Why do so many people around here feel so compelled to rag on this country at every opportunity? Why is it so damn fashionable to run down the USA, not only on the fronts where we have legitimate shortcomings, but from every angle, on every issue? Now before the usual suspects get offended, I want to be clear that I'm not accusing anyone of "hating America," or (God forbid!) being unpatriotic, because I don't think that's what's at work here. I think it's far more superficial than that, honestly. I don't even think it's about Bush. I think it's an affectation, quite frankly, and I just want to know where it comes from.
Yesterday I was walking my dog in a park here in Hoboken when I struck up a conversation with two lades who were also there with their mutts. All three of us lived in Hoboken, and, as it turned out, we had all lived extensively in Europe in the past. Two of us wanted to go back there -- or claimed to, anyway.
The ladies (and I never caught their names, so I'll just call them... Peace and Moonbeam. Yeah, that'll do) started prattling on about how much better life is in Europe because of affordable health care and generous vacation policies. Well, after 5 years of living in New York City and Hoboken, I'm very accustomed to this kind of prattle, so I said nothing. (Believe it or not, I never start these altercations myself, but I do occasionally finish them.)
But it didn't stop there. Then they went on to bemoan how much better the standard of living is in Europe than here. People can barely afford to live here anymore, they said. Simply having a decent place to live costs many people 50% of their salaries, Peace said. Yes, Moonbeam nodded sadly but wisely, it's true, too bad.
"But wait a minute," I said. "That's specific to this area. It's not representative of the United States as a whole. Furthermore, anyone trying to maintain a residence in Paris or London will quickly find themselves in the same boat."
Weeeeeellllll, but you have the same problem everywhere, Moonbeam said. Besides, you have to live in the city, because the rest of the country is a cesspool of ignorance, racism, and anti-Semitism(!), none of which is a problem in Europe.
"Now wait a minute!" I said. I began to recount some of my own encounters with racism and anti-Semitism when I lived in France. I reminded them of the recent ascension of far-right candidates and parties throughout Europe, LePen's run-off with Chirac, and the growing number of violent crimes against synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. Moonbeam was looking down at the ground, and digging a small hole with the toe of her shoe, "Well, I don't agree," she mumbled.
Weeeellllll, but you have the same problems everywhere, Peace said. (Are you getting the pattern yet? If America has a problem, you're supposed to shake your head mournfully, and assent to Europe's superiority. If Europe has a problem, you're supposed to go, "Weeeellllll, but you have the same problems everywhere.")
I was just beginning to wonder whether either of these women would concede that there was anything at all good about living in America, when Peace made it explicit: "It really sucks here," she said. "Everything is better in Europe."
I was flabbergasted. "Really?" I said. "Everything?"
"I can't think of anything that's not better in Europe, can you?"
I responded with the first thing that popped into my head. "How about double-digit unemployment? Is that better in Europe?"
Peace stared at me silently for a while, presumably considering how best to respond, when Moonbeam rode to the rescue. "Well," she said. "I don't really believe the unemployment numbers the government gives us. I think they're actually much higher."
"Yeah, me too." Peace said, happily. How does one respond? Perhaps one considers it's not worth one's time, and simply takes one's Labrador Retriever back home where one's wife and in-laws are waiting.
My in-laws, who are visiting this week from Switzerland, actually provide an interesting contrast to the girls from the park. They clearly prefer Europe to America, because they have chosen to live there permanently. But
- they would never say anything so vapid as "Everything is better in Europe," and
- they actually live in Europe! They're not all talk. They've put their money where there mouth is.
At the risk of sounding like a redneck, Peace and Moonbeam really do beg the question: If Europe is so damn
great that you can't think of a single advantage to living here, then why are
you living here? They couldn't even use the jobs excuse, because one of their pro-Europe arguments was (preposterously) that it was easier for Americans to find decent jobs in Europe than here.
Once again, I'm not accusing my friends from the park of being traitors or America-haters. I think it's all an affectation. I don't really think they even believed half the B.S. they were spewing.
So why is this kind of attitude so faddish? Peace and Moonbeam may have been an extreme example, but it's by no means an isolated occurrence. I've routinely had such encounters since I moved to the city. Where does this compulsion to run down the U.S. come from? Is it some kind of bogus, self-deprecating modesty, along the lines of, "I hate this raggedy old dress," or "My car is a piece of crap?" Is it a pathetic attempt to appear sophisticated? "Open-minded" (although it's difficult to imagine anyone less open-minded than Peace and Moonbeam.) It's hard to write their Europe fetish off to the "grass is greener" phenomenon, because they'd both lived their extensively.
To my liberal readers: Granted, I may not know a single American who "hates America." But I do know a hell of a lot of them who never miss an opportunity to talk this country down, even if what they say is absurd and nonsensical.
My question is simply, why?