Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Missing Link

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I  am not much given to hero worship but there are certain public speakers among us who do manage to inspire me or force me to think. Stephen Fry is one because I like his humor and thoughtfulness his atheism; indeed Irish police were investigating him last year for describing God as an utter maniac in an Irish broadcast. In the same vein the late Anthony Bourdain's decision to end his life still causes me to stop and think and as odd as it seems even to me I miss the presenter I never met. I miss down to Earth broadcasting that treated viewers like adults.
Then I came across the following essay which I read on Business Insider and couldn't stop thinking about. Google to the rescue.  Let me say that I don't find this a profound or intimately accurate list of critiques of the US and it's people but it does clip enough stereotypes to make it plausible.For Europeans who dislike the US on principle I am sure it hits all the correct irritations. For me it is a set of complaisant assumptions by a traveler who should know better.
Things in the United States happen for a reason the way they do, not least because the US experiment in living is a unique proposition: we live together by rules drawn up not by common ancestry custom or heritage. Alone in the world the US was a manufactured state when it came into being. And this creates difficulties for outsiders peering in. They don't know how to find our missing link, the feature of American life that unlocks the mystery of understanding why we are different:  the Constitution and cultural diversity.
British and I suppose Irish observers make one fundamental error when trying to parse the American Way of Life: this country is not Britain writ large, or writ modern or brash. This country may share the same language more or less and may offer the world an irresistible popular culture but it is by no means English or British or a spun off colony.  The United States is its own entity, a vast  blob on the atlas filled with 320 million people many of whom owe nothing to English speaking people or the history of soccer or a culture where rank comes not from money but pedigree (hence the importance of money in the US as currency, safety net and predictor of social rank).
But let the aggravating Irishman speak for himself:
17 cultural clashes this European had in America

BENNY LEWIS

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months
SPEAKS: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish
Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.






Heads up: This post is doing the rounds again from Business Insider syndication, so read this italics intro for some important updates!
I originally wrote it in 2011. While everything I say still stands, my blunt European heart did melt a little when I met “the one” after years on the road, who just so happened to be an American. I proposed to her and believe it or not, despite all my cultural clashes (which continue), we now live in New York together!
This article remains an important part of my story, because the day I introduced her to my parents, I asked a random person to take a photo of all of us and he recognized me and said “Hey, you're that guy who hates Americans!” Every other time, I'm recognized for my work in promoting language learning, but just that time both my parents and Lauren got to see the results of a particular article going viral. Pretty hilarious, especially given the irony that I was falling in love with one.
Having said that, I still feel like this country is exceptionally weird, and that's even long before any of the current political climate came on the scene. I share my thoughts honestly here, so if you are pissed off easily, don't read this post. Although plenty of (American) commenters agree with me, I also got a flood of angry comments and hatemail when I originally shared it. It's just my (as always) frank and honest non-watered-down opiniontake it or leave it! Read on to the conclusion to see my positive thoughts about Americans before you conclude that this is Anti-American propaganda.
With that said,  you may also enjoy reading my post about the 29 life lessons learned in travelling the world, and make sure to look around the site for some language learning tips!
Normally, after I spend considerable time in a country/city, I like to summarise my cultural experience there and tend to put a positive spin on it, as I did with GermanyAmsterdamBrazil, and even Paris, which was actually a negative experience for me.
This time I'm not doing that.
This post is my rant about the Unite States of America because of all the places I've been, the people who always complain the most about the local country are travelling Americans. It's mostly for those people that I wrote this post – so that they can read a foreigner complain about their country, but do so in a light-hearted non-aggressive way. Especially given that I live here now.
Note that there are lots of things I do really like about America of course, but there have been too many things that have gotten on my nerves that I need to vent about. I'm not interested in whining about foreign policy, economics or politics. This is entirely about my frustrations with day-to-day life in America. The United States is a huge country, and it's impossible to generalise all 300 million of you, but the points below are my observations after spending:
3 months in upstate New York, 6 months in southern California, 1 month in Chicago, 1 month in Nevada, 4 months in San Francisco, 2 months in Texas, a month in Louisiana, a month in Oregon, 2 months in Maryland, and several more months driving through 25 states. Then after all of this, 2 years in New York City. Over four years total (so far), that I've been able to genuinely live as a local would (not in touristy accommodations), or visit briefly in places varying from Idaho to Ohio.
If you ever meet me, I don't complain about America [edit for clarity: when I say America in this post and in comments, I mean USA of course] in person ever except light-heartedly (unless it's about the lack of espressos if it's not through Starbucks – that I do huff and puff over), I promise, this post was a special case for ranting ๐Ÿ˜‰
Sorry if you find this post offensive, but I expect you to because…

1. Americans are way too sensitive

Sometimes I wonder if political correctness is in your constitution. I found out very quickly in my first visit that I had to bite my tongue pretty much all the time, and (more annoyingly) that nobody was ever straight with me.
It seems that speaking your mind to individuals is a major taboo. You can't tell a friend straight when he has fucked up, nobody will ever tell you that you look like you could stand to lose a few pounds (doing so in a sweet, supportive way of course), and there's way too much euphemism to avoid the hard truth.
To a certain extent, I can understand it – America generally does a great job of preventing people from singling out ethnic groups and toning down hate speech. But it waters it down far too much at the individual level.
A lot of Americans I met feel very lonely, and I feel this is a major reason. You may never find a boy/girlfriend if a friend who knows you well and supposedly cares about you, doesn't tell you the hard facts of what makes you so damn annoying… so that you can change it! Being insulting for the sake of it is needless aggression. But constructive criticism is what friends are for.
The one time in my entire last three months that someone was straight with me was when my friend Karol gave me some tips to improve my presentation in future after I gave a TEDx talk, while everyone else was doing nothing but massaging my ego. It was really useful advice but it caught me off guard because I was used to months of…

2. Everything is “awesome”!

I really hate the word awesome. It used to mean “that which inspires awe”, but in the states it means nothing! It doesn't even mean good – it's just a word – a filler, like “um” or “y'know”.
This is the stereotypical American cheesy word, and I heard it until my ears started to bleed. Too many over-the-top positive adjectives like this get thrown around so much that they really mean nothing.
And when you ask someone “How are you?” the answer will inevitably be “great!” even if they are far from it.
When you start using excessive positivity it waters down the meaning, and those words become neutral. Then what do you do when you need to express true positivity? Of course, when someone says they are “OK, I guess” then you know things are pear shaped! I don't think “bad” is in America's vocabulary. The worst is that this word is starting to creep into English around the world, and I hate that so much!
But nothing beats America's over-positivity more than this:

3. Smiles mean NOTHING

When I meet Americans abroad, one of their biggest complaints are along the lines of “nobody smiles on Prague's trams!” “That waitress was so rude to me! She didn't even smile!”
Goddamnit America – I have the opposite complaint for you. You guys smile way too much. It's annoying! How can you tell when someone means it? And why the hell would a stranger doing a crossword puzzle on public transport want to look giddy?
When people smile in Europe it means something. For example, because Germans don't go around looking like an American toothpaste commercial when I was with them and they smiled, it lit up the room – you know it's genuine and you can't help but smile back, because you are genuinely happy. You've shared a joke, or a funny story or you are in love etc.
But all the time? When you smile all the time in public it means nothing. Apparently a smile releases endorphins, but if your face is stuck that way I'm sure your dreams of a natural high will fade soon. I'd rather focus on trying to make my life better and have reasons to smile than lie to myself and the world.
Despite how surly I sound in this post, because complaining is the theme of the article, the fact that I vent when I mean it, means that when you see me happy you know I'm truly happy. And that is indeed a lot of the time ๐Ÿ™‚ But not all of it!

4. Tipping

While it's a perk for most of you, for me it was terribly annoying to be in restaurants and having a waitress interrupt me every 3 minutes asking me if everything is OK. I'd have to feign a smile (it's the American way – see above!) and thumbs up to make her go away since my mouth was always full. I really don't see the point – if you've given me the wrong order or if I suddenly realise I'm dying from an allergic reaction to your food, you'll know it long before those 3 minutes are up.
Eating out is always an annoying experience because of this. In the rest of the world we call the server over when we need something. If this was genuine interest, or if the person was trying to be friendly that would be cool, but that's not what it's about. In fact, it's all down to “subtle” reminders that this person wants you to tip them.
This drove me crazy – I really think tipping as a means of waitresses and others earning the vast majority of their living is ridiculous. If I have to pay, say 15% anyway, then include it in the bill! It's not a bloody tip if it's mandatory!!!
Once again, one huge complaint I hear in other countries is how rude waitresses are, and Americans claim it's because they aren't tipped. Instead of getting tipped they earn a wage like everyone else, and do their job and if they do it bad enough they'll get fired. But apparently not pestering you every minute and not smiling like you are in a Ms. World competition means you are “rude”.
I think the basic concept of tipping is nice – but all explanations I've heard about it as a must-do make no sense when you really talk it out. You can paint waitresses/waiters as hard workers who earn those tips, and need a chance for a higher wage than if they got minimum wage… but what about teachers and nurses? Why not tip them? Why not tip everyone who you interact with in some way – bus drivers, or leave money on your trash can for the garbage man? It's inconsistent, and waiters, hairdressers and taxi drivers should just charge us what needs to be charged.
Some people ludicrously suggest that it makes it cheaper that the restaurant doesn't have to charge more, but you're paying the difference anyway. What it does contribute to is clear though:

5. False prices on everything

Tipping is just the peak of the iceberg.
It's all one big marketing scam to make people feel like they are paying less. The price you see on a menu is nothing compared to what you'll actually pay. Apart from tipping, you have to, of course, pay taxes.
Now taxes are simply a necessity of life – it's how governments work all around the world. So why hide it from us? It boggles my mind that places refuse to include the tax in prices. The price they state is pretty much useless. It's just saying “this is how much we get from what you pay, but you'll actually pay more”.
I don't give a flying toss how much YOU get, I want to know how much I have to pay! How much money… do you want me… to hand to you? Do I really have to spell this out?
The most laughable of all of these is the “dollar store”. If you have a single dollar, you will be turned away from a “dollar” store! It's a dollar… that they earn, not that you pay. Do you follow? The only thing that matters is the business's perspective.
I've been told that this is because taxing is different in each state (and sometimes in counties??). I shed a tear for the poor giant corporations selling widgets in different states who can't possibly ask their local stores, or heads of regions with a given tax rate, to do their own single calculation and print out a label for millions of people that they serve with that one tax rate, because it inconveniences the corporation/seller ever so slightly.
We have the same product sold across many European countries (in many cases in the same multilingual packaging) and somehow someone in the company found the time to punch numbers into a $1 calculator in advance to tell people how much they are actually paying.
It's nothing but a large scale marketing scam. Make the price seem cheaper, which is lying to people. One great way to get people in more debt is to make them feel like they are spending less, but add the rest when it comes time to hand over the cash. This is one big part of….

6. Cheesy in-your-face marketing

I feel like scraping out my eyes with toothpicks when I'm forced to endure advertising in America. Make it stop.
Most Americans aren't even aware of it – it's on all the time so much that it becomes nothing more than background noise. And this means that advertisers have to be even louder to get through to people. It's a vicious circle that drives any non-American not used to it bonkers.
BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE!
I decided to watch an episode of House one evening on cable TV. Up until then I had only really seen American shows online with advertising removed or back in Europe with European advertising inserted in the spaced out way we would do it.
Holy shit.
Every few minutes you get torn out of the show – so much so that the ad actually feels like it might be the show at first (in Europe we have outro/intro animations or something that lets you know the show is getting paused). Next, you're bombarded with irrelevant spam, and “awesome” images of people who practically experience orgasms as soon as they buy product X, that is (of course) on special offer just right now. And if it's anything medical you get a super fast voice spur every kind of medical complaint you can imagine that his product will create as a side-effect. But at least the cheesy model is still happy, so it's probably not so important.
And here's the thing: Americans are marketing geniuses. This can never be disputed. Every time I went to buy just a carton of milk, something about the supermarket that's different to what I'm used to, gravitated me towards some expensive garbage I didn't need and I almost bought it, or did buy it, feeling very stupid as I walked out.
If you are in Las Vegas you'll see how skilled they are at this manipulation by how they design the casinos. No windows, no clocks, impossible to find exits, no way to get where you want to go without walking through slot machines, the slot machines themselves have lots of shiny lights and bouncy music to entice you. You feel like you are being hypnotised. They know exactly what they are doing and have the billions of dollars to prove it.
But it's still manipulation, and to those of us not used to the loudness it's plain cheesy. Every corner of America is plastered with some kind of advertising or sponsorship, and I feel so at peace now that I've left. No more random phone calls on any landline (including hotels I was paying for) with a recorded voice to try to pitch me something and no more spam promotional brochures taking over my physical mailbox.

7. Wasteful consumerism

Some of the consumerism is difficult to avoid when you are flooded with advertising, but some of it really is entirely the person's own fault for being so wasteful.
The best example I can think of by far is Apple fanboyism. So many Americans waste so much cash to have the latest iteration of Apple's iPhone, iPad, or Macbook. When you buy one that's fine – I personally don't like Apple products (I find the operating system too restrictive), but there are many good arguments for why it could be better, and I have to own an iPad anyway for my technical work with certain apps. I also like to have a good smartphone and laptop for example, and I'm as much a consumer as you if you happen to have an Apple equivalent.
The problem is when you replace your iPhone 6 with an  iPhone6S, and do it along with an army of millions of other sheep for no good reason. It's pointless and wasteful consumerism at its best.
I actually took advantage of this when I was in Austin years ago and only the original iPad had been out. I waited until the day the iPad 2 was announced and as I predicted there were 20 new ads per minute on Craigslist in that city alone from desperate fanboys trying to sell their iPad 1. I convinced one guy to sell me his with a bluetooth keyboard case for a quarter of the original price, just 2 months after he bought it! He was so desperate to have the latest version that was ever so slightly thinner and faster, and with a camera that makes you look like an idiot when you point your iPad at something, but otherwise basically exactly the same.
Personally I only replace my smartphone when I break the other one from travel wear or dropping it in an ocean etc. I'm also a consumer though, and will occasionally buy stuff that I don't need, but replacing something I have for something marginally better for a large price is something I can never understand.
What makes it worse is that these people sometimes claim to not have much money and Apple products are added to their “necessities” list. The gobshite I bought my iPad from sighed when I told him what I do, and he said that he wished he had the money to travel. I wish he had the common sense to realise that if he stopped wasting his money he'd have plenty left over.

8. American stereotypes of other countries

Many of us have seen videos online of Americans arsing up basic questions of international geography. I went out of my way to avoid people that stupid – my beef is with the supposedly educated ones.
Luckily, Americans you meet abroad tend to be much cleverer, but meeting those who haven't traveled made my head hurt with the amount of facepalms I'd have to do.
Now, I know there are 300 million of you, but I have had this exact same conversation on both the east and west coast, and in the mid-west and south:
“Hi, I'm Benny”
“Awesome! I'm X. Where are you from?”
“Ireland”
“Wow! You guys certainly know how to drink!”
“Actually, I don't drink
“Oh, you're not really Irish then, are you!”
Again, and again and again… and again. The same idiotic script – I knew it was coming every time. They demanded (in jest) to see my passport, said that I'm the only Irish guy they've ever met who doesn't drink (and very stupidly then admitted that I was the ONLY Irish guy they ever met!!) or had visited Ireland and spent all their time in Temple Bar (not even leaving Dublin), confirming that all Irish people are drunkards.
This is just one of the many dumb things they would say, which of course annoyed me the most.
A few others I've gotten include:
  • How was the boat ride over here? [Surprised that we have airports in Ireland – I must have arrived in rags in New York harbour of course]
  • Too many people insisting that Ireland was part of the UK, or part of the common-wealth. They actually argued it with me!! Especially odd coming from fellow former-UK-territory
  • Did I have to check my car for IRA bombs when I was growing up? (uuuugh…., so many things wrong with this!)
  • Surprised that I knew more about technology than they did. Aren't we all potato farmers in Ireland?
Whenever someone said anything about Ireland I'd always try to change the subject immediately or they'd quickly find out how blunt I can be.
Note: If you think this could be hypocritical given the theme of this article, I'd argue that this post is hardly filled with stereotypes because it's based on my actual experience in hanging out with thousands of you. Americans who stereotype us Irish (and other nationalities) have generally never been there, or at best “seen” (not spent time with) a couple of tourists. Stereotyping is based on hearsay and misinformation, and almost always from total lack of contact, or only superficial contact with the people you stereotype.
I'm not talking about Americans being all loud and war mongers and only eating at McDonald's and all being stupid etc. (typical American stereotypes)because these just aren't true for many people. I'm talking about what I've actually experienced from normal people in everyday situations after an entire year of living and working in America.

9. Heritage

Every American you meet is not actually American. They are a fourth Polish, 3/17 Italian, ten other random countries, and then of course half Irish. Since Ireland is more homogenous, it's hard for me to appreciate this, so honestly, I don't really care if your great grandfather's dog-walker's best friend's roommate was Irish. I really don't.
The amount of “Oh my gaaawwwd, me too!!” retorts I heard when I said I was Irish is quite silly. I use country adjectives more restrictively than Americans do, so this was quite the pet peeve of mine. I finally learned that “I'm from Ireland” means what I wanted to say to them better than “I'm Irish” does.
I don't want to say I don't respect people's rich heritage (a nice mixture makes a country more interesting; the melting pot of cultures and skin colours is one reason why Brazil is my favourite country for example), but when people start talking about it as if it were genetics and their Italian part makes them more passionate and their Irish part makes them good drinkers I really do have to roll my eyes.
I should add though, that it's a language difference, so “Irish” actually means “Irish-American” as I'd understand it. That's fine, but I'm trying to convey that people genuinely from that country (born and raised) find this annoying. There is no right or wrong, but it's important to realise that rephrasing it or saying “I have Irish/Italian heritage” may be more appropriate if you are talking to someone from that country. This is especially true if speaking other languages.

10. ID checks & stupid drinking laws

Seriously, I promise I'm not 12. Please let me into the nightclub!
I've even seen 60-year-olds get IDed. Nowhere else in the world do they ID me now that I'm clearly in my 30s. A few times I haven't had my passport (the most important document I own that I really don't want to get beer spilt over) in my jeans pocket and have simply been refused entry.
I find it incredible that drinking age is 21, but you give 16-year-olds licenses to drive cars and you can buy a rifle at age 18. And you can't walk around outside with an open drink in most states (but apparently putting it in a brown bag while you drink it makes it OK). I don't even drink, and I find these laws nonsensical.

11. Religious Americans

Look – I grew up in a religious town in Ireland, went to an all-boys Catholic school, and some of my friends in Europe are religious. Even if I'm not religious myself, it's up to everyone to decide what they believe in. I find religious people in Europe to be NORMAL – it's a spiritual thing or something they tend to keep to themselves, and are very modern people with a great balance of religion and modernism.
But I can't stand certain Christian affiliations of religious Americans. It's Jesus this and Jesus that all the bloody time. You really can't have a normal conversation with them. It's in your face religion.
And it tends to crop up far too often in politics to restrict rights or make life difficult for people who don't look or act like you do. If someone is restricting your personal ability to express your religion, then fight for that! Gay people existing and other such things offending you, make it feel like we're living in another century.

12. Corporations win all the time, not small businesses

While there are many arguments against everything working towards there simply being a bunch of large corporations competing with one another, my biggest problem is in terms of availability.
When you get your food from Walmart or Wholefoods, and nowhere else, these places grow and will be separated by a reasonable driving distance for the greatest scope. But between them? It's a wasteland.
I was in downtown Chicago one day and wanted to simply get a bite to eat, but after walking around for an hour the only affordable option I could find was Dunkin Donuts. There are plenty of excellent cheap places to eat in Chicago, but you need to drive to them, or be in a specific part of the city with lots of restaurants (knowing it in advance). There's too much competition between the big guys for a large number of little guys to sprinkle themselves conveniently throughout cities.
If you plonk me in any major city in Europe, I'll find food in minutes. If you do the same in America, even downtown and presuming it isn't a specific restaurant district, and don't give me a cell phone or a car, I could starve to death.
And this is a major contributor to what I feel is one of the biggest issues I had in America:

13. A country designed for cars, not humans

America is a terrible place for pedestrians. It's the worst place in the entire world to live in if you don't own a car.
On my earliest trips to the states I had it rough – relying on sub-par public transport (which is at least workable in certain major cities, but almost never first-world standard in my opinion), or relying on a friend the entire time. You can't do anything without a car in most cases. With rare exceptions (like San Francisco / New York), all shops, affordable restaurants, supermarkets, electronics etc. are miles away.
I really like Austin, but found it laughable that it was rated as among the most “walkable” cities in the states. Living just outside the centre, but within walking distance, meant that I had a stretch of my path with no pavement. The city centre was walkable, but most people live just outside it, and must drive to get in.
What struck me as the eeriest thing of all is that I felt very much alone when walking in any American city. In many cases I'd be the only pedestrian in the entire block, even if it was in the middle of the week downtown! The country is really designed to get in your car, drive to your destination and get out there. No walk-abouts.
Going for a walk to find food serendipitously (as I would in any European city) was a terrible idea every time without checking Yelp in advance.
For my more recent trips, I did actually rent a car for most of my stay (I didn't even have a driving license before the age of 28, which most Americans find hard to grasp), and everything was so much more convenient, but I really did feel like I was only ever using my feet to work the gas pedal.

14. Always in a hurry

So many things in America are rushed far too much my liking. Fast-food is something we have all around the world now but even in a posh sit-down restaurant, your food will usually come out in less than five minutes after ordering! What's the rush?
People don't seem to have the patience to invest time to slowly improve things unless it involves some kind of monetary investment.
Americans are also very punctual because of course time is money. So many of them could do with stopping to smell the roses, and arriving late because they took their time.
Despite all the false positivity, I find Americans to be generally the most stressed out and unhappiest people on the planet. Despite all the resources, and all the money they have, they are sadder than people I know who can barely make ends meet in other countries, but still know how to live in the moment.
This rush to the finish line or to have a million dollars in your bank account or to get that promotion, and to have that consume your life is something I find really sad. To be honest, I've never been more stressed out in my life from my time living in the US and being pulled into this lifestyle. I'm trying to reboot my work-life balance and get the peace of mind I had before moving here, and I hope I do. (Btw, I wrote this article years before moving here and only updated it recently for accuracy, so the stress of living here didn't contribute to the tone of the original article ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

15. Obsession with money

I met far too many people who were more interested in their bank balance than their quality of life. People richer than I can possibly imagine, who are depressed. More money seems to be the only way they understand solving problems.
They don't travel because they think they need tens of thousands of dollars (which is just simply not true, as you can read it in this post here), and they don't enjoy their day because they may miss out on a business opportunity.
No goal is ever big enough – more wealth, more fame, more power. This is human nature, and something we have in every country on earth, but I feel like America amplifies this much further, ultimately making it people's true goals and greatest priorities in life.

16. Unhealthy portions

Apart from people not being frank with those who are overweight, the biggest problem is that portions in restaurants are grossly overgenerous. Anytime I ordered even a small portion I'd be totally full. Small means something completely different to me than it does to Americans. If you sit down in most places and order anything but an appetiser or a salad, you will eat more than you should.
I was brought up being reminded of starving children in Africa, so I feel guilty if I don't clear my plate. This was disastrous in a few months I spent in the states a few years ago, where I put on a LOT of weight (that I've luckily since lost in other countries)! I should have asked for a “doggy bag” nearly all the time.
I've learned to stop ordering a soda entirely, because when restaurants give you free refills, I feel like I should drink more… it's free after all! Ugh.

17. Thinking America is the best

Finally, one thing I find annoying is the warped view of America's situation in the world.
Americans ask me all the time if I'm scared to be travelling in South America. I found it way scarier to walk around certain parts of downtown San Francisco or Chicago at night than I did even in downtown Recife (apparently one of the most dangerous cities in South America) – because at least there are people there. And I find it pretty scary to be in a country where pretty much anyone can legally buy a revolver.
In fact, after travelling the world for 13 years, America is the only country I ever got something stolen from me!
America tends to have a skewed view of itself as “the land of the free” – it certainly was… 200 years ago, in comparison to other western countries. (You know, forgetting the problems everywhere had at the time like no freedom for certain ethnicities or genders…) But nowadays, most of western Europe is as free or more free, with opportunities for people at all levels. America is indeed a better place with a higher standard of living than most of the world, but free speech and tolerance for all is the norm in the western world as a rule, not just in America.
There is no best country. But those who go on about how America is number one, tend to be those who have never travelled or are lightly travelled.
How about saying America is great or even… “awesome”? I think patriotism is an excellent quality to have, and we should all be proud of where we were born. But nationalism (believing other countries are inferior) is a terrible quality.

What I love about Americans

Since this post has been a bit of a downer, I will balance it out a bit by saying what I love about Americans ๐Ÿ™‚
While I complained a lot here, as I mentioned in the intro, I do live here now. There are lots of things that I prefer about the US, including:
  • Particular people I love. As well as my wife, I've made some lifelong friends who don't have any equivalents anywhere else in the world. America is a unique country for sure, and that means that it does indeed produce some exceptional people.
  • Work ethic: This is certainly a negative when it contributes to your stress-levels and quality of life, but ultimately some of the hardest workers I've ever met are Americans. They achieve more than their associates in other countries would. This is a tough one because life is just better when you stop and smell the roses, so it sucks on the individual level, but as a whole America has historically achieved some incredible things thanks to this.
  • So well connected: social networking and apps are so well integrated into America compared to other places I've been. Meetup.com is super active, and there is free wifi and apps made for your city nearly all the time. I love how much America has embraced the Internet to so many levels, and I hope we catch up in other countries.
  • Conferences and conventions: while we do have some in Europe, we cannot dream of competing with the states in terms of sheer numbers of people with very specific niche interests gathering together. It's been fantastic for me to attend blogging and travel conferences, and even a Star Trek convention! Even though lots of these do make it abroad, the sheer number in the US is immense, and those in Europe tend to have sprung out of originally American conferences. You have such specific conversations there with large numbers of people that you can't normally do in other countries.
  • Countryside diversity and so much to do: As well as some great people, there are some incredible sites – and you can get a whole world of climates within America. To this day, the Grand Canyon remains one of the most impressive sites I've ever seen. It's also so much fun to visit any city – if you know the right people or even use websites like those I mention above, you'll always have plenty to keep you busy!
  • Open mindedness and diversity: Despite what I've said in this post, America is a very special country with so much going for it! I thoroughly enjoy my conversations with people here, and it's great that freedom of speech is taken so seriously, allowing it to be one of the few places that I could write a post like this and still be as welcome as I am here!
One final thought:
My best friends in the world and my wife are Americans. When I share my thoughts I do it VERY frankly. The cultural issue is that if an American complains about something they presumably hate it, and I have to hear a lot how something I'm just being honest about, but may actually love, is something I “hate” from others, but I'm just sharing my thoughts. Since my style is terribly blunt, you can indeed get the wrong impression that I “hate” Americans from this if you treat it as an American style complaint letter.
The honesty issue is such a cultural difference. My  friends tell me without hesitation if I smell like I could do with a shower after dancing for a few hours, when I went back to Europe recently several people told me immediately that I looked like I was putting on weight, to remind me to take better care of myself, they tell me if I'm being too loud, tell me when something I've created is crap or that I have terrible taste in music etc. – they don't hold back. From an American perspective they are being assholes, but in fact, they are showing how much they care for my well-being. It's constructive criticism. This post is actually because I care about Americans enough to be straight with them ๐Ÿ˜‰
I hope despite the frankness that you'll continue to welcome me here, and if you meet me that you won't remember me as “the guy who hates America”! Of course, there are many many other reasons I love America, but as you can see this post is long enough as it is! I can do much better by having some of you retrospectively look at your culture from a foreign perspective than I can by inflating your egos ๐Ÿ˜‰









Key West Night

I woke Rusty up on my only night off this past week and we got to Key West  around 5:30 in the morning. Aside from a few bodies sleeping in awkward spots, like the wall of the library (below) the city was silent and empty. 
Rusty has taken to eating pizza crusts. Perhaps he needs more starch in his diet but he gets down and dirty in Key West, reminding me of the late lamented Cheyenne who was a vacuum cleaner on Greene Street where drunks spill pizza all over the place after they leave the bars. I prefer the lighting effects of black and white at night so I found myself standing around playing with the camera without being in a hurry to keep up with my dog.
This one merited color, a lucky moment of stillness on Fleming Street where the Food Palace hove into view nicely reflected in a puddle that was perfectly smooth. Often the clever pictures require you to be awake, not smart, to snag them. 
I was thinking about the owner of the food store Jimmy Weekley one of two votes opposed to a new park proposed at the south end of Duval Street. On the face of it the proposal to run a dirty seaweed strewn dead end into a park with seating and possibly a food truck (in a town that hates food trucks!) seems like a good idea. A no brainer you might say.  However Weekley and Sam Kaufman were the two city commissioners who voted no to the proposal. The reason as far as I can tell is opposition to the city privatizing the park and allowing the Southernmost House owner to create the park with a million of his own bucks. Key West is having budget problems at the moment thanks to slow Federal reimbursement for hurricane damage and a  million city dollars to create a park seems out of reach. Privatizing a city street seems a dubious precedent to me especially as the neighboring beach is actually public, between Duval and the Beach Cafe. Some citizens complain that several parking spots will be lost as well. That seems less of an issue to me as I'd rather see Duval Street turning into a pedestrian zone anyway. This park thing looks like its leading the city down an awkward path, but they approved it anyway, did the city commission.
The fence around the women's club on Duval continues to provide me cheap amusement. Signs sprout here as long as they are ugly and installed by the owners of the fence...
And this is an empty storefront for a not so recently departed restaurant. Nothing screams welcome to Duval Street like construction crap piled high and dust and filth everywhere. What a mess.
I wish Duval Street were different, thinking back to Pensacola and Palafox Street with local stores, flower planters and clean sidewalks.  Here we are, stake beer and not a power washer in sight.