Like some has-been athlete who managed to turn a few games into a broadcasting career, I’ve become an “expert” on Europe because I spent a short time there. As recently as Saturday, I was given the chance to spout off about a continent I’ve seen the minority of by a local newspaper. Since I’ve been ordained by the media, I’m the right person to comment on the threat Europe poses to the United States. I’m sure you’ve noticed a certain presidential hopeful claiming the incumbent president wants to turn our country into Europe. I’m happy to warn you what we should be on the lookout for.
Bowls of coffee for one thing.
I’ve seen it. Being the only American and the only non-coffee drinker at the table, I was not prepared for what my French hosts would do. There were cereal bowls all around but not a box of cereal in sight. I watched as they filled the omnipresent cereal bowls with coffee. Then they sat for the next 45 minutes or so and alternately dunked croissants into their coffee or picked up the bowls and took a swig like someone so starved for their soup they’ve decided not to mess around with a spoon. As I watched, I was wishing I liked the taste of coffee because this seemed like such a . . . oh, I don’t know . . . such a French way to consume it. Imagine a bowl of Starbucks. What might happen to our country if we started doing that?
There’s more. As I often do in international situations, I pretended to understand more of their language than I did. I said, “Sure, I know French. Sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble.” I tried my best to speak those words, but I’m sure they came out with a sort of musical lilt, since they are from the Beatles’ song Michelle. One of my hosts looked duly impressed, but I saw a telltale smile cross the face of another and he said, “It is funny that you learned French from the Beatles, because that is how I learned English.”
“Oui,” he said. “What a band!” (Imagine the ensuing conversation in the most outrageous French accent you can muster.) “How could the same group go from I Want to Hold Your Hand to A Day in the Life in three short years?”
I shrugged my shoulders. He shrugged his shoulders, too. “It is a mystery,” he pronounced. A moment of silence passed and then he practically shouted (don’t forget the outrageous French accent) “I am the Wolrus! Surreal! Who can say what it means?”
I smiled, wishing I had a tape recorder. He dunked his croissant and then said, “Of course, the greatest thrill of my life was shaking Ringo Starr’s hand in the Geneva airport. I did not want to bother him but I said to him, ‘I must shake your hand,’ and he shook my hand and gave me a peace sign. I believe I will die a contented man now.”
I pondered that for a long time.
Still, there’s more. A while later I turned to my friend Marie-Aline. “Something has been bothering me,” I confessed. “When I came here I paid attention to what side you started on when you kissed each other because I wanted to get it right. I noticed you started on the right side so that’s what I did. But then last night I swear I saw you start on the left side with someone. Did I see that right? I’m confused about the rules.”
She said, “We do both. It depends on what part of the country you are from.”
“Well,” I said, “what if you start on the right and the other person starts on the left? What happens then?”
“We kiss on the lips,” she said with a laugh.
No wonder Mitt is alarmed. Bowls of coffee. Ringo Starr veneration. Accidental kissing. Next thing you know men will start wearing berets and Capri pants.
I hope that sounds as ridiculous as the claim the President wants to turn the United States into Europe. And lest you think this is somehow partisan, I will give the next to last word to not only a Republican, but a Mormon as well, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who was quoted in this week’s Time magazine saying: “This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks not worthy of the American people and not worthy of this critical time in our nation’s history.”
I’ll save the last word for myself. I look at the campaign and think, “C’est la vie.”