Saturday, July 3, 2010

Reasons to Like the United States

Tomorrow I will celebrate not only the Independence Day but also the 12th anniversary of the day when I left my country and moved to North America. These lists of things to like and to dislike about the United States are my way to celebrate both occasions.

1. Variety. If you can't find a city, a state, or an area to like in this incredibly varied country, then something is definitely wrong with you.* The huge variety in landscape, climate, people, customs, ways of life is what makes the US a fascinating place.

2. People. The most pervasive stereotype of the American people is that they are nice. And the best thing about this stereotype is that it's true. Maybe there are nicer people somewhere but I have not met them. (Definitely not in my own culture because we are a pretty aggressive bunch.) American niceness is different from any other kind in that it exists for its own sake. In no other place have I encountered so many people willing to stop you and tell you something nice with no ulterior motive, or help you out of the goodness of their hearts. I grew up among people who stop you to say something nasty for no particular reason, so it's a pleasant change to be around people who treat you with kindness. Another thing that distinguishes the American people is that they are very hard-working. I would say they are often too hard-working for their own good.

3. Higher education system. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, I'm sure you know that I have very harsh criticisms to offer of the American higher ed system. (Enter "academia" or "teaching"  in the search box if you want to read some of my angry posts on the subject.) Even then, it's still the best I have ever encountered. Mind you, "the best" does not mean the cheapest or one that offers the fairest access. It isn't and it doesn't. But it doesn't allow for a narrow specialization with no comprehensive knowledge base (unlike the Canadian system), it offers an interactive, creative learning environment (unlike the Western European system), it offers college educators a tolerable standard of living (unlike the Latin American systems), it has a strong (possibly, the strongest in the world right now) tradition of the Humanities (unlike the Spanish and Eastern European systems), there is a lot less corruption in the higher ed system than in many other places. Granted, these great achievements are being diluted even as I write these words, but they do exist. I truly hope we don't let them disappear.

4. Goods and services. There is a higher variety of goods and services in the US than anywhere else I lived (including Canada), and that makes life very comfortable. For those of my readers who had a prissily self-righteous reaction to this statement, I have a suggestion: give up your i-pod, laptop, TV set, online purchases, plus size clothing, Internet connection, cheap cell phone service, etc., and then come get all holier-than-thou on me.

5. Opinions. Even when I hate some of the opinions that people express, I am happy to recognize that at least they have strong opinions on a variety of subjects. In every other country where I lived or visited, people keep asking me: "Why do you care so much?" (about political, social, and ideological issues that I pontificate about passionately.) In the US, even when people disagree with me completely, they never question the passion behind my opinions because they either share it or at least understand it.

6. Personal space. I know that many of my readers have no idea what I'm talking about but I enjoy the personal space afforded to me by the US culture almost on a physiological level. Having the security that nobody will show up unannounced on my doorstep at 10 o'clock on a Saturday morning is a boon not to be taken lightly. There is just the right amount of personal space that this culture affords me, and that is priceless. (Have I mentioned that I have autism, and there can never be too little human contact? :-))

* Of course, these lists reflect my highly subjective opinions, so there is no need to leave comments stating the obvious: "Well, that's just what you think." Yes it is, and that's supposed to be self-evident. Feel free to add to the lists your own points, though.


Anonymous said...

Well, I do find niceness on the West Coast, in Illinois, in NYC, and in pockets like New Orleans, and there are always individual exceptions but in most of the country I find people to be shockingly mean compared to some of the other countries I've lived in. Perhaps I've spent too much time in the non nice areas.

Anonymous said...

P.S. To add: landscapes, from the Rockies west, are spectacular in the U.S., equaled elsewhere but not surpassed.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Interesting, your view on personal space. I have a different experience - I find Americans really invasive of others' personal space, yet unwilling to actually share space.

As in: I get people showing up at 10AM Saturdays unannounced, and also people banging on my office door and even trying to open it when I've got the lights low and a "working, do not disturb, office hours start at X time" sign outside. At the same time, I don't see a lot of community / civic feeling.

Clarissa said...

"I have a different experience - I find Americans really invasive of others' personal space, yet unwilling to actually share space.

As in: I get people showing up at 10AM Saturdays unannounced, and also people banging on my office door and even trying to open it"

-It is fascinating to me how much perception of the same things varies depending on where one comes from and what one compares his experiences to. Thanks for sharing your perspective!!

Anonymous said...

Of course, that's a comparison of where I live now to Latin America, where *I* find people are both more friendly and less invasive. But I've lived other places in the US where customs are different.


On higher education, those points are really true and important.