Oct 10, 2013 by

Having spent the last few days in Germany roaming the streets of Duesseldorf ( I spell it that way because my US purchased iPad doesn’t allow me a convenient way to insert a “u” with an umlaut) alone, I’ve noticed something that has been weighing upon my Altbier drenched brain. I’ve had the accidental privilege of eavesdropping on a lot of conversations in the past zwei days. Und, in the process, I have noticed that Europeans have us ugly Americans beat in a few ways.

Now, being a gun-toting, steak-eating, conspicuously-consuming Amurrican patriot as I am, this concerns me. I mean, I’ve always acknowledged that Europeans mastered a lot of things long before we were a country. They have great wine (well, the French and Italians do anyway, though California and Oregon are at least caught up in many ways), great cheese (when Wisconsin or Vermont Cheddar simply won’t do), and let’s be honest, I’d take a BMW over a Buick and a Porsche or Ferrari over a Corvette or Mustang any day. But these are just material things. I’ve always held dear the concept that we hold a certain modicum of philosophical, societal high ground since we’ve pulled their fat out of the fire in a couple of World Wars, not to mention it was our nuclear posturing and muscle flexing that caused the former Soviet Union to collapse under the weight of its own military spending to fell the Iron Curtain, thus allowing residents of the Continent to breathe a collective sigh of 45 years worth of relief.  Mais, ce n’est pas vrai.

OK, our military, intelligence community and (gasp) even a few of our politicians do deserve a bit of credit for the whole saving the world thing. And I’ll certainly give them that. I think even most Europeans grudgingly acknowledge their bigger, dumber, younger brother managed to insert his sizable bulk into a few fistfights that would’ve been pretty nasty had we not come along, usually after the little guys already had a black eye or two. But I continue to ask myself, where has that gotten us as a nation?  Again, I believe there is a certain grudging respect for the US from the European community for preventing them from totin’ multiple ass-whoopin’s. But the key word here is “grudging”. Furthermore, our big brother, world police mentality has earned us the enmity of, well, pretty much the rest of the planet and a permanent bullseye tattooed upon our foreheads.

Granted, the hateful, vile terrorist shitbags of the world have targeted the Europeans, too. But why? It’s because like the dutiful older (if now diminutive) siblings that they are, they have consistently backed our brash rhetoric on the global stage. It’s time to dispense with the stereotypes. The Germans are not Nazis, the French no longer sell discount rifles because they’ve never been fired and only dropped once, the Italians have more or less remained on the same team, and the Swiss and Scandinavians, well they really do try to stay neutral, but that’s pretty smart nicht wahr? So the subhuman haters of the world target Europe because they tacitly and sometimes not-so-tacitly support us ( read that: US). And the very nature of their accepting and tolerant cultures, not to mention their proximity to the source of what most of the Western world considers the root of all evil, makes them convenient and soft targets.

So let’s get back to this cultural thing whereof I once spake. Remember how I mentioned eavesdropping on a lot of conversations? Well I have. Roaming the streets of a foreign city by oneself is one of the most intimidating, yet liberating things one can do with one’s time. There are no crutches. You cannot simply ignore the world around you unless you want to be the subject of the next Hostel movie. So you walk. You drink. You eat. You observe. You listen. I’ve eavesdropped on roughly a hundred conversations in the past zwei or drei…er, two or three days. It would be as creepy as it sounds but for the fact I only understood maybe 10 to 20 percent of what I heard. And herein lies the problem. I’ve studied French, German and Spanish at a college level. I’ve had seven years of French in middle and high school. In the late ’80’s I went on an 8 country tour of Europe to immerse myself in those languages and cultures. I’ve always thought, and been told by teachers of foreign language, I have a gift and an ear for other tongues(hehe). Despite all that, I’m still lucky to construct a perfect sentence in my own native language. The good news is that I am way ahead of most of my countrymen in this regard. Now, the readers of this esteemed venue of literary excellence always being a bit outside the norm, I must add the caveat of “present company excluded, of course”, of course.

Hemingway, when grilled about writing, once said something to the effect of: always start with one true sentence. The, he posited, everything else would fall into place. So here is my true sentence, perhaps a little late in the game. We Americans are pretty dumb. Are we the best country on earth? Bien sur! However, we could stand to learn a few lessons from out Continental forbears.

So, back to the whole eavesdropping thing.

Countless times during my creepy lurking this week I noticed conversations between two or more Europeans included multiple instances of freely switching back and forth between languages. It was seamless and beautiful and effortless. Not being as fluent in any of the languages in question, save perhaps English (though neither the king’s nor queen’s), I cannot with any degree of certainty tell you why they did so. Perhaps, just because they could. But in dozens of instances, I noted two obviously native German speakers would, while still conversing exclusively with one another, drop in a few sentences of flawlessly executed Englisch. Occasionally groups of Germans lapsed into better French than I could aspire to as well. I heard at least one group of Frenchmen lace their conversation with both German and Anglais. It probably happened with Italians, Czechs, Romanians and, for all I know, Andorrans as well. I would have never been able to tell.

Perhaps this is just a metaphor, but it is one I think is important that we, who claim to be educated, take the time to consider. Perhaps it is a bit dogmatic or even self-serving for me, someone who chose to expend most of his general elective credits in college taking a couple of semesters of this language and that, to point out. But know this: the world fears us (again, read that: US). What they don’t do is like us. Do we care? Clearly not. But they also don’t respect us. Do you respect the asshole that sucker punched you in high school?  Me either. Do you want to get sucker punched again? Nor do I. Would you take any opportunity you could to knock his stupid ass out in a dark alley knowing you could get away with it now? Yeah, me too. Well, we, my fellow Americans, are that douchebag.

Look, I’m not saying we were ever wrong to become that douchebag. Somebody has to be. Perhaps our motives are as pure as any entity with absolute power. But, as the old saying goes: absolute power corrupts absolutely. Just be aware, our great nation is suffering from a bit of a PR crisis. Has for decades. It’s not all the fault of George W. No one trusts anyone who has all the power. We feel that way internally in our own great nation. Yet we gladly turn a blind eye to it when dealing with the rest of the world. I’m not espousing a mentality of appeasement. Once in a while, someone’s ass has to get kicked just to remind everyone of how things work. Ask Neville Chamberlain. Well, he’s dead, but anyone who lived in the Sudetenland in the late ’30’s would back me up here. Anyone? No?

Here’s the other thing I’m saying. We cannot (read that: CANNOT) just simply blame our illustrious leaders for all of our woes. First of all, we put them there. And as other nations on this planet go, we have a huge privilege, albeit a dubious one, to be able to say that. Second of all, when we blame all their partisan horseshit on just wanting to get re-elected, remember, it is to us they are pandering. But, furthermore, despite all the electorate rhetoric, our government is a reflection of us, of We The People. If they seem lazy and self-serving, it is because we, their constituents, are lazy and self-serving. Only a small percentage of us actually go abroad to enforce the will of our nation’s government. And fewer still have any desire to get involved in the oversight of the source if all of our collective oversights–government itself. I stand among the accused. In every possible way.

So, here’s what we can do. We can all enlist right away. It won’t make things right, but our honor and patriotism becomes beyond reproach. We can all run for office. It still won’t make things right, and our honor and patriotism will become a constant source of partisan bickering and finger-pointing. Or, and hear me out, we can just stop being such a bunch of whiny, parochial cocksuckers.

Back to my earlier metaphor. If Americans (of the US of A variety) took the time to understand a couple of cultures outside of our own, if we bothered to even attempt to speak another language besides “American”, otherwise known as “English”; if we paused for a moment to realize just how much better we really do have it compared to most of Earth; if we cared a little bit less about TMZ and a little bit more about CNN (or even Fox News), then perhaps we could laser remove that bulls eye tattoo from our foreheads. Perhaps we wouldn’t have to ask the consummate badasses from our military to keep playing offense because we can’t seem to ever get a stop on 4th and 1.

So, friends, language here is my weapon. Thus I’m going to use it judiciously, and, I hope accurately. The story about Europeans transitioning languages like we change channels on our digital cable boxes, or satellite TV receivers, or switch between cable and Apple TV, and Netflix and whatever…yeah, that was a metaphor. If someone who reads this spends a little time they would’ve used to re-watch that last episode of Breaking Bad (how freakin’ awesome was that, by the way?) to pop in a Rosetta Stone disc, then that would be a minor victory. What would be a major victory is if we could blow the term “Ugly American” off the face of the planet. Because with all of our military, economic and political might, that is one battle we seem to keep losing.

Just remember, we share this gigantic, carbon-based spaceship with a lot of other morons. We may be better than all of them, but trying to remind them of that fact all the time will never convince them. So, by all means, be patriots. Buy guns. Lots of them. Admire Kardashian asses. Supersize that goddam value meal and add extra cheese with a side of ranch dressing. But one day, let’s agree to aspire to be travelers, not tourists. Let’s aspire to be citizens of the world in hopes that the world will respect us as such.

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