Observations on America

30 Mar

We recently took a brief trip back to America to do some work on my house there. As always, G was full of interesting observations about America and Americans.

Americans Know What They Like

We were at a Panera for lunch one day when H came and sat down with our food and said, “Americans sure know what they do and don’t like.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I just heard a woman ask for a knife to scrape the icing off her cookie because she said the icing on the cookie was too hard, more like a glaze, and she only liked icings that were soft,” he answered. “In Australia, icing is icing. No one would distinguish between hard or soft icing.”

I never thought about it before, but I guess Americans are pretty particular like that. H is always commenting on how I like things just so and how I get very upset when things aren’t just the way I like them. I’ve always known I was a bit neurotic in that way, but I always figured that was normal because most other Americans are as bad or worse than I am.

The Farmland is Like a Slice of Heaven

Every time H has visited America and we have had cause to drive through vast stretches of farmland, he spends the entire drive staring out the window in awe of the vast fields, the scale of which he had never seen before. This time, he had a chance to see the ground unfrozen and crops starting to grow in.

As we drove through the countryside of the Midwest, he would go quiet for long periods of time. When I finally asked him what was on his mind, he said he found the land truly inspirational and that the original settlers must have thought they had died and gone to heaven after seeing such rich, loamy soil that was being given away practically for free.

America is Built for Cars

When we returned to Melbourne and H drove us home from airport, he exclaimed in frustration after getting stuck behind a tram, “This city really sucks for traffic!”

“You got spoiled in America, didn’t you?” I asked, teasingly.

He had, of course, and remarked on how nice it had been to get easily from one place to another and that no main road in the city was under two lanes, and usually at least three. He especially loved the ring road around the city, the higher speed limits, and the ease of finding parking.

“America is built for cars,” he commonly says to people in Australia who ask him what America is like. It’s usually the first thing that comes to his mind. The wide multi-lane roads and massive parking lots are unheard of in Australia and while Australians don’t seem to mind not having that, it’s easy not to miss what you’ve never had. G said he never realised how bad traffic was in Melbourne until he experienced driving in America.

People Like That Are What’s Wrong With America

Due to my excess amount of luggage (What? I had to bring back a whole stash of Tampax!), we had to hire a taxi van to take us to the airport. Our driver was a stereotypical American, exactly the kind of person I hate. Oh, he was friendly enough, but during the course of our 40 minute ride, the conversation revealed that he was one of those people who was only interested in his next good time. He was overweight, balding, enjoyed his beer, cigarettes, and professional sports teams, and didn’t seem to care about too much beyond that.

H was, as always, exceedingly polite to him, but as soon as we were dropped off at the airport, he let loose about how much he hated people like that.

“It’s people like him who are ruining your country,” he said. “All he cares about is the next time he gets to have some low-class fun. The best thing in life for him is scoring a deal on some cheap beer. People like him don’t pay any attention to real life and your government takes advantage of that.”

Americans Like to Litter

Next time you drive down the freeway, have a look at the median and notice for a moment just how much trash you see there. If you’re in America, you’ll probably see a lot. I notice this isn’t such a problem in Europe or Australia. H is a pretty environmentally conscious guy, as many Australians are, and he was deeply offended and saddened by the amount of litter everywhere.

“Americans are so lazy,” he declared. “What’s so hard about putting your trash in the trash can???”

Church is Kind of a Big Deal in America

In addition to the sprawling farmland, H was also in awe of the constant slew of churches he saw. And it wasn’t just the sheer number of them he found impressive, but their massive size. He hypothesised that American churches must have a lot of money.

As we drove by one megachurch out in the middle of nowhere, I pointed out the stoplight to him and said they had only put in that stoplight because of the Sunday morning traffic, but otherwise it was not needed.

In another area, as we drove through a small town, he counted six churches in four blocks, all different denominations, and wondered how a town that little could support six churches.

“You always read in the news about Americans being so religious,” he said, “but I never realised how true that was until I saw all these churches.”

Back when I was running my business out of a small southern town, I had told him that I did not like it there because the people were not very nice and he had wondered why that was the case. In fact, they had been downright hostile to me and a large part of it was because I did not go to church. You can’t fit in as a newcomer in small town America if you don’t go to church, I had told him. He didn’t believe me then, but I think he understands a bit better now.

It’s always amusing to see one’s home country through the eyes of a foreigner. I know I’ve made a lot of observations about Australia that amuse H just as much as his observations about America amuse me. Being an outsider lets one see things about a place that the locals are often blind to. Part of being a global citizen is, I think, recognising that things or behaviours that you take for granted or assume are normal might come across as eccentricities and oddities to someone else.

7 Responses to “Observations on America”

  1. julienleyre March 30, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    It’s fascinating to see Australia through the eyes of an American. I was particularly interested in your remark about cars. As a continental European and ex-Parisian, I experience Australia as built for cars, and regularly pester about how hard it is to circulate as a pedestrian (I mean, no-one jay-walks, pedestrian lights are really short, and the CBD is not even a 30km/hour zone). But then I grew up in a city that is now launching a “pedestrian traffic action plan”. I love getting that other perspective, it’s really eye-opening.

    • housewifedownunder March 30, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

      Australia is definitely more car friendly than Europe, imo. But as an American who is used to having NO sidewalks or pedestrian walkways or crosswalks or bike lanes or anything, Australia seems like a pedestrian or cyclist’s heaven. Now, I don’t love riding a bike in the CBD, but I do it fairly often and while I occasionally encounter drivers who seem like they want to run me over, for the most part I don’t have a problem with it. It does require a high level of awareness and you do need to ride defensively, but it’s not a total no-go zone. Having been to Paris and attempting to drive there, though, I can see where you get your perspective from!

      • julienleyre March 30, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

        Haha – I had my first ever driving lesson in the middle of the 5th district – and had to negotiate jay-walking grand-mothers, running school-children and a menagerie of pets, all of that in streets marginally thinner than the car I was driving. Maybe that’s why I decided I shouldn’t own a car.

  2. middleagedhousewife March 30, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    “It’s people like him who are ruining your country,” he said. “All he cares about is the next time he gets to have some low-class fun. The best thing in life for him is scoring a deal on some cheap beer. People like him don’t pay any attention to real life and your government takes advantage of that.”

    Wow! G is amazingly perceptive. I also agree about the shamefulness of throwing garbage along the highway. Just keep it with you until you can find a garbage can. We try to live by the Boy Scout code of “leave no trace”. As appalled as I am when I see people trashing our beautiful parks, I have to admit that I was also taken aback when I saw the French throwing trash out of the metro windows when we visited Paris.

  3. Melody May 9, 2012 at 6:54 am #

    You are spot on!… It makes me ill seeing what is going on in America right now.

  4. Amy May 22, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    Geez, another great post! I´m really enjoying reading your blog :-)

    My husband and I met in America many years ago {1994, to be exact} in my hometown. He loves going back there for visits with me (excellent!). By the way, I’m not from the Midwest and have never visited, but you definitely sold me on wanting to visit there one day. We actually hope to do a road trip towards Wyoming on our next visit – Maybe even further now! ;-)

    I understand your point of view because I’ve also lived for several years in Europe, so I can completely get the gist of what you’re saying here – Especially about silly Americans (they drive me crazy at the airports and on airplanes especially), pollution, and the whole knowing-what-they-like (I call that picky). I lived around some Americans in Europe who kept their picky-tastes and therefore never really ventured out to discover all of the good-tasting foods around them. Sadly.

    • housewifedownunder May 22, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

      Thanks, Amy! I’ve been gradually reading your blog, too, and am enjoying it a lot. :-)

      There are parts of the Midwest that are very under-rated. Lots of pretty areas. I’ve driven through about 40 states, and I can’t say that I think any one area of the country has a monopoly on natural beauty or good people. I’ve actually not been to Wyoming, though, but my sister lives there now and she says it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

      Do you find that the way a lot of other Americans behave abroad influences the way people treat you when they find out you are American? I’ve had both good and bad experiences, but on the whole, I have found Europeans seem to have the lowest opinions of Americans.

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