While traveling in Europe, I’ve read the news of the implosion of the G-7 summit. Donald Trump refuses to accede to the conventional international modes of interaction. Here’s why that bothers me.
When I travel with family, I stay in Airbnb’s or similar accommodations. (I’m about to stay on a boat in Amsterdam.) I can’t say I immerse myself in the culture, but I try to connect. We shop at supermarkets and go places tourists don’t go. I am living in the houses of Europeans. Our traveling companions on this trip are an expat American scientist working in Cambridge, England, and a professional engineer from the UK with roots in Australia and France. As I speak with them, I hear the same strains of conflict in their countries that are riling up America.
Yes, things are different here. More people smoke. The refrigerators are tiny. People eat and drink way later than I’m used to. In Belgium, the supermarkets closed at 7pm. The “healthy” breakfast cereals all have chocolate chips in them.
Europe seems to be doing fine. The roads are in great shape. The supermarkets are stocked with stuff from all over the world. There’s a lot more choice of beer, with or without alcohol. Anyone you stop on the street probably speaks great English, and enjoys talking to native English speakers. (At the Rotterdam zoo I saw a girl of about ten with her phone out, clearly trying to take a picture of a butterfly that had landed on her hand. I offered to take the picture with her phone and she replied, in perfect English, “It’s okay, I already took a picture.”)
People who travel internationally learn what should be obvious, which is that people living in other parts of the world have their own way of doing things and are proud of it. The Belgians and the Dutch I talk to (and, on other trips, the Brits, the Austrians, the Spaniards, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Koreans, the Brazilians, and the Canadians) recognize that they have a place in the world, but that the world is an increasingly interconnected place. There are Jamaicans in the UK, Somalis in Rotterdam, and Iranians in America. They don’t necessarily do things the same way I do, but I like that.
Countries should compete. They should strive for advantage and seek to spread their own ways of innovating, of collaborating, of doing business and respecting each other and being successful. Worldviews that generate success tend to spread — assuming the countries with those worldviews remain connected to the rest of the world.
We need each other. I am not interested in becoming a European, doing things the European way, but I certainly think I can learn from it. I want America to remain a citizen of the world community. A little communication and respect is essential. We have more in common than the things that separate us — let’s act like it.