Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fears about Visiting the USA

Possibly I am in a minority of one about  the seeming  unattractiveness of travelling  to N. America (USA) even as a UK citizen in C21. On the plus side first, the country by all accounts has many fabulous scenes and sights to wonder at from the artificial canyons of the New York skyscrapers to their natural equivalent at the even more  spectacular Grand Canyon. Its hugeness (so large that it spans umpteen time zones)  is bound to make an attractive counter point to someone used to a comparative small crowded  island like GB. The USA people by all accounts are as varied friendly and interesting as any on the planet and its beliefs about the freedom of the individual are an inspiration to us all. The weather (an inevitable talking point for anyone living in London) covers all parts of the spectrum from the barren desert to the  frozen Alaskan tundra. Added to which much though I loathe shopping, its array of consumer goods at far lower cost than on this side of the Atlantic must make an occasional foray during any holiday there,  into its markets and stores fun at least if not worthwhile. Then I think of   the creativity eg silicon valley and individual philanthropy, and conclude that  no wonder the  place is like is a mega magnet for  many non Americans. This  energy and spirit when harnessed for good eg maybe eradiciating the scourge of Malaria from the lives of millions reflects mankind at its best.

However the flaws seem to be piling up on the negative side. Simply arriving and getting through the airport frontiers sounds (post 9/11) as if  the tourist is assumed to be a violent criminal intent on undermining the whole USA nation until the contrary is proved is very off putting. Visa or passport with  eye or is it fingerprint digital  reader
recognition being a requirement and that after lengthy queuing.

I accept that many of the flaws are mirrored in UK society too but there are green shoots of difference discernible eg even during the current financial stringency the Coalition is not cutting UK foreign aid or the National Health Service. The death penalty was abolished in England years ago whereas in parts of USA like Iran and other countries not noted for their civilised    or uplifting governing classes, the death penalty is still perpetrated.

Then maybe because it's so huge, the reputed extravagent life styles led  by the majority of Americans seem to make many of  its individual  citizens quite unconcerned about the disproportionate amount of the planet's resources required to maintain, eg driving gas guzzlers, hardly deigning  to use public transport, air conditioning everywhere simply becase  it is hot (if the rest of the hot world did the same the planet's energy supplies would absent any new energy source collapse) hideous looking shopping malls which need cars to access them,  gun ownership being fought over as if it were a divine right, likewise over eating... Even the "have a nice day" culture I take (and being overly cynical may be my problem) as being superficial and not a sign of welcome or friendship - if it was real, surely the problems of extending health care to the  America poor  would not have been so difficult?

Again it may be that the hugeness of the place instils a kind of national arrogance which is hard to discern from within but which appears obvious from without rather akin to that affecting the USSR a few years back and alas perhaps red China today.  I begin to wonder if mankind  is likely to be better  for living in smaller rather than larger communities. Small nations appreciate the interdependence of us all for thriving or even surviving. Large nations are likely to regard themselves as being free to act as they wish as the reassurance of being entirely self sufficient in everything means that they are more likely to be tempted to cock a  snook at everyone else.

The British history of  perceived self sufficiency and cocking a snook at the rest of the world reached its nadir at the height of the British Empire when we colonised everywhere that had resources etc that were unavailable in this small island. Thankfully that era is passing if not already gone  and we are as a result becoming more sensitive
to the world around us  - we need their help.

A problem for the USA is that its huge size will not change in the way that the British empire did. Downsizing appears to be good for the human spirit as that  brings greater humility with it - the Yanks will need to acquire humility from a new perspective as yet unfound. When they do I shall be keen to travel there and visit their great  peoples and country.


  1. On balance, I tend to agree with you, Jerry. My geographical knowledge of the States is limited to New York and the South-West of the country. My knowledge of Americans is confined to expatriates so I am ill-placed to hold forth on the subject. I do remember, when I was growing up, how arrogant and loud-mouthed I thought they were, but part of my reaction might have been sour grapes and what I took for arrogance might often have been self-confidence.
    There's no doubt the USA has made a lot enemies along the way but I think I detect signs of it gradually coming to terms with the image ot projects and starting to try to do something about it.
    It's not that the Yanks are worse than anyone else; it's just that for a long time the rest of the world thought they were better than anyone else!

  2. Greetings Barnaby

    TX for yr comment. Difficult subject not least because criticising people or nations is never easy. However in normal human situations, the ability to criticise and be criticised and subsequently remain on good terms, is often a mark of real friendship.

    There is also much to be said for your point that:

    "it's just that for a long time the rest of the world thought they were better than anyone else!"

  3. A frightening coincidence is an article by Robert Cornwell in today's Indy on Sunday
    making thesame point madein the above blog post
    a couple of weeks back as the following extract makes all too plain:

    "...But enough of speculation. Let us focus on the facts, and in environmental terms they are not pretty. By 1980, it was calculated, the US, with only 5 per cent of the world's population, accounted for more air conditioning than the rest of the planet put together. Today, the figures are even more staggering.
    According to Stan Cox, author of the recent book Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths about Our Air-Conditioned World, AC for buildings and cars alone in the US generates the equivalent of half a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, more than the total CO2 emissions of France, Brazil or Indonesia..."


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