No Passports. One language. So American's are boobs, thinks Director Michael Moore in a screed published in Germany's Die Ziet. As Michael Totten points out, Americans travel the entire North American Continent and Mexico with no passport. And North America is a pretty big place. I've often wondered if Europeans might have a misconception of just how big the US is. Europeans seem to flaunt the number of stamps in their passport to demonstrate worldly sophistication. Travel, of course, is expensive for both Europeans and Americans. And Americans do travel. Perhaps a comparison of distances is in order to give some scale to the debate.
My home is Chicago, sort of in the middle of this continent. I will look to Chicago's Sister City, Paris, France, as a European base point. All Chicago based distances stay in the US. All distances in miles.
Parisians probably travel to London quite often as it's only 257 miles from Paris to London. That gets me from Chicago to St. Louis (258 mi.) or to Detroit (238 mi.). Or to my parents home in Northern Wisconsin.
The English Channel, Dover to Calais, is 30 miles across. The little lake that laps gently on Chicago's edge, Lake Michigan, is 88 miles across (and that's the short distance; its long axis, at 307 miles, is greater than the distance from Paris to London).
My Mom worked for a Swedish Machine Tool Corporation with offices in Chicago. They would rotate in directors from Sweden every year or so. On a Thursday before one long 3 day weekend, Mom and the Swede were discussing plans for the holiday. Mom was surprised to discover that the Director and his family were going to drive to Denver to see the mountains. In 3 days. Mom sat him down and gently broke the news that one couldn't drive there and back in 3 days. Chicago to Denver: 911 miles. It would be like driving from Stockholm to Paris: 963 miles.
The Director's perception of distances was way off. A problem of Mile to Kilometer conversion? Remember, twice as many klicks to the mile! Maybe all maps should be printed to the same scale. How many languages, by the way, does one pass through from Paris to Stockholm? No wonder the Europeans need to know so many, "Sorry kids, no potty breaks till Germany; I can't say "toilet" in Finnish", is not conducive to happy family outings.
Do families in Europe take driving vacations? I'm sure they must. We do in the US. My family once drove from Chicago to LA. When we got to Las Vegas (1525 miles), the car overheated. If that happened to the Parisian family on their trip, I hope they would be able to find a good mechanic in Moscow (Paris to Moscow: 1550 miles). 30 years ago, my family drove to LA (1749 miles) with no passports and one language. I'll bet the Parisian family of the time couldn't even get permission to drive to Leningrad, only 1350 miles away. And how many languages?
My sister lives in Atlanta. I've been there a number of times. It's a city I know pretty well. 585 miles from Chicago. That distance puts the Parisian family in Berlin, Germany (545 miles). I'll bet its warmer in Atlanta. And, as in Berlin, English is spoken with a cute accent.
Miami. Everyone should visit Miami FL. The center of Caribbean Commerce and a great vacation town! 1186 miles from Chicago. Lucky for Parisians, Helsinki, Finland is only 1188 miles from Paris. And the Finns speak a truly unique language! The French must be eager to dive in and learn. My diving will remain strictly in the warm Atlantic off Biscayne Bay. Is that why Europeans need all that vacation time? To learn all those languages?
Major Pain was stationed in Anchorage Alaska for a period. She became a citizen of our largest state. Only 2834 miles from Chicago. For a Parisian that would be...where? Half way to China? Somewhere in the Gobi Desert? The Major's in Texas now, only 798 miles away. 825 miles from Paris to Copenhagen, just a hop, skip and a jump.
You've probably heard our "bi-coastal elites" kid Chicagoans about being in "fly-over country"; you know, the part of the country that isn't in LA or New York City. LA to NYC: 2462 miles as the girls from "Sex in the City" fly. I don't know if the equally elite Parisian sophisticates look forward to winging from Paris to Baghdad, 2406 miles away. It is a chance for them to use the Arabic learned vacationing in Algiers, only 840 miles from Paris. All this sophisticated language learning. It sounds tiring. But 856 miles would put me in Boston and some excellent seafood in me. And though English in Boston is spoken with the "r"s in all the wrong places, the Harvard Commons debate would undoubtedly be lively and thought provoking.
When I get tired I wing my way to another city I know well, Honolulu HI. Only 4249 miles away. English is still spoken. One does hear Japanese passing by in clumps. As well as a loud variant of English from Australia. I suppose denizens of the City of Light who want to travel that far go to Mumbai, India (4635 miles away), where another language or 20 awaits them!
But if those poor Parisians start mixing their languages and need a break from all that sophistication, they are welcome to fly the 4147 miles to Chicago and bone up on English. Or Spanish. Or Polish. Or German. Or Swedish. Or...
Should lack of stamps in a passport mean one is boorish and untraveled? No.
Should learning a bunch of languages mean one is superior to everone else? No.
A continent with one language and no barriers to travel has advantages far beyond what Europeans must contend with on a daily basis. They know this, hence the EU. So if the Europeans try to sell their polyglot passport laden life as a feature instead of a bug, just humor them. We know what's what.