“The Prospects for Europe” by Umberto Eco


This is an essay that Eco was asked to write some years back concerning how he viewed the current state of the European Union. Not surprising, it seemed kind of dated and irrelevant to me, for the most part. That said, there are still some interesting points that are worth considering.

Eco asserts that there is a noticeable movement toward a European identity as opposed to being identified by a particular nationality.

In the meantime, a European identity is growing more and more noticeable. Perhaps this identity is not evident when we Europeans visit another European country, because the visit triggers rather a perception of the differences—but differences are also perceived by a Milanese who goes to Palermo or by a Calabrian who visits Turin. The sense of identity prevails, however, when we come into contact with a non-European culture, American culture included: there are moments, during a conference, in an evening spent with friends from different countries, or even in the course of a tourist outing, in which we sense a common sentiment. The points of view, behavior, and tastes of a Frenchman, a Spaniard, or a German are more familiar to us than those of non-Europeans.

(Turning Back the Clock: pp. 38 – 39)

While I have not traveled extensively in Europe (so far I have visited England, Scotland, France, Italy, and Germany), I am inclined to agree with Eco. While I recognize the difference in cultures, the people all share a definite European-ness, for lack of a better word. In fact, I notice more differences between regional cultures in the United States. The differences between people in New York and Mississippi are stark, as are those between Mid-Westerners and residents of the Pacific Northwest. But that said, there is still a shared American identity, and this is similar to the shared European identity that Eco points out.

The other assertion that Eco makes which is interesting is his projection that American attention will shift from the Atlantic region to the Pacific as a result of the economic connection with Asian countries.

America’s attention will shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific, just as for years now the great centers of production and research have been moved to, or have arisen on, the Californian coast. Eventually New York will become an American Florence, still a center of fashion and culture but less and less a place where decisions are made.

(ibid: p. 41)

As much as I don’t want to accept this, I have to concede there is a bit of truth here. It certainly seems like there are currently more business and employment opportunities on the West Coast of the US. And if Eco’s prophesy is fulfilled, then this shift may have an economic impact on Europe.


Filed under Literature, Non-fiction

9 responses to ““The Prospects for Europe” by Umberto Eco

  1. Hi Jeff,

    I would agree that American culture seems a bit more west coast than east. It could be my perception as a New Yorker gone west though.

    One example that comes to mind is how more we hear west coast accents in movies and other national media. That was unheard of 40 years ago. Young people in particular seem to have adopted westcoast-eze in both accent and fashion. I say this as someone who has friends and family young and old on both coasts.

    All in all, I see a trend toward homogenization in America that is a bit sad. Except for racial and ethnic proportions, t’s hard to distinguish Atlanta from Portland Oregon. Most of this is due to corporate take over of major businesses. There’s a Best Buy, Target and McDonalds in every town across the country. Now that’s sad.

    • You make some great points, Debra, especially regarding corporations and “big box” businesses. It’s hard for small, indie businesses to survive. We have a lot here in Asheville and I support them when I can.That said, if I need a TV, I will wind up at Best Buy, because the truth is, all TVs are made in China and there are no small electronics stores left. It’s just impossible to stock a supply of TVs unless you are a big box.

      As always, thanks for your thoughtful comments. Have a wonderful day!!

      • Yes, Jeff, you make good distinctions! I tend to make the same in my shopping habits.

        I always wanted to visit Asheville. I’ve been to Durham and hope to move there when I retire.

      • Nice! Durham is fun. I love the old tobacco district. When you retire there, you should definitely visit Asheville, although, if you visit Asheville first, you may end up retiring here instead 😉

      • My niece, who is a student at Duke, said the same thing. It could happen. 🙂

  2. Hi Jeff
    This may be just my individual impression but I have a hard time agreeing with Eco here. Typical of a Western European to disregard eastern or central Europe for example Poland, where I come from. I would still say that there are such distinct differences between European nationalities. I never think of myself as European – not for a second.
    It is interesting you and Debra would say the differences within the us are more pronounced. I have not been to your country yet but I do have a tendency to view Americans as homogenous, which I realize now is not accurate.

    • Hey Monika! I hope you are well.

      This is a really fascinating topic and as always your input is great. I think there are some ideas and customs that Europeans share in general, just as there are some that Americans share, and I think they are more noticeable to a visitor. If you visit America (and I hope someday you will), you will notice similarities and differences between regions/states, just as an American tourist will notice similarities and differences between European countries. Anyway, I am hoping to visit Spain on my next trip across the pond, so I will be curious to see how that country compares with the others I’ve visited.

      Thanks for commenting and I hope you have a wonderful day!!!

  3. Jim

    In what book or on what website did you read this?