Thursday, July 10, 2003

European Slap Fight

Worldwide outrage against the insulting remarks made by an Italian official against the Germans continues to spread . . . not.

Actually, the sound you hear is of the world silently jabbing elbows at each other and barely suppressing a snicker. “Germany,” said Italian tourism minister Stefano Stefani, is a "country intoxicated with arrogant certainties."

"We know the Germans well -- these stereotyped hyper-nationalistic blondes, who have been indoctrinated... to feel top of the class whatever the situation. They noisily invade our beaches."

If anything, global reaction to such harsh words has been a mumbled, “hear, hear.”

The fact is, you can’t go too wrong accusing Germans of excessive arrogance and blondness. But it helps if your ethnic stereotype is the complete opposite. The Italians, after all, are a friendly and swarthy people.

Some might be tempted to say, “what’s up with those Euros all of a sudden? They’re acting like . . . Europeans!” All that nationalism was supposed to be passé . . . so 20th century. (and 19th, 18th, 17th, 16th, 15th, and so on).

The Euros, after all, are in the final stages of creating a United States of Europe . . . now is not the time to air ancient grievances.

But there is the rub.

Europe will never be single united nation . . . there is simply too much history.

Indeed, the Europeans who found the burden of history too much to bear left the Old World long ago and came to the New World where nationhood is defined by shared aspirations, not shared bloodlines.

Anyone can come to the United States, for example, and be as American as the Kennedys – a notable immigrant family – within a generation if they truly believe in the ideals. How many generations would it take someone to become French, or Swiss, or Belgian?

A more obvious question would be, why would anyone want to become Belgian? In fact, even Belgians can’t be Belgians . . . only Flems or Walloons.

Now imagine a “nation” populated by provincials fiercely proud to be called “Walloons” or “Apenzells” or “Twerps.” You can’t move from one town in Europe to another without being viewed with the utmost suspicion . . . yet to the rest of the world they are all basically pasty faced slackers.

Now compare that to a real “universalist” nation. Just moved here from Indiana? Great, welcome to Florida. I’ll show you where to get the best alligator McNuggets.

There’s enough physical and philosophical room in the United States to absorb millions of refugees from the stagnant societies of Latin America without most people even taking notice. And rather than run these “forners” out of town, we open a chain of Taco Bells where we can all share bastardized versions of our most cherished foods.

In Europe, meanwhile, they’re still throwing eggs at McDonald’s outlets.

The Euros are undergoing “The Great Change.” By finally articulating their long-concealed envy of the United States, the Europeans are now forced to confront the barriers that keep them from enjoying the same success and vitality as America . . . their comforting prejudices, their stifling conformity, their sloth.

It’s not a good time to be a “European.” But as always, it’s a great time to be Italian.

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