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Reflections upon the USA

Typical Southern child's birthday party bar  

 

 

Introduction

I first visited the US in 1969 to sign a software marketing contract and then rapidly followed that with a 2 week tour from coast to coast (San Francisco – New York) on a market survey for first generation engineering design software. I have made regular visits ever since, rarely missing a year and several times visiting 7 times in one year, including a period of working for nine months in New England.

I have been to the 4 corners of mainland USA, Washington State, Florida, Massachusetts & California, but missed a few desirable bits in the middle, regrettably like Chicago and the Grand Canyon. There is a stark contrast as you would expect between the major cities, such as New York and San Francisco, but an even starker difference with the bulk of the US - the wide open spaces of small town America - such as the area I frequent most now - the South.

A typical spacious yard in the middle-class South, there is a third more house to the left!

The South where everything is Darlin’ and someone’s heart is always being blessed. And I could add that wakes are held BEFORE the funeral, with the body available for viewing and which is invariably, a burial, with prominent decorated cemeteries a frequent sight. The graves are carefully tended and the decoration reflects the season with Christmas meaning changing the decoration before and after the celebrated day.

The South encapsulates American Politics as defined in The Economist on 20 April 2013 - God, Gays & Guns.  Also form that issue the muder rate in the UK per 100,000 people is 1.2 whilst in the USA it is 5.0.

The American Gun Psyche

No writing on this aspect can not mention the terrible mass shootings that have now occurred 4 times in the Presidency of Obama alone.  There are strong views for and against gun control.  In this recent Newtown tragedy the deceased Mother of the shooter had 6 guns, why, with a possibly mental son.  Although I am against guns I can accept a personal protection weapon and a hunter's rifle, but assault weapons capable of hundreds of rounds a minute, no.  Hunters shoot a deer but not mow down the herd.  All the shooters have been young white reasonably affluent kids.  The best psychiatrist's comment I heard was that mass murderers shoot up schools as it hurts their communities most.  There are so many guns in the USA that severe gun control (which is unlikely) will take years to have an impact.  Two million guns sold in November 2012, with more gun sales outlets that McDonald's burger bars.  So it will happen again!

The NRA Conference hel in Houston met in jubilation that even partial backgotund checks on gun buyers had been defeated in the Senate.  The BBC report showed even children of around 10, girls and boys sizing up guns.

A family I know well and who are otherwise reasonable people, but some proclaim that there is in effect a government and press conspiracy and that the guns used to kill in Sandy Hook were pistols not an AR15 – not that it makes it any better.  The heat of the debate on gun controls would make most of the populations of the developed world incredulous.  It is far too complex to set down all the twisted logic here.  The phrasing of the Second Amendment is most vague except in that the US citizen has the right to possess a gun for self-defence.  Protection against what is not defined.  There is undoubtedly a mental health issue involved and also since there are so many guns in circulation it will be a decade and many more deaths before confiscation, even if passed now will have any effect on the 10.000 gun deaths a year in the USA.  Those same family members say that they would shoot down policemen as they enter their property to confiscate any gun that is made illegal.  All this goes back to when the States was a British colony and the supposed excesses of the Government Troops, the Red Coats and troops of occupation. 

And as well, the North should not have won the Civil war and perhpas there should be a re-run!

The more "normal" American Psyche

The American is always a little “ra ra”; excitement and enthusiasm has to be injected into every public occasion. Not always a bad thing, but on morning TV shows from the Rockefeller Centre the crowd has a hysteria more akin to an African or Arab crowd at a riot. News magazine programmes are typified by lots of laughter, carefully displayed legs and big hair dos. Whenever a senior official address the TV he always flanked by other officials looking duly serious.

Graduation is also hyped. I have attended 5 year olds graduating from day school and 18 year olds graduating from high school and I believe there is also another graduation at age 12. In the modern world only the degree graduation counts and the Americans admit they are now 17thin training new science and engineering skills, perhaps their enthusiasm for graduating wanes in their later teens.

Buying hard liquor is available from just one shop in the town. You feel furtive and it looks like an adult sex shop. No alcohol can be bought or consumed in a public place on a Sunday.

The US is the final guardian of our Imperial measure, Inch, Foot, Mile and the Bushel! Not to mention Fahrenheit.

“Guns Save Lives” is a frequently seen sticker on bumpers. It seems most homes have a gun hidden away.

The individual States guard their rights sometimes, because they claim special needs in the most inexplicable ways. In South Carolina motorcyclists do not need to wear crash helmets. Tee shirts and shorts are the order of the day – MAD.

On the social side say, going around shops, American women are happy to make eye contact, whereas UK women avoid eye contact. Could it be that the American female regards hereself as equal to a man! Like the Brits they do walk straight at you, so you have to deviate, but Americans do say "excuse me".

The public respect the military and sow it.  Wish we were as overt about that, Wooton Bassett excluded.

Checks (cheques) are still used for many bill payments and to tradesmen at the door who would insist on cash in the UK.

Patriotism

This strongly prevails I am pleased to say. Honouring the flag and their military and extolling the virtues of their country occur somewhere on the media every day. Would that we did more of that here.

For the South the Civil War should not have been lost and they are different from the Yankees. Yankees are just north-easterners not the whole of the American nation as the Brits think’ just as Americans refer to England when they really mean the whole of the United Kingdom. For some Southern Republican voters they seem to wish to be under the British Crown once more.

The tunes of the UK National Anthem and Land of Hope and Glory are frequently used for processional or ceremonial occasions with different words of course.

Religion

The road I regularly travel for the Interstate to a South Carolina town of over 20,000 widely spread out inhabitants has 17 churches over the 11 rural miles. Each seems to be a different Christian denomination and all set in very small communities.

Conversations on religious matters, such as, how many were in church Sunday? And how is the new preacher doing? Take place at every meeting of friends and neighbours. There is still missionary tendency with many (well at least a lot compared with the UK) going overseas to convert non-Christians.

Politics

For a long time consensus was achieved in Congress, now there is no overlap between right leaning Republicans and left leaning Democrats. So undoubtedly the largest political problem is the functioning of the Congress where there is unusually for the United States an implacably partisan situation which is forcing many issues into the long grass or stalemate. The Repbulicans have more to lose in this. All the demographics are against them in their present mindset. Sad and I should say sa'sd for all of us in the democratic world.

Most of you may know that the concerns of Catholics and Jews figure in the platforms of Presidential candidates and indeed all political candidates for office. Social issues, gays, same sex marriage, abortion and fidelity in public office, feature strongly. But as everywhere else “it’s the economy stupid” which is the main battle ground, followed closely by Obamacare.

Will the unpopular Obama be a one term President? Possibly, but the President is more fleet of foot than his rival and has all the advantages that the incumbent carries.

Health Care

Having mentioned Health Care in the section on the Presidential Race, let us examine it further.

The Health Insurers in both the UK and the USA have a responsibility, which they do not appear to exert, to use their buying power to keep premiums down, by encouraging cost effective quality innovations to treatments and administration. But it is remarkable to note in the hospital blood department of my favourite small town, I, a foreigner can like a US citizen, go in an order from a reasonably priced menu of blood tests and have the results in 24 hours.

Universal Health Care provided by the State is not an issue in Europe. Britain’s NHS, whilst politics can get hot on the fringes, the concept is not in question. It was devised in wartime by a government of national unity to make Britain a better place when the war was won. All the major nations of the free Europe followed with their own versions. And as covered by a recent issue of The Economist so is South-east Asia. At the very leading edge of treatments the USA often leads, but of course it spends nearly twice as much per capita than Europe. But for general all round care Europe is better, everyone gets good care - free.

Whilst the US spends twice as much as percentage of GDP, not everyone is covered. This is slightly misleading since if a patient presents at an Emergency Room they must be treated. But preventative care is often missed by Americans and America has two health problems in which it leads the developed world, drug abuse and diabetes. Both these take a toll now. Drugs on the abuser and often upon the innocent in violence, but it is the availability of cheap fast food on every corner that is stoking the diabetes fire with all its health repercussions. Otherwise intelligent people seem to have a blind spot to the dangers. Large portions in supermarkets and restaurants are embedded into the culture as is the take-away "box", to be stored in the home fridge for a few days and then thrown away.. The Mayor of New York has brought out a new City Ordinance limiting the size of soft sugary drink measures offered for sale in City shops, but he cannot limit the number that a person drinks.

The USA must get better value for its health dollar and reach some political consensus on the basic principles of its national policy.

The diets of many American are poor.  Few vegetables, a little salad and a lot of red meat.  Perhaps less alcohol.  It is not helped my umpteen fast food outlets and “eat as much as you like” buffets. 

Road Habits

The South has many broad 4 lane roads, delightfully unoccupied with vehicles; make driving a pleasure once more. Petrol a factor of 4 times cheaper than ours also helps. This space and freedom has turned many Americans into what I call “lazy drivers”. They appear from a side road with enough space but they then move to the outer lane and proceed at a speed that is lower and sometimes much lower than the generous 35 or 45 limit. It is legal to undertake and that is what you have to do. With many the only indication of a turn are brake lights. Using an indicator is an additional effort.

Vehicles are often left running to keep it cool (or hot). One was left running to keep a shop made cake cool while a visit was made to family.

In car parks I do find everyone is patient allowing you to complete your manoeuvre without pressure. Conversely watching them complete theirs can be a slow business. Not liking using reverse gear is common.

The vehicles are a different mix, SUVs, light trucks, often with a flat bed trailer and larger models of cars, both body and engine size. Small economical cars are more scarce.

You will be struck, to be hoped not literally, by the amount of tie (tyre)* debris on the interstates. Every 10 miles the remains of an HGV tyre lies over the road and hard shoulder. It must be because of the inflated temperature 30C and speed 70MPH. But solvable surely by a great nation for technology!

TV Advertising

There are great differences here as negative comparisons with other products are allowed. The other products can be a rival politician or medication. Medication adverts are very prominent and where we say passively “always read the label” they speak a list of potential and often frightening side-effects.

Finally – the Weather

It is a more predominant part of conversation than even in the UK. The 24 hour Weather Channel focuses on areas close to the individual's TV receiver. Many homes run this channel continuously. The possibility of severe weather destroys any possible enjoyment of a TV show as warnings with a ribbon of textural details scrolls the screen and a blaring alarm closes out the dialogue of whatever you may be watching, every few minutes. Even if the storm is 50 miles away and causes little damage. Safe rather than sorry I guess.

American to English Dictionary 

“Two great nations divided by a common language”

Dirt                       means                       soil

Cut off                     means                     switch off

Check                      means                     cheque

Faucet                     means                     tap

Family Doctor          means                     GP

Hood                       means                     Car Bonnet

Hose                         means                    socks or stockings

Lne                          means                     Queue

Mail                        means                      post

Muns (southern)      means                    months

Pavement                means                     Road surface

Put up                      means                    put away/store

Railroad ties            means                    sleepers

(left the) Service     means                     (left the( Armed Forces

Sidewalk                  Means                     Pavement

Sod                          means                    turf

Trash                     means                      refuse

Trunk                       means                      Car Boot

Tub                        means                      bath

Ugly                       means                      being very frank talking to someone    

Up chuck                Means                      throw up

Visitation                means                     viewing a deceased

Yard                      means                       garden