TCS Daily

The Night I Became An American

By Lee Harris - March 16, 2006 12:00 AM

I became an American when I was forty-nine.

No, I did not become an American after immigrating from another country, passing tests, and taking an oath of loyalty, as millions of other Americans have to become Americans. My people were born here, and as far back as any of them could remember, their people had been born here as well. They were farmers, and like most farmers, they were convinced that they had sprung up from the soil, like corn-stalks. No, I became an American during the course of a conversation that I had on a night train from Innsbruck to fabled Vienna.

Across from me, in the compartment I was riding in was a young Austrian. He noticed that I was reading a German magazine, and we began a conversation, half-German, half-English, in which I explained to him that I had never been to Vienna before, and how excited I was at the prospect of seeing the city that I had so often read and dreamed about. I started off by explaining my passion for the great nineteenth century Austrian composer, Anton Bruckner, a farm boy whose majestic symphonies I had long regarded as one of the pinnacles of human achievement. Yes, my traveling companion, being Austrian, knew about Bruckner. Then I asked the young man if he had been to St. Florian, the Catholic monastery where Bruckner often played the organ, improvising out of his head — like a jazz musician — great cathedrals of sound, and whose earthly remains lie embalmed in a crypt directly beneath the organ itself. But, much to my puzzlement, the young Austrian did not seem to know about St. Florian: he said he had never heard of it.

Perhaps I had gotten my facts confused, I thought. Was I absolutely sure that I had gotten the name of the monastery right? Once or twice in my life I had been wrong before. Maybe I was wrong this time too. (I wasn't.) So I changed the subject and asked the young Austrian what he thought about another great Austrian symphonist, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century composer, Franz Schmidt. Which of his four symphonies did the young Austrian like best?

Once again, I struck out. My companion had never heard of Franz Schmidt.

Undaunted, I proceeded to turn the conversation to two of the greatest of Austria's nineteenth century writers, the poet and dramatist Franz Grillparzer and the novelist and short-story writer, Adalbert Stifter. Here, at last, I found that I was on safer ground. Yes, he had heard of them, and I proceeded to explain my enormous admiration for Grillparzer's Medea trilogy, and for Stifter's beautiful autobiographical novel Nachsommer (Indian Summer.) I remarked on Stifter's tragic fate — how he deliberately cut his throat one morning with a straight razor, and how terrible it was that such a gifted genius could come to such an end. (Not only was Stifter a great writer, but he was also one of the foremost landscape painters of the nineteenth century.) After that, I turned to twentieth century Austrian writers, and I expressed my enthusiasm for Arthur Schnitzler, Robert Musil, and Joseph Roth.

After so much musical and literary seriousness, my traveling companion explained to me the litigious history of the famous Sacher Torte, one of Vienna's miraculous pastry confections. Then, while he was on the subject of food, he looked at me and asked with a laugh: "What do you Americans do when you go to a foreign city? Do you only eat at McDonald's?"

The laugh had a mocking and smugly superior edge to it; and, like the question itself, it disconcerted and befuddled me. Being a good American, I expected him to break out into a grin and say something like the German equivalent of, "Oh, I'm just joshing you." But he didn't. It was embarrassingly obvious that he was quite sincere. After all, where else would we Americans eat in a foreign land except McDonald's? Isn't that all we eat at home?

Suddenly I realized that to my young Austrian companion, it made no difference whether I knew Bruckner's symphonies backwards and forwards; it mattered not in the slightest that I could appreciate the poetry of Grillparzer in the original German. I was an American, and, therefore, I had to be the kind of person who, when in a strange land, would make a bee-line to the closest McDonald's, out of fear of tasting the food of foreigners.

Of course, I tried to explain that Americans weren't like that. I tried to tell him that in any American city of any size there were restaurants that specialized in the cuisine of virtually every culture under the sun; but I sadly realized that all my efforts at enlightening the young Austrian were in vain. For him, it was a self-evident truth that all Americans eat at McDonald's, both at home and when abroad. What else can you expect them to do, being crude and vulgar Americans?

I said at the beginning of this piece that I became an American on that night train to Vienna; but I must take that back. I became an American on my return from a concert at the Musikverein, where Kurt Masur had just conducted the Gewandhaus Orchestra in a radiant performance of farm boy Bruckner's sublime Seventh Symphony.

For nearly a week, I had dutifully been eating at authentic Austrian restaurants, and I was beginning to get a bit weary of the tiresome monotony of Viennese cookery. Across the street I spotted the familiar golden arches of a McDonald's. I hesitated, then I strode resolutely toward it. Yes, I was an American, and I was going to eat at McDonald's, by God, and be proud of it.

It was the best Big Mac I have ever had.

Lee Harris is author of Civilization and Its Enemies.


The Night I Became an American
Lovely article. But I am a composer and must tell you that I think Schmidt's 4th Symphony is dreadful. I heard once his 1st Symphony on the radio and found that a bore too. Sorry. Bruckner, of course, is a different kettle of fish.

Eating abroad
I can sympathize with Mr. Harris. I've spent quite a bit of time abroad, both in military assignments and in scholarly endeavors. In all my foreign travel, I try to eat the local food. After all, I can eat American food when I go home. However, I spent two semesters as a visiting professor in Istanbul. I ate all my meals in the University cafeteria. Turkish food, of course. I enjoyed it. Nevertheless, after going to Mass on Sunday, at a church across the Bosphorus from my campus, I made a point of having lunch at a McDonald's. I missed those hamburgers. There's a lot to be said for a taste of American food when you haven't seen America for months.

Best steak
I normally don't eat steak, but after 3 weeks eating asian food, the steak I had at an American base O club was best I had ever eaten.
And Americans are accused of being ignorant.

Ethnic food
I agree that ethnic food can get boring. But McDonalds is even more boring.

An interesting thing, though, is that in countries, like Poland, the international fast food restaraunts are very popular with the local population and can be found in most cities.

So why equate them American?

They are simply international corporations with good local marketing stratagies.

When I am living abroad I try for a flat with a kitchen. That way I can eat what I want... and that certainly isn't a McDonalds hamburger. LOL

Of course not
Ethnocentricity is universal. All too many fondly imagine that their place is God's gift to the universe, and that no where else has anything to offer and no one else can possibly possess anything resembling civilized virtues. If I were to indulge in stereotypes, I would suggest that youth and ignorance are all too often found together, and that our current media culture lends too much weight to the uninformed spoutings of youth.

Becoming American
I've been on the road for close to 35 years, and those few occasions that bring me home leave me feeling like a foreigner more isolated than I feel elsewhere.

That's fine for me. I know that I'm American because it's right and good, and that I'm American in the mind, not just because I'm home or because I have the official papers but because I am by attitude and execise of the mind American by free choice; and that when I move on I am still American and will always be so no matter what Americans become outside of my life. I am as American as an Uzbek taxi driver or an Italian grocer or a Phillipina housemaid because I want to be American. I can see that I might never really go home again, but that no matter which ditch I die in, it'll be my little piece of America anyway, cause it's in the mind.

McDonald's, et al
In Kuwait I'd get my burger fix at the local Fresh n Tasty in Mahboula most of the time. Think I hit the McD's in Kuwait City 3-4 times in 2 years. In all that time I failed completely in my goal of convincing the manager of the local Pizza Hut to add a sheep pizza to his menu. My favorite eateries were the hole in the wall indian restaurants. Phillipino restaurants were okay as long as the blasted karaoke machine was turned off.

This reminds me of the three weeks I spent in Catania, Sicily. After weeks of spaghetti with various fish sauces I got to go to the Naval Air Station... can't remember the name, but it's right in the middle of Sicily and it has a Wendy's.

That Frosty was one of the best things I had the whole trip... :)

Not seeing what's under one's nose
Lee - may I say ich war sehr beeindrueckt! Having spent many years working in Germany, conversations about literature, history, music in which I revealed some equal or sometimes greater knowledge were unremarkable to Germans. No matter how well the delivery of their language, the learning of their culture, credit for that effort was always limited by the fact that I was an American. Somehow, this was just too dissonant with their preconceived notions of our national "stupidity."

I now live in Canada and am often treated like having some retention of learning makes me a rare, exceptional American. (This occurs, in fairness to the many fine people that I've met and worked with here, much less than it did and does in Europe. There's a strong anti-American media here, and some who truly despise the US, but on the average Canadians are of many political persuasions, quite factually well-versed about the US and just really kind, pragmatic people.) Through the years many colleagues, friends and acquaintances have survived and even gotten over their initial shock, but I am still amazed at those who after so long still think that I'm the only one from the USA who can be like this, and that it was a total, random accident. (Or, that the acquisition of knowledge was not for appreciation, but to take over something or show off.)

I've come to believe, that your Austrian, and many others in the world will simply never give up the more negative stereotype of Americans. To do so would be a total realignment of the training, opinions and even prejudices with which they feel so comfortable.

Again, you so elegantly described a situation that Americans abroad face that can be exasperating. I immediately understood why Michael Moore was so popular with the French. He's fat, unkept, verbose, not especially scholarly or a man of traditional letters (although clever I will give him) and he perpetuates the myth about "those people", you know, the Americans that Europeans expect and can make fun of.

It's because they don't care...
Europeans are on average not very knowledgable in culture, not very well educated nor do they prefer the "high" culture. But they would never admit to it, rather walk the long miles to prove differently.

But Americans that aren't interested in high culture doesn't pretend otherwise. Hence the difference in perception.

As an Aussie I can give you insight
the rest of the world gets it's POV of Americans from two places US vistor's and US media. The main one is media, try watching your TV or movies from a outsiders pov. I don't like the American culture that is often displayed on your TV shows and movies. On other hand I not yet met a yank I didn't get along with and have anumber of yanks as friends. it's is easy to type cast people and yanks do it just like everyone else does. The fact a great many yanks fit the type cast and many don't but the type cast is there none the less. Are you saying that most yanks don't have a perconceived idea the all frogs smell of garlic?

Much obliged for the insight
You know, this may sound arrogant, but it's not intended to be and I can only speak for my own worldview. The American identity is so strong, that it's never been incredibly important to me to be liked, but I would have liked maybe just a bit more understanding as you've so kindly demonstrated, that we didn't succeed by accident.

However, do I have some preconceived notion of frogs, to answer your question? To be honest, and this may sound terrible, but then, perhaps not because it comes from a different position of relative power, I don't really think about other nations and national identities that much. I'd love to be in an intellectual or whatever type of conversation with anyone, from anywhere. I recognize that there's so much to appreciate in all cultures, as I did in Germany, and surely the French, from my limited experience with them, have much to offer the world. (After all, they helped us in our revolution.) But unlike say some people here, I can do that without feeling threatened, it's easy to appreciate other viewpoints, it doesn't change mine.

I'm a product of the American system of public education. I'm an American, Iove my country, I can converse with others from other places, have a genuine curiosity, grew up without language laws yet functioned in three languages most of my life, so I appreciate the creative endeavour wherever it takes place, but unlike other places, I don't feel compromised if the root of some creative effort is not American, whereas a French or German or Canadian person might feel that if it's American, it's not worthy of comment, even if it's quite good. To me, good is good.

Thanks for your comments, I interact with many Australians and just adore them. Would love to visit your area someday, you have a unique and interesting history.

You've hit the nail on the head.
Many Westerns hate the US becuase the US matters to them what the US does effect's. However they don't matter to the US. Most Aussies are different in that we don't give a ****, we don't care to much about most things. The ones we do care about are pretty much the same ones you guy's do. If you ever get to the land of Oz you find out why our fav sayings are "No worries" and "she'll be right".

I think you are all missing the point.
This has to be one of the more interesting TCS articles and blogs I have come across. It is almost paradoxical in its irony. The author describes prejudice that s a complete buy into national image building propaganda and advertising by international fast-food corporations. Both of these are now part of the American image, perceived both internally and projected abroad.

On the surface, the author demonstrates the xenophobic prejudice that is typically American. But underneath we find the layer of right-wing nationalist propaganda that TCS is in the business of delivering, and a wonderfully subtle advertising tool; the cross branding of American culture onto the international fast food industry.

The TCS brand of propaganda often wedges a division between the US and EU resulting in a sense of xenophobia if not a national urgency to defend “the American way”. In that regard, this article is no exception. It is transparent in its intent and delivery. The division and message are clear; the US is clearly better and its citizens are more sophisticated.

There is a subtle message as well; ‘sophisticated Americans eat fast food’. We see here the cross “branding” of US culture with McDonalds. Genius!

A launch into a defense of European or American cultures is meaningless because that is not the point here. After all, a country’s image is now carefully crafted by propaganda subtly delivered through multiple communications channels, just as was this article written to incite nationalism and xenophobia. Does anyone really believe that Austrians as a people devoid of culture or that Americans are all sophisticated? A ranked comparison of traditional cuisine to fast food is illogical and doesn’t address the real issue. The real issue is branding and stereotypic national image building.

The 20th century brought many great things. Among these were mass communications, the art of propaganda, and the great wars. These are not unrelated. National image building through propaganda tools in mass-delivered communications, newspapers, magazines, billboards, radio, and television were the cause of the 20th century wars. So the real question is, and the one that this article begs to answer is this; do we really want to walk blindly down this road? We know what’s going on but often chose to live in our own private Idaho because the alternative takes work. The path to real freedom is the razor’s edge.

When your German friend asked if you only ate at McDonalds, you should have said, "Do you Germans only listen to David Hasselhoff?"

Thanks Stephen
for your detailed comments and insights. Although I did not see the larger meaning that captured your attention in the article but rather more personal meaning based on my own numerous identical experiences, I do agree with you that this was a really good article in terms of the TCS longer term inventory.

In a way, you helped me make my point. No matter what the national identity of a person, living and integrating at the "razor's edge" is a tricky balancing act. What the Austrian did to the author (and many Germans did to me while I was living there) was not a national issue but just simply uncharitable. The lack of acknowledgement or nodal association with "American equals MacDonald's" showed a demonstrable bias, or, as you pointed out, crafting of opinions through media messages and images.

To be honest, rather than get upset and frustrated with the belittling comments and cultural simplifications, it occurred to me early on that it is far better to be underestimated than to have the burden of being the presumed intellectual, the nuanced-European, or whatever. Then, there's no maintenance, feigned or otherwise, of a loftier position to "defend."

I did not see the author as propagating the notion that Americans are all sophisticated. To me, his message was all too familiar, that for many Europeans, the Americanness of someone restricts the ability to give credit where it's due. For some reason, again from my own experiences, being American is something , that for others, may stand in the way of common courtesy and maybe just some momentary objective judgment about capabitilies. The operant assumption is that I have no virtue and have to "earn" it. (Want to point out, this is not victimhood, but just how things are sometimes.)

Thanks again Stephen.

I am an American and so like most Americans I eat Italian food.
My experience living Honduras for a while was that my Honduran in-laws always want to go to the American origin chains (like McDonalds and Popeye’s) while I wanted to go to may favorite Honduran restaurants. Of course my in-laws would eat plane American style white sandwich bread (like wonder bread) despite the fact that the local bakeries had some great bread. My taste comes for the fact that I grew up with an Italian mom in Providence RI, a city with a large Italian American population. Providence RI had even better bread and bakeries than Honduras but I now live in north Florida where the food is poor and good bakeries non-existent.

Oh how I could go for an Italian spinach pie right now.

How delicioso!
I enjoyed reading your father is Italian and we baked our own bread, butchered a pig every autumn, made our own wine, pasta, and although we ate a MacDonald's, we though of it as , fun, picnic food.

Here's the irony of your post....I just returned from north-central Florida (visiting relatives from Italy who winter there) and found it difficult to find good bread, cold cuts, etc. (In all fairness, they are in a rural area about one hour from Gainesville) But, as far as breakfast, the biscuits were fantastic!

My relatives have a hard time finding Italian butchers and grocers, but adapt well in their area. Of all places, they get pretty good cappacola from Wal Mart!

Here in the area I frequent (the range of Toronto to Buffalo) there are tons of Italians and bakeries, deli's, the local supermarkets are loaded with goods from Italy due to local demand. One of the best Italian meals I ever had was, in of all places, Asheville, NC. When they served the wine in regular glasses without stems that was a good signal.

Well, I wish you buon appetito as often as possible!

Socially speaking Europeans tend toward the reserved side
at least more than us "wreckless" Americans. And I agree with you that you have to earn respect in Europe. It does't come easy and it can be irreversibly shattered in an instant.

Living in a European community, I found that "family" is most important. The children are as well behaved as the dogs and cats. They stay home with the family. But as far as the discussion here is concerned, if you are not family, than it stands to reason that you can never be nearly as important.

Many Europeans also live with a lot of pain from the wars of the last century. Granted Americans fought in many of those wars. But it is different to go away to fight then to have, say ten crosses marking soldier's graves in your own back yard.

This is a big part of the European culture and a part that Americans usually don't get. They wonder why Europeans are reserved if not unenthusiastic. Perhaps we should look at the consequences of what author of this editorial calls "ruthlessness", the last flare up of this was 1998, in the Balkans.

I took a drive up to Poland a couple weeks ago with a companion who is from there. I stayed in the south in Oswiecim (AKA Auschwitz) and Krakow while she went north. We met up a few days later to drive back together. On the way home we stopped at a McDonalds near the Czech Republic. I asked why she wanted to eat here, this was her home country after all. Her reply was that although the quality wasn't the best, the place was clean, bright, and service was quick.

To be sure. What more could you want in fast-paced auto-based Europe?

A lot of Americans don't get this. They ride trains and eat ethnic foods. They also expect donkey carts and think eating at McDonalds is an exclusive American right.

silly article
So, you were so offended by the notion (and a silly notion at that, I agree) that Europeans assume Americans like McDonald's that you fretted and fretted about it until you were finally practically driven into the nearest McDonald's where, miraculously, you had the best Big Mac you'd ever had. So, in the end, you proved the guy right. So what's the point of the article? Then again, I feel that way about most of the articles I read here. All these right-wing rags seem to be forums for conservatives with a sixth-grade education. (With the exception of you, of course, with your vast knowledge of German music and literature!)

And why not eat at McDonalds?
I love McDonalds because it offers what is missing in Europe. Having said that its amazing how many tens of millions of foreigners agree with me.

Do you really want to go to a restaurant that has a rest room associated with a Mexican gas station of a summer camp? Do you really enjoy a meal that has the size of something turned out by Weight Watchers but is priced as if it were gold?

Do you long to be ignored by the waiters and then treated as if you were an escaped convict? Is your idea of a good time to find out you must pay for the priviledge of sitting down and be charged for every piece of butter, bread, etc you consume after you have been kept waiting as if you were in the DMV?

If you do, then don't eat at a McDonalds. Strange how many tens of millions agree with me and patronize McDonalds. As far as this Austrian's smug attitude goes I can only say its soooo French.

Typical 'left wing' sense of humor
Can you really not have gotten the joke? It must be truly depressing to be a humorless neo-puritan faux-revolutionary. Please buy a sense of humor--after all, in the evil capitalist system, everything is for sale. Surely somebody somewhere would be willing to hook you up.

Silly lefty...
Who can't seem to distinguish between a predominantly libertarian website and a right-wing rag.

I find especially amusing your suggestion that one meal at a McDonald's "proved the guy right," that one taste of home justified a Euro-trash cultural ignorati's smug self-satisfaction. But then, highly-educated left-wing rag habitues have such a tough time reining their surpassing ascerbic wit. As has been amply demostrated in reading the most popular lefty forums, that 'wit' would be virtually incomprehensible if the pornographic and profane adjectives and adverbs were subtracted.

Your lame extrapolation from one article to a condemnation of half of your countrymen is pretty sadly revealing and reminds us that silence is golden.

"McDonalds offers what is missing in Europe"?
But wait, McDonalds are in Europe. All over, actually.

I assume you were kidding about the French Austrian comment.

Why there are thousands of McDonalds in Europe
Actually Europeans love to say Americans have no culture and then ape everything we do. The thousands of McDonalds in Europe only proves that Europeans love what McDonalds offers and why European attitudes toward service and consistent quality has never been successfully exported abroad in terms of food. Unless one dines in a truly expensive establishment the service is dismal and the food is iffy.

I believe that this speaks more to a lifestyle change
It actually has little to do with what Europeans may or may not think of Americans.

McDonalds targets children and teenagers in their advertising in Europe as they do in the US. So you see the same groups in the European McDonalds as in the US; families with young children, highschool kids, and the odd travelling salesperson eating on the fly.

Europe is every bit as progressive as America and the fast-paced automobile culture dominates. They have TV here too.

You're funny. But thanks for the near perfectly-delivered demonstration of sterotypically self-centered American thinking.

apparently you havent't noticed, but just as in the US, the Eurpean market places are often filled with chain stores, bakeries, butchers, etc.. You receive ads from the supermarkets, auto dealers, furnature stores, and yes, even McDonalds, every day in your mail box.

There still are independent merchants. In big towns and cities, they have gone up-scale, offerring finer cuts of meat, fancier prepared foods and deserts in the pattisaries and bolongiers.

Finally, although I have spent the majority of my life in America, the finest meals has all been in Europe. Needless to say, none of them were taken at McDonalds. Nonetheless they came at a cost that American counter-parts would think was outrageously low.

But meals are not all about cost/benefit ratios. At it's finest, a meal is an orchestrated art-form that starts the moment you are seated for the evening and informed that you will be taken care of through to that last sip of house-selected cognac with the bottle left on the table just in case you need a few drops more. At that point of perfection, there is no question that the meal was worth a king's ransom. But there is no reason to even consider the cost.

Now take McDonalds... please, take it.

Apparently most Europeans love McDonalds for the same reason others do
Yes I'll take it if only to avoid the insufferable Europeans and their attitudes towards work and manners. What I have noticed about Europeans is most seem to believe work is beneath them, especially waiters.

Service is awful and the attitude of staff shows. Materialism is rampant, exceeded only by Europeans love affair with working the system to getmore dole. Yes I have noticed European life is dominated by pale immitations of the advances of the past 100 years. Supermarkets with limit selections and rigged prices until WalMart or some other US competitor enters to challenge the scheme. But don't worry the Democrats want to enact the same features in the US that have proven so characteristic of Europe such as a healthcare system guaranteed to deny you adequate care; a welfare system that rewards the biggest slackers; government regulations guaranteeing a lack of merit (see French response when this system was challenged).

Yes I can understand why you would reject McDonalds and all it represents. Its so comforting to exist on 50 quid a week and sponge those fags rather than better oneself, That would be too like McDonalds.

I love McDonalds and so does the world.

You've missed the point once again TJ
Your one of the fools the rest of us are talking about. Just as that Austrian the Author met would not change his preconceived ideas about Yanks even when face to face with a yank that didn't fit them . He wouldn't change and it seems you wouldn't either so really you’re the smug Austrian in this story.

You apparently have not been to Europe
Otherwise you wouldn't have made those erroneous statements, unless of course you are just lying to prove your point. And based on your apprent wreckless behavior, I would have to leave the possibility of that prospect open. Nothing in your post suggests either sincerity or truthfulness. So I will treat you as hostile, discount what you have to say as ignorant, and move on.

But let me just point out some of points agaist your fantasy for other on this blog. First, some of the French supermarket chains opening stores in the US and doing well... even in Texas!

Second, I do not reject McDonalds. I eat at home when I cannot afford to go out.

Third, your straw man arguments reveals your neocon training, if not your unintentional admiration for those propagada tools.

Finally, you missed the whole point of this piece. You are arguing the substance of the story. That's not it. The anti-European twist was just a tool for the cross-branding.

This artical was intended to cross-brand McDonalds with Americanism, AKA homespun xenophobia; both of which are images constructed from mass media (and both of which have been, through some stokes of luck, very successful if you gage success by influence instead of intended outcome). And you apparently played right into it. I canot believe that anyone scould be so foolish as to buy into this. But either you are among those fools, or are part of the project.

So, my friend, best of health to you with your McDonalds lifestyle. But be aware that there are those who see through your mask and we know that being wreckless is a dangerous game.

ps. I do compliment you, however, on a great quote that perfectly fits the picture emerging from the national identity builders. This is absolute genius "I have noticed European life is dominated by pale immitations of the advances of the past 100 years."

I will steal this from you.

Being in Europe
Thanks for your post Stephen.

Actually, I beg to differ. Having living in Europe for 4 continuous years, and about 4 more years but in chunks, I actually thought Mr. Jackson's descriptions of the general commercial standards was highly indicative of someone who had had lots of experience (aside from student vacations or "if it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium) in Europe.

In your post, I don't know what the neocon modifier has to do with simple observations. The author's point, to me, was that no matter what level of interest, scholarship or simple courtesy Americans show towards Europeans, in general (in general, in most cases) Europeans are loathe to give Americans credit for anything, or they like to reduce their experiences with Americans to the stereotypes they have, which are not always favorable. This is even more the case, when there's a high degree of dissonance between the new "American" information, and the old "American" stererotype that was oh, so comfortable.

Many times, with a British friend, prior to a gathering, we would plan to discuss a subject, usually one of global political importance, with our continental European friends. We would literally exchange positions, speak each other's words. It was uncanny, my words out of my mouth were "simplistic", "too American", "cowboyish", yet the very same words out of his mouth were the pinnacle of erudition and insight, almost as if Jesus Christ himself had spoken.

The empirical fact for me is that in more cases than not, Europeans will not cede a positive comment to an American. The negative ones travel more often and faster than the speed of light, often in contexts where they are not even germane.

Glad to hear your experiences were good though, that's refreshing because, regardless of political stripe, most Americans I know who've spent a lot of time there as I did will make the same observation as the author did and just want to be judged as individuals, and not by national media characterizations.

My post was specific to comments of ThomasJackson
But you apparently want to "take sides" in some fictional argument. You can do that. I buy it. OK all Europeans are stupid and think Americans are stupid. There you have it. Does that feel better now? Probably not.

But you might do just as well describing the number of angels standing on pin heads. In any event, it is not even worth the trouble arguing whether the author is right or wrong, taking sides, and all that stuff.

You know as well as I do that stereotyping people gets you nowhere. You even eluded to this axiom yourself above.

So the real questions to ask are why you persist in doing this? What does it buy you? And were did you get this tendency from? I will contend that your opinion has been effectively and thoughtfully formed by national image "modelers" through mass communications media.

Look, Madison Avenue can sell you anything. So only the most naive would even consider the possibility that governments and political organizations would not have figured this out and use the same tools.

The propaganda tools are described in the open literature if not on other Town Hall affiliate web sites.

This web site is an exposé of persuasive writing. It has little to do with what Neocons call the "reality-based community". In particular, the straw man technique used in ThomasJackson's comments was taught back under Gingrich and is over-used by the present administration. You should read the book by the author of this McDonald branding article. He argues that playing the games of the so-called "reality-based community" takes too much time and actually gets you little to nothing.

This site has less to do with reality than it does with creating public perception.

And I am not saying that this is a uniquely American thing. Quite the contrary; each entity is engaged in shaping public perception. That goes for McDonalds all the way up to America with EU states in between.

So to even address the particular points of EU v USA is not on track with the target. Though it may be an interesting diversion, it buys nothing but entertainment.

As for me, I am now living in EU. My wife is a citizen of an EU state. (Actually, we were together long before EU) I have spent much of my time here in the past and have been able to see the change. I have also watched the expansion of European products and stores into the US, and visa versa as well. I witnessed the rise of the environment political movement in the US and have seen this evolve into the current anti-intellectual movement that looks at people who use logic and information to make decisions as being from the diminishing “reality-based community” (that is a now-famous quote from a Whitehouse spokesman)

We now live in an information society. My words here will zing acros space and will help shapre your opinion, either for or against what I am saying. But it not whether or not US likes EU that matters. What matters is how is that opinion shaped.

"What matters is how is that opinion shaped." Piffle.
Sorry, friend. Marshall McLuhan had a point, and the prevalence and motives of opinion manipulators -- real and imagined -- might an interesting intellectual argument, but the substance (the content) of the message at this point in history is the real payload. If you are really suggesting that how the EU populace -- indeed much of the world -- has arrived at a largely anti-American posture is more important than the plain fact of that antipathy, then I'm afraid you are a mere sophist.

In noting a rise of an 'anti-intellectual movement' in the US I presume you mean the resurgence of an American conservatism that rejects outright the European social model? The fact that much of America -- and certainly disproportionately conservative America -- retains strong religious beliefs no doubt plays a part in your glib dismissal. We can argue as to whether morality can exist without a belief in God, but I find it fascinating to witness the foolish stereotyping of religious Americans as anti-intellectual. To turn your question on you, how did you arrive at this understanding of what is happening in America? Are you a simple vessel for market manipulators? I don't think so. Like all humans you have combined your education, reading, and personal experiences into a conceptualization that simplifies the world for you -- without which your brain would shut down due to over-stimulation.

Nonetheless, your own particular shorthand view of America is the issue, not just how you arrived at that view. I happen to think that on both sides of the Atlantic there are bruised feelings at having our cherished self-perceptions rejected by the other. The fact that things at present seem to be working out more favorably for America than for the EU just intensifies your feelings of unrequited love.

As European birthrates plummet below replacement levels, your economy becomes ever more schlerotic, and your unassimilating immigrant population grows, there will be tough times ahead. And God (sorry) knows we have our own serious problems. But I suspect that you will need America more than you did in 1942. Unfortunately, your 'message' of unremitting disdain for the American project might finally have convinced us that our aid is not wanted. And frankly, we might not be able to afford it this time. America is slowly but surely rejecting the socialist germ from our body politic -- at the same time the movement has reached its apotheosis in Europe. We may all be in this together but you may have to sort out your issues on your own this time.

Almost, but you have it backwards.
It is not so much how, as you put it "much of the world has arrived at a largely anti-American posture" as much as it is that YOU think that they have come to this posture thta is worth pursuing. Because your thoughts on this issue have been carefully crafted. Xenophobia among the population-at-large is a critical factor in empire building.

It was crafted iin Italy by Musselini's Fascists, in Germany by the *****, and in Russia by the communists.

The pnly difference today is that we have a inbdustry telling the government what to do instead of visa versa. But it is still fascism by definition.

How very European of you Geek
Why Geek you're so Euro trash. Displaying no knowledge, unable to rebut any comments, but doing a wonderful imitation of the Austrian slacker. You should be proud to achieved such an ignoranti status.

Stephen and the consumer society
How trite. Perhaps your tastes are dictated by Madison Avenue and lack the intelligence to buy something without the constant urging of tele and radio. Anyone who has lived in Europe understands the constant infringment on one's freedoms and the indifferent attitude toward people one finds. Stereo typing? Yeah every tourist to Paris, Venice, Amsterdam, Munich, Copenhagen can vouch for the quality service and wonderful attitudes. Too bad you persist in defending an attitude that reeks of a superiority long past and now is distinguished by indifferent quality and over priced hustlers attempting to fleece outsiders. Are we supposed to be impressed that your wife is a foreigner. Half the men in my neighborhood have foreign wifes. Though most of them have the good sense to take American citizenship.

To see the stereo types that Europe pays hommage to one only need read Le Monde, the Guardian, or Der Speigel. Perhaps this explains the constant fantasies about cowboys.

Europe is dead. It is a corpse that hasn't stopped kicking. As we have seen in Paris the only thing Europe cares about is the dole and who they can sponge off. If one wishes to enjoy a vacation, one should go to the Far East. It offers more and is a far better value.

If one has to visit Europe, go to London to be mugged; Venice to be riped off; Paris to be insulted; or Valencia to be ignored.

How does Stephen demonstrate how ill mannered he is?
One does wonder how ill educated and ill mannered the youth of today are. I was travelling the world when you were a gleam in your daddy'ss eye you sniffling little snot. Having demonstrated you lack the education to address the points I raised you use the straw man arguement that Europeans are running supermarkets in the US? Ah, if only they'd employ the same techniques in the US they employ in Europe so that they'd enjoy the same success here that they have in Europe when faced with American competion. Truluy only someone who hasn't lived in the UK or the Continent could make such a ignorant and baseless comment.

But snug in your parents basement reading travel brochures I'm sure you feel qualified to lecture. I'm am sooooo impressed laddie. When you been on a Constellation or travelled on the United States tell me about your vast knowledge or experiences. When you've been on the Blue Train or lived overseas for thirty years someone might be impressed. Tell them prattle on and demonstrate both your breeding and lack of education.

It is so European.

You have betrayed your own phobias
My thoughts on this issue have been 'carefully crafted' by thousands of hours spent reading on-line international newspapers, journals, and blogs from all over the world as well as by countless opinion polls and news reports by BBC, AFP, Asian Times, AP, Reuters, Al-Jazeera, and more. In the past few years I have traveled extensively. What I have read and seen with my own eyes in Latin America, Europe and Asia tells me that there is an undeniable growth in anti-Americanism. There's your answer.

On the other hand, it takes a true delusional paranoid to suggest that some Grand Manipulator can somehow ensure that what Google delivers to me in my random searching is all about building a xenophobia-powered empire. You give McDonalds far too much credit.

Peace out.

Uh ha
Come on. Are you really so naive as to believe that government with their offices of information, etc. are so stupid as to have missed the success of Madison Avenue?

Although it is nothing new with this administration, the recklessness of this administration has given us so many clues that they are story building that you would really have to be blind not to see them. Bush’s upper arcadia has directly stated repeatedly that they are using propaganda both at home, and globally. I think the latest statement was that they have not made enough use of internet but would be remedying that shortly. Are lights going on in your head yet?

I remember the astonishment expressed by Rumsfield when a news reporter asked him about a particular issue having to do with the build up of public support for the invasion of Iraq. He was astonished that people might actually believe the rhetoric. This was definitely one of the classic moments in 21st century history. The government national image builders are so good that even the press is duped.

I can only assume that a free-thinking, well-read individual as yourself simply chooses to lower personal anxiety levels by neglecting to remember that the information you receive has been crafted for effect.

Here is a classic statement regarding this topic…

Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush

Published: October 17, 2004


In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."


Agree with most of what you say.
Europe is engaged in national image building as well. They project this image throgh the press, advertising, etc. locally as well and globally.

There is more of a problem for image building there becuase they still have a free press and there are no taboo political philosophies.

As for Europe being dead, you will have to explain that concept in mosre detail.

What I see happenning as time goes on is EU gaining larger portions of intellectual property. The science journls that ued to be almost 100% US scientific reports are now down to about 50-60% (rough guess on my part for my particular field) sometimes even less. The balance of published science and technology is now coming out of EU, China, and India. Of course 90% of the research is doen in industry and is not published except in instruments intellectual property protection.

Hum. Nope
Wrong on all counts in your post.

Sorry. I don't care if you insult me or not. You are nothing to me.

And fishing is best used where there is water.

Stephen the readers have all ready voiced their opinion of you
Try lithium.

What's that about Steve's lithium based fantasies?
Yes history has rendered its verdict on the flacid thinking of ignoratti like you. As have the readers here. But keep it up you entertain us through displays of ignorance unfettered by education nor reason but seasoned with that dollop of arrogance only the truly delusional can aspire to Steve.

Yes. They are...

Everyone has them.

And they don't need to be based on reality.

Moreover, they can be shaped by others.

That is the main point I am trying to make here.

There is at least one other possibility...
"I can only assume that a free-thinking, well-read individual as yourself simply chooses to lower personal anxiety levels by neglecting to remember that the information you receive has been crafted for effect."

There is at least one other possibility...that you are just plain wrong. You might consider this as a counterpoint to your insistence that the rest of us have all been duped: why does the half of American and most of the rest of the world uniformly hate George Bush?

Seems like his efforts at opinion-shaping and Orwellian doublespeak have not panned out very well yet? Bush's Republican party seems likely headed for a defeat in the 2006 mid-term elections that would derail any "empire-building project." If Bush's party loses it will be precisely because he has done such an awful job of articulating (perhaps that's a bad word to use in regard to Bush expressing himself verbally) and defending his policies.

Stephen you are in way over your pay grade with all of this conspiracy theory. Any student of human nature over the age of, say, 10 knows that secret enterprises do not stay secret for long. Especially nefarious ones that require massively integrated efforts on the part of large numbers of people. In this case most of the 140,000 permanent bureaucrats at the State Department -- and apparently most of those at the CIA -- disagree vehemently with the Bush program. To suggest that these hundreds of thousands of people who have been leaking and otherwise attempting strenuously to resist and undermine Bush's policies for five years would go along with an information control program is beyond ludicrous.

Finally, let me explaing for you your Suskind quote. Yes, the Bushies believe in action. Yes, they hate the mainstream press judicious "studiers." The implication there is quite simple, but I will lay it out so even you may understand. The Bush team says that sixty years of foreign policy "realism" has in reality been a surreal mix of apology for tyranny, anti-democratic internationalism, and inaction in the face of ongoing oppression and totalitarianism. Bush says, "**** that on my watch. We're going to shake up the murderous bastards -- not all at once -- but eventually they will all have to work a little harder to kill and oppress. We'd like the West to help with this project but since most of them are too weakened militarily and economically to pitch in, well then we're going to do what we can as best as we can. Better to go down swinging than to let the enemy define the terms of the battle."

That's the Bush doctrine, my EU friend. I don't agree with all of it, but I wish you could pull your head out of your dark and goofy conspiracy theories to see what is really happening in the world. I have no hope for you...or Europe. I suppose we'll see you in the hedgerows of France again when my son or his children come once more to rescue a hapless Europe from itself.

This conversation is over.

Europe is no longer competitive
Scientifically more research is done in Asia than is done in Europe. This is unheard of. Europe has abandoned research because it has abandoned capitalism. Where it once led in pharmaceuticals the last European research labs are in the process of closing because of recent EEC decisions (at least where their reach extends).

Europe stands as a monument to secular socialism. Abandoning its roots, traditions, and values it cannot defend itself against more vigorous and confident cultures. Even Italy has demonstrated that its values are nothing compared to those of Islam. Of course secularism has played its role in destroying those values, because secularism recognizes no values all things being equal.

So we see a Europe that in absolute terms is in decline. Those who look to it are nothing more than those who lack the wit and imagination to embtrace a better future. Japan, Korea, Taiwan have more patents on steel, chemistry, plastics, dyes, pharmaceuticals than France, Italy and Spain. But then again the Japanese know who and what they are as opposed to the French who apparently cherissh their dole benefits more than anything else.

Of course you are right there are brained numbed robots
Sure five year olds and the intellectually challanged will purchase what the tele tells them to. No doubt others are not bothered by the facts nor reality. It is clear that some do not wish to think while others are quite uninfluenced by their observations or experiences and are shaped by others. This is the reason cults like the *****, Communists and George Cloney exist.

I think that it is more subtle than you might think
Many fast-food resturaunt chains do not have their product in the name. So if you were from EU, and did not speak English and passed a Chili's, Olive Garden, or a Wendies, would you know what was was sold there if anything?

When you shop at the supermarket, do you prefer name brands or generic? COnsider cereals, for example. Are Post and Kelloggs brands really any better than the others?

One day, for an experiment, write down the vendor of the bill boards between your home and some place you always go to, just for fun. Then think about what you buy, where you shop, eat out, etc. Is there a conection?

I haven't eaten cereal since I was six nor do I have the slightest inkling to try them again. I cook my own foods and dislike processed foods. I shop at bakeries and dislike dinning out because I find my own cooking or my wife's better than I can hope to obtain in all but a few select establishments.

My decisions regarding what I purchase are based on research not impluse. People who prefer Pizza Hut over another brand are free to make that decision. I just find Europeans attitudes unfounded and amusing since they have such limited selection and suffer under oligarchies.

Limited selection? I wouldn't say that
I just got back from a couple days in France; Bourgogne area. I went to visit someone who was in from the US on business. So while they were at work I did the tourist thing.

I had forgotten how pleasant it is in France. Within a few block I had 3 or 4 bakeries, several butchers, a cheese shop, a cave, and a few shops that prepare special foods; pates, quiche, etc. (the patisserie) Everything one could hope for, in great variety, and done-up with artsy flare.

Another thing that I forgot about France is that the shop owners turn a purchase into a work of art. There is a certain pleasantness and class to the way business is done. It start with the greeting, the pleasant speech, the personal recommendations from the artisans themselves, the special way they tie the not in the bag, etc.. It's like a dance. It is fine art. And the food is every bit as good as the purchase.

Interesting though, there is no advertising. It is all personal experience. It is real, It demonstrates their love for living and an appreciation of the process of life.

And what is life about anyway?

I am not sayig that this does not exist in the US as well. Only, I think the the French have a way of making the ptherwise mundane parts of life; shopping, eating, staying in hotels, very enjoyable. An art-form, really.

At last we agree on something
Once out of the major cities of Europe you do meet agreeable people. In St Malo I experienced much the same experiences as you did. My comments do not reflect on the small shopkeepers which are the charm and variety of any nation byt rather the grotesque situation that prevails in mass markets where selection is limited by design and competition is deliberately limited. For that I have nothing but disdain, much as I have for the cable companies in the US to whom the government has given a near monopoly.

My problem remains with the poor service and selection one finds in the major cities of Europe where prices are artifically jacked up. It reminds one of the days in the 50s when a few supermarket chains controlled everything and there were blue laws.

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