I posted on this blog yesterday that a reader from Europe asked two questions. I answered one of them here. The second question was,
Does [your connection with Europe/Italy] make you look different to things happening in the States or the world? Or doesn’t it make that big a difference?
That is a great question! And yes, my European connections have influenced how I look at things that happen in the USA.
The answer is complex. First of all, I am an American. I was born, raised, and educated in the United States. Most of how I look at things in the country of my birth are filtered in a simple way through my life experiences as a citizen of the USA.
However, my connections to Europe do cause me to think through a different lens about the shenanigans that happen in my home country. I lived in Italy for a year during college and I visited most Western and Eastern countries of Europe over the years. I worked on several mission assignments in war-torn or deposed-dictator countries and had the chance to talk with a lot of regular people about their lives and perspectives.
Further, my twin brother lived in many European countries during his 35-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service. Our frequent dialogue and exchange made my perspective more broad and open. After my brother retired from U.S. Government service, he and his wife bought a villa in Italy where they have made their home. (His wife’s family are “old family” and have lived in Italy for many generations.) Currently, my brother is on assignment in another European country carrying out voluntary duties. (More information here.)
What I learned from my experiences with Europe and Italy, in particular, includes:
- U.S. news reporting is very narrow and U.S.-centric. We hear little about the rest of the world in our daily news, which is sad. That is why I watch news from the BBC and RAI, the Italian television channel that I receive on my cable TV at home. I seldom watch U.S. television news (except for the local weather.)
- While I love the USA, I realize that the U.S. is not the center of the Universe. There are many interesting things going on elsewhere in the world that I only learn about by reading on-line newspapers from the U.K., Italy, Greece, Romania, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other countries.
- Political differences are handled similarly around the world, though more publicly in the U.S., which makes me ashamed sometimes by the behavior of our elected representatives in Congress. I have many people in the House of (non-)Representatives and some in the Senate who I would like to send to the moon. However, I did not elect them and have no say in how they behave. I am just ashamed. Our legislative branch used to be so much better when it came to compromise and getting things done. (‘nuf said about politics.)
- Residents of the USA often take their freedoms and rights for granted. There are so many things that we can do in the USA that would be punishable crimes elsewhere.
- … don’t get me started about gun violence and the prevalence of guns in the USA. Just mentioning guns even in a neutral manner can get you shot…. It’s obvious that most countries of Europe are much better able to control the use of guns than we will ever be able to do in the USA.
- Too many U.S. residents are monolingual. Many only speak English, and many only speak Spanish. In Europe, it is quite common that children speak four or more languages fluently. It is a shame that Americans expect everyone else to speak English (or Spanish) and will not learn other languages, and I am appalled by some local U.S. jurisdictions that have passed “English-only” laws. Of course it is easier in Europe when one can travel short distances and encounter people speaking many languages.
- While I mentioned above that some of the elected political leaders in the USA behave in questionable and shameful ways, I still would not trade the U.S. political system, voting privileges, free and fair elections, and representative republic with any other country in the free world. It is messy, divisive, and difficult, but it has been working since 1776, some 237 years. No other country in Europe has had a Constitution in force for so long. Impressive and amazing!
I am certain that there is probably more that I could write about, but this should suffice.
Meanwhile, what I wrote above may offend some people and I may be viewed as not being as patriotically supportive of the USA as perhaps I should, considering all of the freedoms I have benefited by over my lifetime. But that is the point, and one that I hold dearly — right there in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — Freedom of Speech. I cherish that freedom and apply it right here on this blog and elsewhere.
You may disagree with me and that is your right, as it is my right to express my points of view. Above all, among the most cherished reasons why I love the USA over Italy, Europe, or even the Moon are the Five Freedoms in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: Freedom of Speech, Press, Religion, Petition, and Assembly. I practice these freedoms as I live my daily life.
There is also something else that I learned from living in Italy, in particular. That is how much the Catholic Church controls local, regional, and national government there. I cherish very highly the Third Freedom in the US Constitution, Amendment 1, which is “freedom of religion.” The separation of church and state is incredibly important. One can choose to follow a religion and practice its teachings — or not. In my life, having freedom from religion governing my state’s laws is one reason why I was finally able to marry the man I love.
Life is short: widen your world by learning about others through immersion.