Why Americans Don't Read European Writers in Translation

Bill Morris on why Americans don't read (European) writers in translation: 

On a crisp morning last October, I paused in front of one of the many magnificent bookshops that dot the city of Cologne. In the display window was a large, hand-lettered sign: NOBELPREIS FÜR LITERATUR, PATRICK MODIANO. Arrayed around the sign were a dozen works of fiction by Patrick Modiano—most in German, a few in French, none in English.

I walked into the shop and introduced myself as an American writer visiting from New York. Then I came clean: “I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve never even heard of Patrick Modiano. Is he any good?”

“Oh yes,” said the woman behind the cash register. Like most bookshop workers in Europe, she was young and bright, fluent in English, and criminally well read. “He’s French and he’s quite good. You should definitely read him. Start with his first novel, La Place de l’Étoile, or Dora Bruder.”

...

Three Percent, a resource for international literature at the University of Rochester, derives its name from the fact that about 3 percent of all the books published in the U.S. every year are translations. But the bulk of these are technical writings or reprints of literary classics; only 0.7 percent are first-time translations of fiction and poetry. While the number of fiction and poetry books available in translation remains small, it has been rising steadily—from a total of 360 in 2008 to 587 last year, according to Three Percent.

So the question becomes: are so few translated books available because American readers don’t read them, or do American readers read so little foreign fiction and poetry because so little of it is available in translation? Or is it a bit of both?

“It’s complicated,” says Judith Gurewich, publisher of Other Press, which is consistently among the top American publishers of foreign fiction in translation. “I think it’s getting easier to get books in translation into the hands of reviewers. They’re excited—not only receptive, but very kind. But the reading public? That’s the million-dollar question.”

...

After noting that translators are doing some superb work today, Glusman offers his own theories about why translated fiction and poetry remain a tough sell for American publishers. One theory is that Americans lag behind other nationalities in exposure to foreign cultures, which is reflected in a lack of foreign language instruction in American schools. This certainly doesn’t help foster a hunger for foreign literature. Nor does the fact that only about one-third of Americans hold a passport.

Another theory, which Glusman credits to the German writer Peter Schneider, is deliciously counter-intuitive. Germany is a homogenous culture, largely white Anglo-Saxons with a smattering of immigrants, mostly from Turkey—and yet there is a voracious appetite for translated fiction in Germany, as I was reminded that day at the Cologne bookshop. America, on other hand, has been absorbing immigrants from all over the world for centuries, which might work as an impediment to fostering a hunger for foreign literature.

Schneider’s theory, says Glusman, “was that there’s an assumption that because of the heterogeneous nature of American society, we think we know more about foreign cultures than we actually do. And that breeds a certain insularity.”


National Scorpions in a European Bottle

The Washington Post examines the chances of a right-wing block in the European Parliament and uncovers a few interesting cross-currents among European Euroskeptic parties:

With France’s National Front the likely anchor of any nationalist coalition, it has been up to Le Pen to try to forge a legislative bloc. Success would mean winning at least 25 seats from seven countries. Though almost assured of enough seats, Le Pen appears to be at least one nation shy of the country threshold.

Meanwhile, one nationalist group, the United Kingdom Independence Party, has refused to work with her. Like Le Pen, UKIP chief Nigel Farage has sought to position his party as sane moderates who happen to have an anti-E.U., anti-immigration bent. While he touts his party as mainstream, Le Pen’s National Front, he insists, is just faking it.

“Our view is that whatever Marine Le Pen is trying to do with the Front National, anti-Semitism is still imbedded in that party, and we’re not going to work with them now or at any point in the future,” Farage told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper.

But even her critics concede that Le Pen has determinedly sought to distance herself from her controversial father and has made strides toward steering the party away from explicit racism. In October, the National Front ejected a mayoral candidate, Anne-Sophie Leclere, after she publicly compared France’s French Guiana-born justice minister, Christiane Taubira, to a monkey.

In fact, Le Pen is portraying the party as the best ally French Jews could have against a common enemy.

“Not only am I not anti-Semitic, but I have explained to my Jewish compatriots that the movement most able to protect them is the Front National,” she said. “For the greatest danger today is the rise of an anti-Semitism in the suburbs, stemming from Muslim fundamentalists.”

It seems to me the European nationalist right can be traced to two factors, the first being the economic distress in many southern and Eastern European countries. But that doesn't explain the rise of the right in Scandinavia or Britain.

What we're seeing, I think, is proof of the uncomfortable fact that as Robert Putnam reluctantly concluded, "[i]n the short to medium run, … immigration and ethnic diversity challenge social solidarity and inhibit social capital." It appears impossible to induce ethnically homogeneous societies like those in Europe to harmoniously integrate people from radically different cultural, religious, and educational backgrounds. The best we can hope for is a largely peaceful but not static-free co-existence. 

Another factor is the often-feckless response of the pro-diversity crowd. No matter how much outrage or sarcasm you direct at the latest racist comment from a Front National member, their message will still resound with millions of people. And this is where many European social democrats turn to counterproctive responses:

  1. lecturing voters who keep stubbornly voting for the "wrong" parties;
  2. even more patronizingly, searching for the 'real' reasons behind anti-immigrant sentiment; and/or
  3. blaming the 'rat-catchers' and 'demagogues' and 'populists' for 'fanning the flames' of anti-immigrant sentiment (as if were somehow dishonest to address your clientele's genuine concerns).

The approaches seem to posit that there might still be a way to 're-educate' ordinary Europeans to embrace diversity. If only we could get rid of the demagogues! If only we could find the perfect way to showcase the benefits of diversity! But I suspect lots of European voters say they don't like foreigners because they don't like foreigners. And they never will, no matter how often you remind them that they really, really should

I'm not sure this particular problem has a solution. But as long as anti-immigrant parties are in the minority, it probably doesn't need one. The vast majority of Europeans, whether they're uncomfortable with immigrants or not, are still unwilling to vote for parties whose main focus is immigrant-bashing. Preserving that status quo is probably the best Europe can do.


USA Getting More Secular, Less Nationalistic

God guns guts

From a recent survey:

When Americans were asked if they think the United States is the greatest country in the world, there were sharp differences in the responses across generations. In total, 48% of Americans believe the United States is the greatest country in the world and 42% believe it is one of the greatest countries in the world, but a significant portion of the Millennial generation responded differently.

Just 32% of Millennials believe the U.S. is the greatest country in the world. That number progressively increases among the Gen X (48%), Boomer (50%) and Silent generations (64%). Millennials were also the most likely generation to say America is not the greatest country in the world (11%).

Millennials also are less likely than their elders to express patriotism. A majority of Millennials (70%) agreed with the statement “I am very patriotic.” But even larger percentages of Gen Xers (86%), Boomers (91%) and Silents (90%) said the same. This generational gap is consistent and has been identified in surveys dating back to 2003.

The annoying 'generation' names can be ignored -- the key thing is that the younger an American you are, the less likely you are to call yourself 'patriotic', which (if you'll pardon a bit of snark) describes the mental state Americans denounce as 'nationalistic' whenever non-Americans display it. In related news, the number of non-religious Americans is on the increase -- about 20% of Americans now fits this category.

Sociologists have long puzzled over the U.S.: given its levels of prosperity, technological advancement, and education, it should be a lot less religious and nationalistic than it is. Put crudely, the richer a country gets, the less religion it needs, and the the more educated its citizenry, the less prevalent the cruder forms of nationalism and tribalism. We seem to be seeing a gradual end to this aspect of American exceptionalism: in 20 years, the psychological profile of the average American will probably be much closer to the average European, Canadian, or Japanese.

I would be willing to wager the Internet has had something to do with this, but that's pure speculation. So here goes: If you seek critiques of religious faith, all manner of them -- from the ridiculous to the cogent to the sublime -- are no more than a mouseclick away. It's hard to enforce conservative sexual mores in the age of Internet porn, where any anyone can see people having loads of fun with their genitals, and afterward suffering no disease, ostracism, or scorn at all. As for the nationalism angle, you can hardly swing a dead cat in cyberspace without hitting a website that shows you that many people (1) distrust the U.S., and have legitimate reasons for doing so (yet who aren't anti-American cranks); and (2) don't consider the U.S. paradise on earth, and think the quality of life they enjoy in their own country superior to that of the U.S. It's a bit hard to maintain the fantasies of your country's superiority and innocence in the face of these competing narratives.


Intercultural Blind Spot: Glenn Beck's German Fans

Nqny1s

This is a post about an intercultural blind spot. An IBS exists whenever people who are interested in another culture -- but not extremely well-versed in it -- develop a distorted view of the other culture based on the lack of contextual knowledge (and the hubris not to recognize that lack). This can take many forms:

  • You take the spokesman from another culture seriously because (1) you are unable to detect the tells that alert a homegrown listener to the fact that this person is stupid or nuts; and/or (2) you are unaware of that person's history which shows them to be nuts even though what you heard sounded fairly reasonable.
  • You assume that one of the spokesmen for the other culture whose work is easily accessible because he speaks your language 'represents' the other culture as a whole, rather than just a tiny, unrepresentative fraction of it (example for English-speakers: Peter Schneider).
  • You take a spokesman from the other culture too seriously because he or she is saying what you want to hear and/or confirming reassuring stereotypes (example for German speakers: Michael Moore).
  • You assume the spokesman from the other culture must be as popular and influential at home as he is in your country.

Doing some unrelated research, I came across the website Politically Incorrect, which subtitles itself as: 'News against the Mainstream - Pro-American - Pro-Israeli - Against the Islamization of Europe - For the Constitution and Human Rights'. It's a curious mixture -- some of the posts are the sort of heavy-handed sarcasm and name-calling you see on the more tiresomely ranty kinds of political websites. Other posts make halfway-defensible points, and yet others take fairly well-aimed potshots at the indubitably politically-correct German state-run media.

Just when I was tempted to think some of it might be worth taking seriously, though, I ran across this entry (my translation):

After the attacks of 11 September 2001, a document called 'The Project' was discovered during a raid in Switzerland. The information, which has been kept secret by the US Administration, reveal the largest terrorism-financing scheme in US history. This documentary film relentlessly uncovers how the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating the US Administration in an attempt to destroy the West from inside.

The film will be shown on Glenn Beck's The Blaze...

Whoa, wait a minute -- Glenn Beck? Katy, bar the door! For those of you lucky enough not to know who he is, Glenn Beck is a tear-prone, soddenly über-patriotic, half-educated conspiracy monger (and former cocaine user and radio shock jock) who had a batshit-crazy show on Fox News in the United States, before even Fox News dumped him. After Fox fired him, he dropped off the radar screen, and all sane Americans breathed a sigh of relief -- except for the late-night comedians, who mourned the passing of the most ludicrously sinister and sinisterly ludicrous media figure since Father Coughlin. He now runs his own media empire, spinning out inane tales for the tinfoil-hat brigade.

Host nation, allow me to proclaim: Glenn Beck is a 24-carat, no-holds barred moron. It's hard to think of a German who occupies an analogous space in the cultural landscape, but perhaps Horst Mahler (g) comes closest, even though Horst Mahler is a million times smarter (and more malevolent) than Glenn Beck. Nevertheless, you get the point. If I were to mention to a German friend: 'You know, I was reading an article by Horst Mahler the other day, and he made some really good points!' there would be a spit-take and howls of laughter. That is also what you will get for taking Glenn Beck seriously.


Revelation In a Stovepipe Hat

http://www.whatdomormonsbelieve.com/2009/02/question-box-revelation-on-the-afterlife/
I'm of two minds about the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, otherwise known as Mormonism, which is the religion of Mitt Romney.

On the one hand, I genially dismiss all religious dogmas which take the form of truth claims. Despite the manful efforts of gifted theologians and apologists throughout the centuries, faith (at least the portion represented by falsifiable statements about alleged real-world events) and reason continue to be mutually exclusive. I don't think any intelligent person genuinely believes in transubstantiation, for instance. In fact, I don't even think any intelligent person could even conceive of what it would be like to believe in transubstantiation.

The same goes for the various virgin births and miracles and the truth claims contained in the Jataka tales, Muhammed's night journey, Methuselah's age, etc. The more intelligent sort of religious person quietly acknowledges that these fables usefully inspire the simple-minded, but regards them as slightly embarrassing. They are like the 'miraculous' madonna figures in various cathedrals which are draped with lovingly hand-sewn (often kitschy) robes and jewelry. We discreetly walk past these, even though they are surrounded by throngs of believers, to admire some elegantly carved Gothic altar.

This is all by way of saying that I'm not singling Mormonism out. But boy howdy, Mormonism is strange. In America, it's considered poor form to mock someone's religious beliefs, no matter how odd they are. But the rules are different in Europe, so here goes. Mormonism's very origins are entertaining, as Laurie Winer's fine potted history of the religion (and its changing beliefs) shows:

In 1823, [founder of the church Joseph] Smith later reported, he was first visited by the angel Moroni, who revealed to him the existence of ancient golden plates, buried two miles from the Smith home, on which the true story of the gospel was written. Years later Smith, having “purified” himself, took possession of the plates. He kept them covered and advised friends and family that looking at them would mean instant death. Peering into a stovepipe hat and using a seer stone, Smith dictated what would become the Book of Mormon to different scribes. The plates told the story of mankind in a language called “reformed Egyptian.” Among the surprises: in 600 B.C., after being warned by God to flee Jerusalem, a Hebrew prophet named Lehi and his family built a ship and sailed to America.

Take that, Columbus! And here is the conception of the afterlife:

There are three heavens and one hell. The three heavens are ranked from most holy to least by their “degrees of glory." The celestial kingdom is the most desirable, and serves as the destination for all those who accept Jesus, are baptized within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (whether before or after death), and remain faithful throughout their lives. People who die before the age of 8, when Mormons are baptized, also go to the celestial kingdom. The next most desirable heaven is called the terrestrial kingdom, which holds all those who don’t fully accept Jesus on Earth, but who are basically good people and accept him after death. The telestial kingdom is for those who never truly accept Jesus, and includes murderers, as well as “liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.” These unbelievers must first suffer for their sins, but eventually end up in a blissful place “surpassing the great understanding of men.”

Now, this isn't going to be one of those ZOMG-this-crazy-religion-makes-Romney-dangerous posts. Like most Americans, Mitt Romney is expert at keeping his religious beliefs and his wordly interests separate when they conflict. Romney's behavior shows a mixture of cunning greed (as his world-class tax fiddling shows), religious charity, and political prudence and moderation. He's already told us he won't let his religion influence his Presidential policies, and I believe him.

But really, the more you read about Mormonism, the more delightfully kooky it becomes. And the special bonus is that the world -- definitely including Europe -- is crawling with well-groomed young men who want induct you into their preposterous religion! Mitt Romney spent a couple years in France doing just that, surely to the bemusement of the French. They're easily recognizable by their white shirts, name tags, dark pants, and backpacks:

Mormon Missionaries in Mongolia
I see them at least once a week in Düsseldorf -- often the same guys. Now next time you meet one, you can ask them what that stovepipe hat was for...


More on the World's Most Controversial Petit Fours

Who knew that a post about insensitive pastries would unleash such a fine and lively discussion? My thanks to all participants. Just to respond to a couple of points:

  1. My role is not to convey American values to my students, or any other national values, for that matter. I am there to provide them with information and analytical skills that will be useful to them. That means explaining American values, to offer insight into the country whose law they are studying, but not cheerleading. I would never be so naive as to suggest that my personal ideological preferences don't influence what I teach, but I try to let my students decide the merits of controversial questions.
  2.  As for the pastries in question, I posted them to call attention to a quirk of German culture that I've addressed before. To me, I see it as another sign of German society being several decades behind the US, in ways both charming and not-so-charming. Think of Mickey Rooney's cringe-inducing 'Chinaman' in Breakfast at Tiffany's, for example. Nobody would dream of doing something like that in the US today, but as the comments have shown, blackface is still fine in Germany.
  3. I don't see my role as a moral apostle, although I may make some ironic comments, as I did in the post above (by channeling a stereotypical cracker's delight at finding these pastries). I try to avoid seeing Germany through American eyes as much as possible. (Suggesting that one or another country has the sounder policy on a particular point is different from arguing that one country is morally superior). The only time I'll knowingly haul out the moral mace is if some German starts self-righteously denouncing the United States for its alleged pervasive racism. If and when that happens, will I feel constrained to point out that Germany (1) still doesn't have anti-discrimination laws with teeth; (2) tolerates various kinds of racial stereotypes. Of course, racial discrimination remains a problem in American society, as it does in every society. But I find that Germans are much less wont to simple-mindedly moralize about the US than they were prior to 2008. 
  4. Since the 1980s, I've been skeptical of American-style political correctness, which I think tends to exaggerate questions of personal taste and bad manners to matters of state. I went to college in the late 1980s, the high point of p.c., and remember the seemingly endless debates about what preferred terminology was for various ethnic groups, or how big the cultural center for group X was going to be, or whether Professor Y should be censured for making an allegedly sexist comment during class. It got so bad that hundreds of campuses passed blatantly unconstitutional speech codes threatening drastic punishment for students and employees who were alleged to have made insensitive comments or statements. Students were being threatened with expulsion, or professors with career homicide, simply because of one stray comment (often reported only by hearsay). Fortunately, courts struck down these codes, but for a while there, the ability to voice controversial opinions was under threat -- and by people calling themselves 'liberals'.
  5. The other suspect thing about political correctness is that it can distract from questions about fundamental, systemic inequality. I recommend Walter Benn Michaels' book The Trouble with Diversity, in which he argues that 'diversity', while a fine and wonderful thing in itself, often distracts from much deeper inequalities in American society. The important question is not how many black or gay students there are at University X, it's why University X's tuition fees have been skyrocketing, shutting out the lower middle class. A law firm or lobbying firm can be diverse as heck -- and will strive to be so, since that makes for great PR and salves the consciences of the more 'liberal' partners -- but it will still be serving corporate interests.
  6. As for my personal attitudes, I try to be a tolerant enough guy, but I also enjoy the odd off-color joke and ironic provocation, and have neither the will nor the energy to constantly censor myself. People should be judged on what they do, not what other people guess that they might be thinking. Perhaps it's unfortunate that some people have backward attitudes, but it's a much bigger problem -- and an unquestionable evil -- when people are discriminated against in public life based solely on their race, ethnicity, orientation or gender. Along with many gifted colleagues, I actually did stuff to combat racial discrimination in the US. And any number of people can confirm that I have often spoken out publicly in favor or stronger anti-discrimination laws in Germany. To me, the real scandal is not insensitive pastries, but the fact that Germany's anti-discrimination laws don't yet have enough real-world financial bite to change behavior.

An Open Letter to Lonely Planet About Gay Sex Tourists

Whenever I travel, I usually bring a Lonely Planet along. Now, Lonely Planet is not the be-all and end-all of travel guides.  (The best guide for Istanbul, by the way, is Strolling Through Istanbul by Hilary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely.) But LP guides are sturdily made, the writing is crisp and opinionated, the maps and layout make sense, and Lonely Planet knows its audience -- the educated Western bourgeoisie -- very well.

 

Plus, it's interesting to see how the Lonely Planeteers negotiate cultural differences. They denounce faux-folk performances put on for the kinds of tourists who travel in buses, but tread very gingerly when addressing the, shall we say, problematic aspects of the nation being visited. You have to know Lonely Planet's code -- they will never tell you that a certain native delicacy will ruin your digestion for days, or that a popular theater is infested with rats. Not in so many words, at least. But they will drop carefully-worded hints, often couched in adorable Aussie slang like '"skerrick" and "snaffle". Decoding them belongs to the fun of reading LP guides.

 

There's also the matter of the double-standard that I've found in many LP guides: the difference in treatment between gays who might want to indulge in anonymous and/or paid sex when they travel and straights who do so.

 

First, some background. I came of age in the late 1980s, and early 1990s, the heyday of the quaint movement among the college-educated classes of certain Western nations known as "political correctness."  One aspect of political correctness was that members of privileged classes were encouraged to turn a blind eye toward certain unsavory conduct engaged in by members of the less-privileged orders. Gays had a special license to speak openly about various aspects of their intimate lives without encountering disapproval or scorn. Loose talk of cruising, scoring, hanky codes, felching, going bareback, etc. was considered de rigueur among certain out gays. You had to confront The Man with your full being and demand that he respect you.

 

Gay pride parades were cavalcades of the most bizarre perversion, but, as a polite progressive,  you certainly weren't allowed to wrinkle your nose at the topless biker lesbians, novelty cock rings, or gyrating leather bears without being denounced as "intolerant". (On a similar note, you were required to chalk up the crass materialism of lots of rap music solely to self-conscious parody, or to rap artists' sublimated yearning to enjoy the privileges of prosperity that had so long been denied their ancestors.) Thus, if you saw a parade float in which hairy bears led skinny young twinks around on all fours in studded dog collars, you were required to bite your tongue, or half-heartedly proclaim it a bold step forward for proud out living. A parade float featuring middle-aged men leading young women around naked would, of course, have you dialing '911' on the nearest payphone (remember, this was the 90s).

 

Those days are long past. Eventually, gingerly, Western societies began to say: "Hey, we're tolerant and open and all that, but really, we don't want to know about the weird stuff you do in the bedroom." And gays themselves also got the message that quite literally parading around the more bizarre aspects of one of their sexual subcultures might not be very helpful. Especially with the rise of the gay-marriage movement, it's now become the done thing to treat being gay as rather ho-hum. Turns out most of 'em actually want to get mortgages and have nice office jobs just like the breeders! Gingerly, you can even begin to see even open-minded straights criticizing certain perhaps somewhat morally questionable activities that gays (also) engage in, such as anonymous darkroom sex and rent boys. Previously, this was something only gays or conservatives could do.

 

That all seems to have passed Lonely Planet by: its sexual mores are still so 1993. Take the Lonely Planet Guide to Istanbul. If you were a straight man looking to find paid sex in Istanbul (and no, although straight, I'm not here for sex tourism, unless you count the statues of Kybele - grrr!), you will find not a single sentence about it whatsoever, except for one brief, passing mention in the 'Dangers & Annoyances' (!) section, which advises you that the 'red light district' in Aksaray/Laleli is known for pickpocketing. The tone is so ginger that I can imagine the contentious editorial meeting about whether they should even mention where the red light district is located, lest some greasy-mouthed male tourist decide to stray over there and prey on some unsuspecting, doe-eyed Turkish female prostitutes.

 

But if you're gay and coming to Istanbul, Lonely Planet rolls out the pink carpet! They feature a long interview with a gay activist, and detailed recommendations for gay clubs and bathhouses. The book notes that you have to be careful: homosexuality is only tolerated in Turkey, it's not legal. Alas, darkrooms and 'naughty nooks' are unknown in Istanbul gay clubs, so that if your "cruising" is successful (yes, they use that word), you'll have to consummate any action in private. With regret, the gay activist informs us, the only "public sex" available is in a seedy cinema or "furtive flings in dark alleys." The recommendations for gay baths go even further. About one, LP raves: "An added attraction is the stable of 14 hunky, delicious masseurs who take you into the private cubicles for a massage -- be sure to negotiate the price and service parameters clearly. Note: what goes on here should remain here."

 

Hey Lonely Planet: I don't want to burst your bubble, but that activity you were describing in the Istanbul bathhouse is paying for sex, and that's prostitution! What you're doing is telling gay men where to go to engage in illegal prostitution! So if you're telling gay men where to go for some paid sex, then why not tell straight men, too? After all, there might be some really funky, cool establishments that offer an authentic 'Turkish bordello' experience that might be of interest to straight male travelers. You could even do what Lonely Planet is renowned for, which is steering well-funded Western travelers away from the most grotty and exploitative sides of tourism, to the more (relatively) sustainable and authentic.

 

Yet there's not a single word about any heterosexual paid-sex establishments, whether nasty or decent. This is also true of every Lonely Planet guide I've read for European cities -- or for any place on the planet. Heterosexual prostitution is regarded as seedy and grim, and is either never mentioned at all, or only with a lot of finger-wagging about human trafficking, diseases, economic power imbalances and organized crime. Visiting a bordello in Cologne, Vienna, or Budapest (each of which features large, professionally-run whorehouses like this) is never treated as a fun diversion after a hard day wandering the historical sites. These places aren't even mentioned. The only time you'll ever learn of the existence of a bordello from a LP guide is if it's been converted -- into a trendy new gay bar!

 

Now, Lonely Planet might respond: We don't think prostitution is an appropriate tourist activity. It encourages young people to sell their bodies for money. It exploits power imbalances. It can spread disease. And anyway, if someone really wants information about it, he can always go to the Internet.

 

I think that about covers the bases. Those are all pretty good reasons to not mention prostitution at all in your tour guides, and if that were your decision, I would respect it. Yet don't all those rationales also apply to homosexual prostitution? Doesn't that also potentially involve disease, economic imbalances, etc? Then why are there studiously nonjudgmental tips about Turkish bathhouse catamites furnished in Lonely Planet guides?

 

I say, Lonely Planet, that what's good for the goose is good for the philanderer. Either all paid sex is always wrong, in which case you shouldn't help wealthy Australian businessmen locate "delicious" young Turkish masseurs, or you recognize buying sex as a travel activity for everyone who might be interested in that sort of thing -- including straight men and desperate housewives. This is, of course, not to say that you have to endorse anything sleazy -- be your respectable bourgeois self, and highlight only those establishments that conduct their business in a (relatively) responsible fashion. And that feature some of the local color as well!

 

How about it, LP? Are you ready to update your sexual mores to a post-PC era? Or will it be 1993 forever, down under?


American Sorority Babes Hunting Hot European Men

"European Men," if y0u're into fresh-smelling, ever-cheerful American sorority gurrrls, just go where Katherine Chloe Cahoon is telling her sisters to go. They want to meet you -- you sexy, romantic, sincere, mature European man, you:

One of those places is, oddly enough, Oktoberfest, err, "Manfest":

And Americans girls, here's your guide to hooking and landing that European man:

The Onion, of course, got here years ago. Take it away, "Giovanni di Salvi":

I'm a 25-year-old carpenter living in Rome, and I don't mind telling you that I get all the action I can handle. I'm not all that handsome or well-dressed, and I'm certainly not rich. In fact, my Italian countrywomen could take me or leave me. But that's just fine, because Rome gets loads of tourist traffic, and American co-eds traveling through Europe are without a doubt the easiest lays in the world.


Gumbrecht Dissects Deutschland

In an interview with Die Welt, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, a German professor of Romance languages who relocated to sunny California and became an American citizen, notes the things that annoy him about Germany when he returns (excerpts, in my translation):

Welt:...What is lame about German debates?

Gumbrecht: I would say: The fact that there actually aren't that many different ones. There is a certain spectrum, but the individual positions on the spectrum are always there and recognizable. Here's how it works: On the one side you have people who say we should just love all the wonderful foreigners, on the other side, people who think German culture is unique and must absolutely be preserved, a view that's almost fascistic. When people like Sarrazin come along with their viewpoints, which are somewhat right-wing, then a certain predictable sequence of reactions begins. It reminds me of a xylophone: You keep hammering your little plate, and the others hammer theirs a bit -- but always in the same way.

...

Gumbrecht: In Germany, there's still this idea that Europe, and not America, should be the center of the world, and that Europeans actually already know how the world should be ideally. But you actually see things going wrong there constantly.... This creates a lot of dissatisfaction.

Die Welt: How does that present itself in the society?

Gumbrecht: In the nine months when I was in Germany, it struck me as extreme how social democratic the country is. You barely ever meet anyone who isn't somehow calculating how they can obtain the maximum amount of leisure time with the least effort.

 ...

Gumbrecht: My thesis is there's a specific kind of German know-it-all self-righteousness (Rechthaberei).

Die Welt: A German kind?

Gumbrecht: You very seldom talk to people in Germany who are capable of viewing their own opinions in a sort of second-order way; that is, to be able to say 'this is my opinion, and it might be correct or false.' Or people who enter a conversation without thinking it would be a terrible defeat if they were to change their opinion. If it begins to seem during a conversation -- either in academic ones or in normal middle-class ones -- that not everybody is going to sonorously state their agreement, then the subject will be avoided. Take, as an example, that there are no 'debate clubs' in Germany.... [In the U.S.], it's like a sport. But it's completely unthinkable that there would be debate clubs in Germany. Either you know what's right and wrong, or you don't. By the way: Two out of three Germans who visit me in Stanford explain to me after ten minutes what America is and how it works. When they notice that I don't think the same way they do, they then explain to me why I'm wrong and what the right opinion is. Even people whom I consider intelligent do this.

...

Die Welt: And this doesn't happen in America?

Gumbrecht: Oh sure, there's a culture of political correctness here. But the basic differences begin with the legal system, the common law and it's basic principle that 'each case is to be argued.' Or with nationality. The judge who swore me in stressed that from that moment on, I was 100% American, just as American as someone whose ancestors came here in the 17th century. That is an interesting premise. Or look at these absurd churches. You have to have them all. Whether they'll last is another question. But this inability to tolerate all sorts of things existing side-by-side -- this need to force them all to be compatible -- this you find specifically in Germany. Take the university debates. In Germany, people think there's an ideal model of a university that can be made uniform. But here in the USA, it's considered perfectly fine that Stanford is so different from Berkeley, or Harvard from Yale. The more diverse, the better.

Die Welt: ...so can you think of anything positive?

Gumbrecht: I really tried! I have to say one thing. All these things I've just mercilessly dissected -- a very academic thing to do, by the way -- also exist in American, as trace elements. But the worst know-it-alls here are slightly less annoying, because it's clear to them that there are lots of people around who don't think as they do. In a society in which you can either be Protestant, Catholic, or nothing, you can be convinced you're right. In the crazy plurality over here, though, even when you're a total fundamentalist, you have to recognize there are others. And thus, one thing doesn't exist here: the desperate search for correctness and this German oxymoron: the 'desired opinion.'

I'll refrain from comment, except to note that this blog noted the lameness of German debates years ago...