Earlier this month we attended a boating get-together of (mostly) Norwegians who are interested in wooden boats. It’s always an interesting and enjoyable time when I’m together with them. The majority are men in their late 50s, 60s and early 70s. Some attend these get-togethers with their wives and kids/grand-kids, whereas others are there without their families. All of them are very wealthy and fairly conservative. When they first meet me, I’m the one who stands out from the crowd, because they hear that I'm an American the minute I open my mouth. I speak Norwegian fluently, but with a decidedly New York accent. Most of them are nice people and friendly to me, if a bit skeptical because of what they’ve heard or know about America. Most of what they know about the USA is based on what they read in Norwegian newspapers or what they hear on TV. I for my part am open and willing to talk to them; I don’t shy away or retreat from the social doings. My conversations with them are usually about how long I have lived in Norway, what I do for a living, and where I work. I end up talking to some of the wives; this year, one of them, a 73-year old woman who had traveled quite a bit around the world, told me about her very enjoyable cross-country tour of the USA some years ago. She loved it and mentioned that her husband did as well (which was not exactly true as I later discovered—she was speaking for him). It was quite interesting to talk with her, and we ended up having a very nice conversation. Eventually her husband joined us, and she told him how nice it was to have met me and conversed with me. It didn’t take long for me to discover that he had an agenda that he wanted to share with me. He had traveled in the USA by himself, he told me, and he had never met so many stupid people in his life (dumme amerikanere). By stupid, he meant untraveled and uninterested in the rest of the world. Since he was easily 73 or 74 years old, his traveling (for business) had been done when he was in his 40s, which meant back in the 1980s. He seemed quite keen on imparting that information to me--that many Americans were stupid. It always strikes me as quite odd that some few Europeans have that particular agenda that they wish to share with me, as though they think that I will immediately agree with them or try to do something about their complaint. Or perhaps he was hoping that I would get my hackles up (I didn't, I kept my cool). What struck me most was the dissimilarity between him and his wife—he was a snob and his wife was not. He clearly did not like that his wife had enjoyed talking to me (a commoner) and was in a hurry to end the conversation. Whenever I meet Europeans like that, it always reminds me of why I am glad to be an American. I am so used to meeting different people from different countries and cultures, and it would never cross my mind to tell a Norwegian whom I had just met that in my opinion, many of his or her countrymen were stupid. I was raised to be a respectful person, and if there is one thing I am not, it’s a snob. In any case, he behaved rudely because he wanted to end the conversation, and not surprisingly, it ended. When I saw them the next day, they both ignored me. I gathered that he had probably put his wife in her place.
I no longer take these snubs personally as I did when I first moved here. It is no longer a surprise to me that some Europeans really do not like the USA. When I look at how the media present the USA to them, it is no surprise at all. In the Norwegian tabloid media at least, the USA is a gun-loving, gun-toting, aggressive, imperialistic, capitalistic country, bent on world domination. It sounds almost silly, but that is the picture painted of the USA. The serious media present specific issues (e.g. gun control, health insurance) in an in-depth manner, so at least the nuances are discussed. It is surprising to me how preoccupied Norwegian media are with what goes on in the USA. Our politicians, political situations, debates and conventions are big news here. Sometimes I think Europeans are more concerned about the problems in the USA than they are about the problems in their own countries. Or perhaps they think that their countries are problem-free. Rest-assured that the latter is not the case; Europe has real problems with terrorism/extremist activities that are only going to get worse before they get better, unfortunately.
I have given up trying to explain to skeptical Europeans that most of the Americans I know are no different than they are—educated, married, raising or have raised families, healthy and unhealthy, hard-working, thinking about retirement, wanting to travel, and so on. It surprises me that well-educated Europeans have not figured this out yet. Apparently they believe everything they read or hear in the media, and their protests notwithstanding, many of them get most of their news from the tabloid media. Or maybe they just don't want to broaden their minds, because if they did, they would no longer be able to see the world in black and white. Perhaps it scares them to think about broadening their perspectives. That surprises me most of all, since it is exactly what they criticize Americans for.