For as long as there’s been an America, Americans have been flocking to Europe. From the moment our colonial compatriots escaped that oppressive old museum-piece of a continent, they began plotting their return on a 10-country all-inclusive tour. We still call it “The Continent,” as if there weren’t a half-dozen others. Sure, counter-intuitive types will stray off now and then on some exotic fling—to Brazil, New Zealand, Japan—but is it ever quite the same? Our fantasy landscapes will always be planted with Dutch tulips, Italian cypress, and Provençal lavender.
Some say we’re drawn to Europe because so many of our ancestors came from there. They’ll tell you Americans and Europeans retain a “common bond.” But come on—look at them. Look at us. We say potato, they say ziemniak. They say Campari, we say Tequiza. We could not be more different.
Though their influence has waned considerably, Europeans had quite a run for a while, inventing democracy, the printing press, gravity, and Krautrock. No wonder Americans have a long-standing inferiority complex. As soon as we set foot on the Continent, we lose all our powers, like Superman returning to Krypton, or Rudy Giuliani to New York. Our basic verbal skills fail us. Our ATM cards, mobile phones, and hair dryers cease to work. Our daunting American swagger is reduced to a tentative “mi scusi.”
Of course, historically speaking, we’re barely teenagers by comparison. Americans in Europe tend to feel like the gawky, wide-eyed prepubescent visiting the hip older sibling—the prodigal brother who learned to smoke unfiltered cigarettes and habituate subterranean jazz clubs. (Jazz! For crying out loud, they play it more than we do—and we invented it!)
So what explains our unwavering obsession? Why—in spite of rising airfares, a still-high exchange rate, and the scarcity of rental cars with automatic transmission—do Americans insist on vacationing in Europe?
Well, because it’s Europe. And it’s awesome. Here are a few reasons why.