Tag Archives: europe

In Continent: Pictures of Europe’s Boringest Cities

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For the last two weeks I was on an epic work trip.

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To Geneva, Brussels, London and The Hague. This is the ceiling of the UN!

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You know that movie that you liked when you were a kid, and you watch it now, and it sucks, and it makes you hate it, and it makes you hate your younger self for ever liking it? That’s exactly how I feel about Geneva.

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Look how obnoxiously beautiful it is, the whole country is an elaborate commercial for LL Bean.

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Even the statues are look passive-aggressive, like, ‘oh you only have one watch?’

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Next up: Brussels! The only people who hate it more than the tourists are the people who live there.

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The city’s neighborhoods are either dioramas for tourists or slums, nothing in between. Walking long distances is like going from Narnia into Mordor.

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Hoping Belgium had more to offer, I took a daytrip to Gent, which is Flemish for disappointment. I ate canal fish and waited for the rain to stop. The local residents have been doing little else for 600 years.

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I did go to a great art museum, though, where I got shouted at for taking pictures of a quotidian machine and a projected image.

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I have no idea what these signs mean.

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Did I mention that I’m a 30-year-old man?

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Later that week, I went to a meeting at the European parliament. The wallpaper symbolizes how you can all be the same color, yet still not mix.

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This building is only two stories tall, I’m just that short.

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Europeans have to color their cities to make you forget how little alcohol is in that hot wine.

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London is only photogenic twice a year. The queen alerts all her subjects by text message.

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Here’s some graffiti that I thought looked kind of like me. Especially the buildings coming out of the face. 

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The Shard was just completed, but it’s being torn down next year because it makes it harder for the pigeons to see St. Paul’s.

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Two weeks later, I’m back in Berlin, same as I left it: Cold, grey and covered in cocaine. Thank God. 

 

 

 

 

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Why I Will Never Move Back to the United States

I left America in 2005. I don’t know when I started telling people that I would never move back, but about two or three years ago, I realized that I meant it.

Work
You know all that shit you hear about Europeans being indolent socialist sponges? It’s fucking Bible true. Europeans work fewer hours every week and get more vacation every year. They are harder to fire, so when their bosses ask them to do unreasonable shit like work on a weekend, they say ‘no’ and the conversation ends.

For a foreigner, integration means becoming just like them. If I ever move back to the States, I would have to find a job where I was paid a wage in exchange for my labor, rather than just my presence. Even if I wanted to move back, I’d be homeless in a matter of weeks.

Transport
Biking in Berlin isn’t as Cadillac-smooth as it was in Copenhagen, but it’s fundamentally a safe, feasible way to get where I need to be. On the days when it’s not possible to bike (snow drift, flat tire, urban riot), a comprehensive public transport system takes me within walking distance.

This means I haven’t sat in a traffic jam or looked for a parking space since Star Wars Episode III was in theaters. The parts of my brain that managed those things are now devoted exclusively to cheese and wine pairings.

Food
Again, the stereotypes about European food are all actually facts. It fucking is better here. Europe has bakeries like America has Starbuckses. The coffee is blacker, the fruit is fruitier and all the scientists are too busy eating to genetically modify anything.

People think food service is slow and rude in Europe. This is incorrect. The meals are just so good, the waiters are reluctant to give them away.

Healthcare
I don’t think any country has successfully divorced health from income, but at least it’s less blatant here than in the US. When I inevitably get hit by a bus, I’ll get repaired, I won’t get an invoice.

Americans bitching about socialized medicine is like starving African kids bitching about the new Facebook layout. After seven years in three European countries, I wish bureaucrats would find more of my life to socialize.

Socializing
Being a foreigner is awesome. When I do something a few standard deviations weirder than the median, people go ‘he’s weird because he’s foreign’ rather than ‘he’s weird because he’s an asshole’. Being treated this way isn’t a privilege I’m going to give up just so I can go back to speaking the same language as everyone else.

Government
Guantanamo, drone strikes, enhanced interrogation, too big to fail, more with less, flavored milk, the TSA, the filibuster, the Bush tax cuts, the death penalty, Sarah Fucking Palin, bankruptcy reform, wardrobe malfunction, Twilight–this isn’t a culture that represents my values.

I’m not actually making the argument that Europe is better than the US. A lot of people prefer driving to walking, libertarianism to a nanny state and getting rich to paying taxes. That’s totally fine. But at this point, it’s totally not me.

I’ve lived in Sydney, London, Copenhagen and now Berlin, and none of them are perfect. I don’t want to stay here forever. I don’t want to not want to move home. I just know that, on every dimension I care about, living in the States would mean a sacrifice I’m not willing to make.

Part of me will always be ready buy a one-way ticket back to America. I just have to make sure America’s ready to have me too.

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Let a thousand cartoon crises bloom

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One of my coworkers is having an issue at his son's elementary school. One of the mothers sent this e-mail to all the other parents:

Kære til alle forældre for (…). Idag kommer min søn hjem fra skole ked af det, fordi nogle, af børnene fra hans klasse legede med at tegnede Profet Muhammad (Guds fred og velsignelse være med ham). Ikke kun det, men de tegnede også gud. Det kan være I hader Islam, uden at I ved hvad Islam egentlig går ud på eller har ingen viden om hvad religionen betyder vores for os, som troende muslimer. Vil I ikke tage en ærlig snak med jeres børn at man tager hensyn til hvad andre tror på og at man ikke krænker hinandens tro. Jeg håber virkelig at I vil snakke med jeres børn.

I JERES EGEN LOV SIGES DET:
Straffelovens §266b omtales i daglig tale som racismeparagraffen. Dens ordlyd er:
Den, der offentligt eller med forsæt til udbredelse i en videre kreds fremsætter udtalelse eller anden meddelelse, ved hvilken en gruppe af personer trues, forhånes eller nedværdiges på grund af sin race, hudfarve, nationale eller etniske oprindelse, tro eller seksuelle orientering, straffes med bøde hæfte eller fængsel indtil 2 år.
Stk. 2. Ved straffens udmåling skal det betragtes som en skærpende omstændighed, at forholdet har karakter af propagandavirksomhed.

Straffelovens §140 omtales i daglig tale som blasfemiparagraffen. Dens ordlyd er:
Den, der offentlig driver spot med eller forhåner noget her i landet lovligt bestående religionssamfunds troslærdomme eller gudsdyrkelse, straffes med bøde eller fængsel indtil 4 måneder.

Med venlig hilsen.

English version:

Dear parents,
Today my son came home from school upset because some of the kids in his class played around by drawing the Prophet Mohammad (peace be unto him). They didn't just draw him, they also drew God. It could be that you all hate Islam without knowing what Islam is really all about, or you don't know what the religion means for us Muslims. Could you all please have an honest conversation with your children about showing consideration for what others believe and not violating their beliefs. I really hope that you'll talk to your children.

IN YOUR OWN LAW IT SAYS:
[text of Danish hate speech law]

Best regards,
[Mother's name]

This strikes me as precisely the kind of conflict that is probably very common in the daily life of Western Europe in 2010, and one for which the politics and media of Western Europe in 2010 are wholly unequipped.

If this made it to the newspapers, it would probably be framed as a symptom of a societal trend leading, in some mysterious yet inevitable way, toward either Germany '39 or Iran '79. The right wing parties, panties firmly bunched, would issue statements that the Muslims have gone too far in asking Christians to bend to their whims. The left wing parties would issue proposals to ban chalkboard-based hate speech.

I told my colleage, look, we really don't know what happened here. Maybe these kids drew Muhammad on the wall specifically because they knew it would upset the Muslim kid. Or maybe they were just doodling a bunch of random shit. We have no idea if this is a phenomenon or an anecdote.

Cases like this are hardly new. Religious and ethnic tolerance in formerly homogeneous societies is a genuine challenge, and we can't will it away by shouting 'racist!' and 'pre-Enlightenment!' at each other.

In a Mobius-strippy way, the current political climate creates both this mother's anger and my colleague's oversensitivity. Islam, whether we agree with it or not, is a Big Political Issue. If this was an overweight kid, or a short kid, who felt hurt and attacked for being different, we would look at what happened and address the case on its own merits. It wouldn't be the tip of an iceberg. 

If a kid is being bullied, the content of the bullying is beside the point, and the bullies should be punished. If these kids accidentally offended the Muslim kid (the only one in their class, according to my colleague), then they should apologize, the same way they would in any other case of misdemeanor youthful shitheadery. The mother's e-mail was a little strong, yes, but it's not going to help the situation to get all how-dare-she about it.  

Cases like this are only going to proliferate in the next few decades. We need a politics, and a discourse, that can actually address the individual complexity of each case. Right now, whenever something like this comes up, we just retreat to our barracks and fetch our megaphones.

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In defense of tourism. Sort of.

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Here's an interesting Economist synopsis of a study showing that creative people are more likely to live abroad:

Anecdotal evidence has long held that creativity in artists and writers can be associated with living in foreign parts. Rudyard Kipling, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Paul Gauguin, Samuel Beckett and others spent years dwelling abroad. Now a pair of psychologists has proved that there is indeed a link.

[...] To check that they had not merely discovered that creative people are more likely to choose to live abroad, Dr Maddux and Dr Galinsky identified and measured personality traits, such as openness to new experiences, that are known to predict creativity. They then used statistical controls to filter out such factors. Even after that had been done, the statistical relationship between living abroad and creativity remained, indicating that it is something from the experience of living in foreign parts that helps foster creativity.

Merely travelling abroad, however, was not enough. You do have to live there.

It's the last sentence that interests me. I've done a ton of traveling in the last few years, and it's slowly occurred to me that many of the values that we place on travel aren't, in the nitty-gritty, true.

Western culture, especially bourgeois American culture, casts travel as inherently eye-opening, character-building and mind-enriching. You experience another culture, see a new way of life and take lessons from it. Right?

But that's not necessarily, or even typically, the case. Tourism is a different activity than absorbing the culture of a place. Going up the Eiffel Tower is a blast, but it's unlikely to give you anything but the most superficial understanding of France or the French people.  

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In my own case, I've traveled around Europe a ton, but mostly like a skipped rock. I've spent, for example, two days in Budapest, Prague, Ljubljana and Bratislava. But let's face it: I don't have any deeper understanding of those places than anyone who has read their Wikipedia entries. We like to talk about 'soaking up the character' of a city or 'getting a feel' for it's people, but in my experience those activities really just boil down to superimposing our preconceptions on our very limited experiences in foreign places.

I've seen this a lot with Americans visiting Copenhagen for a few days or a week. They often say things like 'You can just tell that everyone feels taken care of' or 'Danes seem so confident.' These observations are usually made when observing entirely un-indicative behaviors, such as people barbecueing in a park, and are almost always incorrect, at least compared to the conclusions I've made after living here for 3 years.

But then I think of the observations I've made about cultures like China ('you can really feel the excitement about the future') or Kazakhstan ('People seem like they're stuck in a holding pattern'), and I realize that I'm doing the same thing. Traveling in those countries was fascinating, but it hasn't given me any deeper knowledge of them. It's just given me 3-d illustrations of what I already knew.

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I'm not saying this to talk shit on tourists. I'm an avid one, and I think travel is a blast. All I'm saying is that our culture-wide lionization of short-term travel, as opposed to deep engagement, obscures the purpose. Many of my smartest, most fascinating friends aren't particularly well-traveled, and when they do travel it's not to look at a decaying cathedral through a viewfinder. They go river rafting, or trout fishing, or tropical triathlonning. Others simply want to find a warm, beach towel-sized rectangle next to an ocean and read a book for 15 days. More power to 'em.

Travel, especially European travel, is often used as a proxy for engagement or interest in a country. 'I don't need to know how World War I started — I've been to Austria!'

But the cosmopolitanism we're praising only comes from living in a country, having friends from there or actually sitting down and learning about it. Getting a Euro-squeezer in a hostel dorm room doesn't count.

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How do you get American right-wingers to defend gay rights?

Just tell them gays are increasingly victimized … by Muslims.

 

Not very long ago, Oslo was an icy Shangri-la of Scandinavian self-discipline, governability, and respect for the law. But in recent years, there have been grim changes, including a rise in gay-bashings. The summer of 2006 saw an unprecedented wave of them. The culprits, very disproportionately, are young Muslim men.

See that? ‘Unprecedented wave’. ‘Rise’. ‘Recent years’. ‘Grim changes’. Those are called statistics, punk. As unassailable as the shimmering virtue of Jenna Bush. Each of those terms signify quantifiable percentages based on not-remotely-anecdotal data. How nice of the author, Bruce Bawer, to translate such robust numbers into terms even an illiterate (i.e. a Muslim) can understand!

 

The real gem of the article, as it always is with these fact-vaccinated rocking chair rants, lies in the comments section:

 

Europe threw out the God of the Bible to serve the god of themselves. The God of the Bible has abandoned you to face Devil with out his help. That Devil is Allah.

 

The future belongs to those that show up for it. In Europe, that would be the products of Muslim wombs. Two generations, max, and Europe is Dar al Islam

 

Within 10 years, a veil will be REQUIRED to be worn by ALL European women, to avoid being raped or worse, and alcohol will be banned in the EU.

 

Fortunately, here in the U.S., we have a fundamental right to self defense, up to and including the right to keep and bear arms (at least for now).

 

I have no understanding of today’s leftists. I watched Iranian leftists push to eliminate the Shah, and then I watched them get elbowed aside as the Muslims took over and instituted a far-right theocracy. I haven’t trusted Muslims since then.

 

It would appear that gays, as well as Jews, are canaries in the European coal mine, and die first when noxious jihadism seeps in.

 

I’m quoting this guy in full because I think I dated him in Aarhus:


Some Muslim men are violent,insecure,homophobic,misogynistic,neanderthals.The only way to deal with their violent outbursts is to literally defend yourself ,and if necessary,use force and weapons.When innocent victims start kicking these hooligans asses and possibly kill them sorry butts,then the Muslim thugs will understand they can retain backwards thoughts,but acting on it is illegal.Europeans are wimpy pussies!!!

 

We are about a generation away from all of Europe’s great cathedrals being turned into mosques to accommodate the muslim invaders.

You noticing a pattern yet?


While I agree that the muslim view on homosexuality is horrific, I don't agree that the gay situation in Oslo is that bad. In general I'd say gays are more visible than ever. And a gay couple walking on Karl Johan will not draw any attention what so ever.

Oh wait, that’s a comment from an actual Norwegian. How’d that get in there?

Being a Catholic I agree with Pope Benedict. I share the Catholic beliefs about homosexuality. However, those beliefs do not include beating or killing homosexuals.

Phew, now we're back to normal. Thanks for not wanting to stone me to death, bro.

Wake up Europe. Big daddy America won’t save you.

I actually already have that one on a T-shirt. With a picture of The Rock on it. Suck it, Euro-labias!!!

Well, well, here we go again. Once again Americans are watching activities in Europe wondering are we going to have to save them from themselves again.

Best. World War II interpretation. Ever.

In certain neighborhoods of Detroit when I was a kid, gays were routinely jumped by gang-bangers. That changed radically over one summer when gays, perhaps influenced by NY drag queens, starting packing STRAIGHT RAZORS. If these Euro-Gays sprang into an angry Muslim face or two with a flashing razor, the situation will change.

OK, maybe right-wingers aren't so bad after all. Let's be honest: At least 85 percent of life's problems could be solved if more people carried STRAIGHT RAZORS around (not least the other social ills that could be remedied by the influence of NY drag queeens). I wish I knew how to quit you, Race-Baiting Hillbilly.

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How I learned to stop worrying and get ruined with my coworkers

Yesterday we all stopped working at 2 in the afternoon (which is not, by itself, unique) and headed to a Fancy-Danskey reception for our CEO's 50th birthday. My boss is apparently quite well known in the international human rights community, and the party was attended by numerous prominent rights-caring-about peoples, from the mayor of Copenhagen to the Danish foreign minister.

Being the world's most inept mingler, I mostly took the occasion as an excuse to lurk around the cheese and get quietly drunk before sunset. Somewhere in between awkwardly sober and incoherently drunk, I learned the following not-yet-Wikipedia'd facts from my fellow party-goers:

  • The former dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, was executed on national TV with his hands tied behind his back. You can tell the age we live in from my reaction: "My God, that's awful. … So is it on YouTube, or?"
  • Argentina used to be more prosperous than Sweden. It was at one point the 7th richest country in the world. I'm not really sure how it all fell down, but at one point the inflation was so severe that stores didn't even put price tags on their goods because they had to raise the prices once or twice per day. People just started trading shit with each other.
  • The vast majority of Danish people have never heard of The Kinks, apparently.
  • Sudan is geographically the largest country in Africa.
  • There is a distinct subculture in Copenhagen of avid cricket-players. (Me, upon hearing this: "Wow. Do you guys play the full 8-hour games, or what?" [slurred giggling]. Cricket player: "Nah, just for 6 or 7 hours.")
  • Many European countries don't teach their own history beyond WWII.
  • Danish, English and Dutch all have fancy names for ladybugs. In Danish, it's 'The Virgin Mary's chicken'. In Dutch it's 'leaf gold-lover' or something. I just think it's interesting that none of them named it anything remotely resembling 'small red beetle'.

 

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