It takes some Americans to feel European
By Eefje van de Sanden
The sun is shining. We are relaxing on top of a small rock, watching the beautiful Bavarian Alps that surround us. Many families are passing by in their cars, obviously enjoying their holidays. Now and then, an Italian, German or Dutch hitchhiker comes to our rock for a chat. We are rivals in this business, but at the moment I just feel part of one big happy hitchhiking community. Why would we leave this heavenly resting area?
Then, Anna drives by in her jeep. ‘Hi, where are you going? Can I take you?’ Well, if we really must leave… In a few seconds we get our bags in the car and hit the road. Anna is in a happy mood: she has just returned from a workshop ‘Five rythmes dancing’. A spiritual kind of dancing, that cleares the mind. ‘Gute Arbeit!’, Anna smiles.
Anna drives us from Rosenheim to Salzburg, where her family lives. It’s a medium length drive, but we do cross a border. According to Anna, this border really remains a border. Most Austrians stay in their country; they think Germans are different. While Austrians are locker und gemütlich, Germans are seen as more strict and precise. However, Anna thinks that you will encounter every category of people in every country. ‘So why wouldn’t I enjoy the German lakes and mountains as well?’ She likes to swim and do all kinds of other sports in the summer. And of course, she just went to a German dancing workshop!
Unfortunately, Anna has to miss the Austrian and German mountains for most of the year. That’s because she has been living in Chicago for four years now. Her husband had to move for his job, and she joined him. She is taking care after their two children. Anna likes their new American friends, because they are very friendly, although they are also a bit shallow and overdone. Shortly, she has started to introduce herself in Chicago as a European instead of of an Austrian. When she used to say ‘Austria’, Americans always bursted out: ‘Ah, kangeroos!’. They could only link this word with Australia. Austria is just not on their world map.
So saying that she’s a European is a necessity in the US. She is not sure if she really feels that way. ‘Mm, when I come to think of it, in the US I was always intuitively seeking for the Altstadt in cities. And then I realised they don’t have any. That’s one thing I like about Europe and miss in America!’ She recommends Salzburg as a great example of a fine Altstadt. All kinds of European tourists visit the city in summer, especially Italians ‘because they are very much into culture’. Dutch tourists are more likely to visit the lakes and mountains, while staying on a campsite with their ubiquitious Wohnwagens.
We ourselves still don’t know what kind of tourists we will be this evening. Another ride to cross the Alps is not yet fixed, although Anna tries to get one for us along the way. Every time she sees a VI of Villach (Southern Austria) on numberplates, she leans out of her window to make an arrangement. Luckily we have a lot of traffic jams, so Anna’s manoeuvres are not dangerous… but despite Anna’s good intentions, no one is able to take us. And some hours of trying at a resting area do not yield anything.
This night we won’t visit Salzburg; we will sleep in a highway motel, eager as we are to hitch along early in the morning. Sorry Anna, tonight we are not like the culture-minded Italian tourists. Maybe we behave more typically Dutch now, because we do enjoy the view of the mountains-which-we-lack- at-home, from our motel’s suprisingly beautifully roof terrace. And surrounded by these natural treasures, we as typical Dutch tourists don’t mind where we sleep. May it be an uncomfortableWohnwagen or an ugly highway motel.