My first reaction upon returning home from a trip to Europe, (in this case Spain) is one of embarrassment. I can’t imagine what people think when they arrive here from abroad to a dismal airport, and then are transported along really terrible roads to their destination, at least here in New York. The contrast with the immaculate roads and traffic system over there is stark, and even gassing up (albeit at high prices) is far more pleasant at extremely well maintained facilities. There is absolutely none of the all too familiar grunge we have here, apart from the unfortunate presence of graffiti. That only exists because it is tolerated, as Spain still appears to be reacting to the Franco years and rigid Catholicism, and so have gone to the opposite extreme.
Things have definitely changed. As my wife noted, decades ago there was virtually nothing around the coast of Marbella. Now the entire Costa del Sol is one long continuous chain of resort development, populated mostly by tourists from more northern European countries, especially Great Britain. But nowadays it is impossible to tell where anyone is from until they open their mouths, because they all are dressed like sloppy Americans. Often that consists of t-shirts with American subjects they might not even understand, jeans, and sneakers (or godawful flip-flops). So if you’re planning on traveling abroad and don’t want to stand out as an American, the good news is that they all look like Americans these days. It has become a generic “western” look. Good taste is another matter.
Equally ubiquitous is the unfortunate presence of American popular culture on radio and tv. Now I love my country and I’m proud of it, but not of the crap that Hollywood puts out, which seldom reflects the true reality of American life. The radio is full of American music, or if not, Europop derivatives of it. The end result is that it is difficult to find any true local culture these days, and that is a sad thing. When traveling we want things to be quaint, with plenty of local color. But people, given a choice in most places want to be “modern.” Unfortunately the price of that is too often a loss of cultural authenticity. That is compounded by the idea of “Europe” itself.
For Europe as it exists today is largely an American creation. American forces saved it from the Nazis and then the Communist tyranny, and continue to provide it with a defensive shield and one of the longest stretches of peace it has ever known. But after a prior century of horrible wars people have lost faith in everything and live only in the present, to the detriment of future generations. They can, and should be more than second-rate Americans, but that will only happen if a sense of nationhood is restored. They unfortunately are infected with the same self-loathing and obsession with “racism’ as the American left, and similarly denigrate their own past and institutions. But the truth is that they are the source of a truly great civilization and the foundation of our own. Our ties run deep and we share a common destiny.
On that basis I would favor even closer ties than we have now. It is kind of annoying when arriving there to see one line for EU members while we get lumped in with third world peoples. I think we ought to have a reciprocal special status for say, NATO members, in terms of movement, travel and trade. If this is categorized as a “Eurocentric” view I’ll accept that and be damned proud of it.
A few notes on Spain, specifically, and Andalusia, where I spent my time. Notwithstanding poor economic conditions the country is perfectly safe to visit. Whatever crime there is is petty thievery that is easily avoided with common sense. Driving to the major cities and sites is pleasant, outside of the congested coast. Gas prices were not as bad as I expected, considering what we’re paying here today, running about $6 per gallon. When you drive inland there is little traffic and wide open spaces similar to driving out west. Entering a major city is easy because all you need to do is take the main boulevard into town and follow the signs for the city center, where most of what you want to see is usually located anyway, and then park in an underground garage, which is easily found. The weather is still like summer, warm enough to swim, and there is still daylight until 8 o’clock. Castles, cathedrals, and gardens are everywhere, and a pleasure to visit. If you want to visit the Alhambra in Granada you need to get tickets months in advance, otherwise the only way you can get in is through tour operators, who scoop up most of the available tickets. It is worth a visit, but I think the equivalent site in Cordoba is more impressive, as is the cathedral in Seville. The sites are still attractive, and to the extent you can avoid other tourists, they can still magically transport you back to an earlier time.