Michelle Teheux: Interest in election extends across the pond

Michelle Teheux

Of course the question of who the next president of the United States will be interests most Americans. But did you realize that folks outside the U.S. are just as interested?

We just got back from visiting my husband’s relatives in Europe.

Surprisingly, people in Holland, Germany and Belgium all wanted to know the same thing: Did I think Barack Obama would be elected?

I saw about as many pictures of Obama and Clinton in European newspapers as in any American paper.

As one woman reminded me when I expressed surprise at how closely Europeans are following our election, Americans’ votes affect the whole world.

Another reminder of home were the hundreds of big wind turbines of the type coming soon to Tazewell County. However, perhaps because Holland has famously been using wind power for ages, the turbines are not an issue there. People were surprised to find it is controversial here. I think they chalked it up to the same sort of cultural differences that would allow us to elect George W. Bush.

No European I met had anything good to say about Bush — even the folks without much English had no problems expressing their opinion of him. Some things are easy to understand in any language.

But there is a lot of optimism that an Obama presidency would turn things around.

Europeans may not like our current leadership, but they do like Americans. A trip underground strongly emphasized this difference.

In Valkenburg, in Holland near the German border, we toured ancient caverns formed by underground mining for marlstone. The miles of secret caverns saved townspeople from marauders many times through the centuries.

Our guide shows us where the U.S. soldiers who liberated the town during World War II signed their names on the walls. An artist painted silhouettes of many of them on the cave walls.

The soldiers’ casual graffiti is preserved and honored just as much as the numerous historic paintings. Our guide switched from Dutch to English to make sure we understood how deeply the local people still appreciate and remember what the Americans did for them during the war.

It made a strong impression to hear this man take time out of the tour to speak directly to the Americans present about the service of U.S. soldiers.

A highlight of the trip was supposed to be a visit to Paris, but thanks to truck drivers trying to make a point about high gas prices by blocking exits (I assume because Bush was in Europe) we had a heck of a time getting into the city. (Yes, another thing to thank Bush for — thanks for ruining my trip to Paris, Mr. President!)

It was almost dark when we got there and about all we were able to do was go up in the Eiffel Tower. The breathtaking view of Paris by twilight from the tower was, I must admit, worth hours of traffic jams and nerve-wracking traffic.

We passed hundreds of fabulous-looking places to eat, but where did we finally end up?

McDonald’s. Yes, McDonald’s, because it was truly the only place we could find with a parking lot. And we paid the equivalent about $9 for six chicken McNuggets. I ordered something called the “Le M” for about 7 euros and it was the worst burger I’d eaten in my life.

And while the fries in the rest of Europe are beyond anything available here at home, the French French fries at McDonald’s — frankly — sucked.

A few lessons for other travelers: Never try to drive in Paris. Take the train. Never eat American in Europe. Most important of all: Make it clear to all Europeans you meet that you personally did not vote for Bush.

Michelle Teheux can be reached at (309) 346-1111, ext. 661, or at