By Norris Burkes
Posted Oct 29, 2017
Last July, my wife and I put our worldly goods in storage and left for an extended stay in Brussels. Immediately upon our arrival, Belgians began asking me what Americans think of Europe.
Sheepishly, I admitted that many Americans likely share President Donald Trump’s understanding when he said in Atlanta last year, “Belgium is a beautiful city.”
Clearly — and this is worth noting — Belgium is a country, not a city.
This month, as our travels took us beyond Belgium, I reversed the question and asked Europeans what they thought of America.
Nearly all answered that Americans should travel outside North America.
That should be easy because, according to the State Department, 53 percent of U.S.-born citizens hold U.S. passports.
No, not so much.
In his book, “America’s Vacation Deficit Disorder,” William Chalmers says most American passport holders limit travel to North America or their ancestral homes. He calculates that as little as 3 percent of us actually travel to another continent for business or pleasure.
So, in a sunny Beer Garten in Germany, I pressed for more specific answers to my question.
Becky and I were stumbling over a German menu when another diner offered to translate. Soon, we were pleasantly engaged in conversation with a 40-year-young public-property judge.
He was so surprised we retired at 60 years old that he began praising us as fine examples of American capitalism.
“Look at you two! You’re retired because you worked hard and saved. I can’t do that because the German government takes half my wages. No matter how hard I work, I must keep working to get my pension at 65 years.”
A few weeks ago, we moved to Southampton, England, where I met retired biochemist and current pastor, Peter Silley. He’s no fan of American capitalism.
Silley admitted that Brits “speak the same language,” but he notes troubling differences.
“Brits are aligned to a European culture founded on social democracy. Our values run deep and underpin a concern for those less fortunate in our society. U.S. culture centers on the individual rather than societal values.”
Silley warned, “This raises capitalism to a dangerous position. Unfortunately, I fear that the U.K. is now headed in the same direction, where capitalism rules. Is this really progress?”
Last week I visited a military museum in London, where I met Roger Howell and his younger 65-year-old brother, Chris.
Roger is an Australian and former Royal Marine who sees himself to the “right of center.” He’s a fan of Trump’s America and asked me to tell Americans, “You can’t save the world, so you should spend more time and money saving yourselves.”
He added: “I like you Americans, but your Electoral College is not representative of the people. It’s time for change. Oohrah!”
Chris, a U.K. citizen, is concerned with the poverty he sees in America. He believes Americans tolerate a system where “40 percent of your country is living in a Third World lifestyle.” He strongly believes that America should adopt the European “healthcare for all as an absolute minimum.”
Chris spoke glowingly of America’s five previous presidents who came togetherto raise money for hurricane damage in Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas. See www.oneamericaappeal.org.
However, he sees Trump as “a collective embarrassment.” Chris blames America’s two-party political system for electing Trump, arguing that it’s “broken and Congress is corrupt.”
Finally, my friend Osarumen Osama, a Belgian citizen born in Nigeria, says “America is a nation made up of some of the world’s best aspects put together, which is its divine privilege.”
Osama is a director at Brussels Serve the City, so he’s qualified to add that American ”…citizens could be more invested in each other, sharing more, creating their own future (without media and political distractions) and having more time for true living.”
Fortunately, our president travels extensively, so he eventually got the Belgium capital name right — even if he did call Brussels a “hellhole.”
I think he’s wrong about that. But, hey, get a passport and come see for yourself.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Voicemail 843-608-9715 Twitter @chaplain Read past columns at www.thechaplain.net.