Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Brussels: Immigration debate and contempt for 'made in China'

Yesterday we took a hop-on hop-off in Brussels. Having read the tour books before I knew that all museums are closed on Monday. We still decided on the tour to get familiar and also to kind of recuperate from a tiring trip to Bruges on Sumday. The weather was cloudy too. The first stop we got off was the "atomium". Just a simple blow up of an atom. It was constructed during the 1958 world expo. The construction is more like a molecule with atoms at vertices. One atom contained extensive history on immigration in Brussels. Given the recent shenanigans in Arizona I was very curious to see that.

One exhibit succinctly declares "Immigration is not an unmitigated good nor is it the root cause of all evils". No such museum in USA would dare to state that. I've been to Ellis Island, New York and its all about how America welcomed the immigrants. The poem by Emma Lazarus at the pedestal of "Statue of liberty" in fact proclaims 'give me your tired and huddled masses'. It is exactly that which is being called into question now as USA struggles with 12million+ illegal immigrants and with no end in sight of new ones crossing over by the day. I appreciate the honesty of Belgians in putting the issue in politically incorrect phrases. Many exhbits drove home the point how immigration is a mixed blessing.

One exhbit stated exactly what Hispanics in USA often tell immigration opponents, "we do the work that no native Belgian is ready to do". Another exhibit framed the  economic concerns plainly "when economy does well businesses need immigrants to supplement local labor, during recession it becomes a flash point".

The pivotal point on immigration is about 'assimilation', one exhibit stares at that issue forthrightly "they are immigrants when they come, they are immigrants when they live amongst us, WHEN will they become US?". I am a big votary of assimilation. We immigrants "CHOOSE" to go to a particular country. Especially a country like USA makes it possible to become citizens and raise families. We owe it to America to be Americans. I find it obnoxious when Indians derisively say "oh this is a country of immigrants". On that score only Africa, anthropologically speaking; is purely native. America, in the course of its history, has gained a certain character, its THAT character that has America what it is today. Whether its Mexicans or Indians I expect them to play by the rules and be good Americans. If Mexicans or Indians want to replicate their homeland in USA they might as well buy a ticket home.

After the 'atomium' visit we just stopped by sundry memorials. Every such building is stamped with Gothic architecture. Ornate, yes, unique, no.

The other  interesting stop was at a shop to buy some lace work. We saw two very exquisite table cloths. One was priced at 90 Euro (including 8 napkins), the other was 140 Euro (no napkins). I asked why the price difference. The store woman answered with derision "oh the cheaper one is 'made in China' ". I pressed further 'well they look alike so what is the difference'. More condescension from the woman "oh they imitate very well but the fabric is cotton whereas Belgian lace is made out of linen'. I wanted to ask her 'well if the CHinese can imitate so well what stops them from doing it on linen too?". As an Ameican I am used to "Made in China", when Apple can brag "Designed in California and made in China", what can anyone say. Its typical Old Europe, snobbish. But I got to give it to her the children's clothing she showed were far superior to some of the best I've seen in USA.

We also visited another sundry sight called "mini Europe". Its a small collection of minature models of chief buildings of EU member countries like British Parliament, Eiffel Tower etc. The park had a brochure with info on EU and each country. The brochure boasted about superior quality of life in EU Vs USA, especially with respect to pension benefits. The newspapers of the day carried news on how across the EU pension benefits are being cut. With the very future of EU in question I found the brochure to be churlish. Also why the comparison with USA. Even in the good old days EU could not stand against USA on economic or military benchmark.

The day ended with a visit to Haagen Daaz resturant. Yes, HD runs restaurants here. The HD outlets we have in USA are pathetic compared to what I saw here. This is gourmet food at its best. Who could have  thought of combining cafe latte and a vanilla scoop...drooling. The ice cream choices and smoothies are a world away from the cheap "Dairy Queen", "Coldstone" variety. One thing which surprised me in Zurich was the Lindt stores. We have Lindt stores in USA too but the selections are a paltry subset of what they sell in Zurich. Likewise we have Godiva chocolate outlets in USA but that is nothing compared to what I see in Belgium. Haagen Daz only sells ice cream scoops in USA (like Baskin robbins in India, 11 years back) not the finer selections. Its been 7 days since we had anything Indian to eat and we dont miss it, yet....

Bottomline when it comes to food and clothing Europe wins hands down. America scores by a mile on affordability and variety of a different scale. Other than Harrod's in UK (where only the rich can shop) there is no rival to the quintessential American mall. I remember an article by Malcolm Gladwell on the science behind mega malls and how its an American phenomenon.

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