Michael Totten

Europe Isn't Actually a Utopian Theme Park

I enjoy visiting Europe when I can and when I can afford it — which is not very often. Occasionally, though, I get to spend small amounts of time there for very little money while en route somewhere else.
At the end of last year I was stranded in Rome for a couple of days on my way home from the Middle East thanks to a baggage handler’s strike by Alitalia employees that threw Italy’s air transportation system into chaos. I wasn’t supposed to be in Rome for more than two hours while waiting for a connecting flight from Beirut to Chicago, but I was stuck in a hotel in Rome’s suburbs, miles away from the city center, while waiting for Alitalia to get its act together.
Most Americans who visit Europe, including me, spend most of our time in places where relatively few Europeans can afford to live. We visit the continental equivalents of Manhattan and skip the equivalents of Peoria and Long Island. If we didn’t, I think the average American’s opinion of Europe would be rather different than it is.
After spending far more time than I ever wanted in modern Rome’s outer darkness, “I have to agree with Tyler Cowen”:http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2009/08/is-it-america-or-europe-which-is-overrated.html:

My…view is that Americans rate European life so highly (in part) because the buildings from previous eras are so striking and attractive. If all of the U.S. looked like U.S. postwar construction, the country would still impress more or less as it does. If all of Europe looked like its postwar construction, Americans would be less likely to admire European policies and political institutions. Yes I know about “Lille”:http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&source=hp&q=lille%20architecture&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wi, and contemporary Spanish architecture, but in reality most Americans would think of Europe as some kind of dump.

If it’s any consolation to my European readers, I really do think most of your fantastically expensive old city centers are nicer than most of ours.