Indeed everywhere my husband and I went in Scandinavia last month, we were reminded how “American” the world is.
There’s the expected Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and movies and popular music. You know that the minute you hear Harry Connick Jr. sing jazz in a Chinese restaurant in Bergen, Norway, which begs the question–what was I doing eating Chinese in Bergen on a blustery, chilly night? We had a choice of Japanese with a menu we could not read, a McDonald’s with $8 hamburgers, a Mexican taqueria or walking several blocks in the rain to something more Norwegian.
We chose the Chinese place with English subtitles on the menu. And Harry Connick sang “One Fine Thing” on the music system while we dined on Drunken Noodles and fried rice.
I don’t go overseas to hang out with Americans or to dine like one, though what constitutes “American” these days is hard to decipher. We’re all over the news, for instance, though Brexit and Frexit were getting a lot of airplay along with the standoff between President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
Our strategy to keep quiet and observe didn’t mark us as rank American tourists. If we looked the part, we fooled a few on the street who asked us directions in Norwegian or Danish.
It was not surprising, then, that as our train rolled into Copenhagen, a friendly young conductor asked for my ticket in Danish.
I showed him my Eurail pass.
“You are from…?” he said.
“The USA,” I said.
“Ah! The good place!”
His comment startled me. The good place? Few places other than Normandy Beach consider the United States to be good these days. Or so I thought.
He asked what state I was from. “North Carolina, in the South,” I said.
I knew better than to try to explain how north can be south.
“I have not been to the South. I will have to do that,” he said.
He was all smiles. It happened that he had worked in Las Vegas, and had also visited Utah. That was the extent of his American experience, he said, but it had been a good one. He wanted to come back.
Of course Danish people are said to be the world’s happiest. With universal health care and free college tuition, subsidized child care, five weeks of vacation, great beer and a cushy retirement to look forward to, they have little to make them anxious. Not even the 56 percent income tax gets them riled.
With so much happiness, it stands to reason that the amiable conductor was only doing his job—making this visitor believe that Danes are truly joyful.
I believe the young man was genuine when he said my country was the good place. He’d been more than a tourist. He spoke the language and had worked here, lived the dream and paid half the income tax. Maybe it was running with the big dog—321 million in America–versus 5.6 million in a country the size of Maryland plus Delaware.
Maybe it was the wide open spaces or the Vegas neon that impressed him or maybe the limitless sky.
I didn’t speak with the conductor long–just a minute or two–but when I heard him call America “the good place,” I knew I woudln’t forget it.