A Remarkable Place
I wanted to record several strong impressions I had of the US right after returning just about three weeks ago. America truly is a remarkable place and being away from here for six months definitely reinforced this. Ivy and I discuss a lot how every country has its good and bad-- its strengths and weaknesses. Also, we think most people will always instinctively and inherently prefer (overall) the country they grew up in. This is the case with Ivy and me.
So here are a number of observations that were striking to me:
First, the Negatives:
- Consumption and Wealth: Yes, there is an amazing level of excessive consumption going on here. But what's interesting--and natural because we're used to it--is that you have to leave the country to really see how much Americans consume on a daily basis as part of our lifestyle. Here are some sub-categories under "consumption"::
--Transportation: yes, we have the BIGGEST cars/trucks/SUVs in the world and most of them are driven long distances from the suburbs to the office by ONE person. (Note: filling up a Honda Civic in Europe costs 85 bucks! The fact that we don't raise the price of gasoline here has probably already made a Democrat out of me.) One other thing about transportation: we Americans just don't walk as most everyone else does around the world. My wife and I are convinced that this is the single biggest factor for why there are so many fat people here--we drive and do not walk. And kids often can't walk home from school either because the distance of our homes (in the burbs) would make even serious student athletes think twice. And it would simply take too long for another thing.
-- Air Conditioning: in both Western and Eastern Europe, air conditioning is way more expensive and so people don't crank it up in every single building as is done here. As I walked down the stairs from our hotel last week I was blasted by the air conditioning-- even though it wasn't extremely hot out (it's NorCal after all) and it was just the stairway.
-- Food Portions: Oh my. Yes, we all know it--they are huge.
Now into the positives:
- Virtually no smoking. For all of their enlightened thinking, Europeans (and Asians) are still in the dark ages when it comes to smoking--which is done nearly everywhere over there. Every time I hear of a newer and even more draconian smoking prohibition imposed by Arnold Swarzenneger here in California, I smile and give thanks.
- The rule of law. Like many northern European countries (Hungary is still working on this one--as are countries like Italy, by the way) we in America have a very effective rule-oriented system. To a great degree, people follow the rules, pay their taxes and get busted when they cheat. It doesn't matter too much here "who you know" and pedestrians know they do have the right of way in practice and not just in theory. (Yes, the US isn't perfect here in all these categories, but pretty good).
- Amazing land of innovation, competition and productivity. The US is an amazing economic machine. Despite all the doom and gloom that CNN (the Carnage News Network) and others pump out to sell advertising, we have an unrivaled group of incredibly productive, competitive companies that produce very impressive products. Yes, our cars are pretty lame BUT we have the upper hand when it comes to the sector which is arguably more important: high technology. We have google, microsoft, apple, cisco, ebay, etc. The other thing that is impressive is that this year the US regained the top spot and is the "most productive economy" again in the world. High tech improvements made all that possible across a variety of industries.
- Diversity and Integration. Compared to most of Europe and Asia we are a very diverse place with people from all over the world who consider themselves American--and they are! I've read a big reason that it's easier to form and recruit people into suicidal "sleeper cells" in Europe rather than the US is the fact that in Europe, foreigners are not as well integrated into mainstream life.
Allright I'll stop here. E Pluribus Unum.