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« Postcard from the Major | Main | How are We Unsophisticated? »

February 23, 2004


European guy

As a European you usually don't get stamps in your passport for travelling around Europe. In most cases you don't even need a passport.

Anyway, the argument is more "have people visited different cultures"? And with different culture I don't mean Texas but Brazil for example.
Yes, the US is so big that this is certainly more difficult than in Europe, but then, I visit the US almost once per year (and SF is about 7000 miles from here). As you can probably tell English also isn't my native language. So what? THIS is traveling.

I've been to 4 continents so far and I'm 24 years old. And I don't even consider myself well traveled, far from it. So sorry if I deny somebody who has never left the own country the label "traveled".

"A continent with one language and no barriers to travel has advantages far beyond what Europeans must contend with on a daily basis."

Well, you call that an advantage, I call it boring. I certainly don't mind that I don't have to travel far to visit *another country*.


I think you missed the point. Yes, America is huge but the only real challenge in travelling from say, Chicago to Atlanta are physical (e.g. will my car overheat?) or monetary. You are travelling to a place in the same country, where the same language is spoken. The thing about foreign travel is that it lets you understand what it really means to be American (or French or whatever). When you are in a foreign environment your perceptions about self and others are subtley questioned. From the beginning of history, travel has always been considered a growth experience. Doesn't mean any American who doesn't travel to a foreign country is an idiot.

I've enjoyed your posts about your sister. It's given me another angle to consider. You seem to have a nice life. Why do you have such a chip on your shoulder? That previous American exceptionalism post was a bit startling. I mean, look at it from the rest of the world's perspective. Here's an analogy. Say you have a neighborhood where there are some homeless people, some poor families, some middle class families, and some rich families. Then you have this huge estate. How do you think the other people in the neighborhood are going to view the estate people if they start telling their neighbors that they have this estate because of how exceptional they are. That they think they work harder, are more original, optimistic, whatever. It may be true but who the hell wants to hear it? I mean it's obvious how better off they are, why in the world would they want to cram it down other people's throat?


My Mom's grandparents from Germany and Sweden settled in Northern Wisconsin and cut the timber that built Chicago. My Dad's Irish grandparents built the canal that connected New York with New Orleans. His Ukrainian side escaped the pogroms of Kiev. Their lives were hard. But when each saw the "big estate" of the exceptional, they, without exception, said "Someday, one like that will be mine". That is how Americans look at success. As something to achieve through hard work.

The use of one language in a large, commonly-goverened area makes this success easier and quicker to achieve for each American. These are the obstacles Europeans have the Americans do not. And the EU was formed to address these issues, among others.

I agree, travel to visit different cultures is good for the very reasons you mention. But do not think that America is homogenous. Our immigrant population exposes us to a great variety of cultures. No, its not the anthropological ideal, but do not discount it.

As for cramming our success down your throat, I'm at a loss for an answer, since I don't know what we do that makes you feel this is happening. Is there something we should stop doing? What things can we do to stop this? Though I often get the impression from some media that no matter what we do, it won't change some opinions.

How should this problem be addressed? Is there a solution? I would be interested to read your suggestions.


A fascinating discussion. As a Briton, I've never thought of Americans (or British!) as particularly unsophisticated as a people in general. Nor have I ever thought of the French (for example) as any more sophisticated - some are, some are not. I lived in France for several years and enjoyed some aspects of life there (food, wine and much else) and disliked others (the crazy labour laws which made employing people a frustrating business).

As for holidays by car, yes I've taken a few in Europe, the US and Australia. I've always found it quite a novelty to cross a border on a journey, whether a national border in Europe or a State border in the US. Even crossing the 'border' between Scotland (where I live) and England, which is completely meaningless in practical day-to-day terms, was a novelty the first time I did it as a child with my parents. Travel broadens the mind, I think, whether its going from Chicago to Hawaii during a vacation (as I did a few years ago) or from Scotland to Spain (as I do several times a year). Enjoy!


I'm an immigrant from Hong Kong. I love to travel. But there is no place like home, a little suburb, half an hour from Chicago. Some people complain about American exceptionism. But the fact is America is really, believe me, really exceptional. I simply cannot leave the country for more than two weeks in a stretch without feeling homesick.



Thats a pretty bad analogy to use. After all, everyone on the 'estate' as you call it came from the other areas of town, and even other towns, not to mention other countries. Their success is not handed to them by virtue of moving to the estate, they have to work for it. The only difference is the rules which the two areas operate under, people are the same everywhere.

If we sound like we are trumpeting our success, it is to help everyone realize that success is possible, it isn't to lord a perceived superiority over everyone else.

Also, when you said 'It may be true but who the hell wants to hear it?' I immediately thought of Den Beste at USS Clueless. He states that he would rather operate under unpleasent truths than pleasent fictions. Rather than cover your ears when told of how success is possible, listen and learn?


i hope director mm has often been to france, to measure the sophistication of this very cultured people. i also hope he speaks an accentless french, because he won't be able to appreciate this great nation too much as the knowledge of a foreign language is pretty limited (most french are so convinced their country has everything, they don't care about any region where they don't talk french). indeed, they are so convinced of their superiority, they love to impose their language on neighbours that don't have the luck to speak it yet. as flemish neighbours we had the privilege of their civilising visits several times. of course they are proud of these achievements, and honour them with pompous triumph arcs (probably to remind them of their defeat in waterloo). lots of africans still remember the benefits of colonisation. (our former king brought the civilisation to the congo with millions of dead).
isn't it a bit easy to depict all americans as utter morons? i always wonder how such "morons" were able to liberate europe twice, defeating a nation that thought itself superior. or how such morons brought us at least some of the most remarkable advances in technological history. speaking of culture, does anybody honestly believe the cultural life in nyc is inferior to the one in paris (france, not texas).

P.S. i am coming to your small country this year, do i get a beer now (though i know ours is better)


Enjoy your visit! Also, some cities (New York and Chicago I know) offer a free "greeter" program - people who volunteer to act as guides to visitors to their cities. Don't be afraid to talk to us. Most of us love to show visitors around.

As for beer; it's a lot better than you might think. Not the big brands, but the small "boutique" breweries scattered across the country.

Sadly, No!

Europeans seem to flaunt the number of stamps in their passport to demonstrate worldly sophistication.

They do? I've met just as many (if not more) Americans who do so than Europeans.

But do not think that America is homogenous.

Fair (and true) enough, but the same holds of "Europe" and many EU countries.

btw, I find Michael Moore intolerable, but the general point about travel (or lack of) is exposure to and contact with countries/people/cultures very different than your own (imho.) Amazingly, you can travel (and do fine,) without speaking the local language.


Aw, c'mon. The Swede totally could have made Denver and back in three days. He'd only have to drive 16 hours, sleep, drive four or five, see the mountains, drive four or five, sleep, and drive another 16 (estimated).

Perfectly possible, if a little unpleasant. I've done 1500 miles in under 24 hours, driving in shifts. Not really relaxing, though.



i already studied your beer (and a small part of your country, wa state, montana and wyoming) in 1996. a visit that probably made me understand and appreciate your country a bit better than a lot of the prophets over here (belgium) who have never been there.

see you


European guy

"isn't it a bit easy to depict all americans as utter morons?"

All Americans are as much morons as all Germans have no humor and all French eat frogs... prejudices. Often wrong and almost always impossible to fight. And, we probably all have them, don't we?

All you can do is laugh. Like the "Stackenblocken" skit on Conan O'Brien. It really included almost all bad prejudices against Germans but it's still one of my favourites :-)

Andrew Scease

I could relate to the "boorish American". I have traveled in the US and the EU. I grew up in Maine and then lived 12 years in Texas. Texas was very different from Maine in many ways, but the same in its' rural character.
While living in TX I drove several times across the US to visit home. Each drive was about 1500 miles one way. Even within TX I drove on long weekend trips of 500+ miles. I have always been sensitive to the practices of groups I am not part of, wether they speak my language or not. America is not as homogeneous as many would believe. Don't look down on europeans for their ignorance. try to teach them what a great country we have. Most europeans I have met are fascinated with Americans and our way of life. I get the impression that they may be a little afraid of what we have.


Interesting post, and I've seen the naivete of Europeans when they come to the US. While I was in my teens, my mother who worked for DOE at Sandia Labs in Albuquerque, NM, was often involved with meetings of the International Atomic Energy Commission there. These were typically 2 or 3 week long meetings discussing primarily security measures and how to protect nuclear materials, something that Sandia had long expertise with.

In any case, every year a different group of Europeans looking for something to do on the weekend would say to themselves, "Hey! We're close to the Grand Canyon, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world! It's only in the next state over! Let's hop in a car and go see it!"

The Americans, and Europeans who'd done this before, would usually try to dissuade them, "You don't understand, the Grand Canyon is over 500 miles away, and it's not all Autobahns on the way. It'll take you 10 to 12 hours of driving just to get there and another 10 to 12 to get back."

Unconvinced, the group would usually bravely head out and come straggling back in on a Tuesday or Wednesday following the weekend. And while they were awed by the immensity of the Grand Canyon, often what impressed them the most was the vast open space, miles and miles of empty land, no cities, towns, villages, people, farms, or fields, that they had to pass through on the way to and from the Grand Canyon.


As an old army brat myself (both as in my age and my dad retired from the army in 63 and the army he was in and I was raised around was very different than the army now .. as he used to joke .. if they would of booted out personnel for affairs during WWII and Korea we would of had no military and definitely no Mil. Commanders)I guess I take a different viewpoint on the "sophistication" of Europeans and the experience of travel. Nine out of my first 12 yrs were spent outside the states .. and when I did come back stateside in the 60's I was appalled at the lack of knowledge of a lot of americans of the rest of the world .. more amazing to me was the lack of knowledge of a lot of americans of the rest of thier own country. Yes America is large, however even in a city like Houston where we have at least 87 different nationalities, I have meet thousands of americans that have not been out of thier own state, quite a few of those that have never been out of the county they were raised in, and no concept that even the US is not homoganeous.

To me that is a lack of "sophistication" that I did not find as much overseas. I have had people here in Texas (current base residence for the past 15 yrs) be shocked at the concept that not everyone in this country lives in a suburban house with a yard and has at least one if not two cars. I love the comment ... "its impossible to live without a car!!!" Its like they can't even watch Stienfield and figure out that people in the northern cities often live in flats and don't own cars ... sheesh ... you would think they could figure that out.

But travel alone will not give you that type of sophistication ... you have to open your eyes and look and you have to talk to others to get that. Most Europeans I have meet (and by the way since I worked for the past 8 yrs in the offshore industry whichs give me a lot of daily contact with multiple nationalities) know more about the US than the people here. You can travel without letting it affect you ... Bush baby used to travel to the border towns as a youngster but when Texas was ranked as having high poverty levels he was shocked ... "Texas has no poor people or I would of seen them" he stated ... of course he was the govenor at that time. And of course you can get that type of "sophistication" without traveling if you open yourself to it ... talk to people .. not just those in your own neighborhood or in your same industry ... not just those in your same social/economic strata ... read ... use the web ... I personally read two to three overseas newspapers a day online, varying countrys and continents.

The one thing traveling did teach me was that all nationalities have good and bad traits, all governments have good and bad policies and practices, and all religions have good and bad ... that is basically because they have one thing in common ... humans. And overall we have more in common than the differences ...

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