The Dangling Conversation
It’s a still life water color,
Of a now late afternoon,
As the sun shines through the curtained lace
And shadows wash the room.
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference,
Like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
In The Dangling Conversation
And the superficial sighs,
The borders of our lives.
Simon & Garfunkel, 1966
Last week I flew home from my whirlwind vacation (which I have blogged enough about). It was an 8 ½ hour Continental Airlines flight from Stockholm to Newark. As far as flights go it was smooth and unspectacular. They actually served lunch – well something they called lunch. Nonetheless I ate the mystery meat. Since a muffin (good luck trying to find a bagel at Stockholm Airport) and coffee was $13, I passed on the muffin and settled for some of the $6 coffee. On another note, with all the security I was amazed to see a metal knife (ok a butter knife) as part of the setting.
I am not a good flier, but not the worst either. I usually like to take my Laura Bush drugs and fall asleep. This time I decided to forego the Laura-zombie state and do some writing, picture editing and actually use the computer I dragged with me all these miles. And just hope for a smooth flight.
Since I am usually asleep I rarely talk to the person next to me, except when they nudge me to get up so they can use the WC (I am so European). But since I was awake, and I was using the laptop to look at the pictures from the trip, the woman on my left decided to strike up a conversation. (Hey folks, it only took me three paragraphs to get to the point of the story, I am improving).
She was an attractive blonde (what else?), around 45. Sitting on her right was her husband. They were both from Stockholm. They both spoke perfect English (the King’s English). I will call them Inge and Nils (why not, sounds perfectly Swedish to me, and those names are much easier to type than their real names). The 8 ½ hour flight seemed like 8 ½ minutes. (Too bad 8 1/2 is a Fellini film, not Bergman).
Inge worked for an architecture firm and Nils worked for a software company. They have 2 teenage children. They were going to New York for a 5-day vacation. They had both been to the US several times, but they had not been to New York in over 20 years. They had not been to the US since 9/11. They also had tickets to see Hairspray. I gave them plenty of good places to go for dinner.
First (I kid you not) they said they had virtually empty suitcases. They planned on buying quite a bit of clothing, electronics, make-up, sporting goods and other assorted things for their kids and friends. With the prices I saw in Stockholm, I cannot blame them – they are coming to K mart, not Tiffany’s. For example, a leather jacket that would be around $200 here is around $600 in Sweden. Levi’s are well over $100 in Stockholm. Stuff that is made in Europe is cheaper in the US than it is in Europe. I would bet a Volvo is cheaper in the US. We are a gigantic flea market. Very good for the American economy in some ways, very bad for our economy in other ways. They planned on hitting Bloomingdale’s, Sak’s, Best Buy, Macy’s, Filene’s Basement and some other stores they rattled off. I told them to add Old Navy, Bed, Bath & Beyond and Century 21 (a really good New York department store located directly across the street from Ground Zero). They surely didn’t need to hit H&M since there are as many H&M’s in Stockholm as there are Starbucks in New York.
Of course we got around to ‘talking’ about Bush. They loved to talk about Bush. They are fascinated with the fact we elected a “dodo” (her word) twice. Inge and Nils were amazed, or rather disappointed that some people actually still like Bush. While I realized that most Europeans do not like Bush or the Bush administration, I guess I did not understand the depth of hate (yes hate) for him that exists in citizens of other countries. Swedes are relative newcomers to the world of alliances, having remained a neutral nation until they joined the E.U. in 1995 (and only barely 52-48%). They are not members of NATO, but they did send some troops to Afghanistan. Most Swedes are not happy about that.
While the E.U. must deal with a complex problems from a multitude of nationalities, religions, languages, cultures, currencies, immigration policies and lingering animosities (I will tell you that the Estonians and Poles still have not forgotten what the Germans did to their nations in WWII), Inge and Nils said there is a general acceptance of what the E.U. is supposed to do – propped up by the fact that the economies of Europe are in much better shape than the US. And say what you want about how the Europeans and their minorities get along (often pretty lousy) – religion does NOT dominate life and societies on the whole are much more tolerant. They would not waste any time worry about covering a statue whose breasts are showing.
I had nearly 8 hours to learn that Inge and Nils know more about more about American politics and current events than most Americans do.
Inge and Nils (and as they said their friends) do not understand us at all. They don’t get the deference that is still paid to a president that has done nothing but “mess up the planet.” There is a resentment of our arrogance and hubris – big time. They do not understand our love of guns and war. Inge kept saying “why do you feel you need to be the world’s police?” Europeans really hate the bullying from Bush and Cheney – and they hate when their governments cowtow to them. They did not understand why we believe war was the only answer – and not the answer of last choice, and how we did NOT learn from Vietnam. And finally they really do not understand why Americans cannot admit mistakes, why there is so little humility built into our culture.
They kept saying they don’t hate Americans, they just are averse to (so many of) the policies of the American government. Nils said that he has even talked to Americans that do not support Bush or Bush’s foreign policy, but felt compelled in some ways to actually defend it. In some ways he is right – criticizing American policy to some Americans is tantamount to criticizing the whole American society. And Nils said he found that a lot in his business dealings – as his company deals a lot with US technology firms. Most of the Americans he deals with loathe Bush (he said they make that very clear), but they get very testy when you overstep the Bush bashing boundary.
With me there was obviously no boundaries. I kept saying bash away. I said I wished we had a parliamentary system that would have taken him down years ago – or at least a Speaker of the House that had guts and would impeach (of course that got them onto the subject of Clinton — impeachment over an affair, but no impeachment of Bush over a war or torture. That one completely baffles their minds – I could see the smoke coming out of Inge’s ears).
While we talking (and it all remained quite calm) I kept thinking about the crap Joe Scarborough says nearly every morning – “who cares what the Europeans think.” And he is not alone. There are way too many media and governmental mouthpieces that have said over and over – that the rest of the world can gai kaken oifen yam*. And they have not forgotten the Rumsfeld “old Europe, new Europe” remark. These things sting, and just like many people haven’t forgotten what the Germans did to their countries, they are not apt to forget what Bush has said about their countries and societies. Sure we haven’t bombed their cities to smithereens like the Nazis – but the arrogance and dismissive nature of US policy in a complex global economy obviously does not go unnoticed. And guess what – they do not need us as much as we think they need us.
Inge summed it up nicely as the plane landed at Newark, “please do not mess up again – four or eight more years of this will have terrible consequences.” She did not expand on that – and I didn’t ask.
Let’s hope we do not.