I am in Luxembourg City, Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, and am once again reminded of what it is to be an American overseas. Not that being an American overseas is uniquely different from being another national overseas, but I am not another national, I am an American, and thus I am reminded.
At the moment I am choking in a cloud of cigarette smoke. This is how I am welcomed to Bar Interview on Rue Adringen; a sensation so foreign to most Americans at this point it elicits a physical reaction…a literal wince meant to dodge the offense upon entering the room.
I take a seat at a bar stool that appears to be empty, yet in its respective bar space sits an otherwise clean and oversized ashtray, save for a lone cigarette perched in its notch, burning at the end. Over the course of my first beer it burns to the butt, unclaimed, thereby proving its value as a commodity in these parts…they must be cheaper here than in the States. Or maybe that’s another part of the evil Socialist system I keep hearing about from Fox’s Friends…subsidized cigarettes to go with their subsidized health care….a virtuous circle of life, death, and the welfare state.
No sooner do I finish formulating my socialist hypothesis does the bartender light a cigarette matching the description of the original offender and rest it in a different ashtray, which he proceeds to place on the bar directly in front of me, immediately adjacent to the original nuisance… the farce continues. As the freshly flamed dart burns, untouched, I watch in wonder as said bartender lights yet another, this one to rest intermittently between his fingers and his lips so as to draw the shortest nicotine lined path between points A & B, the cigarette and his lungs, respectively. (Clearly a geometry major with his state subsidized education.) And as if the torture already inflicted isn't enough, as he’s clearing the bar tables behind me he proceeds to sit his cigarette immediately to my left - directly on the bar - no ashtray needed no sir.
As I contemplate the carnage of his habit, laid bare in a debris field of spent ash and nicotine stained filters in every direction, and consider the secondhand damage to my precious lungs I am reminded that there was once a time when I was immune to this…a time when I even welcomed cigarette smoking folks as some sort of proxy for a good time, back when I was one of them. That time has long past, and this is Reminder #1. Welcome to Europe you Nancy-ass American. We still smoke. A lot. So go pound sand with your American indignation and your holier-than-thou anti-smoking bollocks.
Reminder #2: Signs of American cultural and commercial influence are everywhere. Brands are what I think about, and in this environment I am hyper-aware of brands that come from my country, and I think about the relationship foreigners have to them. They sure are lucky (I say to myself) to enjoy our Levi’s and our Converse and our Apples and our Marlboroughs (the irony!) and our McDonald's (the uber-irony!!). And I am proud to be an American walking these streets of Western Europe with such visceral reminders of our industrial, economic, and commercial might.
Reminder #3: Americans remain an ethnocentric bunch. For as quickly as I am accusing our European comrades of co-opting our brands (because really, that’s what I was doing…it was more judgment than pride), I see an Ikea - which anymore seems so naturally as one of ours – much closer to its homeland than where I first came to know it in Schaumburg Illinois. I see an H&M - which I can’t get enough of back in the States - similarly so very close to its home. And I see a Samsung, which is not at all close to its home, but is a brand I hold in my hand everyday a hundred times over without a single thought to its nationality and at this moment is neither mine nor theirs but ours; part of the global community of brands and commerce. Americans, I assume, must rush to greater ownership and possessiveness of our brands than most any other nation. We are myopic. Or, perhaps, I am myopic.
Either way, Americans need to get out more. I need to get out more. This is Reminder #4.