Will this be the European Century?
"I am proud to be a European," said the young man at the next
It was late September 2002; the place a sidewalk cafe off the Champs
Elysee in Paris,
where I was having cafe au lait at a table adjacent to Louis, a nineteen-year-old
styled "European Citizen". Louis was sitting with his friends,
a group of similar aged
young people, with varying accents. I had been drawn to the conversation
by the fact that
despite the fact they were all clearly non-native English speakers,
the language they were
using for their conversation was English, and which they all spoke fluently.
eavesdropping for a while, I felt compelled to inquire why they were
speaking in English.
Louis, the most outgoing of the group quickly filled me in. This was
the 'new Europe', he
explained, the European Union, and the movement of people within the
Union meant that
he was just as likely to have friends from other European nations as
from his native
It turned out that the group was indeed multinational, consisting of
a German, an Italian, a Dane, a Dutchman, and of course Louis from France.
They were speaking English because it was their common language, and
having learned it since they started school, they were all as comfortable
speaking it as their own native tongue. Louis proudly assured me that
it would be rare to find a young European who could not speak English
nowadays, and indeed in the following weeks as I traveled around, I
frequently encountered these groups of young Europeans from different
countries within the Union, all speaking English. Indeed wherever I
went, from the cafes of Paris, to the streets of Berlin, to an office
building in Rome, I heard more English being spoken than ever before
in continental Europe.
Our conversation shifted to the Euro, the new single European currency,
in circulation for
a year now, and a symbol of pride to the new Europeans. Louis was particularly
outspoken on the subject of the Euro. "I'm not just glad, I'm proud,"
he stated. "Proud,
because our countries, which fought each other for decades, decided
in 1957 to unite our
destinies. To share a single currency is more than an economic decision.
It is also the
ultimate symbol of our wish to live together, not only with the aim
prosperity, but also with the goal of preserving peace." Louis
said this with a broad,
sincere smile on his face, continuing "I am proud, because when
I buy a drink, I know I
am using the same notes and coins as millions of other young people
across the Union,
whether they are in Ireland, Germany, or Portugal. I'm proud because
when my Italian
and Belgian friends visit me in Paris, the Euro will help them feel
at home. I'm proud
because in the eyes of millions of extra-European tourists we will form
a single area. I
think that we, the European young generation have to be aware of our
privilege to live in
countries, which are not involved in wars on their own territories,
especially since this has
not always been the case. The Euro notes and coins represent a symbol
of that, and that is
why I am proud to have them in my pocket."
Pulling my own Euros from my pocket, I paid for my coffee, looking with
some awe at <
the money that meant so much to Louis. It no longer seemed like "just
exchanging contact information with the group, I moved on, my head full
of their vision
for the European future. Will this be the "European Century?"
I wondered. It is widely
considered that Britain dominated the 19th century, and America the
20th, but with such
a great vision of the future in the minds of the young generation, the
European Union as a
whole, which will soon encompass even more of the continent, must stand
a great chance
of defining the 21st. As I traveled around, I realized that Louis was
right. It is indeed a
new Europe, finally maturing, and confident of shaping its own destiny.
It is a Europe
that in large part no longer cares what America thinks, or wants Europe
to do. It is a
Europe that is fast adopting English as its lingua franca, and with
the Euro, no internal
border controls, and welcoming natives will continue to be a major destination
tourists and those seeking a change of lifestyle.
Even the notoriously Euro-phobic British seem to be coming around to
vision. While they are yet to commit to join the Euro, the fact that
more and more of the
continental population are speaking their language is helping to warm
the British attitude
towards the Union.
As a long time expatriate from Europe, it felt good to see the "New
Europe" that is taking
shape. I'm still happy to live in America, but I'm also happy to be
able to say that like
Louis, I too, am proud to be a European.
© Stewart Mandy 2003
About the author: Stewart Mandy is an accomplished international freelance
correspondent and travel writer, and a member of Agora International
Press Corps. He has been published in various print and online publications,
on a wide variety of topics including travel, hospitality, industry
specific topics, and current affairs. He is always available for worldwide
assignment, and all offers and story ideas will be considered. He can
be reached by email at email@example.com
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