An American Couple in Delft
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Independence Day Far Away

Weíve been in Europe now for close to eight months and this will be our first Independence Day away from home. Iíve always thought that there are only four places to spend the Fourth of July: Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Boston, or your own hometown. We will be doing the fourth option this year but it will be special to nobody else in town but Lynn and me. Because we are so far from home on this day of days for Americans, Iíve thought a bit about what it means to me to be an American.

Within U.S. borders, we are at home. Those among us who are not Americans are guests in our home. Much like in your own house when you have guests, you may feel comfortable touching some ornament or going into the refrigerator, but your guests are not as comfortable doing that as you are. Here in the Netherlands, we are the guests, and the awareness that we are guests is the awareness that we are foreigners. We are much more conscious of being American here than we ever were in the U.S. Like any guests, we want to be on our best behavior. I try to make sure I donít sound as if the American way is the best way, or worse, the only way. For instance, a Dutch co-worker was explaining how something worked here, different from in the U.S. "Oh," I said, "you do it the other way." "No," said this man of whom I am very fond, "YOU do it the other way!" And he was right. We are, after all, in his home.

In the U.S. we may be curious (or not) about foreigners and where they come from. We may (or may not) be interested in their customs and ways that are different from our own. But generally, we donít really know a whole lot about the places where other people come from. Whatís the climate like in India? How many months a year do kids go to school in Germany? What kind of shows are on television in Denmark? What language is spoken in Belgium? Is that the only one? We usually donít know the answers to these questions. However, it doesnít work that way the other way around. By and large, the Dutch know a whole lot more about us than we know about them. They have lots of books by American authors translated into Dutch. They know a great deal about American history and geography, our pop culture, and our sports. One guy even knew who Donovan McNabb is and that he went to Syracuse. Other than that Beckham dude, name a European soccer player. Timeís up.

Because we know so little about the Dutch and their culture, among others, we donít have strong opinions, if we have any opinions at all, about how they do things. But they have very strong opinions about nearly everything we do. Why do you need such big cars? Why are there so many stupid lawsuits? If the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks were done mostly by Saudis, why did you go to war against Iraq? Why do you have grocery bags without handles that are so difficult to carry (this last one came from someone who saw a character on Desperate Housewives struggling with a bag). The Dutch view us differently from other foreigners here because we are the big kids on the block, we are dominant in the world, our culture is pervasive, and our influence is everywhere. We Americans have earned, have in some cases taken, and have been given a lot.

Thereís an old saying that goes "from those to whom much has been given, much is expected." A little research reveals that this phrase can be ascribed to Jesus. You could look it up (Luke 12:48). Since Americans have been given so much, it makes sense that much is expected of us, and that is what we owe the rest of the world. So Iím proud to be an American. Not because of what we have materially, not because we have influence and power in the world, but rather that we have the capability, if we wish, to humbly use our resources and our influence to make the world a better place, not by force, not by imposition of our will, but by understanding others and helping to guide them to where they want to go. Although I am disgusted with, embarrassed by, and fearful of the current administration, I am encouraged that we still have a form of government where I can write this without worrying about criminal repercussions, and that we will eventually throw the bastards out. Ours is a form of government where the majority rules but efforts have been made so that the minority is protected from the tyranny of the majority, the difference between a republic and a democracy using older definitions(1, 2 [search for "tyranny of the majority"], 3 , 4). The promise of America, the ideal that is America, these are our best assets and we have to work hard to achieve them. And, to be sure, we havenít achieved them yet. The Declaration of Independence says it is "self-evident that all men (and women) are created equal" but we still donít yet treat all men and women equally. We may never fully get there but we must constantly strive.

To all of you who are American by birth, American by choice, or who are our guests for only a while, this red, white, and blue, star-spangled, yankee-doodle all-American boy and his wife wish you a happy 229th birthday. Remember what John Adams said:

 

The day will be most memorable in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. The [Fourth] of July ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade Ö bonfires and illuminations (fireworks) from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.

 

Have a ball, my friends. You earned it.

 

© 2008 Rick Wexler   last updated February 21, 2008