Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The world as seen from Europe

One of the most interesting (to me) aspects of being in Europe for the past two months has been seeing all the ways in which Europe is connected to the entire world. I have noticed before while traveling in Europe that the news and commentary on the European version of CNN has stories from all around the world. Even the weather reports tell what the weather is and is expected to be in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, the Americas and the antipodes. In contrast, I almost never hear anything about the weather in Chihuahua, the state in the United States of Mexico that borders the state in which I live in the United States of America. As for news coverage, I almost never see anything on American television except what is going on in Washington, DC and in the lives of a few carefully monitored celebrities.

What is even more striking to me is the advertisements. During the half hour I watched television news coverage on CNN on a Dutch television station this evening, I heard advertisements in both English and Dutch about business opportunities in Nairobi, Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ankara and Riyadh. It was interesting to hear a man with an American accent talking about all the advantages of doing buisness in Singapore, listing among the tremendous business advantages the health care system that keeps employees healthy with little cost to the company. (Will they ever let this guy back into Kansas I keep asking myself.) On other ventures into watching Dutch television I have seen advertisements for banks and investment firms in Nigeria, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Interestingly absent have been advertisements for business opportunities in the Americas.

The quality of television programming in the Netherlands is not especially encouraging, but when is television ever uplifting? Because the Dutch-speaking population in the Netherlands and Flemish Belgium is relatively small, Dutch television stations show quite a bit of programming from Germany, France, Spain, England, Canada and Australia, sometimes with Dutch subtitles and often without. I have seen very little programming from the United States, except for a bowling tournament and some footage of a NASCAR race (along with scenes from auto races in Abu Dhabi, India and China).

If television programming and advertising in this part of Europe is any indication, the world's economic future belongs to Africa, the Middle East and Asia. One could be forgiven for thinking that Europe and North America are about to go the way of all the great empires of the past. No doubt people will still want to go visit the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, and occasionally set up a factory in West Virginia or Alabama to take advantage of the cheap labor. Perhaps a few lucky Americans will be hired to work as maids, cooks and nannies for billionaires in Mumbai or Damascus. I wonder which artifacts of American and European culture will end up in museums for Asians and Africans to admire with slightly condescending smiles on their faces.

In another month I return to Albuquerque. It will be fun to turn on the television news and get caught up on all the reports of domestic violence, rape and murdered drug dealers, not to mention the ongoing efforts of the Albuquerque police force to break up cock-fighting rings and close down methamphetamine labs. It will be fascinating to hear all the arguments against governments playing a role in providing health care and adequate school systems, and to see politicians looking straight into the camera and saying America already has the best health-care system and education in the world.

A comment I have heard from many Europeans is “I've been to America several times. I love it there. I love the open spaces in the West.” I nod in agreement. I also love the West. No matter where I have lived, the Southwestern United States has always been where my heart is. It's my home. And then the conversation continues: “I like the spirit of the American people. So open! So friendly!” Again, I nod. As I nod, a fidgety feeling begins to come over me. I know what is coming next: “But why does America always seem to have such backwards political leadership?” I smile and shrug. By this time I feel as though I should perhaps be bronzed and placed outside as some European taxi driver's garden gnome to keep unfriendly spirits away from the tulips.