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Samizdata quote of the day

They’re against NATO? What are they for? Soviet troops racing across Europe, eating all the croissants?

– US Naval Officer Fred Boynton (played by Chris Eigeman), in Whit Stillman’s Barcelona, a film that appears wiser by the day.

34 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • A superb movie. Way underrated. Glad to be reminded of it here.

  • Excellent movie, that captures exactly my experience in Europe when people regarded me as American — when they thought I was not from the USA the conversations were even more revealing.

  • Amelia

    My favorite part is when he says “I am their worst nightmare!”

  • lindenen

    Fausta, could you give some more description about what sorts of things are said!

  • Ralp

    “Hey pal. I saved your life. That was a death canoe.”

  • Dave S.

    I thought it captured the American and European archetypes beautifully. The Americans were affably clueless, while the “sophisticated” Euros were cynically clueless. Beware the shadowy AFL-CIA!

  • Hey you’re right. I don’t remember much about that movie, but I do remember that Spanish intellectual spouting about the “historical fact” that the US sunk its own ship (the Maine) to provoke the Spanish-American war. (This has never been proven one way or the other, to my knowledge.) Similarly, “Bush lied about WMD” is destined to be perceived as a “historical fact” by generations of European (and American) bozos.

    Unfortunately for your parallel analysis, though, I seem to recall that the Navy officer in that movie (an ex-ROTC guy) was an insufferable asshole.

  • James

    Indeed, the Spanish intellectual who solemnly
    informs a bunch of doe-eyed students about how
    the American labor movement is controlled by the
    CIA is the perfect archetype for European anti-
    Americanism: Haughty, conspiratorial, and
    confidently deranged. If the movie were made
    today, the guy would be going on about how the
    Pentagon faked the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon,
    the Mossad was behind the Madrid bombings, and
    how Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky are the
    only Americans worth listening to.

  • I’ve seen the movie a few times, but I don’t remember that line. I remember Ted saying something like there’s a lot of anti-nato feeling, then elaborates that it’s called “OTAN” there. Fred says incredulously “They’re against OTAN?!” Very funny. I don’t know if the line you refer to happens in that exchange or elsewhere.
    Great movie.

  • George: Insuffereable, maybe. An asshole, not so much I don’t think. The character of Fred is loud and has a tendency to say the sorts of things that are generally not said (and he clearly really enjoys needling his cousin Ted) but he is someone whose heart is in the right place when it matters. Note the scene in the movie when Ted and Fred attend an impomptu wake after an American serviceman is killed in a bombing. 9And I think the portrayal of the relationship between the two cousins is the best thing in the whole movie: on the surface they don’t like one another and spend the movie bickering about things that happened when they were children but underneath it they care for one another a great deal).

    It’s the Spanish intellectual journalist who is the genuine insufferable asshole in the movie.

    Bill: Yes, it does come from that exchange, ,but I cheated slightly. What is actually said in the movie is “They’re against OTAN? What are they for? Soviet troops racing across Europe, eating all the croissants?”

    I changed it because if I didn’t I was going to get lots of people asking me. “Huh. What is OTAN?”, and if I left it as OTAN and put in an explanation, the explanation would have been longer than the post. Such are the compromises blogging forces upon us.

  • Roger

    “Where are the red ants?”

  • NCC

    Actually, my favorite line (also uttered by Boynton) is about Americans. Something to the effect of: “It’s not that we have more guns. It’s that we’re better shots.”

  • ralp

    Actually it was: “Its not that we are more violent. We’re just better shots.”

  • CoachBlog

    Wow–haven’t thought about this movie in ages, but very, very prophetic and timely. Thanks for all the posts and reminders.

    Vinyl Hampton Lives!

  • Moonbat_One

    Best movie about anti-Americanism I’ve ever seen. You can hardly tell Barcelona was filmed 10 years (and set about 20 years) ago. European misunderstanding of America and its intentions existed long before George W. Bush was elected.

  • Barcelona is my favorite movie, and Stillman my favorite moviemaker.

    But you’re all missing the reason it’s so great: the politics of the movie are, as Fred would happily explain using a freshly-learned term, mere subtext.

    The text of the movie, like all Stillman’s movies, is guys’ wanting to be good at their jobs, to party, and to score with beautiful (European) women, not necessarily in that order. Stillman captures the best of Europe, as experienced by the best Americans.

    Sadly, none of Fred&Ted’s ambitions is truly possible in the vast automobile encampment that is the 21st Century United States. Well, maybe excelling at your job. Even then, you’re probably stuck in some soul-sucking cubicle, where you spend eight hours a day between 1.5-hour hellish freeway commutes to and from your sterile suburb. Friday nights at Applebee’s with your thick-thighed partner, if your (un)lucky. Saturdays are for yardwork. Sundays, self-fattening. Zoning laws mandate it.

    Partying and sex with beautiful European women? A lifestyle wasted on Europeans.

  • jimbo

    My favorite quote:

    “I think it’s well-known that anti-Americanism has its roots in sexual impotence, at least in Europe. ”

  • annaS

    I saw Barcelona, but my favorite was Metropolitan. There’s nothing new in what’s going on with Europe. I read books on John Adams and Teddy Roosevelt, the Europeans didn’t like them because these presidents didn’t pander to them. The comparison to the Spanish American War is interesting, I hope Iraq does not end up like Cuba in fifty years later, and if you ever wandered what people were compared to before Hitler, it was Nero and Caligula.

  • Justin Henderson pontificateth:

    Sadly, none of Fred&Ted’s ambitions is truly possible in the vast automobile encampment that is the 21st Century United States. Well, maybe excelling at your job. Even then, you’re probably stuck in some soul-sucking cubicle, where you spend eight hours a day between 1.5-hour hellish freeway commutes to and from your sterile suburb. Friday nights at Applebee’s with your thick-thighed partner, if your (un)lucky. Saturdays are for yardwork. Sundays, self-fattening. Zoning laws mandate it.

    I see you’ve got your own set of AmericaClichés™ clogging up your mental drainpipes.

  • Is it cliche, Andrea? Is it? From which vibrant American downtown are you writing, sweetheart?

    More likely, your post is representative of what passes for critical thinking in your cul-de-sac–declaring that all is cool (David Brooks says so!) and anyone who tells you otherwise is pawning off “cliches.”

    Tell me. I’d really like to know if I’m wrong.

  • Oh, God. I was about to condescend in that last comment by listing a series of vile, putrid, de-centered American cities from which Andrea might be toiling at her know-nothing little keyboard: Hartford? Buffalo? Detroit? St. Louis? Salt Lake City? Houston? Phoenix?

    Then I thought better of it. Perhaps she’s a dedicated urbanist, living in a tasteful Frazier-Crane-style townhouse in the South End, or brownstone in Brooklyn, or Victorian in San Francisco, or renovated loft in Portland’s Pearl District. She could be serious, with first-hand accounts ready, about the revitalization of city-life in America. Egad, all that stuff I wrote about the sexless, saccharine fun-free zones that our cities have become… Andrea could eviscerate me, with her mere biography.

    Two minutes of research later, I discovered I should have gone with my original list, putridity in tact:


    Perfect. Just perfect. No cliches at all, Andrea. Say hello to Mickey while you’re defending America’s cliche-free honor.

    (Er, take Osceola Parkway Exit #249 and follow the signs to Walt Disney World. When you get there, congratulate them on their tax exemptions–democracy, Florida-style!–and, then, please say hello to Mickey, mmmkay, Andrea?)

  • Bill Bee

    Also from Fred:

    “I think it’s well known that anti-Americanism has its roots in sexual impotence, at least in Europe.”

    Anyone remember the quote about the US being an ant farm? That one is very appropriate as well…

  • Andrea, you eat here(Link)? Or here(Link)?

    Where, oh where, in this cartoon wonderland(Link) can a guy get a meal(Link)?

  • rich

    justin, you seem to have quite a hard-on for andrea. may i suggest a motel room and a whit stillman movie?

  • Justin: you have made your point, repeatedly, now please move on.

  • Dick Eagleson


    “Vibrant city centers” are so 19th Century. People put up with the crowding, noise and filth when they didn’t have a choice. As soon as cars came along – zoom – we Americans were outta there. The Europeans still live like that because most of their countries are little teensy things, because the road networks within their cities couldn’t begin to handle the volume of in-and-out traffic that would exist if most people commuted to work in cars and because – as is obvious to anyone who’s ever seen them do it – Europeans can’t drive.

  • Sorry Dick but I have lived almost half my life in the USA and I cannot imagine trading one of the nice British or European ‘vibrant’ urban centres for suburban America… or suburban Britain or Europe for that matter. Suburbia is pure hell everywhere and rural life is just pure hell with cow shit.

    I am a great fan of the USA but if I could not live in Manhatten as my main residence, forget it, I will stay in central London thank you very much… I can really live without endless faceless strip malls and a 10 mile drive to whatever dispersed oasis of civilisation might exist in the area.

    I would not say no to a nice place in rural New Hampshire to do my huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ but oh Christ I would still want my urban HQ for everything else.

  • Rick Rockwell

    Yikes, snob alert.

    “Why are there dots all over these papers?”

  • America is a fundamentally suburban nation, and the vast majority of Americans live in suburbs with a standard of living that is much greater than that achieved anywhere in the world. But it isn’t so much a 20th century approach as a largely American approach. This is fine, and I have great admiration for the US, but I am with Perry, and I find suburbs fundamentally boring and I like a vibrant urban location to live (and I like to be able to get around on foot, which is something American suburbs are fairly hostile to).

    And the pertinent comparison is not actually so much Europe (which is fairly disfunctional at this point – even in London, which I love with great passion anyway) but Asia. There you have higher population densities, and the story of the last 50 years is new large, vibrant cities coming into being as certain countries become rich. Tokyo was the leading example, but places like Hong Kong and Shanghai are now following. The infrastructure has been largely privately, and these are not car centred cities of the American model, but are something else.

  • …with a standard of living that is much greater than that achieved anywhere in the world.

    I’ll accept this proposition if by it you mean to say, “Americans have the most stuff.”

    The idea that our “standard of living” is higher than that of Western Europe… it’s simply cant. Dick Eagleson, with his notions of pro-choice suburbanity, probably disagrees. In which case I invite him–beg him–to take a walking tour through any of the crudscapes that surround our cities. Or through any of the small towns that have wholly dedicated their economies to the procurement of cheap consumer goods and rapid automobile transport.

    On this tour, as you pass oceanic parking lot after boarded-up building after ignoble fast-foodery, ask yourself, Dick, “What happened to my country? Is this what we’re fighting for? And where the hell are the pedestrians?”

    That’s right–they’re “choosing” to drive. Just like they’re “choosing” morbid obesity, dishonorably covered by pastel sweatpants.

    How delusional can we get? Samizdata is supposed to be a haven for libertarians, correct? Here’s another test for you (American) freemarketers: You want to go out tonight. How can you get where you’re going? If you respond that you have a multiplicity of choices, you:
    a. Are lying.
    b. Live in NYC, DC, Boston, or Portland.
    c. Aren’t going out tonight, buster, because your car is in the shop.

  • Nancy

    At least we know that no one here is bitter. 🙂

  • andursonne

    Seriously, that guy’s got issues.

  • Jim

    Justin — I agree that there are many problems with American cities and suburbs, etc., but chill out a bit, okay? — “NYC, DC, Boston, or Portland.” — Now that’s a rather limited list — I gather from a quick look at your blog that you live in Salt Lake City and I can’t comment fairly on SLC since I’ve only spent perhaps two hours doing a bit of touristy look around there on my way from the airport to a academic conference in Provo more than fifteen years ago, but if it is as miserable a place as your attitude seems to indicate, you have my sympathy. (So why don’t you move?) “NYC, DC, Boston, or Portland” I understand the first three (museums, restaurants and public tranist sytems, right?) I’ve never been to Portland but I assume it must also do well on your scorecard. Is that it? Four cities out of the entire nation?

    I live about thirty miles from Providence. No, they don’t have a subway, just a public bus system, so I suppose they don’t score on your chart, but it is a very interesting city with marvelous architecture, a really pleasant cityscape, dozens of really good restaurants, colleges, art galleries, night life, vibrant local theatre, a very walkable city.

    Multiplicity of transit choices? What have you got in NY, DC, Boston? Train or car or bus, right? Well, I’m about four miles from a train station (but I could walk or bike or drive there) and take a train to Providence (or stay on the train another 30 or 40 minutes and I’m in Boston!) or I could take my car (cab would be too expensive — but in NYC driving my car would be ridiculous) or I could walk two blocks and catch a public transit bus that would take me all the way to Providence without the need for a single transfer.

    And if I didn’t want to leave my semi-rural town? Well, there are half a dozen local restaurants I like that are between a mile and a half and three miles from my house. I could walk (my wife and I enjoy walking) or drive (oh, the horror — an American driving a car!) or walk those two blocks and take a public bus or (just like city folk) call a taxi or (and here’s an alternative we really enjoy) ride our bicycles on a public bike path (following the former roadbed of a long-defunct railroad) that would easily bring us to within a couple blocks of half three of those restaurants. The arts — well, ignoring local arts groups (which I suppose you would) — I can easily get to the URI campus by foot, bike, car or public bus (we’re talking about two and a half miles here) for concerts and plays and art exhibits, etc. I have good local stores for shopping, my own vegetable garden in my backyard (and my wife has her flower gardens) and there are several very pleasant public beaches along the coast here within a few minutes drive (oh, there, I said it again!) and there are several town parks (including one just a few blocks away) with playgrounds and tennis courts and softball and soccer fields.

    I’m quite happy with where I live. If not, I would move. If I were to move, I cannot imagine either Salt Lake City or Orlando being on my short list of possible destinations (nor, for that matter, on my long list)

  • Well, congrats, Jim. You’ve passed my test.

    That is, if you took my test at its literal limits. Which, of course, wasn’t the point.

    I know Providence. I like Providence. Providence is fine. People are happy there. Life functions normally. Normal humans have plenty of opportunity to interact with other normal humans.

    If you think life in Providence approximates life in most of the rest of the country, you’re mistaken.

    If you think I’m using cars or driving as meaningless bogeymen, again, mistake. The rather simple point I’m trying to make is this: An overwhelming majority of Americans have no choice in how to move about. Their lives have been organized (usually by forces outside their control) entirely around the car.

    If you think that’s a good thing, then we simply disagree.