<i>Americans Aren't Nuts</i>

Friday, September 02, 2005

Americans Aren't Nuts

A catchy title for a sure-to-be controversial book: Amerikanen zijn niet gek, which I would translate as Americans Aren't Nuts. But that title, if clever, is also a bit telling. The book is by Charles Groenhuijsen, who has been for the past 13 years the Washington correspondent for Dutch public television. He genuinely loves the U.S., to the point where he was about to give up the chance to become the news anchor because they wouldn't let him anchor the program from Washington (though he eventually caved and took the job anyway). And he's a conservative with plenty of good things to say about Dubya. The fact that his defense of the U.S. is called Americans Aren't Nuts tells you a bit about how Dutch folks view us right now.

If it's possible, I don't mean that in a bad way. It's not that they hate us. Far from it; Dutch people in general have great affection for the United States. But a lot of them have been scratching their heads lately because they can't figure out what's going on these days: why did we re-elect Bush? why are (were) we so gung-ho about invading Iraq? etc? This bafflement may explain why Groenhuijsen's book has climbed up the Dutch bestseller lists.

This post in a conservative Dutchman's English-language blog gives you a flavor of Groenhuijsen's response to Dutch questions about the U.S., and the trackback links and comments are illuminating as well. The publisher's blurb for the book (Dutch) is perhaps most enlightening (very unreliable translation, as always):

The Dutch can get themselves terribly wound up about Americans. Concerning their political leaders, there is astonishment (Reagan), admiration (Clinton), and annoyance (Bush). Americans are loud and superficial. We have no doubt about these distinct opinions of our biggest ally. Still, we gladly copy America. We watch their movies, read their books, listen to their music, eat fast food, go around in jeans, and are gradually becoming--just like them--much too fat. But what do we really know about Americans? How do they raise their children? What do they think about crime, sex, and drugs? How hard do they work? How rich or poor is America really?

Americans think foremost of themselves, goes the cliché. But ask yourself why there are so many cemeteries all over the world that are full of American soldiers. And why is there nowhere as much charity as there is in the U.S.? Are Americans a bit crazy after all? Or are there other explanations for their foolishness and contradictions?

Groenhuijsen's apologium for America has been greeted with a predictable amount of skepticism or downright opposition. This blogger, for instance, says we shouldn't generalize, but he does find at least some Americans of questionable mental stability. He quotes at length (in English) a news story about a "Christian" group's opposition to a Pride Day march, introducing the passage with, "Some [Americans] have come up with a new use for no-longer-needed yellow stars," and concluding, "If you ask me, they are a bit nuts, some Americans."

Another blogger takes a more sympathetic view of the book.
Groenhuijsen sketches the Netherlands and the U.S. as follows: America is a tough society with good manners, and the Netherlands is a caring society with bad manners.* I think that's the most apt comparison that can be made between the two countries.
This blogger goes on to note that, according to Groenhuijsen, if the U.S. had the same population density as the Netherlands, there would be 4 billion Americans. Maybe that explains some of the differences in how we've arranged our respective societies.

*I'm having trouble translating manieren, which I've rendered "style of behavior." I have no confidence that I've captured the correct connotation. My dictionary translates manier (singular) as manner, style, way, or manners. Update: Thanks to commenter John. I've adopted his suggestion and revised the translation accordingly.

0 comments in Americans Aren't Nuts

Post a Comment

Americans Aren't Nuts | Demagogue Copyright © 2010