I don’t remember how or when my brother taught me the saying “distance and death dress everyone in his best smile.” I know that I’ve known it, seemingly all my life.
As you guys know I’ve been reading about Islam. I’ve also been meditating on the glamour that Europe has always exerted over a certain number of Americans, a glamour all out of proportion to what it actually is and how people actually live there. And of course on many people’s (particularly leftists’) view of cultures that are completely different from ours, like China, or even Islam, as being inherently superior, BECAUSE they’re different.
The funny thing about that sort of effect is that it rarely holds up on close acquaintance.
Send an Europhile to Europe for two or three weeks, and they’ll come back raving about the wonders and beauties of the old country. Send them for three months, and they’ll come back complaining about such things as restricted access to electricity, inability to turn on a hotel’s air-conditioning if you don’t have the key in the right slot (that’s right, so that you can’t cool the room while you’re absent) and all sorts of “the elites know best” measures that in general make life in Europe less comfortable, less easy, and more fraught. Mind you, this might, or might not, make him recant his previous expressions of love for Europe and disdain for the US. Most people hate saying they were wrong, so instead they’ll come back talking about the good (or at least unverifiable) points of Europe, while admitting they have “some issues.” But they will never again say they want to live there, and they might find good reasons not to have another extended visit.
And then there’s the view from the other side. We never get dressed in our best smile. Partly because the US is never fully absent. Our specific cultural gravity makes a hole in the consciousness of everyone in the world.
But because of the gushing and crazy of our europhiles, genuine Europeans believe, quite logically, that they have it way better. This is fostered by their kleptocratic elites who don’t want them throwing off socialist-fostered death panels and therefore convince them of nonsense such that poor people die in the streets here. But wait, there’s more: because they know us only through our movies, which tend to ignore the stable and boring parts of the country, and through our europhile media, they genuinely believe that everyone here gets raped and mugged once a week. And then there’s funnier stuff: they actually do believe we have only one type of cheese, that there’s no access to say specialized books, that all Americans are semi-literate (yes, I know, but by that standard so are Europeans) and that oh… we live under a military dictatorship with curfew (I kid you not) or — my favorite — that pokeyman Go was banned in the first week, because it was causing deaths (wait, what?)
Other things they believe include that our media is controlled and that if you say anything bad about the US (other than the patently truthful, like people dying in the street, natch) the government will put you in some sort of Bastille.
I’d find all this funny if it weren’t in fact tragic.
The assumption of superiority from Europe only reinforces the star-struck on our side, leading them to wish to live in that paradise they hear described as so wonderful.
Mind you, there are (several) worse places to live than Europe. And it is probably my tendency not to LISTEN well that causes me to want to say “you and whose army” when I see them controlling energy consumption, fat intake, salt, etc. (Yeah, I know, NYC — rolls eyes) because the elites CLEARLY know better than the people.
They have a patrimony we just lack, a lot of beautiful old things, from architecture to various art artifacts. Mind you, those are things from their ancestors, and when they were produced new were derided by the truly cognoscenti, just like our stuff is. The entire Romantic movement was designed to sneer at modernity of their time, which to us right now seems quite romantic itself.
Also Art in Europe seems to amount to a large tizzy-fit throwing, something along the lines of “we’re surrounded by such beautiful stuff we can’t match it, so let us, instead, make simplistic crude things that tweak the tradition.” Like our own intellectuals they seem unable to understand that those who would get upset at crassness or rudeness died about a century ago, and that the current intellectual establishment in Europe is exactly people like them, striking a pose and doing their best to speak power to truth, while acting daring.
That’s fine. They’re not the first or the last wave of cultural decadence to sweep the continent and there’s a good chance that they’ll recover. Eventually.
But there is a difference between countries run for the comfort and convenience of the elites and countries run for the comfort and convenience of the buying public. It means that the buying public has more choice and more ability to decide what they want to spend their geld on in the second, which leads to a life that’s more comfortable, more innovative, and overall just NICER in the day to day sense than what obtains in countries run by “those who know best” for “your own good.”
Yeah, I know, I am an ugly American, willing to trade massive Cathedrals (Hey, that’s why Himself in His infinite wisdom gave us Google Earth and 3-d tours on the computer) beautiful palaces and rare objects d’art (not to mention exquisite little bistros) for a store that’s open 24/7, so I can shop whenever, and which has a greater selection of left hand screwdrivers than I could buy in a month of Sundays.
But in the end, when you want that left hand screw driver, or breakfast at three in the morning, it is more comfortable to know you can get it. Sure, you could go look at a Botticelli in the day, but how will that fix your unscrewed toilet seat?
And I have enough Roman ancestry never to have understood why we can’t have both: art, and comfort, style and commerce. Doesn’t one feed the other?
The dichotomy between the two is something that can only be maintained at a distance, by people who have never experienced Europe (if they’re Americans) or America (if they’re Europeans.)
Yeah, distance doesn’t dress us in our best smile, but I don’t care. I’ll take the joys and little conveniences of life here, and be grateful everyday. L’amour de l’art can wait.