August 25, 2009

Europe Isn't Actually a Utopian Theme Park

I enjoy visiting Europe when I can and when I can afford it – which is not very often. Occasionally, though, I get to spend small amounts of time there for very little money while en route somewhere else.

At the end of last year I was stranded in Rome for a couple of days on my way home from the Middle East thanks to a baggage handler's strike by Alitalia employees that threw Italy's air transportation system into chaos. I wasn't supposed to be in Rome for more than two hours while waiting for a connecting flight from Beirut to Chicago, but I was stuck in a hotel in Rome's suburbs, miles away from the city center, while waiting for Alitalia to get its act together.

Most Americans who visit Europe, including me, spend most of our time in places where relatively few Europeans can afford to live. We visit the continental equivalents of Manhattan and skip the equivalents of Peoria and Long Island. If we didn't, I think the average American's opinion of Europe would be rather different than it is.

After spending far more time than I ever wanted in modern Rome's outer darkness, I have to agree with Tyler Cowen:

My…view is that Americans rate European life so highly (in part) because the buildings from previous eras are so striking and attractive. If all of the U.S. looked like U.S. postwar construction, the country would still impress more or less as it does. If all of Europe looked like its postwar construction, Americans would be less likely to admire European policies and political institutions. Yes I know about Lille, and contemporary Spanish architecture, but in reality most Americans would think of Europe as some kind of dump.

If it's any consolation to my European readers, I really do think most of your fantastically expensive old city centers are nicer than most of ours.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 25, 2009 3:11 PM

As someone who has visited family in France many times and walked through some of the non-tourist areas more than the average American tourist, I think you are exaggerating a bit.

I can't speak for other European countries but the overall urban and small town scenery of France is much better than the US.

I have family in a western Parisian suburb and it very nice. Okay, no, I haven't seen any of slums we all heard about and I'm sure they exist, but they probably aren't any worse than the slums in Baltimore, which are a thousand times better than the slums in Brazil, but then again, which slums aren't better than Brazil.


Things are pricier in Europe because of the taxes, but hey, we have tens of millions of uninsured American right here at home.

Posted by: Michael W. Author Profile Page at August 25, 2009 7:11 PM

So very true!

In Prague, where I am sitting now, the old center is a real highlight, an unique medieval city on its own.

But go 30 miles away, and you may find some really ugly places.

Posted by: MarianCZ Author Profile Page at August 26, 2009 12:09 AM

Long Island is actually quite affluent

Posted by: Boojum Author Profile Page at August 26, 2009 7:30 AM

Every country is the same, they all have good and bad, rich and poor areas, anyone who thinks otherwise is deeply naive.

Posted by: Andrew Author Profile Page at August 27, 2009 6:27 AM

The old cities of ex-commie Eastern Europe are also nice, but with a lot more commie crap.

The poor villages outside the main cities are usually quite a bit poorer, but often with a lot more obvious new reconstruction.

But most Americans live in good areas of US cities, or modern suburbs -- and thus 'dump' is reasonably accurate to describe a lot of Europe.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at September 1, 2009 10:13 PM
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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