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Culture Under Siege by Eurotrash

The following article did indeed appear under the title shown above in the June 25—28, 1992, edition of The European, published in London, but in a highly edited version. On this website, readers will get a chance to read the piece in its original form and decide for themselves what may have led the editor to make so many changes. The original title was:

What's Your "Eurotrash" Rating?
Find Out Before Visiting the US.

Time was when Americans were presented as the world's worst travellers. Loud, boastful, culturally unprepared, they brandished cash in fist throughout the capitals of Europe, shocking and revolting the citizens of a dozen different nations. Now the tables are turned to some extent, and European travellers are visiting the US in ever greater numbers. And, strange to say, much the same stories are being heard again, only this time about Europeans. They too in their turn are being described as rude, unsophisticated, culturally inept, even as oafs, bumpkins, and parvenus. In fact Americans have even invented a word to describe these travellers—"Eurotrash," they call them. Not a very polite word, modelled as it is on such southern slurs as `black trash' and `white trash,' though so far Americans seem to be using the term in a gentle mocking way. Couldn't possibly apply to you? Think you're the ultimate sophisticated traveller? Try our little ten-question true-or-false quiz to test your own Eurotrash rating. And then read on."

Probably the first thing to emphasize, before we even come to the Eurotrash factor, is that America is a foreign country. This may come as a shock to those who have been absorbing bits of Americana on TV for generations, but it really can be quite foreign for Europeans just getting off the plane. Different air, water, and—MacDonalds aside—even food. Different windows, light switches, bathroom faucets and appliances. Not to mention different hours of business, tipping customs, and tax laws. And even this thumbnail sketch leaves out all the regional differences between cities and states. Plus which there's a real language difference, which may prove just as trying in its way for Britons as for other Europeans. This all adds up to a formidable dose of cultural shock, lasting through the few weeks most Europeans remain in the States. This in turn can easily be potentiated at first by a fair case of jet lag, especially since most most flights in Europe last only an hour or two and not the gruelling six hours to New York or twelve to the west coast.

All of this can contribute to the Eurotrash phenomenon, even if one has emerged from our quiz with a fairly low score. But what are some of the symptoms of this syndrome as noted by Americans. The New York Times recently told of A French tourist dining in the restaurant of a posh New York hotel, who as the New York Times prominently described the incident, took it upon himself to switch tables and sit down directly besides two Americans and even snatch their food from them and begin eating it. There are his other many compatriots, joined by other Europeans, who insist on touring the South Bronx as a major tourist attraction amidst loud and invidious comments that such violence and destruction could never take place in Europe, not exactly music to the ears of the many Americans who feel they helped rebuild Europe after World War Two. Or a diplomat at the UN, also a Frenchman, who informed me that prices in New York should be far cheaper since with the immigration of so many South Americans and Asians it had become basically a Third World city.

And for every such Frenchman, as hotel clerks will testify, there must dozens of Britons and other Europeans who storm and scream about the terrible overheating in US hotel rooms, an interesting twist on all the Americans who used to complain about underheating in Europe. Or one typical Englishman, who stated categorically that he would not dream of turning on American TV while visiting, since he already knew it was dreadful. Since the US now typically boasts between 40 and 100 TV channels, including news, public service, foreign language, and cultural programning unimaginable in Europe, such attitudes may be misplaced, leaving the quality of English or continental TV offerings unexamined. I also vividly remember two highly placed German art bureaucrats assuring me that New York was almost entirely a German city—they had proved this by glancing at the many "German" names on apartment bells throughout the city. Clearly they knew little of German or Jewish history, and they were embarrassed when I explained that almost all these names belonged to Jewish families who had fled European oppression.

Eurotrash attitudes also come in intellectual flavors, for instance the recent lament by a prominent British editor that "local monolinguals must not be.....left behind by an international, intrinsically shallow, Coca-Cola-and-Dallas culture with bad English as the international language." Or the statement by a Swiss journalist that Texans and New Yorkers, due to the anarchic quality of American English, are unable to discuss business together without the presence of translators and interpreters. Linguists disagree on what constitutes a "dialect," but it should be obvious that a language form that has its own worldwide cultural influence and is spoken and understood by over two hundred million people cannot be dismissed as a dialect of a different language form spoken by far fewer people in another country. Or another Swiss author who just last month publicly proclaimed to his international colleagues at a public conference that "Europa hat es besser." Certainly such attitudes to American language and culture are widespread throughout Europe, but guests uncivil enough to voice such opinions while visiting the US should not be surprised by the Eurotrash concept.

The potential rebirth of western Europe seems to be kindling many of these attitudes again. This could prove unfortunate for Europe and America alike if it leads to nothing more than an exchange of insults and a hardening of attitudes on both sides. It is of course natural that Europeans should feel and express great hope and optimism about the future of their developing community. It is even reasonable that some of this optimism should spill over into boastfulness and constructive competition. But Europeans might also do well to realize that the task they have set themselves is far from an easy one, and many of its phases belong to the future. White european civilization is of course far older than its American counterpart, but it is perhaps worth considering that the European Community, as seen in terms of US history, is still located somewhere around the year 1785, when the original American states first began to realize the need for union but before they devised a working constitution.

As an official spokesman for French culture recently confessed to me, many Europeans who respect America also suffer from an inferiority complex about the US and feel threatened by the bulldozer effect of American cultural values. Eurotrash attitudes are no solution for this problem, however, as they merely awaken a complementary inferiority complex in Americans and suggest the reemergence of European colonialist thinking.

For every ugly American there are many others who are deeply sensitive to European cultural values. Hopefully there are many other Europeans as well to counterbalance those who suffer from Eurotrash attitudes. Perhaps the solution, in this age of instant phones, faxes, and TV, is for all us to look at each other as equals without the need for any such demeaning distortions.

And now it's time for our European readers to


NOTE: this quiz should only be taken by Europeans
who have never been to America or have spent only a brief time there. Americans who try to take it are likely to be quite confused—especially if they are American intellectuals, which may just show how far their image of Europe is from the reality.

1. I already know all about America from their films and television, so I don't need any advice on how to behave over there. [ ] TRUE [ ] FALSE

2. Compared to Europeans, most Americans are basically insensitive. This means it's almost impossible to hurt their feelings. [ ] TRUE [ ] FALSE

3. In many ways the US truly had the September 11 terrorist attacks coming, simply from their arrogant manner of forcibly       imposing their so-called culture on other more mature societies.  [ ] TRUE  [ ] FALSE

4. America is now having financial problems because their society is too racially and ethnically mixed to work efficiently. [ ] TRUE [ ] FALSE

5. The "American Century" is now drawing to a close, and the 21st Century will belong to Europe. [ ] TRUE [ ] FALSE

6. Americans do not speak correct English as I learned it in school but are only capable of speaking a low-grade dialect. It is my duty to bring their linguistic failings to their attention as often as possible. [ ] TRUE [ ] FALSE

7. The ruins of the South Bronx and the recent riots in Los Angeles make Europe look civilized by comparison.
[ ] TRUE [ ] FALSE

8. America went from infancy to decadence in a single generation without ever passing through true maturity.
 [ ] TRUE [ ] FALSE

9. The main point of the European Community is to stop the US from dumping their goods here and establish markets for European goods over there. [ ] TRUE [ ] FALSE

10. Compared to Europe, America is a very young country. This means that all Americans are essentially children and must follow advice from their European elders. [ ] TRUE

Assign yourself two points if you answered Question (1) or Question (2) as "TRUE." Assign yourself one point for every other question you answered as "TRUE." Your place in the Eurotrash spectrum is as follows:

1—3 points: Mild Eurotrash Syndrome

4—6 points: Moderate Eurotrash Syndrome

7—9 points: Advanced Eurotrash Syndrome

10—12 points: Severe (& Possibly Hopeless) Eurotrash Syndrome

You are totally safe from all signs of this illness only if you answered all the above questions as "FALSE."

This article is Copyright © 1992
by Alexander Gross. It may be
reproduced for individuals and for
educational purposes only. It may
not be used for any commercial (i.e.,
money-making) purpose without
written permission from the author.

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