Monday, June 6, 2016

America and Europe - what's the difference?

I've lived in Europe for a little more than three years now. Last night at a dinner party in the south of France with friends from Denmark, Sweden, Scotland, I was asked what I saw as the differences between Europe and the United States (where I am originally from and still file a tax return).

The topic is too broad to do it justice, but after pausing a bit to coalesce my thoughts I made an attempt.

Foremost, one of my observations is that Europeans have more of a world view than Americans. In America, it seems many people know next to nothing about the rest of the world unless there's a tsunami in Asia that kills thousands, and then it's only a story for a couple of days before the news reverts to the latest political kerfuffle in Washington. Perhaps it's because Europeans are closer to places such as the Middle East, Africa, Russia that they are more conscious of the ongoing wars in Syria and Iraq, the millions of refugees trying to escape by sea and land, the belligerence on the Ukraine border, the poverty and desolation and terrorist breeding grounds in Somalia. These rarely make it on CNN and almost never on the myopic Fox News. Certainly in the time I have lived here and become sensitized to issues of immigration, austerity, currency fluctuations, and so forth, and by being exposed to the diverse viewpoints from British and French television, as well as Russia Today and Al Jazeera, I think my own view has taken on a more global (and more tolerant) context.

Next, I think Europeans have a much deeper appreciation of culture and history. You cannot go through the smallest of villages without passing centuries-old churches and chateaus. The US is a relatively young 200-odd years old compared to Europe which goes back more than a couple of millenia.

Of a more pedestrian nature, Europe is far ahead in public transportation. It is relatively easy (when there isn't a strike) to travel around Europe by train or super-cheap airfares. In the cities where we live, the bus and tram systems are excellent. It would be very easy to live without owning a car, whereas in Texas, where I most recently lived in the States, you could not go anywhere without jumping in the SUV or pickup. (The cars in Europe tend to be smaller and more fuel efficient as well.)

Finally, I told our group of Euro friends, in the past couple of decades, America has become far more polarized between liberal and conservative. People in one camp have come to view people in the other as evil incarnate and will not even speak with someone with a viewpoint that doesn't align with their own. Sadly, our friends related, a similar trend is happening in many countries in Europe, which only fuels suspicion, distrust, racism, hatred.

They asked me if I planned to vote for Trump or Hillary. Frankly, I cannot stand and do not trust either, and would like to see a viable third-party candidate, but I don't think things will change much regardless of who is elected. The President is merely a figurehead with little real power: the money people run things and are always behind the scenes pulling the puppets' strings.

This is true, too, in Europe. We have our share of liars and charlatans, some currently in power, others sniping from the wings. Most Americans probably don't know their names: Merkel, Cameron, Le Pen, Johnson, Hollande, Erdogan. (There will be a quiz.) Unfortunately, these so-called leaders have a way of mucking up our lives through their actions or inactions, so it's helpful to keep track of them.

America is not perfect. Neither is Europe. I did not move to Europe as a choice between political systems or lifestyle. I fell in love with someone who happened to live in Europe, and that's the sole reason I now live here. But in the brief time I've been here, I have fallen in love with the place and, generally, the people.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting post. I remember, as a young woman, showing some Americans round London. We went to Downing Street. Who lives here? The Prime Minister. Who's that? Mrs Thatcher. Who is she? Is she the same person as the Queen? Why doesn't she live in Buckingham Palace?