Tolerating Europeans, Barely

Did They Evolve From Jock Itch?

I'm baffled all to flinders. It happens a lot in West Virginia. (Though actually I'm not sure what a flinder is.) Recessive genes cause it. They flock here, like they were swallows and thought Bluefield was Capistrano, and make it hard for us to understand foolishness. Or Europeans.

On the lobotomy box the other night I found a French gal droning like a pipe organ about how the United States wasn't Politically Mature like Europe. She obviously regarded Americans as dull-witted rustics ripening in the bumpkin patch. (I didn't say that. The little voices made me do it.) See, we're inferior to Europe. We need to grow up, and get some home-training, and learn to tie our shoes, if we have any. Then we'd be civilized and mature, like Yugoslavia.

I watched this moralizing basilisk with a single thought resonating in my mind: Birdshot.

Now, when Europeans get full of themselves, which is any time they're awake, they do it differently. Brits stand stiff and haughty, like they were hoping for an attack of nobility, or maybe had fused vertebrae, and look solemn as an undertaker with a pair of deuces. The French throw their heads way back like a pitcher winding up for a fast ball and then sight down their noses. That's why the front end of a Concorde looks the way it does.

"You're such a young country," she sniffed. "Europe has been in existence for 2000 years."

And still can't do anything right.

They're proud of this? If they had any self-respect, they'd wear ski masks, and carry their passports in plain brown wrappers marked, "Sex Books."

Europeans are always trying to one-up each other about how ancient they are. Most rocks and any trilobite put them to shame, but they don't notice.

Anyway, let me tell you about America and maturity.

It was about 1776. Tom Jefferson and Ben Franklin and some of the other Foundling Fathers were at Tom's house, drinking bourbon and branch water and playing poker. Tom had a terrible hand and wanted to get out without losing his ante. He sat bolt upright, and said, "Hey! I got an idea!"

Ben Franklin, who was a smart-ass, said, "Treat it kindly. It's in a strange place."

Tom didn't notice. He hollered, "Let's run the Brits off and start a boringly stable democracy that'll run like clockwork and be the envy of the world and take over most of it and invent rock-and-roll and the Internet. Then we can download Pink Floyd on Napster. Is that a plan, or what?"

Everybody looked stunned for a moment. The very magnitude of the idea made it hard to digest, and anyway they been at the bourbon for a while. Then John Hancock said, "Hooo--eeeeeeeee!" and Ben hollered ""Oh, baby! and they went to get their duck guns and look for Brits. Tom slipped his cards into the deck and shuffled it while they were gone.

That's how America started.

Once the idea grabbed hold of them, they went at it like sled dogs. They wanted the new country to be different from Europe, because the mature Europeans were big on torture chambers and witch burnings and oubliettes and hanging in chains and other features of advanced civilization.

The new country flourished like small pox in a slum and got rich and was so boringly stable that people had to turn to inventing things instead of having revolutions. The US was boring. Generally speaking, if an American went to bed Wednesday, he woke up Thursday with the same government. The country never had a coup, or even an attempted coup, though there was that brigand Lincoln and the tax revolt of 1861. This stability caused astonishment in Italy, where they measure government in rpms. Americans do political polls. The Italians have a tachometer.

Boring stability is maturity. The absolute best kind. Forty-weight.

By contrast, since 1900 alone has Europe has started two world wars, not to mention the Spanish Civil War that inflicted Hemingway on the world, and given us both fascism and communism, the two worst ideas the race had ever had except for the designated-hitter rule, and a crop of scrofulous dictators that would embarrass a big-city bus station at three a.m.: Salazar, Horthy, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Honecker, Ceausescu, the Greek colonels, Franco, Kaiser Bill, Tito.

Right now the Yugoslavs butcher each other with vivacity reminiscent of a Burundian soccer match. Maybe they figure it will raise property values.

I don't guess the US is ready for maturity. We don't have enough body bags.

Europe never changes. When they get in a war they can't handle, which is any war, they always come squalling to us like little boys who got kicked on the playground. They want us to be their mother. We have to save them from themselves. Particularly the French.

You do have to concede to the French their place in military history: As warriors, the French have always made superb pastry chefs. A French war begins with a retreat on Paris, followed by a scream for help, usually American, and four years of peaceful collaboration. They're the only country I know of that has a stack of surrender documents addressed To Whom It May Concern. I've seen fiercer geese.

And they always want us to save them. How splendidly adult.

After 1776 the French watched America for a while. They scratched and looked down their noses and peered wisely off into space and decided that they wanted a boring democracy too. Of course they persuaded themselves that it was their idea all along. So they tried to have a revolution, which they started by attacking a jail. It wouldn't have been the first thing to come to my mind, though I guess it was some better than a men's room.

Thing was, they couldn't tell a revolution from a bloodbath. After cutting each others' heads off for a while they ended up with, yep, a dictatorship, which is embarrassing when you're looking for a democracy. Then that squatty little Corsican, the French Fuehrer, actually won some wars using French troops, showing that they can fight when led by foreigners.

Finally they brought the kings back! They were exactly where they started, but mostly dead. I guess if that's maturity, adolescence must have been a bear.

Now I grant you we're not real smart up the holler in West Virginia, and not too sophisticated. You can't buy je ne sais quois at the country store, or if you did it would probably be stale with ants in it. But I've got sense enough that if my history was an unremitting tale of catastrophe, mayhem, and misjudgement, I believe I'd talk about something else.