almost a diary, compulsory reading, Europe, Germany, oddly enough, traveling, USA

My New Ralph Lauren Sweater.

So via Blogdex, I found this hilarious article published by USA today called “Ugly sentiments sting American tourists”.

I suppose it was pretty tough to write this article. You can literally sense how the evident editorial intention to publish yet another “peaceful American tourists tortured to death by mad and naked European pacifists”-peace made the newspaper’s European correspondents look desperately for something anti-American to write about. Their effort wasn’t too successful, even if you insist to count Bush-policy discussions as anti-American torture, as the article indicates –

“‘I am certain that a number of American visitors will be asked about the U.S. administration’s policy on Iraq. But if indeed there have been some unpleasant encounters, I strongly believe that they are few and far between,’ says Patrick Goyet, vice chairman of the European Travel Commission in New York. ‘Furthermore, speaking as a European and for the vast majority of my fellow Europeans, I consider any such behavior idiotic and embarrassing.'”


But the best part of the article is a bullet point list by Bruce McIndoe, CEO of iJet Travel Intelligence that tells American tourists how to behave when in Rome. Well, we all know what the obvious answer is, but let’s have a more detailed look at Mr McIndoe’s propositions.

Avoid American fast-food restaurants and chains.

Believe it or not, but McDonald’s and their competitors do not just cater American tourists in Europe. Like it or not, the deconstruction of traditional European eating habits is advancing rapidly, even in France, although they don’t like to talk about it for cultural and marketing reasons. So Starbucks has just announced to open more than 200 branches in Germany. And I had my last McBurger last Monday night. Remember “Pulp Fiction“? It was a “Royal With Cheese” – basically the same, but with subtle, metric, differences.

Keep discussions of politics to private places, not rowdy bars.

Well, it’s never a good idea to go to a rowdy bar anyway, if you aren’t a cowboy yourself. I seriously wonder what kind of etablissement Mr McIndoe had in mind here. What exactly are “rowdy bars”? There are hardly any cheap-western-movie-style saloons in Europe, should that be of any help. But wait, he might be concerned about the significant amount of Irish and English Pubs where it’s definitely a lot easier for American tourists to talk to Europeans as most interaction is in English….

Take a rain check on wearing clothes featuring American flags or sports team logos.

Damn. I just bought one of those Ralph Lauren US-flagged sweaters and I am not even American. And I did not even buy it for any ideological reason. And when I recently wore it during a generally leftist (read: European left, not its kinder, gentler, liberal US cousin) theatre company’s performance I was actually a bit stunned that no one cared at all. Seriously, the American flag is not something only Americans would wear in public in Europe.

The same goes for baseball caps or university logoed sweaters. If all the Germans who wear Georgetown or Harvard sweaters with Yankee baseball caps actually knew those universities and had any real idea about the baseball team whose logo they promote, Germany would have certainly fared a lot better in last year’s international secondary education assessment. But I will tell you, should I ever feel safer not wearing my Ralph Lauren sweater.

Keep your passport out of sight.

Indeed a good idea. But mostly because it really is a hassle to get a temporary one abroad.
Keep cameras, video equipment and maps tucked away.

Right – very interesting point. Sure, there are places where its safer not to be to easily identifiable as a tourist. Just like in Miami, a few years ago, remember? So this is good advice for all tourists if they choose to visit places they should rather not. But if this is an advice specifically aimed at Americans in Europe it does come across a tad bit arrogant – there are cameras and video equipment in Europe. We also have mobile phones, T-mobile hotspots and even ones with at affordable rates…

Soften your speech; Americans typically overshadow their hosts in the volume department.”

This, I have to agree, is partly useful advice. Some American tourists do overshadow almost everyone in the volume department. That is particularly true for shrieking female undergraduate students. Strangely though, it does not hold at all for all the Americans I know personally…

I wonder what Mr McIndoe’s ideas for blending in in the US would be? Maybe you, my gentle readers do have some suggestions?

almost a diary, Germany

Carnival Junkie…

Mainzer Street Carnival

is not just a great song by singer/songwriter Cindy Alexander. Some carnival junkies are real people. And on this weekend, about a million of them will be on the streets of my home town, Mainz, Germany. And even though I am not exactly one of them, chances are I’m going to wear a costume in public at some point during the next five

almost a diary, Germany

If You Are In London This Week…

why not attend some of the great events organised for this year’s London School of Economics German Symposium by the LSE German Society.

Unfortunately, you have already missed the one hour special performance “Old Europe At Its Best” by Harald Schmidt, Germany’s #1 late night talk-host. Remembering the one time he did a show entirely in French, I am really disappointed I missed this performance in English.

Also, the Foreign Minister, Joscka Fischer, had to cancel his talk with Tony Giddens due to unplanned UN Security Council business on Wednesday.

For everyone in London who is interested in Germany, LSE is the place to be – certainly this week.

France, Germany

Vive la France!

40 years of official “amitié Franco-Allemande” will be celebrated by a joint session of both nations’ parliaments Paris today. And the Franco-German tv-station arte will broadcast the festivities all day long. That’s cleary must-see-TV. However, on the web, they have a funny little game called Voulez Vouz Klischee Avec Moi (German), ou bien Voulez Vous Clicher avec moi(French) which allows to find out if you’re sufficiently well informed about French and German stereotypes… some statistical hints – yes, Germans do eat lots of Wurst; yes, the French do have worse teeth (if any) and yes, German women do shave… ;-)

German Politics, Germany

Am I giving Schröder too much credit?

The reelected German SPD-led government is having a hard time these days. An opposition spokesperson yesterday stated that it was now offically allowed to call Hans Eichel, the finance minister, a liar (for he said he did not know about the looming deficit before the election) and it will be next to impossible to find a paper not bashing the government for its troubled first weeks. The Economist is no exception here.

While almost everybody (except for the powerful service union leader Bsirske, who publicly stated this weekend that he has yet to see the crisis) agrees that Germany is badly in need of some deregulation, especially concerning the labour market, things are a lot harder to do than to talk about. Especially given the troubled economy which will make it much more difficult for the government to produce visible results after much needed structural reforms.

To reform the labour markets is one important step. But it is a politically troublesome one if it only means to cut welfare without more people actually getting jobs because of lacking demand.

And it is a politically even more troublesome step if the powerful unions, as always pursuing their insider-ousider game, are cashing in their price for supporting the chancellor when his campaign looked the bleakest last summer.

So what is the government doing? It is proposing a problematic incoherent austerity package in combination with redistributive measures which the unions approve of but which are increasingly despised of by a growing majority of people.

However, I believe, the chancellor thinks he can play a game because most of those laws have to be approved by the upper chamber of the Bundestag, the Bundesrat, in which the conservative opposition (CDU) currently holds a majority. So he proposes legislation to service the unions knowing it does not pose a great risk supposing the opposition will block it anyway.

After that he will be able to tell the unions to keep quiet whilst actually going to reform things.

Am I giving Schröder too much credit? There’s one big problem with such a strategy: It depends on the key players to silently cooperate. If the CDU actually lets some the “union-reforms” get through the upper chamber in the hopes that the following implementation will anger a significant amount of previous Schröder voters it won’t work. And if Schröder can’t credibly blame the opposition for blocking the union-proposals, he will not be able to escape the unions’ embrace.

It’s a risky strategy and, of course, I don’t know if it’s actually what is happening. But it does make strategic sense to me. The SPD has probably already lost the two upcoming regional elections because of the revelation of the ever increasing deficit just after the general elections (which the government is only partly to blame for). Should that also be the perception of the government and the opposition leaders, the silent cooperation may have already begun.

We’ll see.

Economics, Germany

Bye, bye, Neuer Markt

poor baby

Deutsche Boerse, the main German stock market operator today announced that the Neuer Markt (new market) would be dumped by the end of the year. It’s a widely welcomed and probably useful decision to get rid of a market and respective index that has plunged for 2 1/2 years in a row. Fair enough, what goes up like a rocket, must come down once the boosters burn out. But I remember all the success stories back in 1999. I remember the days before those 2 1/2 years, when “going public” was the main subject in my business schools cafeteria. When the Neuer Markt was synonym with getting rich, fast.

There will be a new, more efficient trading system for tech stocks. I guess it’s a good sign that the market is being cleared from all those penny stocks, whose IPO was probably planned in a cafeteria just like mine. It’s not that the digital revolution is dead. It’s just that it is eating is children. Another revolution to prove that rule.

German Politics, Germany, Iraq, Political Theory, US Politics, USA

A deeper rift? Some context…

Firstly, a noteworthy article by Robert Kagan concerning the fundamental policy-style differences between Europe and the US, published in May in the Washington Post.

Secondly, The Economist’s analysis of these differences. Thirdly, a paper called “Mutual Perceptions” by Peter Rudolf of the German Institute for Foreign and Strategic Policy (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), Berlin), presented at a conference of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies on Sept. 10, 2002.

Some key quotes from the latter :

“The American and the European publics, including the German public are also not so far apart in their view of the world. They do not live on different planets, the one on Mars, the other on Venus, as Robert Kagan`s now famous dictum says. Looking at the collective preferences on both sides of the Atlantic, we are no way drifting apart. In their majority, Americans and Europeans do share a positive view of international institutions, Americans are more multilateral than unilateral oriented; Europeans, even Germans, are by far less opposed to the use of military force, although they are inclined to support it for humanitarian purpose and for upholding international law. Although the use of military means for combating terrorism finds support among a majority of people across Europe, the preferred measures to combat terrorism lie – to a greater extent than among Americans – in the economic realm: in helping poor countries to develop their economies. Thus, Americans and Germans do not live on different planets but those neoconservatives do, those – to quote former President Carter – “belligerent and divisive voices” now seemingly dominant in Washington, those whose vision of America`s role in the world implies a basic strategic reorientation of American foreign policy. Using the dramatically increased perception of vulnerability to asymmetric threats and instrumentalizing the “war on terror” as the legitimizing principle, the hegemonic – or better: the imperial – wing of the conservative foreign policy elite effectively dominated the political discourse and left its imprint on a series of decisions..” (p. 2)

“Should the neoconservatives succeed in turning the United States into a crusader state waging so-called preventive wars, German-American relations will head to further estrangement. If the current debate on Iraq is indicative of things to come, the expectation of American neoconservatives that their European allies will in the end jump on the bandwagon might be disappointed, at least in the German case. In their despise of their irrelevant amoral European allies and in their overconfidence in American hard power resources, they simply ignore the value dimension of the current transatlantic conflicts. It is a conflict about different visions of world order.” (p. 6)

Lastly, for those who can read German, another SWP study – “Preventive war as solution? The USA and Iraq.” For those who don’t read German, the footnotes are a remarkable collection of mostly English language documents concerning the intra-US-administrative discussion as well as the international one. I’ll probably post some key references later.

German Politics, Germany

Too much water. And Moral Hazard.

THW Hochwassereinsatz DeutschlandFaced with the destruction of the floods currently covering a good part of East Germany and the Czech Republic, more than 4m victims will only be able to deplore their impotence with regard to the destructive potence of nature and to feel the anxiety of not knowing how to go on with their lives.

It is truly a tragedy what is happening these days after 12 years of reconstruction in the formerly Communist East. But for all their losses, none of the victims is faced with the moral dilemma which German government politicians will have to tackle. On the one hand, their human hand, they will feel compassionate just like everyone else (and will deplore the budgetary consequences of generous government bailouts for the affected regions). On the other, their (party) political one, they will see the enormous potential this national crisis is offering to them in public relation terms with the general elections looming in five weeks. But then, their private smugness will certainly be offset by the mourning of opposition leaders…