JULY 16, 1949
HYDE PARK, Friday—I had a most interesting experience yesterday. I met a lady from Belgium who has come to this country principally to find out exactly what the United States is, what makes the people tick, and how we are different from the people of Europe.
She said she realized that many American tourists go to Europe but that comparatively few Europeans, especially from her little country, come to the United States to try to learn how our citizens feel and think about the world situation. Since the world is now inextricably tied together, and since she wants to work for peace, she feels that to know the United States is essential.
She has given herself a considerable period of time. She arrived here last November and went to stay with an American soldier, a veteran of World War I, and his family. Her family had been able to help him during the first war to hide from the Germans. Living with an American family she has learned more about us than she could have learned in any other way.
She said that the size of New York City really stunned her and was something hard to believe. She showed some letters of introduction to people here, and they helped her to plan a bus trip through the whole country. As a matter of fact, I think she has seen more of this country than many of our own people have, and she has seen it very close to the grass roots—in a very intelligent and sympathetic way.
Certain things seem to have impressed her, especially the way we work. I think by that she means the way everybody, rich and poor, works. Now she is going back, by way of South America, eager to make Europeans understand the United States she has come to know—the hard-working American people whose lives are none too easy. She has learned that nevertheless we pay our taxes cheerfully, knowing that a good part of those taxes go to help people in other countries, and, in addition, we send food and clothing and supplies of all kinds to the far corners of the world. These generous gifts are not from the rich alone. They also are from the little people, the people who earn, day by day, every penny that they spend.
I have never before heard a foreigner who seemed to have succeeded so well in gauging the real virtues of the American people. She knows our failings. She feels that just at present we are groping for leadership, that we don't know just where we want to go and we are not too well prepared to lead the world against dictatorships by giving the world a real understanding of democracy as something far better than communism or any type of authoritarianism.
I wish a great many other people could study as long and as carefully as she has. I am glad that she is going to South America where I feel sure she will be as keen an observer as she has been here. When she does return to Europe I hope she will find the niche she is looking for, where she will really feel she is making a contribution to the world's search for peace.