Monday, January 16, 2006

Unique attributes of "Americans"

One of the fascinating things about Europeans is that they are very aware of what's unique about "Americans." (To some degree I would include our Canadian and Mexican North American neighbors but in other ways I would not.) They recognize what is different about us and, while not necessarily wanting to emulate us, respect and even admire us for these differences. The things that they recognize as most distinct are 1) that we are much more comfortable in taking risks and 2) that we pride ourselves in and foster self-sufficiency among our people.

As I reflect on these two qualities, I realize that they are most evident among the privileged in our country - taking risks and being self-sufficient. These are great qualities, if you have the resources to protect you when you take risks and if self-sufficiency has a golden parachute. Europeans admire the fact that US businesses develop and move products into the marketplace faster than any other country in the world. Some even express envy that much of intellectual innovation originates from US citizens. This is why many intellectuals, artists, scientists and others have immigrated to the US over the decades. By contrast to raw self-sufficiency, Europeans pride themselves in establishing a base quality of life for all citizens. This isn't perfect and there is persistent uneveness in wealth in Europe, yet, at least all citizens can avail themselves of medical help when they need it. Additionally, anyone who is seeking work has public support in acquiring living needs.

One other realization that emerged for me is that the USA tends to accentuate difference rather than embrace it. Diversity was evident everywhere I went in Europe. Not until I returned to the USA did I hear about diversity, although it was much less visible. On this important day in US history, the day that commemorates the birth of Martin Luther King, it seems as if this observation may have relevance and importance.

The last observation I would offer is that US media invades every corner of Europe, regardless of language. Storefronts carry product endorsements from Hollywood celebrities. News media almost always carry speculation or information about sports and entertainment elites. Even the unique and beautiful environment of the German and Austrian Christmas Markets is affected as the only language heard in the musical lyrics of every market from Koln to Vienna is Engligh.

Observation of these unique attributes is not scientific. They are simply accumulated from conversations and observations throughout my travels. I don't completely understand their impact if, in fact, the observations are accurate. I only know that seeking to observe has caused me to see myself and "Americans" in a differently light than before.

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