Expats lifted by small gestures of kindness

Author (Person)
Series Title
Series Details Vol.7, No.34, 20.9.01, p6
Publication Date 20/09/2001
Content Type

Date: 20/09/01

By Craig Winneker

More than a week after the terrorist attacks on the US, Americans living in Brussels were still coming to terms with the tragic events on the other side of the Atlantic - and anxiously wondering whether the worst is yet to come.

EU leaders are set to meet in Brussels tomorrow night (21 September) to bolster support for the US effort to bring the perpetrators and their sponsors to justice, but the last few days have seen some equivocation of their earlier fully-fledged backing of President Bush's stated "war" on terrorism.

For American expatriates, there were constant reminders of the risks of living abroad, even in the 'safe' countries of Western Europe and the NATO and EU alliances.

Reports surfaced of plans to attack targets in Brussels and Paris after authorities arrested several suspected Islamic terrorists, and security remained tight at US installations.

Even the benign American Womens' Club of Brussels (AWCB), which organises charity bazaars and provides useful information to 'expats', was taking no chances. The AWCB initially shut its clubhouse in Rhode-

St-Genese but reopened this week after hiring a private security firm. Members were urged to "maintain a low profile" and to enter the clubhouse through its backdoor.

The US Embassy to Belgium posted an advisory on its website this week warning American citizens travelling to Li├Ęge, where EU finance ministers will meet this weekend, to "be vigilant in the presence of the demonstrators" who are expected there.

At the US embassy compound on Boulevard du Regent, police and American security guards checked identification of passers-by and kept up a barbed-wire barricade. But it wasn't a complete lockdown.

The US Mission to the EU was able to hold a scheduled reception on Tuesday night to introduce its new deputy chief and press spokesman, but guests were searched thoroughly. Other embassies, including Canada's, also stepped up security measures.

But for the most part, expats tried to get back to a normal life. And they continued to be thankful for the support from Europeans. "I've been touched by the many expressions of sympathy and support that have come from my European friends and colleagues," said Stan McCoy, an attorney with Covington & Burling in Brussels. "Even strangers have gone out of their way to offer a kind word when they found out I was American."

Other Americans in Brussels spoke of receiving emails and notes from neighbours.

I visited Limerick in Ireland with my wife for the weekend and we were not able to go up to a bar without someone buying us a beer when he or she heard our American accents.

Richard Morningstar, the outgoing US ambassador to the EU, summed up the feelings of many Americans living in Brussels in a speech last Thursday. "I - and indeed everyone at the US Mission - have been overwhelmed by the expressions of sympathy and support."

Still, even as they expressed gratitude for the show of solidarity by European governments and citizens alike, some expatriates acknowledged an undercurrent of scorn for the US that has not completely disappeared.

Said Steve O'Connor, a Philadelphian working in Budapest: "I never feel completely comfortable living in Europe because I tend to get the feeling that Americans are resented so much for our perceived blithe demeanour about life and our sense of optimism. Well, I guess we lost a bit of the optimism last week."

It may just be a case of Americans coming to terms with such acts of terror on a continent with a long history of them. One Brussels-based American journalist described the scene last Tuesday in a European Parliament hearing when chairwoman Christa Randzio-Plath announced that the attack had occurred. "A few people left the room, but not many," the journalist said. "Most sat there to listen to the rest of the hearing, possibly because the next speaker scheduled was Richard Branson. After a couple of questions and contributions by others Randzio-Plath made another announcement that some were leaving the Parliament and she didn't want to keep that information from people even though she personally didn't see any reason to panic. The hearing continued."

Reactions of Americans living in Europe to the terrorist attack on the US, 11 September 2001.

Countries / Regions
Record URL https://www.europeansources.info/record/?p=257768