Disclaimer– Obviously I cannot speak for every American, but in general I think that Americans are fascinated by the romantic and exotic nature of Europe. Here are some reasons that I personally believe this to be true:
It is “olde” –As far as nations, kingdoms, dynasties, empires, etc go, The United States. is a pretty new nation. Fun Fact: We are actually coming up on our 250th birthday in 2026. And 250 is really not so old in “country years.” Sure we’ve got our share of “oldish” buildings, but nothing that competes with the old-ness that can be found in the “Old World.” When we think of Europe, we think of the charm that comes with age–ancient monasteries, quaint thatched roof cottages, and old bridges covered in moss and crowded by ivy.
Castles–Americans are obsessed with castles, and I’m pretty sure that’s because we don’t have any of our own. In 1776 we were born a democracy, so we’ve never had the chance to have our own monarchy with accompanying castle. We’ve never even had any feudal lords building manors or fortresses. So perhaps it is due to the lack of castles itself that we Americans think castles are so amazing.
John says he blames Disney for our obsession with castles 😉
Which reminds me that it’s not quite true that the U.S. doesn’t have any castles–we do have this one, but somehow it’s not quite the same thing…
And what goes hand in hand with castles?
Royalty (Kings, queens, princes, and princesses)— Americans don’t actually want a King or Queen–in fact, we’re vehemently opposed to it, since we are fiercely proud of our Democracy and our personal liberty.
But princes and princesses are the stuff of fairy tales, and we love fairy tales! So we’ll go ahead and borrow the royalty of Europe from time to time, whenever we want to feel like fairy tales are alive and well:
Interesting cultures and languages–In Europe, the countries are about the size of a single state in the United States. It’s a bit hard for Americans to comprehend the fact that a German can hop in his tiny fuel-friendly car and just jaunt on over to France. When he’s tired of that, he can put a couple liters in the tank and drive on over to Spain–whole new country, whole new culture, whole new language.
We Americans have our Canadian neighbors to the north that just aren’t quite different enough, and then our Mexican neighbors to the south. We do like a trip to Cancun or Puerta Vallarta every now and then, but that will be by plane, because just driving across Texas will take you all day…at least. But the vibrant variety of distinct culture to be found within close proximity across Europe–the flamenco dancers of Spain, the Vespa-drivers of Italy, and the Queen’s Guard of England–it’s exciting, and we’d like to see it all.
Fashion Forward–in the minds of Americans, Europeans have a style and flair that we can only aspire too. They are so posh, so cool.
They are fashion forward, wearing styles that are just a bit too cutting edge for us.
It seems to me that the European styles will often reach the States, but they are probably a couple years behind. And some things will just never happen. Many guys in particular in the U.S. would just never wear the things European men dare to wear.
Which leads me to this meme (Inspired by Legally Blonde the Musical’s song, “Is He Gay or European?”, which can be listened to here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LN_L85b2zQ ). This one was too good not to use, but I promise that it is meant as a compliment to both Gays and Europeans–all I’m saying is that both groups are widely considered to be stylish 😉
I will also point out that IMO Americans–girls and guys alike–are somewhat intrigued by the fashion-forwardness of Europe, which many would say has inspired the current trend of hipster fashion in the United States. I have heard it said that American hipsters are really just wannabe Europeans, and that Europeans have a wider range of style than Americans are accustomed to. So to be fair, here’s your hipster meme:
Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road–Okay, we know that (in Europe) that’s just the U.K., but still, it blows our minds!!! On a related note, the idea of the round-about, while common in Europe, is just starting to catch on in the United States. While it confuses a lot of Americans–and it is not too unusual to see someone over the age of 80 driving the wrong direction in one,–the round-about has definitely taken a foothold in the United States.
Art–Any American who loves art is eager to visit Europe. We want to see the museums, the paintings, the sculptures, the architecture, the seats of fashion design. We want to see the Louvre, the Eiffel tower, the ancient classical architecture of Greece and Rome. We want to see the frescoes of Florence and the cathedrals of Spain.
Heritage— Americans learn about European history in school growing up (It is a subject of recent criticism that we are focusing too much on Western culture in our schools). Those that defend the focus on European history do so because it can be argued that European history is our own (American) history. Of course not all Americans have European ancestry–the United States is well-known for being a “melting pot” of ethnicities. American culture has long been influenced by many non-western cultures, particularly African American and Latino. Non-european cultures are, in fact inseparable from American culture as a whole. However, this post is about Europe, and as of 2016 the majority of Americans do have European ancestry. This makes many of us feel a definitive connection to the Old World–because this is our origin story. The United States was formed first as British Colonies (and some other European settlements). It makes sense that we Americans might feel a kinship to our European cousins; and for many Americans–such as myself–Europeans today are our literal cousins (although probably about 20 times removed).
Take myself as an example of a random Caucasian American. A few of my siblings had their DNA analyzed from the company 23ANDME (http://www.23andme.com).
According to 23ANDME, Ancestry Composition tells you what percent of your DNA comes from each of 31 populations worldwide. This analysis includes DNA you received from all of your recent ancestors, on both sides of your family. The results reflect where your ancestors lived before the widespread migrations of the past few hundred years.
Here is a summary of the analysis for two of my siblings, which should also theoretically apply to me:
Scandinavian 7% Broadly Northwestern European: 33%
So if we Americans are so fascinated with Europe, why is it that the majority of us have never visited? Stats say that over 50% of Americans have never traveled outside of the United States, let alone crossed the Atlantic to visit Europe. The reasons why are about what you’d expect: lack of vacation time, the diversity of America itself which offers a wealth of vacation options, and of course the number one reason being cost (a plane ticket to Europe costs an average of about $1,000 USD).
Just a few of the the types of vacation options available in the U.S.:
Even with our vast and beautiful country offering history, culture, and vacation hot spots galore, American fascination with Europe persists. According to the National Travel & Tourism Office (NTTO), in 2015 more Americans traveled outside of the U.S. than ever before, with Europe being the #1 destination outside of North America. 2016 is set to be a record year once again. Are Americans heading to Europe in record numbers simply because of the pretty castles and cool old buildings? Or is it the scarves and skinny jeans? Or the chance to throw around the word “hostel”? Or could it be that there is a somewhat deeper reason–a connection that Americans feel, our own way of “returning to our roots”, walking where our ancestors walked, experiencing the languages and cultures passed down over generations? I can’t say for sure the answer to these questions, but what I do know is that Europe’s hold on American minds and hearts remains. We find it, in a word–enchanting.
****My Danish/European readers, I would love for you to comment with your own reasons why you think that Europeans are “fascinated” by Americans 🙂