Europeans and authenticity

A few weeks back, I wrote triumphantly about my 9-foot Christmas tree. I didn’t get into the guilt I felt over the fact that the tree was artificial—i.e., not authentic (“That’s another post,” I thought at the time—voilà). The Europeans I lived among in my time abroad would have taken one look at that plastic monstrosity and been mortified. In fact, a visiting European friend had just that reaction.

Europe specializes in authentic, as I discovered during my eight years there. Household coffee is made in old-fashioned stove-top Bialetti contraptions; no plugs to plug in or clocks to set. A Coca-Cola ordered at a table comes in a glass bottle, not in a plastic bottle, or from a syrup/water mix sprayed into a paper cup. Shoppers crowd outdoor streets lined with centuries-old storefronts, rather than admittedly spectacular but inescapably faux enclosed shopping malls. Building materials used on homes are still primarily stone, brick and mortar, wood and slate; vinyl siding has thankfully yet to become popular.

Oh, and the Christmas authenticity! Generally muted displays of old (read: no light-up plastic Santas) grace windows from Amsterdam to Málaga; hand-carved decorations galore are on hand in the famous Christmas markets of Germanic countries; a tree built of poinsettias forms the centerpiece of a downtown Spanish Christmas display.

I actively enjoyed Bialetti coffee, Coke from glass bottles, shopping jaunts along the likes of Kalverstraat, Hertensteinstrasse or Calle Larios, and neighborhoods built up with they-don’t-make-’em-like-that-anymore homes that the wolf could huff and puff all day at and still not blow down. And boy did I love the European Christmas style. And so I land in the U.S. and very quickly find myself emerging from a superstore parking lot with a 9-foot, 80-pound box of Christmas Made in China. Don’t know how it happened; it just happened.

I’m returning the tree. And I admit that it’s not wholly out of principle. The tree is pre-lit (score another minus-2 for authenticity) and it turns out there are two faulty sections of lights, which, in a retrospective blow to the whole pre-lit concept, cannot be removed from said tree. So the lights that failed to light are giving me a shot at redemption: Next year, I’m going authentic.

To Europeans everywhere, and to the many fellow Americans I’ve seen drive by with authenticity strapped to the top of their car: forgive my lapse in judgment.

Topics: Culture

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