America first?

While traveling in Europe, I’ve read the news of the implosion of the G-7 summit. Donald Trump refuses to accede to the conventional international modes of interaction. Here’s why that bothers me.

When I travel with family, I stay in Airbnb’s or similar accommodations. (I’m about to stay on a boat in Amsterdam.) I can’t say I immerse myself in the culture, but I try to connect. We shop at supermarkets and go places tourists don’t go. I am living in the houses of Europeans. Our traveling companions on this trip are an expat American scientist working in Cambridge, England, and a professional engineer from the UK with roots in Australia and France. As I speak with them, I hear the same strains of conflict in their countries that are riling up America.

Yes, things are different here. More people smoke. The refrigerators are tiny. People eat and drink way later than I’m used to. In Belgium, the supermarkets closed at 7pm. The “healthy” breakfast cereals all have chocolate chips in them.

Europe seems to be doing fine. The roads are in great shape. The supermarkets are stocked with stuff from all over the world. There’s a lot more choice of beer, with or without alcohol. Anyone you stop on the street probably speaks great English, and enjoys talking to native English speakers. (At the Rotterdam zoo I saw a girl of about ten with her phone out, clearly trying to take a picture of a butterfly that had landed on her hand. I offered to take the picture with her phone and she replied, in perfect English, “It’s okay, I already took a picture.”)

People who travel internationally learn what should be obvious, which is that people living in other parts of the world have their own way of doing things and are proud of it. The Belgians and the Dutch I talk to (and, on other trips, the Brits, the Austrians, the Spaniards, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Koreans, the Brazilians, and the Canadians) recognize that they have a place in the world, but that the world is an increasingly interconnected place. There are Jamaicans in the UK, Somalis in Rotterdam, and Iranians in America. They don’t necessarily do things the same way I do, but I like that.

Countries should compete. They should strive for advantage and seek to spread their own ways of innovating, of collaborating, of doing business and respecting each other and being successful. Worldviews that generate success tend to spread — assuming the countries with those worldviews remain connected to the rest of the world.

We need each other. I am not interested in becoming a European, doing things the European way, but I certainly think I can learn from it. I want America to remain a citizen of the world community. A little communication and respect is essential. We have more in common than the things that separate us — let’s act like it.

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  1. As a European (Brit) I’m so gratified to read this. I hope for all our sakes that enough Americans think like you to be able to do something about it come 2020. Trump’s “Me First wah wah wah” attitude is going to ruin your economy, and the rest of the world will suffer as a consequence. Please keep up with the fight, good will always prevail.

    1. There are many more Americans who think (and speak) this way and will do something about it in 2020 (or at least try to do something.) Meeting people from other countries and traveling abroad is (as Josh noted) a very effective way to learn more about the world and its peoples (especially when you plan to experience other countries like a resident does.) That’s been effective for me.

      We’re very much not like Europe: We’ve never known brutal occupation (British colonization is annecdotal), we treated our indigenous peoples worse than our livestock animals, and we still harbor fears of people of color. We have oceans on 2 sides and benign countries on the other 2 sides (so our sheepishness or obliviousness is one outcome.)

      The reaction to George W. Bush being elected President elicited similar wonder abroad. This is much worse and more dangerous, I believe. I have hope that elections will be sufficient, but given how the Republicans in Congress have acquiesced (or worse) to Trump and his cabal, I am not certain elections will be enough.

  2. This planetary boat we’re all on is a leaky vessel. It’s bad enough when a country decides that they don’t have to work to bail the water coming in the leaky holes.

    It’s far worse when one country, especially a large country that had once been a leader in international cooperation to plug the leaks, suddenly goes rogue and decides the way to solve the problem is to shoot even larger holes in the vessel.

    God help us all.

  3. I’m about to go abroad on a trip that includes Russia, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland. Last year’s trip to Iceland already had several instances of “American, go home” interactions, and a lot of “are you Americans nuts?” interactions.

    This year, I’m more worried about “get out” interactions, or, worse, interactions with locals of the “you need to (involuntarily) stay with us on a longer-term basis” type.

    What should I expect, Dr. Wobs?