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Part 5 of 5 of the "What Can Americans Teach Europeans" series
Moreover, America’s unique cuisine doesn’t end with a cheeseburger and a Coke. We’ve either invented or popularized banana splits, brownies, buffalo wings, cheese steaks, corn dogs, cotton candy, corn on the cob, doughnuts, fried chicken, fudge, garden burgers, grits, hot dogs, ice cream cones, Jell-O, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, onion rings, pancakes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pecan pie, popcorn, Popsicles, potato chips, Rice Krispie treats, root beer float, shoofly pie, sloppy joe, submarine sandwiches, and of course, the Twinkie. Not only does this list prove that Americans have plenty of dishes that are uniquely ours, but this list also explains why we are so incredibly fat.
Obviously American cuisine isn’t the most nutritious cuisine on the planet. The point is that we invented plenty of dishes. Besides, it’s impossible to find any national cuisine that is 100 percent healthy. Since the Japanese live the longest, they have arguably the best diet around. However, even the Japanese eat plenty of deep fried foods and white rice. And they often wash it down with beer or sake. Yes, Americans have one of the least healthy diets on the planet; on the other hand, I’ve never found a country that can make salads that are as delicious as the ones you can find in California. Finally, America is better than any other country at welcoming (and eating) exotic food from all over the world. Try finding non-Italian cuisine in Italy.
The other insult Europeans like to fling at Americans is that we have “no culture.” Really? That’s funny, because it seems that no other country does a better job at exporting its culture than America does. It’s hard to go anywhere on the planet and meet people who do not know about American music, television, books, movies, sports, and cuisine (which includes the fast food it invented).
Cultural snobs will say all that doesn’t count and that it’s not real culture. Who decided that? Why is the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark not as culturally significant as Schindler’s List? They are both masterpieces (and they happen to both be directed by the same American). Is Michael Jordan not as important as Roger Federer, the Swiss tennis player? Is Elvis less important than Mozart? If American TV is so bad, why do I see it in every country I go? It’s hard to go anywhere and not see The Discovery Channel. Every major country copies American Idol and other popular TV shows. The world copies American culture. The copying of American culture is so pervasive that most people who complain about “globalization” are really complaining about “Americanization.”
Snobs insist this is all “low culture.” First, that’s arrogant and subjective, but let’s play along. If you want “high culture,” then consider American writers (Twain, Fitzgerald, Poe, Thoreau, T.S. Eliot, Kerouac, Tennessee Williams), American fashion designers (Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Levi Strauss), American visual artists (O’Keefe, Pollock, Warhol, Rockwell, Ansel Adams, the sculptors of DC’s monuments), American composers (Irving Berlin, Scott Joplin, Philip Glass, George Gershwin, John Williams), American chefs (Emeril, Nathalie Dupree, Alice Waters, Julia Child, Anthony Bourdain), and American architects (Julia Morgan, Buckminster Fuller, Frank Lloyd Wright). If you admire skyscrapers, remember that Americans were the first to make those too. In short, Americans have culture—in both the “high” and “low” flavors.
Finally, the last put down that Europeans lob at Americans is that America has “no history.” Sadly, this insults the Native Americans more than anyone else. Tell the descendants of the Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs that they have no history. Tell the Native Americans in North America that they have no history, when most historians estimate that they’ve been running around the America ever since they crossed the land bridge near the Bering Strait 12,000 years ago. Several Northern European countries weren’t even populated until 8,000 years ago. American history, therefore, is at least 4,000 years older than the Scandinavian and Baltic history.
If you need impressive structures to believe that a country has “history,” then visit the archaeological remains in Monks Mound, Taos, and Chaco. Or visit Teotihuacan, Tikal, and Machu Picchu in Central and South America. Besides, many of Europe’s impressive buildings are only a few hundred years old. Boston’s Faneuil Hall, for example, was built before the Louvre became a museum in 1793. The dirty little secret that few Europeans will talk about is that many of their “old” buildings were recently reconstructed from scratch. For example, Warsaw and Dresden look like old cities, but all their buildings are younger than Disneyland.
Although Eurasians were better at documenting their ancient history than Americans were, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have any history. It just means you need to look a bit harder, but it’s there. At best, a few Europeans countries claim that they started in the seventh century, but many were born around the eleventh century. However, these “nations” were fragile and had far more pronounced regional identities than national ones. They weren’t like modern nations today, but rather fiefdoms and small territories clumped together in a quasi-union. Even today, European countries are more regionally focused than nationally focused. In other words, 500 years ago European nations were not much different than the American nations of the Aztecs, Incas, Comanche, and Sioux. Just like Europeans, Native Americans had a hierarchical government, languages, and culture.
It’s incredibly Euro-centric (and ignorant) to argue that American history started with the arrival of the Europeans. Yet that’s exactly what many Europeans implicitly do when they say “America has no history.” That’s like Turks saying that European history started when the Ottomans invaded the Balkans 500 years ago. The Slavs would be furious to hear that. The Turks displaced, killed, and mixed with Slavs just like Europeans killed, displaced, and mixed with Native Americans.
Some Europeans backpedal out of this argument by saying, “We’re not saying that the American continent has no history, just that America, the country, is young and doesn’t have much history.” And your country does? Apart from Iceland, America has the oldest government in existence. Most European countries formed new governments and new constitutions less than 60 years ago.
I hope this shuts up snobs throughout the world who keep spreading the stupid idea that America has “no cuisine, no culture, and no history.” Although I’ve been picking on Europeans, other people are also guilty of promoting this idea. Even Americans do it. It’s time we educate those who are ignorant. In short, I’m not asking anyone to like American cuisine, culture, or history. I’m just asking everyone to stop believing that we don’t have any.
Conclusion of the five-part series on What Americans Can Teach Europeans
Europeans are right to criticize America’s foreign policy and the CIA, because both can be aggressive and unfair. However, let’s give the American empire credit for being the most benign empire ever. Let’s also admit that the CIA doesn’t know and control everything. Similarly, Europeans have a fair point when they say that Americans are fake, ignorant, and a bit low-brow culturally. However, when compared to typical Europeans, we’re not that bad. Pass this onto anyone who tries to argue otherwise. And tell them that a half-French, half-Chilean person wrote it—someone with no American blood in him.
Europeans have much to teach Americans, which is why I’ve written a 640-page book which captures the lessons from Eastern Europe. This little Appendix to the book, however, is for Europeans, so they can learn a bit more about America and have a more realistic perspective of the United States.
Lastly, do Americans have five criticisms about Europeans too? No. Just one. We wish Europeans would catch up to the rest of the world cultures by being a bit more open, warm, friendly, and smiling. Have a nice day!
In case you missed it, read part 1 of the What Americans Can Teach Europeans article series.
This is an excerpt from the Appendix of The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us. Although this article is filed under Western Europe, its message is for Eastern Europeans and everyone else on the planet who believes these five American myths. For those who worry that fanatical American patriots have brainwashed me, don't worry. About 99% of my upcoming book is about what Eastern Europeans can teach Americans (hence, the title). I'm simply sharing the 1% of my book that argues the contrary point. Please read the Introduction to The Hidden Europe to get the complete picture.
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