If you’re a junior, probably half your friends are gone. Snow piles up in garbage-like heaps in the south student ghetto and they’re sending you e-mails about Moorish architecture in Seville or the coolest bars on the Left Bank.
It all seems a bit fairer in the movies.
These Americans who travel to Europe in the name of wine, culturally awakened sex, briskly visited museums and, of course, a bit of education, usually don’t have it so easy. From “An American Werewolf in London” to “EuroTrip” (an underrated comedy if ever there was one), the young American voyaging to the grand continent at least has to tackle several language barriers and big cultural mistakes before bagging the old-world beauty of his choice and returning home.
The trip to Europe has become the new American rite of passage. As Cooper (Jacob Pitts, a dead ringer for the Puck-like David Spade) in “EuroTrip” puts it, “our ancestors, the Puritans, were the prudes who got kicked out of Europe.”
He’s kind of right. The natives can tell us apart as soon as we arrive. The sneakers. The baseball hats. The omnipresence of jeans. The amplified speech. The world has turned on its head for us. The old world is new again. Everything around us is Coca-Cola and Nike and George Bush. America is so boring, one would almost want to get bitten by a werewolf in Europe. At least you’d be doing as the Romans did. The new passage, from America back to the Continent, might be one of the richest and most interesting strains for pop culture in years. How did one single action – American youths visiting Europe – produce stoner high school candy (“EuroTrip”), heartbreaking love (“Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset”) and, most recently, liver-twisting horror (“Hostel”)?
American culture already covered it in literature (you remember this from English 239), and film, historically, does find plenty of fun with American/Europe relationships. “Roman Holiday” comes immediately to mind, so it’s completely appropriate to call this a second wave. Every niche of film, as exemplified by the diversity of the films previously mentioned, is getting filled by Europe-obsessed teens.
Woody Allen’s latest, “Match Point,” personifies the young, desperate America with Scarlett Johansson’s Nola. The surreally blonde (and doomed) Nola skulks around London, bouncing from rich affairs to borderline employment all the while refusing to return to America. Her fatal obsession with Europe kills her; she looks physically ill whenever she even speaks of returning to the States.
Playing with those positions of outsider/native and new world/old world, this new crop of Euro-obsessed films (might as well add “Chasing Liberty” and “American Werewolf in Paris” to the mix) usually ends up revealing the American characters as clumsy, self-assured children. Similar in appearance to our nation’s role on the international stage, perhaps?
The one constant in the films is the eventual fate and destination of our cinematic counterparts. For some, Europe is an inescapable paradise. Others return home as quickly as possible, shook to their core by the outside world. No one stays the same.
So before you see “The New World,” realize that we’re in it right now, and the only place to go, as you can probably guess, is backward. We’re the new explorers.
For those who are gone already, and for those who are about to leave, remember a recent, important lesson from film: The American in Europe is still way more foreign than you think.
– McGarvey is upset because he only went to Ireland and everyone looked and acted exactly like him. Share your European zeal by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.