Friday, April 23, 2010

The epithet of European style.

Remember when “European Style” was something that was admired for its taste, refinement, sophistication, perhaps even a bit risqué and playful?

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Lately though, European-style has taken on a different meaning in the US.

I first noticed it in the media, references to ‘European-style health care’ during the debates on the reform bill.  Then I found it on book jackets in airports, referring to ‘European-style socialism’ in conservative rants against Obama.

Now it’s everywhere:

  • Obama White House would advocate a European-style tax to help finance their European-style government.
  • Detroit pushes Americans to adopt European-style automobiles.
  • Reform will be paid for by a European-style VAT, backed by universal mandates in which everyone must pay.
  • Adopting the European-style approach to innovation will lead to global economic collapse.

A lot of this adjectival use began with Fox News and conservative bloggers, who use it as a synonym for center-left social democracy.  But it’s clearly entered popular usage to mean that People must either give something up (trucks), pay more to get less (apartments), or submit to bureaucratic approval process (death panels).

And it just isn’t true in daily life in Europe; I shake my head each time I see it and wonder what people are thinking, where they get their facts..

There are many areas of European society and governance that Americans may justly contrast and critique styles, overuse of the precautionary principal, the extent  the social safety net, the relative gerontocracy of EU leadership, adoption rates for new medical technology.  

But reducing differences to epithets is no way to understand one another and learn best practices.

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