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A Decade and Counting Away from America

The America I knew doesn't exist anymore. The Europe I sought doesn't either.

by
Bruce Bawer

Bio

September 16, 2008 - 12:35 am
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Ten years ago this week, I moved from America to Europe.

It’s a weird feeling. A decade is a serious chunk of time — in my case, just a shade under twenty percent of my life (I’m about to turn fifty-two) — and though I’m not usually one to linger over such things, the approach of this anniversary has been much on my mind the last few days.

Of course I haven’t been entirely absent from America during these ten years. I’ve gone back several times — but only to New York and (once) to Washington, DC, and never for more than a few days at a stretch. Most of my time in the States, moreover, has been spent attending to family matters and professional obligations that left little opportunity to see friends, let alone just walk around, look around, chat with people, and get the feel of things.

I do spend a lot of my time in Norway keeping up with what’s going on in the States — though the mainstream Norwegian media, I hasten to add, are of little use in this regard. For one thing, their extreme bias infects virtually everything they touch, dictating which stories they cover and don’t cover and which details they include and omit; and on no subject is this bias more pronounced than in their America coverage. (They make the U.S. media, by comparison, look reliable and upstanding.) For another, they don’t know or understand America anywhere near as well as they think they do — and that includes their so-called “America experts,” whose expertise seems to consist of glancing occasionally at the New York Times website.

Ten years ago I still relied heavily on dead-tree newspapers. When I lived in Amsterdam in 1998-99 I made a point of frequenting certain cafés because they subscribed to plenty of them; at a place like Café De Jaren, for example, I could read all the major Dutch dailies, plus the Herald Tribune, the London Times, Le Monde, and El País for the price of a cup of coffee. There’s no such café anywhere in Oslo (where I live now), and it’s terrifying to think how ill-informed I’d be about the goings-on in my homeland today if it weren’t for the Internet, which puts all those papers — and much more — at my fingertips. (I still remember the American tourist at Café April in Amsterdam who couldn’t get over the earthshaking fact that every day’s New York Times was available, in its entirety, online. How long ago that seems!)

We do get CNN here in Oslo — but it’s CNN Europe, which (like the foreign editions of Newsweek) is less interested in U.S. news and more explicitly anti-American than its U.S. equivalent. Norwegian TV used to broadcast Letterman (after a week’s delay, so that the subtitlers could have time to mistranslate all the jokes and pop-culture references), but no more. We also used to get Leno and Conan daily courtesy of C-SPAN; now they just turn up on weekends. But we do get The Daily Show and Bill Maher. I also subscribe to Sirius Internet Radio, which I often have on in the background while I’m writing.

But it’s still not the same as being there.

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