eyes on the U.S.

A German Love Letter To The United States

A Die Welt editor spent four months living and working in California, and though many of his countrymen are critical of the U.S., he fell in love with its cool, can-do spirit.

"the feeling of being in a tastefully lit film"
"the feeling of being in a tastefully lit film"
Frank Schmiechen*

You welcomed me with open arms. You reached out to me and took me in for four months even though you had no idea who I was, what I did or what I wanted. You didn’t concern yourself with that. You answered all my questions, politely overlooking my strange accent and mediocre English.

If I wasn’t sure how to get somewhere, it was only a matter of seconds before someone on the street came up to me and helped me find my way. All I had to do was stand there looking a little unsure of myself and — on the street but also in restaurants, the post office, in hotels, at the barber shop, in offices, in shops, at the gas station — someone would come over and cheerfully offer their help.

There was no way to know whether I was important or not. My employer isn’t very well-known in the U.S. But again, you didn’t concern yourself with that. Nearly all doors opened for me, and I was able to speak with interesting, intelligent and successful people that I had always wanted to meet. I was freely given behind-the-scenes access to companies that interest me most.

Not for a second did I feel the aggressive nature or testiness so familiar in Germany. On the contrary. Everywhere I went the vibe was relaxed, cool and marked by friendly confidence.

It was difficult for you to understand many of the tales I told about Germany. Why is everything so complicated in my home country? Why are people there so overly critical and severe — particularly with themselves? Your way of living, working and thinking is totally different from ours. Talk is not your thing. You prefer doing, and if it doesn’t work you’ll take a different approach.

Your friendliness is often depicted as superficial, particularly by my fellow Germans. I wish there was more of your kind of friendliness in my native country. Perhaps your warmth just represents good manners, because behind all the rituals of sociability there are so many smart folks.

Maybe the superficiality can be ascribed to what remains of British understatement. You don’t get very far with that in Berlin or the rest of Germany. But I like your style of friendliness a lot more than the downturned mouths and shouting so common in Germany.

The funny guy wearing bright and somewhat worn sports clothes sitting next to me at a lecture turns out to be a professor of philosophy at Stanford. The boss of a pretty big company shows up for lunch at an elegant restaurant promptly, wearing an impeccable suit — and green sneakers.

The small, wiry young Asian wearing a baseball cap is not an aide — he’s the boss. People here don’t need to wear the insignia of hierarchies because they are who they are. And I could go on wearing my suits without being made to feel foolish among all the wearers of sports jackets.

Innovation everywhere

The young people on the West Coast are in the process of programming a new world for the future. They are doing this intuitively, as a matter of course. In Germany, we ask ourselves where our problems lie — and how can we solve them? There has to be an answer to every question if you just think about it long enough, and are smart enough.

That’s not something you do. Knowledge, digital technology and money are in magic alliance here. And you couldn’t care less what we think of that, whether we have objections, worries or reservations about it. It’ll happen anyway. With or without us.

Success is not viewed suspiciously: It’s celebrated. On the Internet you can find out who bought the house across the street and how much they paid for it.

The people next door drive two large Jeeps. His is black, and she drives the white one. Together the cars barely fit in the driveway. The neighbor on the other side drives a small blue electric vehicle. And rides a bicycle. But everybody gets along. The exceptional and inimitable are encouraged, and a lot of money goes into supporting these qualities.

I ate the best food imaginable in your restaurants. And it goes without saying, the best hamburgers. Your wines are eminently worth drinking. Your seas, mountains, valleys, cities, deserts — they are the incredible landscapes we know from the movies.

And the light! In the United States, there is the feeling of being in a tastefully lit film. It’s not at all like Germany.

Sure, there’s a lot of misery on the streets of your big cities. The ones who don’t make it in the money and success sweepstakes will end up on the streets faster here than they would in Germany. Behind all your smiles, cheerfulness and the polished sound of your language, there is a certain amount of mercilessness.

Your freedom, your beauty, your uniqueness don’t come free. And that often makes you hard-hearted and unjust. But you know that. And the way things look, you are in a position to keep changing, growing and improving. I like that about you.

So please don’t let us know-it-alls from old Europe get to you. At the end of the day, you may well end up getting us out of yet another mess.

*The author is deputy editor-in-chief of the Welt group.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020


Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!