A Guest Post From Kate Paulk

*Kate writes about acculturation.  I find this post fascinating because some of her experiences are the opposite of mine.  I have found that with the exception of a generation or so, Americans are less worshipful of the external marks of success than other people and more likely to tell people to take authority and shove it.  I wonder if the difference is where Kate comes from, or just the fact that she came here almost twenty years after me, and whether we’ve changed that much in that time.  I’d like to say the TSA is not something I’d have expected us to swallow for more than a few months, in dire emergency.  Perhaps we’re being boiled very slowly.

The only other note on her feeling more Australian the longer she’s here…  I felt like that until I went back to Portugal for three months, about six months in.  And suddenly I felt more American than any American.  This is because the human brain only sees the differences and magnifies them.  Of course, now I am American in a way I was never Portuguese.  You see, I actually believe in the founding principles.  There are still a few of us…*

So, Sarah wants me to guest here, and she’s given me free rein to rant… er, write whatever I want. MWAHAHAHAHAAAAA! (Um, oops. Let the mask slip a bit there).

Anyway, a couple of weeks back I was ranting over at Mad Genius Club about culture and how various things affect it. Kind of sideways, since I was actually saying how there’s no such thing as the Great American Novel, but still, a lot of things go into what a culture looks like and they affect the way people look at things in subtle but important ways. Or, to use the fancy words, culture is where the world-view comes from, and that affects the paradigms a person recognizes.

I make a pretty good illustration of this. I might have been in the USA for going on ten years now, but I’m still thoroughly Australian. I may never be anything but Australian even if/when I eventually take citizenship. It’s not that I don’t like the USA and its principles, it’s more that the more I live here the more I realize how Australian I am in everything except the beer. Hell, despite not ever being much interested in sport, I find American sports incomprehensible, but I’ll cheerfully watch the sports Aussies obsess over.

And one of the regular complaints from Australia is how much the place is being “Americanized”. What I’ll call for the want of a better term mainstream American culture is superficially very similar to mainstream Australian culture. The differences don’t seem to be particularly important – to the extent that when I moved here to get married, I naively expected the USA to be like Australia only better.

Well, no. It’s not. It’s different. Some things are better, some are worse, and some are just plain baffling.

One of the first things that I noticed was how much more Americans generally trust those in authority. To this Aussie, that’s plain weird. Australia got its start as a convict settlement where most of the convicts were petty criminals or political prisoners, and their overseers were the dregs of the British Army. The New South Wales Army Corps was where the British Empire dumped the soldiers who were too much trouble anywhere else – so those convicts in a place that was alien and upside down (they had no idea seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere, which nearly starved the settlement) were stuck with brutal and incompetent overseers. Their religious guidance such as it was came from the “Flogging Parson” who was notorious for trying to save their souls on Sunday and beat the life out of them the rest of the week.

No surprise, Australians generally have a deep distrust of anyone in authority, and tend to believe that not only does power corrupt and absolute power corrupt absolutely, anyone who seeks power is either already corrupt or highly corruptible. In short, all politicians are lying bastards and so are all bosses, union leaders and other such sorts, and the only way to keep them half-way honest is to stay on them like flies on shit. (I should probably add that Australians typically don’t regard most of the four-letter-word family as swearing. Or a lot of other language that gives Americans the vapors. As for politically correct language, it generally takes less than 24 hours for the current PC-phrase-du-jour to be used as an insult. Australian English is extremely contextual.)

Add to that a country where damn near everything can kill you – Terry Pratchett’s scene in Last Continent where Death starts by asking for a list of dangerous animals and plants in XXXX (Which is actually an Australian brand of beer) and gets buried under books, then asks for a list of non-dangerous critters and gets a single piece of paper with the line “Some of the sheep” isn’t really exaggerating. Much – and where the main driver of little things like rainfall is the temperature of the South Pacific Ocean miles away (you know, the thing that drives whether there’s going to be El Nino, La Nina or something indeterminate) and you get a country where people shake their shoes and clothes out before putting them on and assume that anything good is transient and to be enjoyed while it lasts.

It’s built a culture of work hard, do it once, right, then go relax and have a beer. Also a culture that regards failure and misfortune as inevitable because everything really is out to get you. You can do everything right and still get screwed by Australia. But it’s still the best bloody place on Earth, mate, and God help anyone who tries to say otherwise, because Aussies won’t.

You’ll hear people claim that Australians are racist. They’re not. They just sound racist because all the originally racist words end up becoming terms of affection. Or just outright descriptive. An Aussie is not being racist when talking about going to “the chink restaurant up the road”. That Aussie is probably friendly with the people running the restaurant, and has kids who play with the restaurant owners kids regularly. It’s just that “chink” is shorter than “chinese”, and it’s become a generic nickname. All Australians typically care about is whether someone works at what they do, and keeps trying even when the sky opens and the brown stuff falls.

Because one thing Australians do know is that success and failure both have a hell of a lot of luck attached.

From what I’ve seen the USA completely missed the luck factor. The founding mythos isn’t one of injustice from the Powers That Be, but one of religious people ultimately finding the promised land. On top of that, the USA got a truly astonishing collection of intellects in the founders of the nation, which led to the notion that the people in charge were there because they actually deserved to be there.

This poor Aussie very nearly ended up picking up pieces of exploded brain over that one.

American heroes tend to be shot down and discarded as soon as they show any kind of flaw, which is equally mystifying to Aussies. Aussie heroes are the ones who keep at it despite what happens, and despite – sometimes because of – their flaws. The people who get torn to pieces are the ones who make the mistake of trying to claim they’re better than anyone else. The way to be a popular success in Australia is the combination of “I worked hard and I got lucky.”

But then, Americans did get the promised land, in a way. Americans went west and found endless plains of arable land, reasonably predictable seasons, and weather that while harsher than European weather was liveable. Australians found desert. Lots of desert. And floods that covered half the continent with water before disappearing and going back to desert again. Americans found California. Australians found desert that turned into beach. Shark infested beach, at that. Americans got corn. Australians got the most toxic snake in the world.

So Americans had mostly a land that told them if they worked hard they’d succeed. Australians had one that told them they could do everything right and the land would still break them. End result, Americans expect success, where Australians keep an eye out for trouble and don’t trust a bloody thing. The American success story is certain he got there entirely because of his hard work, where the Australian success story is pretty sure the bloke beside him who worked just as hard and failed was unlucky where he got lucky – and tries never to forget that luck changes. (Yes, Australians are inveterate gamblers. So much so that the Australian Tax Office does not classify winnings from gambling as income. It’s a windfall and not taxable.)

Most of all of this was completely invisible to me, until I started living here. You don’t see the world view of your culture until you live in another culture. It’s just “normal”.

Which of course means that writing a culture that’s radically different from your own is an interesting challenge. This would be why not many authors can do it. And why being able to do it is important. Aside from anything else, someone who can get inside the mindset of a different culture can also look at their own culture from that other perspective and see the blind spots.

Not everything is perfect, and the USA has its share of flaws. There’s a difference between acknowledging the flaws and wanting to improve them, and thinking that because it’s not perfect it must be evil (a peculiarly American issue, as far as I can tell). I’m all for the former, but anyone who tries to pull the latter on me is in for some choice Kate-bitchiness.

I should add that the same applies at the every level: personal, family, locality… all the way up the scale. From my perspective the best thing Human Wave offers is the ability to acknowledge the flaws without presuming everything flawed must be evil.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have Evil Overlording to do.

182 thoughts on “A Guest Post From Kate Paulk

  1. Kate’s post is also an example of “things going wrong”. She posted her “rant” twice. [Wink]

      1. Still an example of “things going wrong”. [Wink]

        On the other hand, it was a very interesting comment about differences in culture. [Smile]

  2. Gee, Kate, you don’t have to tell us twice!

    Fascinating. I love seeing the US from the outside, and the glimpse into Australia was good as well.

    1. Thanks – yes, just fascinating, and I agree, I love things like this.

      And count me as one of those who doesn’t think imperfect equals evil (or we’d all be evil, because I don’t know anyone who’s perfect), but yes, too many people seem to think that way.

      1. One of the most fascinating things to me in this vein is to watch foreign films, from Asia especially, that are English subtitled. They drop Americanism’s into their slang speech like we do Spanish and it’s always fun to hear.

        1. oh, yeah. I grew up with the following words mostly entering into Portuguese via spaghetti westerns and spoken as I write them Come-on-ee –> come on. Bickwhite ==>shuddup tankyou –>thank you Pleeze –> please I think there were others, but i can’t now remember. But they’d be sprinkled in at random because they’d entered the language. Oh, yeah for some reason Portuguese ears have issues with fried and friend — one of my friends in high school fought and won calling french fries in a group project menu “Friend Potatoes.” (I was vindicated by the teacher, but still took the hit. I hate group work.) So if a Portuguese says you’re his fried, take it in the spirit it’s meant. I don’t think there’s been cannibalism in Portugal for a couple thousand years at least…

          1. Sigh. I will never hear that Bette Midler song the same way again:

            And I am all alone
            There is no one here beside me
            And my problems have all gone
            There is no one to deride me

            But you got to have friends
            The feeling’s oh so strong
            You go to have friends
            To make that day last long
            I had some friends but their gone
            Someone came and took them away
            And from the dusk till the dawn
            Here is where I’ll stay

            Standing at the end of the road, boys
            Waiting for my new friends to come
            I don’t care if I’m hungry or bored
            I’m gonna get me some of them

            Cause you got to have friends
            La la la la la la la la la
            Friends, I said you,
            Oh you, yeah you, I said
            You got to have some Friends
            Something about friends
            Just right friends
            Friends, friends, friends

            I had some friends oh but they’re all gone, gone
            Someone came and snatched them away
            And from the dusk until the very dawn
            You know here is where I gotta stay
            Here is where I gotta stay
            And I’m standing at the end of a real long road
            And I’m waiting for my new friends to come
            I don’t care if I’m hungry or freezing cold
            I’m gonna get me some of them

            Cause you got to have friends
            That’s right friends
            Friends,….I gotta see my, I gotta see my
            I gotta see all of my friends, friends
            Friends, friends, friends

    2. Well, I’m not capable of seeing the US from the inside, so between those who do and those who see from the outside, there’s a halfway chance of an accurate perspective – if both groups talk to each other.

  3. My hubby was down there (Aussie-land) for a few weeks in a the middle of the desert. When I said that I wanted to see Australia before I died, he said “meh.” He liked the beer, he liked the people, but he was pretty sure there were more ways to get killed there than any place except Africa. 😉

    I like the Aussie attitude. I like what you had to say about the differences between the US and Australia. However, I still think that our best friends are the Aussies compared to other countries.

    Talking about the difference in ideas. When my now sis-in-law married my brother, (she was from Russia), she thought that the streets in America were paved with gold. It was a disappointment to her. We were quite shocked especially when she realized that our family was not rich… just middle class. It shows you how wealth is relative when she thought we had lots of money.


    1. I got the chance for a VERY quick trip to Australia – down from Saigon on an Aussie C-130, two days at their recce base near Alice Springs, and back to Saigon. The Aussie aircrews were fantastic. The food was good. The heat was unbelievable, and the scenery was virtually non-existent. Never left the base, but we did fly over some awesome desert on the way back.

        1. At least in Australia you don’t have to worry about the people trying to kill you. Africa has too many places where that’s an issue, sadly.

          The only place I was ever assigned where people weren’t trying to kill me was England. There they had only marginally hidden contempt. I got shot at in Panama and Vietnam, and the Red Army Faction tried to blow us up in Germany. In the States, it was inebriated rednecks in South Carolina, and in Omaha it was idiot drivers and ice storms. In Oklahoma, it was the weather.

    2. At least in Australia you don’t have to worry about the people trying to kill you. Africa has too many places where that’s an issue, sadly.

      The Aussie attitude tends to be viewed by Americans as cynical and disrespectful, at least at first, although I’ve noticed rural and mid-west Americans tend to deal with it better than the coastal and urban folks. Possibly it’s that the people who call a spade a spade don’t freak at the Aussies who call a spade a fukkin shovel.

      You’re right about your SIL. America is awash in stuff. Which is an issue for me because without constant watching I’d be on one of those episodes of Hoarders, only with books and computer stuff.

      1. Well my hubby is a “fukkin shovel” kinda guy. Plus when I get upset enough to start with the eff’n stuff, he understands and doesn’t try to correct my speech. But he’s crazy retired military, and I’m crazy ex-military. 😉

        1. I don’t swear often these days – even by US standards. Workplace is a tad on the puritanical side of things, so I try to keep it child-friendly as it were.

          It helps that I can cuss something out six ways to sunday without using any “bad words”. ALthough when I do swear, everyone knows I MEAN it, and runs for cover.

          1. Well – to be honest I have to be in a rage nowadays to start with the swearing. 😉 Although I am pretty sure that recently, I may have started on the “bloody” word because it isn’t considered a swear word here.

            1. I admit that I find it more amusing to use priss-speak, especially as cuss words are prone to distract when they ought be intensifying. ‘Sides, these days the f-word that catches the ear is not the one ending -uck but the one ending -udge.

              Any fool can use cuss words, it takes an artiste to truly cuss.

              1. So true RES. I was always in awe of the linguists in our group. They could conjugate the f-words plus they were really good at adding Russian or Arabic to make it sound even dirtier. It was pretty shocking and funny at the same time.

              1. Many years back I read an argument that the prevalence of swear words in English was an effort by Celts to make the English language fit the rhythms of Celtic speech.


                Gimme the wrench


                Gimme the bloody wrench

                are semantically equivalent but the second sounds right to the Celtic ear.

                Law, the crazy things scientists think up!

                1. It does work best when you can get up a rhythm. I’ve been known to leave co-workers staring with a long, long tirade along the lines of “miserable spawn of a useless piece of trash even the tip wouldn’t touch” – and just kept going. And going. (To be fair, this was Microsoft software.)

              2. When I first moved from the city of Philadelphia to a rural community in the mountians of eastern I discovered that they had developed one essential multi-purpose four letter word to an art form which could take ever so many forms depending on delivery — weeellllll SH********T! and here I had thought that we Yankees were so clever at making do!

          2. Heh. The worst I was ever cussed without swear words was by a Catholic Priest in a Monastery. He was VERY unhappy that his printer had been worked on 3 times and not fixed (I found out that the problem was actually his printer port, not the printer).

      2. Probably because I grew up very rural, I view what you describe as the Aussie way of viewing authority as the normal American view, and what you consider the normal American view as those ‘damn city-folks’ view (and incomprehensible).

        Besides, only damn high-falutin cityfolk call a shovel a spade 😉

        1. Only high-falutin’ city-folk cain’t tell the difference ‘tween a shovel and a spade … and use the one for tasks best suited to t’other. Simple rule of thumb: dig the hole with a spade, use a shovel to load the excavated dirt inter your ‘barrow.

          Beware of such folk as cain’t tell the difference, as they are likely to praise the romance of hand-tilling your soil with a hoe instead of turning it with a gol’ durned roto-tiller like any sensible fool.

            1. There is nothing wrong with hos, so long as they work for the customer and are paid for their services. Like artists. But to paraphrase Heinlein, hos — or artists — who require government subsidies are incompetent and should be made to survive on their own..

                1. [Insert old joke about the Union Boss attending DNC demanding his hosts take him to a union whorehouse]: “Actually, she has seniority, so you’ll take her.”

                  There is comedy gold to be mined in descriptions of OSHA regulations and union work rules for the … personal service industry.

          1. Shovel, snow shovel, or grain scoop? Digging spade or cutting spade? Hay fork, manure fork (aka turning fork), . . . Yes, I grew up in a family addicted to gardening, how can you tell?

            1. I bought the square foot gardening book earlier this year, stupidly thinking I would have time with three young kids around. I fully plan on doing some 4×8 beds next year and impressing the children (in the British naval mode).

              1. Raised bed or ground level? Either way, plan to rent a tiller, it’s worth it.

                It is not too late to invest in rain barrels (if you don’t use the contents for irrigation you can always dump it out) or even use the collected water from a dehumidifier (for whatever reason, we found the garage dehumidifier water worked better on our plants than did city supplied (lack of chlorine, perhaps.)

                I also recommend investing in a compost barrel, the kind you can turn. It (reputedly) converts grass clippings, kitchen peelings and leaves into mulch faster than a bin does, and is MUCH easier on your back. If you can find a local stable willing to sell you manure, that is a great addition for a garden bed, although be sure it is well-matured (see compost barrel) before use. If using raised beds, put the horse manure at the bottom so its decomposition warms the soil above it.

                1. N.B. – do not put politicians at the bottom of raised beds, they are a poor grade of manure and fertile only for weeds.

                2. Great advice, backed up by yon book on the shelf, RES, thanks. We’ve got a place here locally that actually caters to raised bed backyard farmers. They’ve got four or five grades of compost (different ages, I think) that they have available in bulk. I’m probably going to do raised bed. I have a ton of yard, but most of it is sloped.

                  1. If you can get it, chicken manure is the best. If there are any chicken farms in the area, you can ask them, they generally have plenty of it.

                3. Eh, check your local and state laws before getting rain barrels and then plan accordingly. Some states cough*CO*cough consider rainwater to be state property and do not allow any form of private water collection without a permit, if at all.

                    1. we wish! If you have a river running through your property, you’re not allowed to “remove” water from it. See, Colorado has sold our water to states down the line, and… no. I’m not joking.

                    2. There is a historical basis for this, covered in a PBS program (Nova? Well before they went off the PC rails) explaining howcome the CO river runs dry before it reaches the Pacific. The reason goes something like this:

                      When the water from that river was originally apportioned (I think this was at the time the Hoover Dan was completed) they made a few slight boo-boos. Such as when calculating the amount of water available for distribution to downstream states (cough*CA*cough) they neglected to discern the river level had been at a 600-year high. Such as building such a huge pocking dam in the first place.

                      You see, there is a trade-off with dams, or more precisely the retained water. If the reservoir is large enough, has sufficient surface area, evaporation of the water can significantly reduce the amount of water retained. (See: Evapotranspiration: the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration from the Earth’s land surface to atmosphere.) Calculations are that three smaller dams along the Colorado River would have supplied as much electricity as the Hoover but with far less evaporation loss. leaving more water for apportionment.

                      Between over optimistic apportionment and evaporation the Colorado River (at the time of this program … mid-70s?) eventually tapers out in Northern Mexico. Along the way it provides water for Los Angeles and San Diego, Phoenix and Las Vegas, as well as Southern California farmers.

                      BTW: Google “co river apportionment”.

                    3. Hmm. I didn’t realize that the source of the Colorado River starts in Colorado on public land. Still, making the collection of rainwater in your backyard illegal seems a bridge to far. Far rhymes with tar. Far also has an “f” in it. There’s also an “f” in feathers.

                    4. You also can’t use wastewater to water your grass or garden, because that’s illegal, too. You have to “return” the wastewater to the system, where it can be purified enough to dump into rivers and streams to meet downriver commitments.

                      There are quite a number of rivers that originate in Colorado: the North and South Platte that empty into the Missouri/Mississippi river drainage, the Rio Grande that dumps directly into the Gulf of Mexico, the Arkansas that empties into the Mississippi, and the Colorado River that empties into the Gulf of California. The state is almost bisected by the Continental Divide. We had poor snowpack this year, which means all those rivers have less water than normal. And yes, some downstream water rights take precedence over people here in Colorado.

                    5. Minor point, Mike: last I heard the Colorado River no longer has enough water flowing through it to reach the Gulf. A few Mexicans were a mite put out about it, too, a fact we Americans should consider when the Mexicans lament their country being too far from G-d and too close to the United States.

                  1. On the other hand, some areas are pushing rain barrels. They have had them made available at a nominal fee through the government here.

                    1. I was just informed that Thurston County Washington has also outlawed rain barrels, bear in mind that this is a county on the coast (Olympia the state capitol is in it) and is next to the Olympic Rain Forest. There is not a shortage of either rain or water there!

                      It is simply another case of government sticking its nose into places where it doesn’t belong.

                    2. Is the tap water provided by a government service? Protecting its monopoly? Maybe they are afraid that people might take to drinking and cooking with the rain barrel water and they want to protect us water that may not be safe. And plants do so much better on water that has not been chemically treated, but who cares — they don’t seem to.

                  1. Just remember, potatoes are cheaper than lemons, and will generate the same amount of electricity. You just have to connect them in series.

                    1. That’s funny, I never saw any articles on that. #2 son and I found it out experimentally, using several different fruits and vegetables. I was rather surprised.

                    2. Too many large rocks in my yard to dig holes by hand, so I had to make do with the kind you get from the grocery store.

                      Besides, I think Joe Biden would be considered a… oh, crap… the term for something that draws electric is “load”… Joe Biden is a load! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

                    3. Story about one former Australian Prime Minister known for his caustic insults…. he goes to the Parliament cafeteria and orders roast beef. The server asks “What about the vegetables?” He looks at his cabinet members and says “They can order their own meals.”

                1. There are rumours that you can buy tomatoes in grocery stores. Lies. People will tell you that sweet corn can be bought at a grocery store. Fraud. Some people even claim that sweet peas can be bought at the grocery store. Infamy. Do not believe them. Do not allow your children to believe them. Do not fall prey to the agro-industrial complex.

          2. Don’t get me screeching about Mr. College Course Professor who was all about his fantasy of working on the farm fields and having his lovely wife bring him lunch so they could have sex outside.

            Just… don’t.

            I wish we could’ve shipped him to Australia. Give him a farm there.

              1. I often wonder where the sex in the hay myth/fantasy started. It shore didn’t git started by anyone who ever bucked bales!

                I take that back, it’s possible it was started by a farmer, but somehow along the line the blanket/canvas tarp got dropped from the story.

            1. Queensland perhaps, I hear that it has the greatest variety of poisonous critters, slithers and insects.

              1. And biteys. Queensland also has saltwater crocodiles (of Steve Irwin fame – his zoo is about 90 minutes from where I grew up, and the ones in his shows are the MIDDLE SIZED ones. They don’t piss around with the big boys) which will periodically decide to take a stroll down the main street of town. That will shut down a mid-sized city (Australian standards, about 100k population) until they can convince the croc that he really doesn’t want to sun himself in the middle of the main street.

  4. I will disagree with you about one thing Kate. Most Americans, or at least most of the ones I know, Think politicians are corrupt, well except for their pet favorites of course. It never ceases to amaze me that someone can acknowledge that politicians are corrupt, and experienced ones are worse, but still vote to reelect the pieces of filth.

    1. Paraphrasing the great American wit, Bugs Bunny: She don’t know us very well, do she?

      Watch this clip from Preston Sturgess’ masterpiece, The Great McGinty and tell me Americans trust politicians: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fe6pme24lCI

      Check out Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or Meet John Doe, or check the lyrics to Tom Paxton’s Daily News or What Did You Learn in School Today?:

      What did you learn in school today,
      Dear little boy of mine?
      What did you learn in school today,
      Dear little boy of mine?
      I learned our government must be strong.
      It’s always right and never wrong.
      Our leaders are the finest men.
      And we elect them again and again.
      That’s what I learned in school today.
      That’s what I learned in school.

    2. Oh, Australians think their pet favorites are corrupt, too. Just either aimed more or less in the right direction, or smart enough to avoid doing anything too crooked.

      1. In Louisiana there is a saying, ‘He may be a crook, but at least he’s our crook.’ I first heard this after Gov. Edwards, former Louisiana governor was convicted of criminal behavior. Heck, when Gov. Edwards was campaigning his former Republican opponent who, having been eliminated in a run off, supported him against former Klansman David Duke, came up with the following campaign slogan for him: ‘Vote for the crook — it’s important.’

        1. The Oz preference is for an honest crook. The one who’s openly crooked and everyone knows which way he bends. The ones that pretend to be straight are the worst.

    3. Ah, but see our pet favorites are usually corrupt also, but are either better than the alternative or are at least corrupt in our favor. For example our local state representative (for 20 years, he lost the last election) I knew personally. He was as crooked as they come, a real ***hole and I refused to do business with him (because I did once and he crooked me out of money) BUT, he made no bones about the reason he went into politics was to protect his private interests, since those interests aligned with mine he got my vote every election.

        1. The favorite in my family was either “he couldn’t lie straight in bed” or “could go through a corkscrew without touching the sides”

  5. Having lived for at least a year in England, Germany, Vietnam, and Panama, I’ve had that “outside look” at our country several times. One of the most amazing things most Europeans find about the United States is how big it is, and how few neighbors it has. Trying to explain that Russia was closer to where I was living than my home at that time (Denver) was to where my parents lived (Louisiana), was next to impossible. You also get some weird questions, such as, “You live in Denver? Do you have a horse and a six-gun? How many men have you killed?” There are also comments, such as “Our Alps are taller than your Rockies.” When you explain that in Colorado alone, there are 44 mountains over 4200 meters tall, they look at you like you’re telling the biggest lie in history. When you tell a Brit that it’s farther from El Paso to Orange, Texas than it is from Truro to Land’s End, he can’t believe you. I won’t even BEGIN to talk about politics, military, or economics. Tell a Brit or a German you live in a middle-class neighborhood, and the houses all are about 1200 square feet, and he thinks you live in a mansion.

    1. One of the most amazing things most Europeans find about the United States is how big it is

      Back in my radio days, my partner and I were interviewing Space Hog’s (Brit alt-rock band) Antony Langdon. When I asked him what he’s noticed most about the U.S. now that he’d had a chance to really visit, that’s exactly what he said…”Everything’s so big in this country. The food, the theaters, even the dentist bills!”

      JJ, my co-host, asked him what he meant. Seems he had a crown replaced a few days before the interview and couldn’t believe the bill was $2000. “Back home in Great Britain, it’s free!” he said. To which I replied, without a second’s pause, “Yeah, but they’re used to fixing teeth in England.”

      Everyone started laughing hysterically, including Antony, who said, “You know, you got me there, mate. Being a dentist in England is like being a bus driver.”

      I’ve still got that audio, I think.

      1. Americans have no idea how big America is. I once corresponded on line with a group of people, including one of whom who had lived all their life in LA. They were complaining about over-population and over-crowding. I told them about driving trough the panhandle of Oklahoma. (The Daughter’s name for Oklahoma and the great plains is: miles and miles of miles and miles.) I described driving on a nearly empty highway where there are abandoned houses to be seen. The person from LA simply asserted that it was empty waiting until the mall was built. 😉

        I wondered what they would have thought of the next day’s largely empty drive, which included the edge of the world’s largest inland salt marsh?

        1. I grew up in and around Sacramento, CA. Even there, when I heard someone talking the overpopulation line I would look around and ask myself “Is he freaking nuts?” Sure, there were lots of people in town, but I had taken enough trips through the country to see how much empty space there was around us. And that’s without mentioning the trips east through the world’s biggest parking lot (aka Nevada). The only people who actually think that the world is overpopulated are ignant (sic) city boys.

          1. LOL – what you calling a parking lot – 😉 Umm… yea, well, we have been through Sacramento many times and it is in the middle of farm land… lots of farm land still. So yea … Unfortunately for NV and the rest of us citizens in that fine state, the federal gov. own most of the State.

          2. I don’t know, I would call Sacramento a parking lot long before I did Nevada. You can at least drive above parking lot speeds in Nevada 😉

            1. Yep – most of the rural highways are 65 mph and the freeways except in town are 75 mph. Come to Nevada and drive our roads. They are well-maintained and fun to drive just watch out for the rurals.

    2. RIght now my day job includes reading letters written by a British naval officer to his two sons who were hunting buffalo in Texas in the late 1870s. The father is rather concerned that the Bannock and Shoshone Indians in Oregon will attack the buffalo hunters, and could they just get a Gatling gun? The Apaches in Arizona Territory also worry him. And yes, when I was in Germany I got asked if we owned oil wells and horses. And people expressed great concern about the lack of trees in my pictures of the house.

      When I visited Australia, people were disappointed that no one in the family had a ten-gallon hat – we’d all bought Akubras after we arrived in Melbourne. (Still prefer Akubra to Stetson).

      1. Recommended commentary: read (or better yet, albeit far more difficult, see a performance of) Tom Stoppard’s play(s) Dirty Linen and New-Found-Land — the second item a play within the first and displaying an average Brit’s view of the vastness of cliches that is the United States.

    3. Oh, yeah. I tell Americans that to go from Brisbane to Cairns is roughly equivalent to mid-Carolinas to the edge of Maine, distance-wise. But it’s all the one state. Like rural and western America, most Aussies talk in travel time, not distance. Distance is meaningless because it’s either very large or there are reasons you can’t go at a decent speed.

        1. Upper Canada distances aren’t that different from US distances – it’s just that in the US there’s usually a LOT in between. Oz and northern Canada there’s just lots of nothing much.

          It’s dangerous to drive not because there’s anything particularly bad about the roads but because it’s so monotonous that you can hypnotize yourself.

        1. Yep. I might live in PA now, but I’m still in the habit of everything as time. And of course, 2-3 hours driving time is “only” 2-3 hours away.

    4. Somehow I missed Mike’s post the first time through.

      I was sitting on a stone wall next to The Daughter while we ate our lunch at Craggy Gardens overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway one hot summer afternoon. Next to us was a couple from England who were visiting Asheville. They struck up a conversation, and they asked where we from, how far it was. I explained we lived a bit more than two and a half hours from Asheville. Finally they inquired where we were staying. When I said we were day tripping, had come up that morning and would be on the Parkway for the rest of the day, going home that night they were shocked. And all of this kept us well within the western half of one state. One wonders how would they take the scale of the eleven states that are larger?

      1. As the saying goes, in England 100 miles is a long way, and in the US, 100 years is a long time.

        1. Like. I will remember this. I come from Philadelphia, which, in this country, is pretty old. I knew a house which is still in use that was built in the 1600s, possibly the oldest in the area. When in England (and Japan) I visited places far far older and also still in use. I suspect there is quite a difference in how you view yourself in human time when a tower built by the Normans is a regular part of your scenery.

          1. the slum where mom grew up (she came from decayed upper class. Nothing decays as fast or as far) still had, standing, an insula. For definitions of standing. Still inhabited by humans, too. For a given definition of humans, that includes “feral”

  6. The idea that all flawed leaders must be evil only applies to Republican candidates for high office, BTW. Democrats can rape women, drown women, loot widows & orphans pensions and (according to the MSM) it is only because Republicans are so tight-arsed and hypocritical.

      1. I think that JFK said something about running for President because he didn’t trust anyone who would want the job…

          1. Tradition has it that of all his boys JF was the one who actually argued with old Joe. (Bobby probably simply had a deaf ear when it suited him.)

              1. Funny you should mention, for the final exam in a college course on Japanese theater I wrote a Noh play called Teddy Under the Bridge.

    1. Weirdly, I got the impression that their flaws can’t be acknowledged because they’re the good guys so they MUST be perfect. Seems pretty dumb to me. They’ll all misbehave unless constantly watched.

      1. hear! hear! –at one time I wanted to go into politics and then I decided that I really hated playing with corrupt people. Corruption imho can taint people by just living in Washington DC. I have seen good people go bad from the pressure of living in a political city. (Peer pressure).

        1. Agreed. If you have to sit on your conscience for too long, it shuts up. Things get ugly after that.

          1. In my last duty station in the Navy, there was this pompous young man in the barracks who was finishing his service. I always found him a little smug, better than thou, type. Anyway, when he was ready to leave his father sent him a letter saying that they had a political office ready for him when he got off the plane. I guess his family ran the campaign before the boy got home. His family were one of those political families. He was showing this letter… really excited. It was the most emotion I ever saw on him.

            Anyway, he did his Navy duty so he would have the first check in his political career (some Southern State, I think). I still find that offensive… POLITICAL families? grooming children for political service? It was a matter of power and control imho.

              1. I am NOT that old… and no 😉 Except for that one incident, I was never in his circle of his friends so I just don’t remember his name. I liked the Navy uniforms because they made everyone wear a nametag. 😉

                1. Point is, there once was a time in this great land when the children of the upper class were expected to serve their country in time of war, and dismissed should they be perceived as shirking that duty.

                  It probably hails back to the English patents of nobility being awarded to the biggest & baddest, those who had demonstrated their ability to protect their liege men.

                  1. Probably – I didn’t give a d*mn as long as he did his work. He was not in my shop so I didn’t worry. I did have the grandson to a tire company magnate in my shop. It was awful that many of the people in the shop and the leaders of the small company would fawn over him.

                    We used to talk once in awhile. He asked me if I was happy. I said, yes. He was surprised because it was obvious that I was living off of my salary and nothing else. I told him that happiness came from the satisfaction of knowing that I had done a good job,

                    BTW his grandfather had a rule that if his children and grandchildren wanted to inherit that they had to either go to college or go into the military. They also had to stay in those places for a minimum of four years. It surprised me that in electronics there were many young men who were heirs to fortunes who enjoyed being in the Navy. We had one young man whose family told him they would disinherit if he didn’t get out of the Navy. 😉

                    As for the heir of the tire magnate? He would argue with me every time I saw him, that money could get you so many things, thus it made you happy.


  7. I believe that Sarah has a point about at least part of the difference being when they each came to America. When I was growing up, Politicians were viewed with nearly the same opinion that Kate describes. Also, it seems to me that the acceptance of Politicians as leaders tends to be more prevalent in the cities, where there is already less tendency toward individualism than in less-urban areas.

    Then, over the last 50 years or so, the schools have started teaching us to trust the people in power, from teachers to police to lawmakers, and the change has really started showing in the past 20 years or so. Now, far too many people look to the Government to provide things or fix things, and if you expect Government to do things for you, you pretty much have to trust them to do it.

    1. Thanks, Wayne (and thanks, Kate, for the thought provoking and insightful GP) for bringing out a point I was just contemplating: America has been under assault by the Forces of Evil for a prolonged period (I leave it for other venues to discuss just how long *cough*Wilson*Dewey*cough* ago the corruption began), at the very least since the end of WWII. Because few dared to confront us directly, American’s eagerness to be liked, willingness to entertain novel ideas and worship of progress has left the culture highly vulnerable to subversion.

      1. If you want barely literate button pushers, the public school system is perfectly designed. If you want anything else, you’ve got issues.

    2. Good point: if you expect Government to do things for you, you pretty much have to trust them to do it.

      One of the strengths of America has (had?) long been that the government’s ability to muck with your livelihood has been highly limited. Government corruption was expected and tolerated because the cost was slight. Taxes were low, regulation limited and bribes reasonable.

      You don’t tend to notice the camel’s nose when it first enters the tent. Nor the neck, especially if it is very long. It is only when you start getting the hump that recognition dawns.

    3. YES on teachers and police. And as always, establishment publishing moved in line with them. One of the reasons they eliminated cozy mysteries (which, of course, came back as craft mysteries, because you can’t suppress a market) was that “Police are PROFESSIONALS. You can’t disrespect them by having AMATEURS solve the crimes.” It’s a bizarre love of credentialism.

      1. UGH – we were talking about police and credentialing (a friend of mine used to be a police officer). He swears that the credentialing for police is not a high standard any more. Don’t expect the police to use common sense when dealing with the public. Plus many of them are too immature to be in uniform … or at least that is what he said. I have to agree after my run-ins.

        1. The [Insert collective noun] (in many communities) suffer from a push toward diversification that has required lowering of standards (while pretending the new standards are “better”.)

          One is minded of Gloria Steinem’s argument

          In 1995, Steinem appeared on an ABC special with National Review’s Kate O’Beirne. Asked what to do about female firefighters who aren’t strong enough to carry people out of burning buildings, Steinem had a ready, ridiculous answer: “It’s better to drag them out, because there’s less smoke down there. I mean, we’re probably killing people by carrying them out at that height, you know, so — I mean, you know, we really need to look sensibly here at these jobs and what they really require, and not just some idea of what macho is.” Touché. Why quickly and efficiently usher people out of harm’s way, when we can spend three times as much time inside burning buildings dragging unconscious residents by their ankles down a fifth-floor walk-up? Why risk smoke inhalation when you can throw the dice on a cerebral hemorrhage banging your head on every step along the way? Under different circumstances, repeatedly dragging someone down the stairs for no reason other than fulfillment of one’s deranged ideology would amount to nothing less than torture.

          (Frankly, I think she had already been dropped on her head at least one too many times.)

          1. When you’ve worked as the only female in an isolated mining camp where you knew you were screwed if anything serious happened, you get the idea that there are physical limitations. I could not have changed the tires on any of the vehicles I drove. I did haul what I could and didn’t ask for help unless I’d already tried and failed. But the fact is, anything requiring heavy physical labor isn’t going to be something most women can do.

            1. Agreed… I was an electronics technician in the Navy and also in a company and I worked with all males. If a woman couldn’t carry 30 pounds minimum, then she shouldn’t be in that field. I did fire a few women when I was in the Navy because they would bat their eyes at the guys so that the guys would carry their equipment. It used to burn me.

              I found that if I did my job that I was respected by the men. The women who didn’t (or girls) were not.

              1. Yes, that was my experience. If you do the job and don’t complain about it, the guys accept you. It’s only when someone tries to game the system or use the guys that they turn nasty.

                  1. *beth inserts a rant about the societal messages that trade on the idea that guys are there to be used — not communicated with, not be friends with, not be treated as anything more than the ONLY GOAL OF YOUR EXISTENCE (who must be tricked into validating you)*

                    *beth gives up from spitting inability to find words, and just suggests doing a search-engine-of-your-choice verbing on Cosmocking*

                    1. Insert corrisponding rant about women who trick someone into doing validating them and think they have gained anything worthwhile …

            2. This falls unto the self-evident truths bin, aka Things Which Must Be Denied by all right thinking individuals. Because it is easier for the mentally agile to reframe the facts to fit the ideology than t’other way ’bout.

              Equally true and therefore to be denied is that women, unlike men, do not enhance their selection of potential mates by demonstrating the capability of performing heavy physical labor. They enhance their selection of potential mates by getting men to do the heavy lifting.

                1. Besides, if you (a female) went into the Navy to become a Mrs. then you should be “drummed out.” my personal opinion. It really bugs me that females who won’t work take jobs from males who will work.

                2. Agreed – which is one reason they should not be paid to do heavy-lifting, because they will frequently try to shift the work onto others’ shoulders. Don’t set a dog to guard the milk-bones.

                  OTOH, if she wants the job and proves her intention to use her back rather than her backside, I have no qualms about hiring. In no case do I believe it is the gummint’ durn busyness to set my job standards — although they’ve reasonable right to make sure I abide by those I set, and abide uniformly.

      2. Oh, yes. Police are professionals. You just don’t want to look too closely at professional WHAT.

        I came of age in the state and time with the worst corruption in Australian history, where the accepted means of getting the cushy government contracts was to make a large “anonymous” cash donation in a brown paper bag on the state Premier’s desk and where the biggest protection ring was the run the state police department ran.

        I was utterly flabbergasted at the level of open unquestioned corruption that Americans treat as normal business. I still am. Legalize bribery and call it “lobbying”? HELL no.

        1. Have you read Cyril Kornbluth’s The Syndic? Oh heck, ANY Kornbluth, either with Fred Pohl or on his own?

          Of course, our two-party system predisposes Americans to talk about your crooks and our fallible but noble representatives.

    4. Aussies – at least the ones where and when I was growing up and living there – tend to see government as a useful backup and safety net if needed, and otherwise a nuisance to be tolerated and worked around. It’s not quite the “we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us” but there’s an element of it there.

  8. One of the first things I learned as an American living abroad, was to keep my mouth shut and my eyes open. I was around four years old, and was quickly assimilating into Germany/US Army culture. I have lived in 11 countries across the world. I LOVE being an American abroad – with a few stipulations. 1. You are NOT in America, so don’t expect it to be like ‘home.’ 2. Learn about what is acceptable manners in the country you are in. 3. You do NOT have to talk louder to try to make folks understand you, in fact, shut the hell up because you talk too LOUD for most places. It only makes you look like an idiot. 4. Before going to another country, learn all you can about it so you don’t become one of those Americans everyone makes fun of. 5. Get off the tourist path, and get to know the locals. They know where the best food, drink, entertainment, and places to go are in their area. 6. Remember that you ARE an American, and as such, you represent our country. Try not to make a hash of it. 7. Watch your mouth, keep your hands to yourself, and don’t eyeball the local females, it tends to piss off the local males. 7. Try to learn at least SOME of the basic language of the country. Things like please, thank you, pardon me, good morning, hello, goodbye, good evening. It makes you look smarter than you are, and the locals love it. Even if you do butcher the language like I do French.

    I miss living abroad, because I love to learn all about new cultures, people, history, food, and customs. Living in New Zealand was a wonderful two years, and the most relaxed place I have ever lived. Hong Kong was just the opposite, but worth the experience because of the friends I made. Every place I have lived or visited abroad or here in America is unique.

    I often felt different from the folks in my host country. I always have great pride in where I come from and who I am. but I also realize that every nation has something wonderful to offer. Sigh . . . going on holiday to visit isn’t nearly as wonderful as living in a place long enough to learn about it and understand the culture.

    1. Karron–
      I also missed being an American abroad. Since I became ill, I don’t get to travel. I have lived in South Africa, Panama, Japan, and Germany (all military). But, my hubby and I did a lot of wandering around the country. He looks German so the women would talk to him even though he didn’t understand them. 😉

      It was fun. I really miss exploring new countries and cultures.

      1. Cyn,
        Most of my traveling was done either with the military or when we decided to work our way around the world once our boys were grown. I love Germany because it was really the first place we lived very long. I spoke German before I spoke English because our Nanny was German. She would take us to see her parents, whom we called Oma and Opa.

        1. I enjoyed Germany too. I was treated very well there. Plus when I became ill, the German doctors (military doctors didn’t have a clue) diagnosed me and probably saved my life. I have a soft spot for that area.

          1. The one thing I miss most about Germany is the food. Luckily we have a rather extensive German community around here, and I can get what I like best.

            Saturday was my birthday, and DW picked up take-out from the best schnitzel place in Colorado Springs – a little hole-in-the-wall local place that the Germans gravitate to. I absolutely could live on bratwurst, and there’s a local manufacturer that makes the most authentic Hessian-style bratwursts I’ve found anywhere. I don’t miss English food at all. Even fish and chips is over-rated. I do like Italian and Greek cuisine, but most French foods leave me cold. Unfortunately, I absolutely became addicted to cheese in Europe, and can’t afford to support my habit here in the States.

            I learned, in my very early 20’s, that my body does not tolerate alcohol well, and I haven’t had a drink in thirty years or more. What was funny was that all three of my tours to Germany were to the heart of the Rheingau – a major German wine-producing area.

          2. I miss the schnitzel and the bratwurst, but after being in other places, some of their food was bland imho. They had some good ethnic restaurants except for Mexican food. Since I didn’t miss it, it wasn’t a problem. Unfortunately for me, I found out that aged cheeses cause migraines in my poor head. I have to get off of most cheeses except goat, feta cheese.

  9. I’d respond to this post (being an immigrant of 25 years myself), but the response would be twice as long as Kate’s double post.

    One of my South African friends once said of me: “Kim was born an American; he just happened to be in the wrong country at the time.”

    Suffice it to say that apart from beer, biltong and cricket, there’s not a single thing I miss about South Africa. Not. One. Thing.

    1. AWK – not even Table Mountain? I sure loved the beaches of Cape Town. I do miss biltong and I made friends there too. No, I won’t go back… but I do miss the weather and the wine.

      1. No, Sarah. Portuguese rosé wine is one of the world’s finest things ever made. Nothing is quite like it, and “blush” wines are like bat’s pee by comparison. My son and I are addicted to the stuff, the cheaper the better. When the family went to the Algarve a few years back, we brought back a half-case of rosé per family member. (It cost about $0.79 per bottle.) The wine lasted less than two weeks; the only reason we didn’t drink it at breakfast was… actually, I don’t remember why we didn’t drink it at breakfast. Some stupid Puritan thing no doubt. We still miss it.

        As for Table Mountain, Cyn… meh. Seen it dozens of times, BTDT. And after the beaches of the Seychelles… now THAT’S worth revisiting.

          1. All we get is Mateus, and it’s lovely but horribly overpriced. I only buy it for the Son&Heir for State occasions.

              1. Next time I’m in CO Springs, I’ll swing by and take a look. (The Son&Heir goes there once a year to shoot in the Air Pistol National Champs at the Olympic Center, and I might go with him.)

        1. I still remember how the beaches are different colors and where the two oceans meet. It was an experience I will never forget. I have seen the beaches of California and Florida– they do not compare. I do miss the beaches of Florida… maybe some day we will go back there.

    2. Strange how familiar that sounds. My Calmer Half can wax lyrical and wistful about morning in the Okavango Delta (when nothing was trying to kill him), the Skeleton Coast (when only the land was trying to kill him), and some valley named the Vogelgesangvallei in the Cedarberg mountains (yes, I had to ask him how to spell that), where only a leopard was eyeing him with very firm belief about who was where on the food chain.

      But when it comes to the cities, and the people… he rapidly becomes enthusiastic about the wonderfulness of America. Tactful, eh?

      1. Dorothy,
        Incidentally, I intend to reply to last message, but this house is a madhouse through Friday with at least 3 different major events happening on Friday, and then probably very quiet on Saturday as we all rest. I’ll try to get back to you (2) on Sunday or Monday. This has been rather an excess of real life, lately.

        1. Take your time – we’ll be here when you’ve spare time and peace of mind! (And if we’re hit with too much Real Life, it can wait – it’ll all work out eventually anyway.)

      2. Dorothy, the hunting’s fine, but also BTDT. Actually, African hunting has spoiled me for all hunting; after lion, hunting deer is like hunting cows. (My wife won’t let me go to Alaska and hunt Kodiak bears, which is about all I want to hunt now, because they hunt you back. Oh well.)

        1. I like hunting on Kodiak because the black-tailed deer are tasty, tasty critters, and far less tough than your average moose. I hate hunting on Kodiak because all the brown bear on the island think a gunshot means free dinner, so it’s a race to field-gut the deer and get everything offshore in a boat before they reach you to steal your kills and trash all your gear.

          If your wife ever changes her mind, those of us who hunt to fill the freezer will be mighty happy you removed competition from the food chain.

          1. I have friends that hunted deer on Kodiak, they claimed you had a half hour from the time the gun went off to have the deer field dressed and out of there before the bears showed up.

  10. Okay, so Australians have ‘government is evil and incompetent’ and ‘life is dangerous’ where Americans have ‘no external force is really a true threat’ and ‘remember what we are willing to do to our own’? Maybe I’m a bit confused.

    I’ve considered myself to be on the submissive end of the spectrum, for an American, as far as following authority, obeying rules and executing instructions go. One of the instructions I picked up from study and socially is ‘We built this with the expectation that it would turn evil. This will happen, prepare for it, and resist it.’

    1. You’ve got what I got from growing up in Australia pretty well, with a side helping of “There but for the grace of God go I”. From America as an outsider living here I get more “this is the promised land”, “you can do anything if you try hard enough” (with – sadly – the pernicious undertone of “if you don’t succeed you weren’t trying hard enough” in a lot of places).

      1. Well, I do think I can succeed if I make the effort, and that when I am not successful, it is because of a failure of effort and action on my part. I really don’t know about other people.

        On the other hand, instead of a ‘promised land’, I see America as a combination of a ‘temporary aberration that I like’ and a ‘very unusual place as far as being conducive to my survival goes’.

        1. Here’s the key difference: I think I can succeed if I make the effort and I get a little luck along the way. Partly experience, partly the Australian perspective: when you work at it and do everything right, but repeatedly get smacked down by things outside your control, you include “luck” (aka events and other people not doing things that nuke your hard work) in your perspective of what makes success.

          1. A little luck does help. Sometimes you are just in the wrong place or the wrong time. You can build up a thriving business in new and used media, with a warehouse of carefully collected materials, and Katrina hits, a barge gets loose, hits the 17th street levee and said warehouse, your business and all your hard work is underwater.

  11. Damned well written. What you said about Australians also applies to Canadians. We have a lot of things in common with the United States, but we are different.

    One of the local magazines did an article about the differences. The picture above the article showed a guy in ratty shorts drinking a beer (the Canadian) and a guy in a suit, with a tie that was damned near cutting his neck off (the American).

    That picture was a simplified attempt to show the differences, but it did a really good job.


    1. Wayne, not all of us are like the guy in that photo. The next time I wear a tie will probably be at my funeral, and against my wishes. I’m with Prince Henrik of the Netherlands – it’s a “snake around my neck” and I refuse to wear it. My facebook photo is at my daughter’s wedding. You’ll note – no tie! BTW, I also don’t drink beer… 8^)

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