Friday, December 16, 2005

A Comparison

Assimilation of immigrants, the European and American experiences:

Just how successful assimilation has been in America may be more clearly visible from outside. In 1988 I was taken to a press dinner in Washington at which President Reagan spoke. He gave what was no doubt a well-rehearsed set-piece speech: ''Every immigrant makes America more American," he said. You can't become an Englishman by going to live in England, or a Frenchman by going to live in France, ''but anyone can become an American." It may have been corny; I was moved almost to tears.

Indeed Reagan's words were truer than he may have realized, and even nomenclature is telling. A friend of mine was born and bred in Vienna before he left quickly and for good reason in 1938. Having spent the rest of his life in London and, in the fullness of time, as a subject of Her Majesty, he used to say drily, ''I've become British, but I know I can never become English." But anyone can become an American.

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