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Football Bench-Warmers

Postcard from London

By Lia C. Larson

LONDON—With the hype surrounding the Euro 2004 tournament and the confirmation of the European Union Constitution, football and federalism have united the European continent. I can’t help but feel left out on the sidelines.

Amidst the team rivalries and the constitutional quarrels, Europe’s nations are connecting and working together. And as more and more countries enter the EU—and get better at football—Europeans are more conscious and conscientious of their neighboring countries than ever before. With the continent’s dedication to cooperation, there’s little patience for those who chose to play by their own rules. As the resident of a country whose name has become synonymous with unilateralism, my citizenship has become somewhat of a social liability.

A few weeks ago I was sitting in a pub after the incredibly exciting English-Portugal football (soccer) game when conversation shifted from sports to politics. A few Brits remarked how odd it was that America seems to be the only country in the world that is not obsessed with the game. One rather hostile Brit turned to me and remarked, “I guess your country ignores the sport the same way they ignore everything else that the world cares about.”

I can barely stomach our country’s recent foreign policy—let alone identify myself with it. But for many non-Americans, our government’s recent policies reflect a larger society that is little concerned about anything outside its own borders. Between our withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, our past opposition to both the Kyoto agreement on global warming and the International Criminal Court, and now Iraq, it was hard to argue with the guy. As The Economist noted just this week, “in private, much of Europe’s political class detests Mr Bush and what he stands for, which they think is throwing the superpower’s weight around with no regard either for the rules of law, international treaties or the views of allies.” America—packed with its flag-toting, war-mongering citizens—is regarded as a country full of people who take no interest in the rest of the world.

On a recent trip to Paris, I hadn’t even been in the country five minutes before the French’s disapproval of America became all too apparent. Advertisements for Fahrenheit 9/11 were plastered around the metro, while Le Monde Selon Bush (The World According to Bush)—another documentary suggesting that Bush deliberately made erroneous statements about WMDs in Iraq—was playing in theaters. The cover of the daily magazine L’Humanite portrayed Michael Moore dressed up like the Statue of Liberty, wearing his signature baseball cap.

Although Britain is considered our faithful sidekick, the public’s resentment towards American foreign policy seems little different from across the Channel. Tony Blair’s approval ratings have plummeted since he started “acting like the 51st state.” And a politically charged play called Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom draws on the testimony of numerous “enemy combatants” held without due process by the United States in Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay base.

After working abroad for the past month, I’m convinced that if all Americans took some time to live outside the cultural bubble of the United States, our foreign policy priorities would be very different. While many Europeans are accustomed to international travel, a very small minority of Americans even have a passport. And while most Europeans consider multilingualism essential, the vast majority of Americans are lost without English. Europeans tend to be familiar with the politics in neighboring countries, yet only a minority of Americans can even name the capital of Canada, let alone its leader.

Michael Moore once stated that Americans are “possibly the dumbest people on the planet.” It’s no wonder his books and movies have made such a killing in Europe. A new French comedy called L’Americain (The American) satirizes a foolish young Frenchman who is convinced he wants to be American. The movie’s advertisement features an awkward looking young man posing as the stereotypical “stupid American.” This attitude is duly reflected in Britian’s Jerry Springer: The Opera—a musical parody of the infamous talk show which lampoons America’s most upstanding citizens, satirizing an incompetent redneck, an aspiring stripper and a Ku Klux Klan member among others.

Some argue that the unique position of the U.S. allows it to be more insular: The countries in Europe are physically and influentially small while America spans the width of a continent and boasts global authority. But that ought to be a reason for Americans to be more concerned with the rest of the world—not less. Our economic and political decisions have the potential to have a global impact. That’s a lot of responsibility for a country branded as only interested in its own well-being.

I’m not idealistic enough to believe that a quick change in our policies while improve our global popularity. Nor am I convinced that all the criticism of America’s insularity is warranted. But I do believe if Americans spent a bit more energy connecting with the rest of the world, we’d be in a better global standing than we are today. As for me, I’m a soccer gal.

Lia C. Larson ’05, an economics concentrator in Adams House, is an associate editorial chair of The Crimson. As a blonde girl from southern California and an American living abroad for the summer, she laments that she has four strikes against her in the stereotypically stupid department.

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