Why do they make such good toys in Europe? Not that some American toys aren't pretty good. But wooden European toys such as T.C. Timber and Brio, the toys and games of Playmobil and Ravensburger, have a simple flair that can't be written off as mere snob appeal.
People in the toy business advance a number of reasons. The first is television - or rather, the lack of it. European countries generally have much less TV advertising than American TV has. In Sweden there's none (and no war toys either.) Quieter, less glitzy toys, have a better chance of competing.
With less mass market promotion, moreover, there can be more attention to quality. ``European companies are investing the money in the product,'' says Hubert Ruether, chairman of Quadro, a German manufacturer of life-size construction sets.
Perhaps most important is a tradition that sees toys as part of a child's development, rather than simply as amusement. European schools ``invest more in hands-on teaching'' with toys than do American schools, says Ted Kiesewetter of International Playthings.
Tom Vacar, the Los Angeles toytester, thinks we've seen this before. ``Foreign-built toys will affect American toys the way foreign-made cars affected American,'' he says.