Things I love about the United States

According to the cliched line from Dorothy, there’s no place like home.  I wholeheartedly agree!

As much as I love to travel and to explore new sights, there’s nothing quite like the relief of seeing the sign “CUSTOMS — U.S. PASSPORT HOLDERS TO THE LEFT,” be it in L.A., Atlanta, or Miami. The exotic and the wild are fantastic, but sometimes I just need home. I’m not as strong as the real nomads, the ones who travel for a living or the real crazies who board a cheap plane just because they haven’t smelled jet fuel in a while and miss it.

So while my spirit is usually sweeping and soaring over some country I yearn to visit, my heart is tucked up, safe and sound, with my family and my home. To me, home is Little Rock, Arkansas. When I tell that to other Americans, they say, “I’ve never been to Arkansas before! Is there anything there?” The first couple times I heard that it was just a response I didn’t react to. Now it feels like I’m a zoo animal. So I try not to tell too many East Coasters that on the first meeting. Do you ever feel that way? Get all prickly and defensive if it sounds like someone is about to trash-talk your hometown? It’s perfectly okay for you and your friends to complain about its problems, but a stranger? Especially one that’s never been there? No way.

To an extent, I feel the same way about my country. I have a lot of complaints about how we do things. I have a lot of issues with the government’s foreign policies, and I crack just as many jokes about uneducated ‘Mericans as anybody else. But it’s my home, my home, goshdarnit, and I love it. The other places are nice, and I would love to live abroad. But I will always be an American. I guess that makes me a little bit of a nationalist, despite my theoretical international relations leanings toward liberalism.  So what are some of the best things about hte United States, in my opinion?

1. Cold things

Air conditioning. Ice. Ice cream. Frozen cakes. All of these life-giving things emerged from the United States. God bless our ancestors’ ingenuity. Life just wouldn’t be the same without these things. In fact, when ice was all the rage in the early 1800s, an American penned his British friend and said something along the lines of, “whatever else you hear about Americans, remember the ice!” (Read Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Private Life for the full story.) The industry started here, and it’s still the strongest here. There’s nothing quite like an ice cold Coke or some ice cream on a hot day, and they serve the best right here in the States.

2. American Values

People these days love to hate on the Puritans, most of our ancestors, but seriously, we should give those people a break. At least the first generation of them. I think sometimes students come away from reading The Scarlet Letter and believe that Hawthorne, too, was hating on his grandparents and great-grandparents. While this first wave of immigrants was definitely a harsh crowd, they kind of had to be. What type of person is going to take a 3-month voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, facing death, and decide to “start afresh” in the middle of the wilderness with hostile Indians and absolutely NO support system? Only some tough people, and that’s who most of us come from.

Hawthorne was not always so critical of his ancestors. In fact, he had a lot of respect for them for simply surviving on their own for a hundred or so years. Yes, they had their faults, but it was probably the times that were bad, not the Puritans.  “They were the best men and women of their day,” he wrote of the early Puritans. “Happy are we, if for nothing else, yet because we did not live in those days,” he wrote in Main Street, “Let us thank God for having given us such ancestors; and let each successive generation thank Him, not less fervently, for being one step further from them in the march of ages.”

Our Puritan great-great-grandfathers still impact our lives to this day, as we pass on values to our children just as we received them from our parents. The most prominent American values that set us apart from the rest of the world (not saying other countries don’t value these things, just that we really harp on themare self-determination and a strong work ethic. There are others, like entrepreneurship (the ice, remember!), but these two stand out to me. The Puritans believed in their right of self-determination, or of agency, to such an extent that they braved all these indomitable things to seek freedom of religion, freedom of beliefs, and liberty in the New World. They weren’t perfect, but they did a lot with very little given to them. From them we have congregational churches, democratic town councils, and the ideas of popular sovereignty.

From the Puritans we also have the idea that we should “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.” Man, those Puritans were hard! They worked day in, day out, knowing that there was no “help.”  They banded together to help one another, but usually, if something went wrong, thei ndividual had to fix it. Without help. And work really hard to get it fixed. From our Puritan forefathers we learned to put in long hours at work, to be productive members of society, to not assume the government will fix the problem, and to enjoy our independence. The United States has the highest GDP per capita in the world, and in large part that is because of the values handed down to us.

Other countries have important values and great ideas, too. Every country does. But I really like ours.

3. Friendliness and customer service

I tried to return a shirt once at a store in Belfast. The clerk frowned at me and took her own sweet time getting the paperwork. I left feeling surprised and a little offended. Then I bumped into other Europeans who sang praises about the U.S., and all of them involved, “You’re all so friendly! I love shopping in the States!”  It turns out the idea that the customer is always right is pretty much only believed in the U.S.  This is good and bad, I suppose. I have been sorely mistreated in all of my service jobs by people who forget that I’m a human, too. But one of the great things is how nice and friendly everyone is. Sometimes it puts foreigners on edge (“Why do they smile when riding the subway?!”) but I greatly appreciate it. I can strike up conversations with strangers and am usually welcomed. As long as I treat the service person with respect, I know I’ll get good service without eye-rolling. It’s pretty awesome.

4. Multiple options for everything

Sometimes shopping can be overwhelming by choices, but other times it’s a godsend. For people with allergies and sensitivities, shopping in the United States is a lot easier than elsewhere. Buying exactly what you want (shoes, medicine, nails, or anything) is very doable in the U.S. Once you learn how not to be dazzled by all the brands or sizes or colors, you realize that you see exactly what you need. And then you grab it off the rack and run to the check out. Simple. Personalized. Something for everyone.

5. Diversity

Guys, the U.S. is huge. It has a ginormous land mass a hundreds of millions of people in it. It’s up there with China and India in its complexity. Lots of subclimates, ethnicities, values, dialects, political ideas, religions, and foreign languages are here. And that’s what makes the U.S. beautiful. Traditionally, we have been known as a melting pot, and I think that’s great. It’s not without its difficulties of course, but it’s something unique and wonderful about us. California is dramatically different than Missouri or Maine or West Virginia. This mosaic of immigrants’ cultures and American culture (which has been cobbled together–a fantastic representation of society forming culture forming society) makes us colorful. Embracing differences is hard. That’s why lots of people are xenophobic or against immigration. There are a lot of issues that the U.S. faces, as a heterogeneous nation, that other countries simply don’t, as homogeneous, from foreign policies, welfare policies, affirmative action, to (what I think is the most interesting, what binds us all together as a united nation.

Many people from other countries are surprised by the diversity in the U.S., and I think sometimes we are, too. Although it’s frustrating and difficult, and we wrestle with it on every level of society, I think it can be one of our greatest strengths.

What are some things you love about the United States?

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