How much simpler life would be for the Europeans if only they could enjoy a lively wave of anti-Americanism! They could happily unite to build up their own industry and technology in order to defend themselves. They could redevelop their own European culture and values, uncorrupted by foreigners. And the British, more than anyone, could stop fooling themselves about their special relationship and learn to fend for themselves. But would they?
At first sight Americans provide Europeans with ample reasons for resentment and prejudice. The Americans seem to keep pretending that Western Europe isn't really a separate continent at all, but a kind of transatlantic annex, with spare states waiting to be Americanized. They still don't seem to have noticed that we speak different languages. They still come over to lecture us about the dangers of Soviet communism without realizing most European communists hate Moscow anyway. They still don't seem to have noticed that the European community has become almost as rich and important as the United States. They still think that pounds, francs or marks are just comic temporary substitutes for the dollar.
Americans still think that Europe, like the United States, should start afresh every four years. They still expect us to switch our policies with each new American president, to become passionate about human rights one moment and indifferent the next; to be obsessed by Iran and then forget it.
Handshakes: Even though they share the same language with the British - in theory at least - they constantly find new ways to murder English, cluttering up nouns and inventing long Latinized words. As for their social habits, they insist on introducing themselves to everybody with a handshake, contracting everyone to a two-syllable Christian name and a middle initial. They insist on business breakfasts and sandwich lunches and having too many drinks before dinner. They assume that all Europeans - not to mention Asians and Africans - are longing in the end to be Americans.
So why on earth don't the Europeans assert themselves against all these American absurdities and go back to their own great culture and civilization?
Because there are one or two problems. In the first place, so many Europeans seem determined themselves to be more American than the Americans, to compete with every kind of excess. A skyscraper jungle? The French will build their own super-Manhattan outside Paris to create a futurist nightmare on a still more inhuman scale. Right-wing theory? The British are insisting on being more monetarist than the monetarists. Noise and crowds? Italian beaches and motorways can never be outdone.
Once the Europeans think of actually doing without the American style, the prospect of an uncorrupted European culture begins to look less tempting. Get rid of all those jeans and T shirts and soap operas, super markets and drugstores and Coca-Colas? Heavens no. Would the British confine themselves to their stuffy old parties where no one is introduced to anyone or remembers their first name? Not likely.
There is another tricky problem, which is the difficulty of being more anti-American than the Americans themselves. Each time European left-wingers begin to work up to a really promising crusade - whether against the Vietnam War, the CIA or intervention in Central America - they find that American critics have got in before them, with far more ammunition and vigor. When Europeans attack America, they always have to use American slogans and weaponry - whether teach-ins, sit-ins, demos or chants.
Perhaps it's a bit hard on the Europeans that they never seem to be able to find that simple and solid enemy across the Atlantic who would compel them to discover their own confident identity. And perhaps it's specially hard on the British, who have had the most intimate and awkward relationship, never quite knowing who owns their language and culture; it's like a parent who has to share a house with an errant child. ...
Even when the British finally decide that they are really Europeans after all, people who must get closer to their own continent, they find another shock in store. They discover that the European idea is really an American idea, that the people who have believed most sincerely in a Europe without frontiers have been the Americans who don't know about frontiers.
However much Europeans may resent the United States, they tend to resent other European countries even more - particularly their closest neighbors. When the British, French or Italians meet in America, dislocated by the restless new continent, they begin to feel that Europeans are discovering their common identity. But once back in Europe again, they are much less sure.
If only the Americans would be a bit more dislikable.
beastly (BE, infml.): nasty
fend for oneself: take care of oneself
spare (adj): further
clutter sth. up: bring sth. into disorder by overfilling
assert oneself : act forcefully
soap opera: sentimental TV serial
confine oneself to sth.: limit oneself to sth.
stuffy: dull, formal
crusade [-'-]: Kreuzzug
vigor : energy, forcefulness
chant (n.): Sprechchor
errant : leaving home and doing wrong in distant places
Talking about the text
1. What possibilities does Sampson see for the Europeans to find their own identity? How seriously are his suggestions to be taken?
2. Why, in the writer's opinion, is it particularly difficult for the British to distance themselves from America and the American way of life? What other reasons can you think of?
3. The text is structured according to a specific order*. Identify the order and its parts by tracing the writer's arguments.
4. How does Sampson try to convince his readers, and what stylistic device does he use to this aim?
5. The text originally appeared in the American news magazine "Newsweek". What might have been the writer's purpose in discussing what are essentially European problems in a magazine written primarily for Americans? Explain.
6. European protests against certain American policies, especially by young people, are often described in the media as "anti-American". Do you believe that there is really "a wave of anti-Americanism" among young Europeans? Do you think it is desirable and accurate for such protests to be labelled "anti-American"? Discuss.