The Dangling Conversation

distributorcap NY

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.

*go shit in the ocean, in Yiddish
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~ by distributorcap on July 27, 2008.

21 Responses to “The Dangling Conversation”

  1. This reminds me of conversations I’d have with people in France when Reagan was president.

    I’m afraid, as a whole, the American people are incredibly disrespectful not only of other cultures and nations, but also of our right to vote. They either don’t or they do it with as little info as possible.

    Hence, we get pResidents like Bush.

  2. Thanks for being an ambassador of sanity to Nils and Inge. That said, I hate Century 21. Maybe the men’s stuff is better, but the only way you could get me to go there again would involve a good sedative.

  3. For seven years the stupid drums kept right on beating, dum-dum-dumbing the culture clash of American self-righteousness.

  4. Thanks for bearing all of our sins while they crucified you, DCap. 😉 Seriously, it sounded like they blamed YOU or something.

  5. Well shit, DCap. Here I am back in the states and getting ready to write my “I’m back” manifesto, and here you are basically writing about the exact conversations that I had in Europe. It’s amazing how similar your airplane conversation is with countless conversations I had with people all across the continent. The only thing I would add is that when I was asked who I was voting for (which I always was), it was clear that Obama was “the right answer”. Once I said that, I was one of the Americans that could be talked to. On the flip side, in Amsterdam there was a girl from New Orleans that said she plans on voting for McCain and I noticed that the Europeans slowly shifted out of the conversation and then left the table altogether. In 2003, I noticed that chicks like her would have been engaged… now they just seem sick of it.

    Anyway, welcome back. And bleep you for stealing my post 😉

  6. Oh come on, if we’re not the world’s police against Evil®, who will be? So stop with the sensible diplomacy. I mean, we’re dumb.

    McCain gets in, we deserve to be shunned, laughed at and have rotten vegetables thrown at us.

  7. I remember the genesis of the “Old Europe, New Europe” shtick way back in 1998, when the EU was preparing to launch monetary union, AKA, the Euro scheme.

    Conservative members of the U.S. Congress and the blathering fat cats on CNBC, wasted no time pooh-poohing the plan. Some, including the now dead Jess Helms, ridiculed the EU and said they were just trying to ape the American monetary system.

    Well, that was then and now the Euro is a true powerhouse of a currency. Now weighted down by massive expenditures on a military and consumer market of 500 million citizens, a single Euro costs an American more than $1.50 U.S., and as you well know, DCap, from your recent trip, our currency ain’t worth the paper its printed on now.

    Old Europe, New Europe? More like, Old America, New America, and New America is slipping further and further down the toilet each day.

  8. In so many ways, America needs to get over itself. Too many here can’t see the forest for the trees. If we couldn’t step out of the picture and look back, I think most of us wouldn’t like what we see. I sure don’t.

  9. I remember being in England during the Reagan years, and gently assuring my hosts that I was not Reagan Youth. Frankly, the Reagan years were innocent bliss compared to what we have now. I haven’t been overseas this decade. Being a grad student, then working to pay off student loans has left little money for vacations. But the conversation that DCap relates, the general knowledge base of the Europeans about America as well as the astonishment at our system, is very reminiscent.

  10. It’s been said before, and I’ll venture to say it again … Americans think they are, literally, The Center of the Universe. That’s obviously not a good thing and one place to lay blame is on the average American citizen who refuses to travel outside the bounds of the Lower 48 (or the requisite Honeymoon to Hawaii or the trek to Alaska) and experience life beyond the insular boundaries of Amerurica.

    As well, the average American cares little about learning to speak a second language. Yeah, it’s “required” in high school to take two years of French, Spanish or German. But who goes beyond that to the point where they can go to Barcelona or Paris and order a cup of expresso or a sandwich or, god forbid, talk about the weather.

    I absolutely agree that Bush/Cheney has done massive damage to the perception of the United States overseas. But we as a nation allowed that to happen. Just as I believe there should always be ecumenical activity in religion, I believe it is imperative that Americans take trips like you did, on a regular basis, to Europe, South America, Asia, what have you, to discover that we don’t “own” any particular culture or we that we don’t have a lock on good ideas or what it means to be human.

  11. Oh D-Cap, what a lovely post. That conversation you had with the Swedes can be multiplied by millions and we’d have a small glimpse into what one mean-spirited regime can do to the world’s view of us.
    We need friends.
    People hate us all over the world. We need allies.
    So succinct was your post.
    Thank you.

  12. We really can’t go through the exercise of “we’re sorry world” again.

    On a related note- I had high hopes for a story that began with you sitting next to a hot swede on an airplane. It didn’t quite end how I expected.

  13. This reminds me of a conversation I had in ’99 with a bartender in Cork, Ireland while my wife and I were on our honeymoon. And this was pre-9/11 so these were relatively good times for Euro-American relations, at least when compared with today. The bartender, besides being surprised that an American couple would honeymoon in Ireland, was surprised that, as an American, I didn’t want us to be the policemen for the world. He was also well informed about American history and politics, past and contemporary. I wonder what he thinks about us after the Bush Debacle.

  14. Europeans understanding of the United States and the typical American’s total lack of knowledge of Europe always astounds me. Even more astounding is the average citizen’s knowldege of our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico. Nor do we understand our own geography…. on a trip in the south some years ago I had occasion to introduce myself and mentioned I was from Wisconsin….. and was cordially told by my host that he “didn’t know much about the States west of the Mississippi. Gees!

  15. This is what happens when capitalism runs amok. We get a CEO pResident (selected and NOT elected) and the fat cats get fatter. Meanwhile stupid average Americans become even more stupid as they listen/watch/participate in our consumer driven society.

    You are braver than I about flying without drugs. I can’t do that.

  16. Hey Cap;

    I know of what you speak. I am Dutch born and my relatives along with the Mexicans, expatriate Americans living in Mexico and Canadians I know do not care for Bush at all.

    That is one hell of a fall, from 90% plus approval ratings after 9/11 to this?

    He is guilty of a lot, but also represents what went wrong so he is shouldering some blame for which he has no control.

  17. oh, oh, I forgot to say I thought it was a great post & stuff.
    “Ingrid and Nils” sound as if they were excellent conversationalists. I hope they do not get mugged in New York.

    Liberality— ‘ flying without drugs’ Wowsers! I never knew it was possible! And I haven’t left home in a lonnnnnggg time.

  18. Could be worse. Could be better. At least we all are not just followers and some are leaders and doers.

  19. thanks to all for replying and reading
    i really does amaze me how arrogant and self centered we are — and many times we dont even realize it.

    the fact that we as a nation (especially as a govt) are so dismissive of everyone else – their lives, their opinions and their countries — is astounding.

    i really think it is important that we deal with the world as equals and not as superiors (as we so often) – the fact that we care so little about their history, language, culture and economies (only to the point that it affects us) — is pathetic

    as for flying without drugs — that was rare — usually i am out cold

  20. Anita, you’re right. Can I have some money for a plane ticket? 😉

  21. DCap – I read this post thinking that one of these days the rest of the world is just going to invade the US slice us up into colonies again and plant a flag on the White House lawn that says “Police This Mo-Fo!” Well, you’ve already told us about the invasion and slicing up part in past posts. I guess all that’s left is the flag?

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