A shrewd fellow, by hindsight, Ambassador Erving. I stem from a highly political family, who had strong ties to the Nordic and European left, but none to the United States. Conspicuously, I was to be studying community colleges. As a matter of fact, I don´t remember any. This was the summer of Water Gate, the impeachement of president Richard Nixon live on TV. I learned more about the politics of mass media during those few weeks than any time before or since.
We made trips through Washington D.C.; Los Angeles and San Fransisco, California; the Scandinavian Mid-West and New York. Everywhere we were met by interesting and typically generous people. Some of them were unexpectedly and delightfully eccentric, such as the Icelandic desk officer in Washington, who was born and bred in Japan and knew a lot about Southeast Asia. But had never been to Europe. Or the cadillac-driving millionaire-lady who took us for a picnic and symphony at the Hollywood Bowl; and told us matter-of-factly on the way how the Soviet Union would disintegrate and Europe would be reunited before the turn of the century. Or the Midwest politician, who confided in us the the undoing of America would be the proliferation of „indoors people“ – lawyers in particular.
Well, what did we learn from all of this? Did we return home as ardent admirers of everything American? As a matter of fact, no. If that was the aim of the game, it failed. But we certainly got rid of many preconceived prejudices. Never shall we underestimate the potential of this creative „melting pot“ of nationalities. We were sufficiently interested to start a learning process. We wanted to know more.
Three years later, I enrolled at Harvard for a sabbatical year. From Harvard I graduated into the national politics of my country: Member of Althing (the oldest national parliament in the world), Social-Democratic party leader, Minister of Finance and Foreign Secretary. In those jobs I have had many contacts with leading Americans. The visitors program started a learning process that led to an understanding and attitude of good will. Perhaps that was the purpose. Then it didn´t fail after all.