locals were friendly and very welcoming of us Yanks to challenge them to a game of arrows (darts) at the local pubs. We had contracted some test equipment to a tool shop in nearby Nottingham, necessitating a trip to evaluate their progress. Accompanied by our hosts and some engineers from Chrysler, we took the motorway to Yorkshire, travelling by the Major Oak, which is alleged to have been used by Robin Hood as a hiding place. It turns out that the managing director of the tool shop had some sort of relationship (brother or something) with the curator of Nottingham castle, so after our business was concluded we enjoyed a personalized tour. What a neat place, whether or not you believe in the legend of Robin Hood. Afterwards we retreated to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, a pub across the square from the castle that has been in continuous operation since 1189 with the name inspired by the start of the third crusade. At one point our host asked us what we thought of all that we had seen that day. The auto company engineer thought a moment, and replied (WARNING – UGLY AMERICAN MOMENT AHEAD) “Well, its all very nice, but what have you people done lately?” My only beef with England is their aversion to ice water. If you ask for a glass, you will get one ice cube. That’s it.

Another of my favorite places is the Principality of Liechenstein and its capital city Vaduz, located in the heart of the Swiss Alps. The hotel where we stayed is about a bucolic setting as can be imagined. There was a cow pasture just outside my hotel window, with (sorry California) some of the happiest cows I have ever seen, each wearing a traditional cowbell and munching on the prolific wildflowers. As we were leaving the hotel in the mornings, we would pass groups of children in their neatly pressed uniforms heading to school, singing and playing stickball. While the locals seemed quite friendly, they viewed us with a little suspicion, as though wondering whether we truly were the barbaric Americans that had undoubtedly heard about. One night, our hosts took us to a fine restaurant located high up on a mountain in nearby Switzerland, overlooking the upper Rhine valley, with the river itself being little more that a creek at that location. On our return down the mountain (WARNING – UGLY AMERICAN MOMENT AHEAD), I pressed our host to treat us to a yodeling performance. I was firmly informed in no uncertain terms that “We do not yodel!” I would like to return one day, although I am concerned about their national security.

Paris may be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but I find its residents to be among the most hostile toward Americans – not in any specific way – just a general distaste. I found Toulouse, on the other hand, to be quite the opposite. My last visit was on short notice, so the hotel where we stayed was an unknown quantity, though proving to be a hidden gem. The rooms were quite small – the building dated to the eighteenth century – though most of them opened into small interior courtyards. The owner made a general-purpose room available for us to work on our presentation. He had never seen the sort of hardware we had – laptops, projectors, PowerPoint, etc. – and was fascinated with the process. Each day, he would go to the market to buy fresh breads and pastries for us, serving them with the most wonderful espresso I’ve had before or since. In exchange for showing him the finer points of creating a presentation, he responded to my curiosity about the espresso machine with a compete tutorial on its complicated operation. I remembered enough French to get the basics, but I suspect that, on my own, I would have blown it to smithereens.

In general, I have found that positive attitudes toward Americans are inversely proportional to the sophistication of the city in question. I suspect that much of this is because cities like London and Paris are not so different from cities like New York or Los Angeles, where cynism is the currency of the realm. American influence has shaped much of post-war Europe and, to the extent that things are not going well, Americans are getting the blame. The irony of all this is that, as I alluded in my comment to Sgt. Mom’s earlier post, many of the ideas imported from America by Europe are those held so dearly by the left in America – secularization, liberal immigration policies, socialized (name the government program), etc. The further irony is that the fury of those attitudes is largely directed to those in the U.S. who are most likely to resist the very policies that have failed so miserably in Europe. I am looking forward to my upcoming first trip to Ia?i Romania. Their recent history suggests a more likely aversion to these far-left liberal influences.

One last point I would make is that the Europeans also blame crass commercialization, another bane of society, on Americans. It is, more accurately, a by-product of capitalism, and I would accept it over the alternatives any day. More than any other region, Europe should have learned this (anybody remember the Dark Ages?)

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