Thursday 16 July 2015

America the odd

I'm British, and we find all foreigners strange. The French love garlic, the Germans have no sense of humour, the Italians drive like maniacs and the Greeks don't have an economy. But the strangest foreigners of all, are the Americans, and that itself is strange, because Americans are just British people who decided to live in a different country.

So in what ways are Americans strange? It's in their attitudes to some things, that are totally different from what I would see as normal. And here's a list.

Skin colour. This is at the top of my list, because it seems to be so, so important to Americans. Sure, it's of marginal importance in other countries, but in America? Here's an example - America recently elected their first black president. The interesting thing about that, is that he's actually as white as he is black, but no-one ever seems to mention this. He's half black, therefore he's black. And that's just a minor example of the American pre-occupation with skin colour.

Abortion, This is another really big deal in America. If you're against it, you're "pro-life", if you're in favour, you're "pro-choice", and these euphemisms demonstrate the importance of the question. Considerable violence has been committed in this area, but vastly more in the USA than anywhere else. Elsewhere, we certainly debate the issue and amend the laws sometimes, but we tend not to kill and burn.

Religion. It's said that an Atheist cannot run for office in the USA. In England, we wouldn't dream of asking someone's religion, that's entirely their private business. As Tony Blair's spin doctor said, "We don't do god". In the USA, huge megachurches dot the landscape, religious TV channels and radio, and you'll be unlikely to hear a political speech that fails to include the word "god".

GMO. In England, most people wouldn't even know that that stands for, but in America, "genetically modified organisms" seems to be a huge issue.

Campaign funding. In the USA, billions of dollars are spent buying elections. In the UK, we get by with a few million. In Germany, two hundred millions.

Gay rights. America is actually roughly in line with the rest of the world here. Remember, as recently as 1966, homosexual acts were criminal in the UK, and both the UK and the USA have only recently legitimised gay marriage. But there is a difference - there seems to be a lot more heat in gay marriage in the USA, whereas in the UK, pretty much everyone shrugged their shoulders and thought "Doesn't affect me".

Guns. They seem to be totally besotted by guns, and repeated massacres of the innocents doesn't seem to make the slightest difference. It's pretty obvious to the rest of the world that they need to do something about this, but clearly, not to them.

Prisons. When not exectuting people, Americans hurl them into clink. Only Seychelles has a higher prison population per million population.

The war on drugs. Apparently, this is still running, although several US states have decriminalised cannabis. Most countries have laws agains drugs (in the UK, for example, cannabis is still illegal), but only in the USA is this framed as a "war". And the high prison population might, at least partially, be a result of this. They are "prisoners of war".

Capital punishment. There's five contries with more executions than the USA - China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  Nowhere in Europe is there a death penalty.

Health. European countries pay for a health service out of taxation - the healthy subsidise the ill. But in America, if you don't have private health insurance and you get ill, you're stuffed. And even if you have health insurance you can get stuffed, because the insurer might decide that you're not actually insured for the problem you have. Even after "Obamacare" there's still a large number of uninsured. If you're uninsured, and poor, and have toothache - your only option is to suffer.

University education. In America, you have to go deeply into debt to get a degree. But in many European countries, tuition is free, paid for by the state. In England, I'm ashamed to say, we go the American way; a degree will cost you big money. In Scotland, it's free.

Military. They didn't do much in WW1 (too little, too late) or even in WW2 (it was the Russians who beat the Germans; the Americans beat the Japanese). Since then, the Korean war was a draw, Vietnam was a loss, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, the jury is still out, but it's not looking good. Today, military spending in the USA is as much as in the next nine countries put together. I'm not saying they're wrong to do this, but it is different.

The flag. Americans have an unusual attitude to flags. For example, it's illegal to have a US flag rug, or to wear it as part of your clothes (although they don't seem to know that). If you go to America, you'll see the flag flying from numerous houses; I don't know of any other country where that happens.

Having said all this, I do like Americans. I've met tons of them, and I've never met one I didn't like. And I doubt if many Americans will read this essay, but if they do, they should understand that what they're reading is the view from outside America, of some of the imperfections in their country. I could write a similar essay about the imperfections of England.

1 comment:

  1. I found this post really interesting. You come to these conclusions as someone that looks at everything with a super-logical stand point but what if you were American? Maybe you'd think, of course murderers deserve to be killed (an eye for an eye, as our favourite fictional book says), everyone should protect themselves with a gun and why should the healthy subsidise the rich. Of course, I'm just playing devil's advocate here and I do agree with all your points but I would be very interested to read your essay on the imperfections of England.
    Lots of love,
    Daughter. 2

    SilverSpoon London