The reports of our decline have been greatly exaggerated

I just got an e-mail from a European friend, an exchange student who spent his senior year of high school in the States 40 years ago. He hasn’t been back, but we’ve kept in touch. I hadn’t heard from him in a couple of years and while his English is still pretty good (usually better than mine) it seemed a few things in his e-mail got lost in translation.

“How are you,” he wrote, “Is it as bad over there as we see on TV? It made me very sad to hear that all Americans have lost their jobs and that they spend 12 hours a day looking for work in obsolete automobile factories. I don’t think Europeans want those cars. What we like is American culture. Almost all you hear on the radio here is American rap music and everyone goes to American movies. Couldn’t more Americans get jobs as rap singers or movie stars? That would seem to me a better idea. Or as basketball players? As everyone knows all Americans are good at playing basketball and it is a good, well-paying job. Why would you want to make cars when you could play basketball?

“I was sad to hear on the news that all Americans have sold all their houses for very little money. Why? I would be very sad sell my house for a very low price. It has been in my family for over 300 years. But if I had to sell, I would not take very little money.

“How did all Americans lose all their money? Some of my friends here say Americans are greedy, but I have been to America and I know that you are not greedy. Besides, I said, ‘if they were all greedy, they’d have money and you just heard that none of them have any money.’ My friend said, ‘Then maybe they’re just stupid.’ So, I won your honor with my arguing.

“How do you like living in a tent under the interstate? It’s just a suggestion, but I think you should be able to find a nicer place to put a tent than under the interstate. If you don’t have a tent, I have an extra one I can loan you. I need it back by August, we’re going on a month-long camping trip in the mountains.

“It must be hard to buy food without any money. I have a good way to stretch a Euro. It’s called Catfood Helper. It was something my mother used to make after the war. Here it is:

1 Can cat food

1 Pound Egg Noodles

1 Cup milk

1 Pound cheese, grated.

Boil the noodles. Crumble the cat food and brown, then slowly add the milk and cheese while stirring. Drain noodles, return to pot, mix in meat sauce. Salt and pepper to taste. Serves 12 to 20. Because, believe me, no one eats too much.

“Today I saw that many Americans are getting rid of their yachts. I didn’t even know you had a yacht. They said so many boats are for sale that they are worth nothing, so owners are setting them adrift or sinking them so they won’t have to pay to dock them anymore. You think they could give them to a family living in a tent under the interstate.”

While I was writing back to tell him that most of us weren’t living in tent cities and that most of us didn’t have yachts to sink and that some of us even still had jobs, I kept wondering where he heard all this nonsense. And then I remembered that years ago he had bought a satellite dish for his house so he could keep up with his English by watching all the nightly American news shows.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2009, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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