Tuesday, November 18, 2014

China and America in Slovenia

This is a picture of the Chinese Embassy in Ljubljana.  It's a converted large single family home in a residential area about 10 minutes from downtown Ljubljana. It has a flag and some cool round windows, but it is remarkably low profile.  I only spotted it because I sometimes bike past it when I am going to the indoor swimming pool.  It's a weirdly small and out of the way little spot and I'd passed it three or four times before I figured out what it was.  For comparison purposes, we live in a different residential area also about 10 minutes from downtown and the Romanian embassy is around the corner from us:
Weird, right?  The Romanian embassy is maybe not quite as nice as the Chinese, but they're remarkably similar.

The US Embassy, however, is a different animal altogether.  Right downtown, it is accross from the Museum of Art and the Museum of Slovenian History and a 5 minute walk from the Parliament and all of the relevant government buildings.  It is the star of embassy row and is right next to the German Embassy in a beautiful old building:

Here's me and my family in front of the massive Embassy Seal after we met with the Ambassador (one of the Fulbright perks!):
America has a massive footprint in Ljubljana.  Believe it or not I've heard the US Ambassador on the morning drive radio show TWICE in the three months we've been here, telling jokes in English with the Ljubljana morning zoo.  He's in the newspaper all the time.  

And of course almost everyone under 40 speaks excellent English and many American tv shows and movies are aired here in English with Slovenian subtitles. I see American brands and American language and American styles everywhere I go. This does not mean that America is 100% popular.  To the contrary, there's a bunch of grumbling that comes with being so high profile.  

But it is super weird for me that China is comparatively so low profile.  In America we are continuously interested in, and worried about, China and its meteoric rise.  It's almost like Russia and Japan from the 1980s rolled up into one, with better food (at least better than Russia).  I guess Slovenia is a small country without a lot of useful natural resources, so why would China care.  But still, being here is a reminder that China has a ways to go if it wants to be a global superpower. 

It is also a reminder that the EU is a much more protected market than the U.S.  I've heard a bunch of complaining here about cheaper labor in Croatia or the Czech Republic or Estonia, but almost nothing about Chinese labor costs, which I feel confident are waaayyyy lower than any country inside the EU.  Maybe there are strengths to having that kind of protected market, although Slovenia and the EU are pretty clearly in the economic doldrums right now, so it's not the best time to make that argument.  To the contrary, the idea that the biggest threat to middle class workers in state owned industries in Slovenia is Croatia (or any other country in the EU) is a deep misunderstanding of international labor economics.  But that is a post for another day.   

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting. It seems visions of America are either from America and very Disney or iconoclast about how we are seen in other countries...or the vision is from another country and usually that is one with whom we are at war, or at "tension" or at being "judgmental". Nice to get a sense from a fairly small unnoticed civilized country like Slovenia via your observations.