English food stinks.
Too many Americans seem to think for no good reason that Europeans are smarter than we are, wiser than we are—more sophisticated. Maybe it’s the accents. Those teeming shores are teeming with people who sound like David Niven, Curd Jurgens and Laurence Olivier. In any case, it’s past time that our native Euro-worshipers heard some hard truths.
The French don’t bathe. Italian men are mama’s boys. German girls are hairy.
Taking shots at the Europeans is like shooting pickled fish in a barrel. It’s nothing personal, and it’s only fair. Too many residents of that fragile and depleted continent spend entirely too much of their abundant government-subsidized free time finding fault with America and Americans. They don’t like our money, they don’t like our weights and measures, they don’t like the gaps in our public bathroom stall doors. What they do like is smugly criticizing commendable customs and sensible habits homegrown upon rich and energetic New World soils and proudly practiced by a free and resourceful citizenry.
Europeans think we drive too much. And yeah, the average American racks up a lot of road miles: 1.98 times more than French drivers, 2.06 times more than Germans, and 2.23 times more than the average Brit. Europeans like to see this as an American moral failing. In fact, it’s a European policy failing. Last year, the French paid an average $6.83 per gallon, Germans $6.99 per gallon, the British $7.35 and the Irish $7.91, compared with an average cost of $3.90 at the American pump. European gas isn’t better than ours, just taxed to the rafters. If John Bull doesn’t drive as much as Yankee Doodle, it’s because he can’t afford to. And in case anybody’s wondering, Europeans own more cars per capita than we do.
Europeans think we’re too polite. They don’t know why we say “Thank you” so much. They think it’s weird that we strike up conversations with strangers. They find it strange that we feel free to ask questions like “What do you do?” short of a 5-Year Friend- versary. Old World etiquette prescribes a semi-formal approach to interpersonal interaction, cool distance rather than instant camaraderie, probably a byproduct of centuries of strict feudal regime and violent social upheaval. Is it odd that Americans treat everyone warmly until given reason to do otherwise? Maybe. But living in a world full of friends has got to be better than living forever on your guard. Europeans also think it’s weird that we greet people with “How are you?”, as if kissing every Jack, Jacques and Jacobo on both cheeks every time you see them is better.
Europeans find our public admiration for the American flag alarming. That’s understandable, sort of, given the strong symbolic role flags have played during some of Europe’s darker chapters. And granted, America’s mania for the Stars and Stripes can at times seem excessive even to us. On the other hand, for Americans, the flag more often serves as an advertising tool than a display of genuine patriotism or appeal to nationalist sympathies. Just because the flags of Europe are shrouded in negative associations doesn’t mean ours has to be.
Europeans don’t get ice cubes. What’s not to get? Cold equals refreshing—full stop. A long time ago, only Europe’s landed elite used ice, and then mostly just to show the rabble that they could afford to. These days, the Continent’s anti-ice lobby complains that melting ice dilutes its host beverage, which they consider a greater sin than warm Coca-Cola. They’re wrong, of course, just like they’re wrong that it’s okay to charge a quarter for a crummy little 7-gram mustard packet after you just paid $12.00 for a boiled knockwurst.
Europeans think it’s crazy the way American businesses add taxes to purchases at the register instead of building them into advertised prices. In the generous spirit of international diplomacy, we’ll give this one to Europa Regina.
If there’s anything that makes Europeans strut and crow with righteous outrage, it’s the size of American restaurant portions. They have a point, but only to a point. Depending on what you order and where, Europe can dish up servings that would shame an American truck stop diner. For the most part, though, American restaurant plates weigh in about 25 percent bigger than their cousins Across the Pond. There are no half-pound burgers in Burgundy, no bottomless pasta bowls in Bellagio. The Europeans insist that self-discipline and dietary prudence account for the difference, but they’re talking with their mouths full.
Like gasoline, food is relatively cheap in America, and has been for a long time. Portion sizes started blossoming back in the ’70s as restaurants sought to attract customers by offering more grub for the greenback, and exploded like a blooming onion during the hyper-consumptive ’80s. It should be noted, however, that entree sizes were and are roughly the same on both sides of the Atlantic—quarter-pound burgers, 8-ounce steaks, 6-ounce chicken breasts and so forth. Whether they know it or not, when Europeans beef about our portions sizes, they’re fretting about French fries.
But we’re a kindly nation, able and willing to indulge the bogus slanders of the foreign. And we like Europeans, even when they’re mean. Their money is pretty, and they’re generally good at chocolate. We understand that they’re just sore because we drive better, eat better and meet better than they do, and we forgive them for it.
Fabio, Fabien and Fritz have a right to their opinions. That’s the American Way. But they shouldn’t get their feelings hurt if we politely agree to disagree.