Dec

4

 I have noticed that Europe has an additional dimension compared to the States.

When you travel the USA, all you see is a 3-dimensionnal landscape. In the Old World, there is a fourth dimension that is the history behind the landscape.

In Europe, when you look at a street, a village or a hill, you do not see only a street, a village or a hill. You see 2000 years of history for this street, this village or this hill. There is always a little ruin nearby.

How can I say this? There is extra depth in the Old World. It makes everything more full and life richer.

Same thing when you are marrying true blue blood. You are not marrying merely one guy or one girl. You are marrying history, a line going back centuries. You are becoming part of that line. I am talking true blue blood. Not recent ones like the fake nobles made by Napoleon and the likes.

Maybe the best way to explain it to American people, is to explain it to the ones who are independently wealthy. So if you are wealthy, have you ever tried explaining to poorer people what it felt like to have enough money not to worry about the future? Did they understand you? Or did they just looked at you as if you were a freak? Same problem with explaining the Old World additional dimension.

Stefan Jovanovich responds: 

Dear Bruno,

1. The "Old World" of Europe is not nearly as ancient as the travel brochures like to pretend. The governments of all but the most recently admitted states in the American Federal Union have longer established histories (and older unchanged borders) than any of the nation-states in Europe.

2. The "ruins" in America are there and some of them are almost as old as the catacombs; but they are not on display because what Americans have always sold Europeans is the idea of the United States as this wild, unsettled country. You can find railway posters of the Union Pacific advertising the untamed country of Yosemite to potential German and English tourists when the Ahwahnee was offering 10-course meals. Europeans have always come to the U.S. to see the "new"; that is why they still like California - it always photographs like something just unwrapped for Christmas (the best time to take the picture because the smog is being blown away from the coasts) even though it now has an industrial history as old as the English Midlands was in the 1950s.

3. There is a great deal of blue blood here, but it has one fatal defect - there are no titles to identify the "line going back centuries". There had better not be; it is against our Constitution and, if you are going to claim ancestral superiority based on Plymouth Rock and Valley Forge, you can't at the same time be spending all your time bragging about being descended from European nobility. Those claims of ancient European lineage are the very ones being made by the people whose genealogy is - shall we say - questionable. That was just as true in the 19th century as it is now. The Astors and others who were eager to acquire British class did not have family histories that could trace back to the American Revolution, let alone the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and New Amsterdam. Since there were enough people around like the Roosevelts, they had no choice but to go looking for an Anglo or Franco merger.

4. I can't speak for "poorer people" in the rest of the world, but I can assure Bruno that Americans have no difficulty imagining what it felt like to have enough money not to worry about the future. The turning point in John Kennedy's campaign for the Presidential nomination came in West Virginia. A coal miner asked Kennedy if he had ever had to work for a living. Instead of offering the standard nonsense (Daniel Patrick Moynihan's "I grew up in a poor family", John Edwards' "my Dad was a mill worker" (his father ran the factory), Warren Buffett's "I had a paper route", etc.), Kennedy had the balls to say "No, I never have." The miner's reply was "Good for you." That brought down the house and ended Hubert Humphrey's ridiculous attempt to portray himself as a man of the people.

Most of foreigners' difficulty in understanding America comes from another long-established fact about the United States: the recently-arrived (usually the scholarship children of the immigrants) do almost all the public talking about the country. The oldest tradition in America is to have the A-students lecture the rest of us and tell the world at large about how we are not living up to the traditions of the Republic. (Benjamin Franklin was doing it - and worrying about the Pennsylvania Dutch, er Deutsch when the Penn family was keeping quiet and making certain their land title was secure and paying Franklin to fix it.)

It takes at least one or two more generations for the newly-arrived Americans to discover what Richard Jennings, California blue-blood member of E Clampus Vitas and author of the revised California Corporations Code, once said to our law school class at Berkeley: "Remember someone in this University is going to drop out of school or leave with a "C" average and end up making more money than the rest of us combined." What he did not add was that, while that person might be the child of recent immigrants (see Steve Jobs), the odds were much greater that he would come from a family like that of Mr. Buffett's bridge partner - one old enough that the possibility that great great grandmother may have been one of the "seamstresses" who set up shop above the water table in Seattle can be safely ignored. What I would have added is that it is far more than an even money bet that the same family will be "progressive" enough to be in favor of raising the estate tax. Preventing the newly-arrived from doing what grandfather did to escape the ravages of the tax code is perhaps the most well-established of all the traditions of the better classes of 4-dimensional Americans.

Have a wonderful holiday.

Stefan
 


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