Thoughtful European Reactions
to Travels with Samantha
I would like to comment on your observations of Americans vs. "Others"
and Ronen, the Israeli in Chapter IV.
I went to Israel at the age of 18 and spent seven years there, including
5.5 in the Air Force, and I hope that this has given me a unique
perspective on the Middle East and United States. Ronen mentioned that
Americans are shallow and lack substance, yet you mentioned that
the Australian women you met seemed shallow and lacked the 'inherited'
American trait of self-betterment. After spending seven years in Israel,
I felt the same as Ronen did, and it took me a long time to decided
that I could 'make it' in the States (this from someone who grew up
in California!), mainly because of the human factor. I do believe
that, on the average (stress the 'average'), a conversation or relationship
with an American (friends, lovers, family, whatever) will usually not
have the same depth and significance as it will for many other cultures.
Not all of this is bad, however, as many people are content with a
certain level of shallowness and some even shrink from any closeness.
All this being said, I have found that if you are content to be average,
these are the people you are likely to meet, but that if you keep your
standards high, and encourage those surrounding you to do likewise,
you can find people of a high moral, social and whatnot fiber. I would
not be as brave as you to label Americans as a people bent on intellectual
development, don't forget that as a PhD candidate in this nation's best
technical institution (my opinion, and my own hope to be there someday)
you have been surrounded by the best. There are plenty of U.S. citizens
complacent with their blue-collar beer-drinking lead-to-nowhere life,
and plenty of violent, dissatisfied, MTV youth who emulate the lower-class,
anti-intellectual heroes of the 90's. Unfortunately, this is the usual
picture exported by the United States to the world in movies, news etc.
Like you mentioned the international news only portraying neo-Nazis in
Germany, what do you think people overseas see and hear about the U.S.?
I have found (1.5 years after returning to the States) that the 'self-
betterment' theme of the U.S. is in a struggle for survival, and while
it is not losing the battle, it desperately needs support from each and
every person who is willing to formulate opinions, thoughts and communicate
them with other people. Such is one of the consequences of your
putting 'Travels with Samantha' on-line, and I applaud you for it.
Andy Woods (email@example.com)
I had the chance just ones to visit the United States. It was in the
Northweast the Seattle area. Then I found your E-Book on the net. And
now I tend to tell people that I have seen a lot more of the America
through your eyes....
Uwe Hauck (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I was caught by the book. I've recommended it to most of my friends:
"at best, fascinating; at worst, offensively opinionated." Now, after
finishing, I'd soften the latter. You have your foibles: for example,
Germans seemed to get a dependable grilling. However, you do
not spare yourself the pressuring gaze you turn on others.
I enjoyed the copious references to authors and literature. I hope to
read Kerouac, Thoreau, and Wilde after seeing how they fit in to the
process of seeking the worthwhile.
The pictures were worth all the effort. After years of schooling with
dry text, through grad school even, I have not shaken the desire to
read a book that's easy on the eyes, that lets you exercise something
other than your verbal skills when that poor part of your lump of grey
matter gets tired.
I would've liked to hear more about the actual process you used to
get to know people a little, to be presumptuous enough to ask personal
questions and take personal pictures.
I'm wildly joyous that there is one more person at MIT who realizes
that good exists outside of MIT. The kind of snobbishness I hear from
many Californians, New Yorkers, DC-ers, MIT-ers, CalTech-ers, and
other such places increasingly revolts me.
Anyway, thanks for your book. It is another eddy in an ocean of
refreshing altruism and spirit on the net.
Dan Frankowski email@example.com until June 1994
The English girl's comments using Chomsky as a source made a link
with me. My boss here at Sodalia (an Italian American with dual
citizenship and a sheepskin from the Institute) cannot understand
American's predjudice against "intellectuals" and "liberals". I had
to think about this (since by European lights I AM an intellectual!).
I finally told him that the meaning of these words has become perverted.
An "intellectual" is someone like Chomsky, who strikes me as an intolerant
condescending bigot. Anyone who doesn't agree with him is by definition
*not* an intellectual. Liberal has come to mean statist in our lexicon.
Since I'm a radical anti-statist (though decidedly not a revolutionary)
I cannot be that either. My views are quite close to those of classic
To the extent that so-called intellectuals look down their noses at the
typical person I cannot class myself with them. My tastes run to reading
Schumpeter, Drucker, WWW, and travel. I don't see how that makes me
superior to a Simpson's or Married with Children fan. I do what I like
and they do what they like. I also can't agree with the stock phrases
about the vacuousness of american culture. I think North America is THE
place to live in this era of world history. Look at the waves of change
sweeping the globe, things like cheap telecoms, W3, Gui's, cheap computers,
and multimedia. All originate in North America.
Most self-styled intellectuals bore me to tears. They tend to parrot the
same thoughts. Parlor Pinks who faint at the thought of an honest day's
work. Puts me in mind of the observation during the sixties: "Millions of
people non-conforming, and all non-conforming in the same way!"
Don Stadler (firstname.lastname@example.org)