Vive la difference, America |

Vive la difference, America

Nick Fickling

My grandfathers had very different views of the world. Tom survived the WWI trenches of Flanders by hunkering down under Hill 60 with no home leave for four long years. Bill survived by being lucky enough to be sent to soldier in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq, well away from the meat-grinder that was trench warfare. Tom developed his worldview from the confines of his bunker, and spoke English. Bill saw tribes, cultures and landscapes that awed him. He learned Urdu, some Farsi and Arabic, and later during WWII in North and East Africa, both French and Swahili.

Tom rarely traveled overseas and adopted the traditional English way with foreigners. If they don’t understand, then enunciate your words and if that doesn’t work then just talk louder. Bill enjoyed travel, embracing foreign culture, language and ideas. Both were wonderful in their own way and both were successful, Tom in business and Bill in banking, but they were so different in their outlook. Tom, very much the paterfamilias, was very “proper.” Bill was strict, but had a twinkle in his eye encouraging adventure in deed, thought and opinion.

Now why bore you with this? To show we are the product of life’s influences and experiences. We can either end up seeing things in a narrow safe way, or we can expand our horizons. We can fear the unknown or embrace it as a challenge to be met.

Here in the Vail Valley we have people from all over the world with different experiences, languages, cultures and religions. These we can embrace or reject, learn from or ignore, tolerate or fight. Reject and we stay safe in what we know. Embrace and we leave our comfort zone, but learn and grow.

In my nine years in this valley I have read many a diatribe concerning immigrants who “can’t even speak English.” I have heard people sounding off about how the English language is threatened and how we might even, God forbid, be required to learn some Spanish. Such talk is hogwash. Nothing but good can come from studying different cultures, languages or religions. A great deal of harm can come from isolationism, cultural or religious elitism, pomposity and arrogance, intolerance and bigotry. That is what terrorists do ” by copying them, we become like them.

Mr. Alain Joyandet is the French minister responsible for Francophony. The French, worried that their language is going to die out, have historically worked to protect it against takeover by English-isms such as “le weekend.” Meanwhile English adopts words and grows. English would not be English without taco, veldt, restaurant, cafe or embouchure. I “adore” the way the Vail Trail gives me “carte blanche” to select my topics. We chose the French word “president” when King George was replaced, and your everyday “how goes it?” an expression you won’t find in England, translates from the German “wie geht es?”

With religion we can also learn. The extreme results of religious dogma that excludes all other faiths can be seen in the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints’ isolationism that has played out in Texas. If a faith is strong it will be able to survive without excluding our kids from knowledge of other creeds or ideas. It shows strength to encourage knowledge of all faiths, and have our children pick what is for them with guidance, not indoctrination.

Now I am not saying that other nations are better than the United States, but I am saying that we should not close our minds to some good ideas. Seemingly Taiwan has a rather good system of healthcare and Germany is a world leader in solar energy production and has a growing economy, even as ours contracts. The French railway system is rather impressive. Our way might not always be the best way and ramming our democratic ideas down people’s throats might not be good for them, or us.

“Vive la difference,” as my Grandpa Bill would say, might just be better than “Speak Spanish? Heck no!”

Nick Fickling is retired from the British military and lives in the Vail Valley. E-mail him at or

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