Old World New World
Tomorrow I leave for several weeks to teach writing seminars in Vienna. I am very very interested in what people there think about Trump-era America. I will be asking everyone I meet and reporting back to you.
Although the population of the US has become increasingly diverse, still about 72 percent of Americans trace their ancestry to Europe. (Before 1965, policies limited immigration and naturalization opportunities for people from areas outside Western Europe. Exclusion laws enacted as early as the 1880s generally prohibited or severely restricted immigration from Asia.)
America was considered “the new world.” The “Old World” was Europe. Thus, many of us (particularly the almost three-quarters of us whose families originally came here from Europe) may think we have much in common with western Europe.
Actually we don’t.
Because I will be asking “Old World” Austrians how they perceive “New World” Americans these days, I wanted to get a better sense of the (everyday experience) lens through which they see us. In doing that research, I discovered how little we have in common.
Here’s a short list:
Elections of 2016. In 2016 election, the Trumpian far right candidate was defeated. Former Green Party head Alexander Van der Bellen, the child of political refugees and a committed liberal, won.
Health care. In Austria, everyone receives publicly funded care. (They also have the option to purchase supplementary private health insurance.)
Energy. Lower Austria, the largest of the country’s nine states, gets 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy (hydro, wind, solar). The rest of Austria gets 75 percent of its electricity from clean/ renewable energy.
Education. The country’s university system was free until 2001. Now the cost for Austrian citizens is €366 per term ($391). This includes masters, Ph.D., medical school, etc.
Language. Multilingualism is the rule – not the exception – in continental Europe, with more than half of EU citizens speaking a second language. In the US, 22 percent of us can speak another language (and it is far and away Spanish, the result of first and second generation Americans with Mexican ancestry)
Vacation. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. Austria, which guarantees workers the most time off, has a legal minimum of 22 paid vacation days and 13 paid holidays each year. Parental leave is law.
Who we are must seem increasingly strange to Europeans. Let’s see what they have to say.