Now that I’ve been settled into Maastricht for over a week now and have met, as well as heavily discussed, with many international students, I can say that I am starting to get a clearer picture of what others see of America.
One of the first, and possibly funniest, concepts that many Europeans have is that Americans either are cowboys or love surfing. Basically, it boils down to this: Europeans know two states well and they are California and Texas.
California comes into the picture because a majority of the Europeans that I have met greatly desire to visit California someday, mainly for the beaches and the local culture. Of course with that, I’m always quick to tell them “You don’t want to live in California, you’re asking for an expensive lifestyle.” But I always ensure that I tell them “Yes! Go to California! It’s a place everyone needs to visit!” I had my blasts in California the couple of times I’ve been out there and certainly hope to return there again in the future. When I would tell others that I was from Kansas City, Missouri, usually the first question that was asked was “Is that near Texas?” Which would leave me telling them, “No, Texas is a ways out from Missouri.”
Now for Texas, I have no idea how that state has become so vivid with the minds of those that I have met. Perhaps it was President Bush, who hailed from that state and is still viewed with scornful eyes upon everyone abroad (I’m sure the same goes for the States as well). Or maybe its the cowboy/Western films that featured the desert Southwest of the United States that have caused many Europeans to remember Texas (Arizona, New Mexico, it all looks like Texas I can only presume in their minds). It’s something I need to delve further into as time wears on.
Speaking of Bush, yes, many people greatly dislike that man abroad! I think ‘hate’ is probably an appropriate word, despite it being very strong in its definition, but that’s the vibe that I get. However, President Obama is almost universally adored by all from abroad, who see him as quite an awesome dude. It’s such an interesting concept to see play out, granted that Obama doesn’t appear to share the same level of support he had going into the 2008 Presidential election. And by the looks of it, signs point to “yes” that he will be re-elected again come this November, which appears to excite many Europeans around.
One of the more interesting and deep conversations I’ve had lately was with another fellow student from Norway (his name escapes me) and our views on justice. I’m not sure what drove the conversation towards the justice system, but I know it began somewhere along with Anders Breivik and the mass killings that man perpetrated in Norway last year. The man was recently convicted in court to a sentence that many Americans would deem ‘light,’ given the level of mass terrorism he single-handily did in short time. My Norwegian friend and I both were in unanimous agreement that the man was certifiably crazy for what he did and that justice should fall upon him, but it was the level of justice we didn’t agree upon. For Norway, and I believe nearly all of the European nations (I need to fact check this), the death penalty (capital punishment) does not exist, therefore a murderer, however vile and murderous they may be, will never be executed by the state. Of course in the United States, it’s up to the actual states themselves to decide whether capital punishment should be enforced, with many of states having such level of punishment ‘on the books’ (capital punishment on the federal level, however, exists, regardless of state). My Norwegian friend just thought this was beyond peculiar that we Americans would go to such levels of ‘cruelty’ upon those who commit such cruel acts. I did my best trying to explain the reasoning why many Americans believe in capital punishment, using the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” concept to express such views.
We segued then into discussing last year’s Bin Laden raid, when SEAL Team 6 killed the world’s most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden, in his compound in Pakistan. Again, we both came to the same conclusion that, in one respect, Osama’s death was an acceptable conclusion to one of the most intense manhunts in history. But what it came down to was whether it was a morally correct act to kill someone in such a manner (for those that somehow don’t know how the raid went down, here’s an abridged version: SEALs get into compound, find Osama on the third floor, shoot him in the head, leave. There’s a movie coming out near the end of the year chronicling the full events of the manhunt, including the raid, as directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow.). From my friend’s point of view, he believed that Osama should have been arrested and not killed outright; he should have faced the court system and stand for the charges that he committed in his life, despite the fact that Osama’s ultimate punishment would most likely have been the death penalty. I was inclined to agree with his statement that justice should have been taken down in the manner of the courts, but I’m not one to tell what the Navy SEALs should and shouldn’t do (they’re a terrifying and effective force as is, best I not stand in their way).
Our discussion concerning Osama, the Norway mass killings, and other matters were certainly some of the most insightful that I’ve ever had with another in a long time and has really helped put a perspective on the views of other Europeans. Granted, I was only speaking with one person from Norway, so his view should not be the view of all Europeans; after all, assumptions can be the worst form of stupidity a person can suffer. We did delve into the matter of gun rights and why there should/shouldn’t be laws for such material items, but I prefer to sway away from that discussion given how contentious of an issue it is in the USA and abroad; I am here to discuss the happenings of my travels, not to give political speeches on various ideologies (though if enough people feel that I should write about our gun discussion, I would be more than happy to oblige).