Old Europe, New Europe

I spent the day in Ghent, the second largest city in Europe from 1100 to 1500 with over 60,000 residents. It's a wonderful time capsule because it wasn't bombed during the World Wars. Several amazing gothic structures along with updated Italian renaissance buildings.

Tonight we had dinner with Caroline De Gruyter, a Dutch journalist for NRC Handelsblad and an MMF Fellow from 1993 (seated in photo below). She's written a book on European identity and shared some of her thoughts on this topic as it related to the EU — a great followup to Professor Gary Weaver's talk on what it means to be American.

She said Europe is yet to make an European identity leap. The EU functions as a market unifier but not more. People still question the validity and value of the EU and Brussels becomes a convenient scapegoat for politicians and people when they are unhappy with decisions. In the U.S. we may talk about Washington politicians but it is unlikely you'll hear someone question the validity of our nation. Citizens tend to be nationalistic rather than corporate save for two groups of people: those who have lived through the wars and the children of recently mobile families. These two groups will call themselves Europeans first, then name their country second. She says this remains a minority because only 4-5% of the population ever leaves their mother country and therefore they don't really accept a corporate claim.

She also said that in some ways, though there are more people calling themselves, "European", especially in Brussels, the EU has actually increased nationalism because of its laws. For example, ethnic foods become trapped behind borders such as cheeses from Switzerland and ox blood soup from Poland.

Here's one thing I learned about ox blood from my canal tour guided today in Gent. He kept referring to the ox blood brick buildings. The reason it's a "color" is that it was actually used to paint houses in Flemish Belgium during the middle ages. The blood on the outside of the house would keep the insects on the outside of the home and reduce their entry inside. If that's true I can only guess that the odor was nauseous! I was happy to spend the day surrounded by the aromas of beer, frites and waffles.