Friday, January 06, 2006


I of course knew that the impressions I set down yesterday were rather provocative and therefore thought a long time about posting them. Because they had a potential to offend well-justified American feelings of patriotism, I was careful to point out that my generalizations were only that -- ones to which there were plenty of exceptions. A definite omission in what I posted however was that I should have said that I had in mind big-city Americans. Most of my time in the USA was spent in (horrors!) Los Angeles, San Francisco and NYC. I should have added that my experience of small-town America was of thoroughly warm-hearted and genuine people. Unfortunately, however, in most ways it is the big cities that set the tone and have most influence. Only one of the emails I received about the post was condemnatory and it was very ad hominem so I will not reproduce it. Below are however four other emails I received:

1). "Having lived in NYC for 15 some years before returning to New Zealand, I'd have to say you're not wrong. However, I did find upstate NY (rural) people to be far more authentic - as were pretty much all the Southeners I happened upon. On the flip side, I didn't come across many "she'll be right" Americans - most are pretty competitive and believe "good is not as good as better"".

2). "Just read your grafs about phony Americans. I have only met a few Aussies, and I must say they did seem very genuine. I'm not sure where in America you have traveled, but it sounds like you may have been in an urban areas, perhaps in the Northeast, or (shudder) Southern California. Next time, try rural Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, anywhere in the deep South, or anywhere rural or "small town" in nature. Some call these areas "fly over country." Perhaps a better impression will emerge. Or perhaps you have visited such places and come away with the same poor impressions. I'm not sure what to think about that, as I find most rural and small town Americans to be noticeably deficient in worrying over their image."

3). I didn't think this post was pointless at all. Your comments about one of the characteristics of Australians and Americans is straight to the heart of the difference between our countries. I wanted to go to go Australia on R&R while I was in Viet-Nam and didn't get to go. I was finally able to make it almost twenty years later. I finished my assignment on the island of Guam and was going back to the States to retire from the military. Before I came back I took thirty days leave and most of my savings and went to Australia. I saw as much of the county as I could in the time I had but it's the people that made my visit such a memorable experience. I've traveled across most the United States during my military career and I agree with what you say: Americans in general are more concerned with the impression they create. I didn't see that concern at all in the Australians I met in the pubs of Sydney, Melbourne and Adlelaide and played cards with on the train going to Alice Springs. An expression you sometimes hear in the U.S. is "get real"; there would be no use for that expression in Australia.

4). "I have just read your article regarding the problem with Americans having difficulty defining who they are and spending too much time presenting some image of the moment. There is a degree of truth in that statement, but I believe there is a degree of truth in that statement in any society that permits their members to be who they want to be. The real problem isn't their not knowing who they are. The problem is not knowing who they should be.

I had the pleasure of meeting some Aussie sailors in the late 60's when my ship ported in Singapore. I will agree wholeheartedly that Aussies have few inhibitions and are truly genuine. Most of them would rather fight and drink than do almost anything else. I say this with affection as I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The real problem we Americans have is a lack of interest in history and the lessons it teaches because we rely on television entirely too much. I think you will find there is more depth in Americans than you realize when the going gets tough. At home as well as abroad, we also have the tendency to want to be liked entirely too much. As a result we adapt to the circumstances and adopt ideas that may be detrimental to us too easily. Americans are an easygoing lot. That is why we hate wars so much. Wars interfere with a good time. Extreme adversity will however, bring out what is best in American society, which has been the most generous society the world has ever known.

It is true we have a judgmental mentality in America, although that judgmental attitude is tempered with a degree of acceptance that would be totally unacceptable in most places of the world. What you say is true, puritanical restraints create hypocrisy, but as nationally syndicated columnist William Raspberry once noted, "There is something to be said for hypocrisy". What? It acts as a restraint since those at are being hypocritical recognize they are doing something wrong. Where as today, we have few hypocrites and few restraints. Neither is good, but you can't be a hypocrite unless you have values".


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