Sunday, March 05, 2006

America the insular

So asked their readers to send in graphical depictions of what they thought Americas views of the outside world were.

Some of them were just silly, some funny, many just stupidly anti-american, but some were actually quite penetrating. I particularly like this one:

And this one, which is rather true in many ways:

Now it's true that many Americans are sadly ignorant of life, politics, culture, and history - of THIS country never mind any other country. Most of us never leave the U.S. excepting short jaunts to Canada (America Light), Mexico (America Dark), and the carribean Islands (America Dark Rum with Coke). Hell, only about 20% of Americans even have passports, and that's an all time high (historically ithas mostly been under 15%).

Why is that? Well, the fact is, we don't need to know, or to go for that matter, in order to have a full, rich, and varied life and exprience many cultures.

Hell a drive through Los Angeles alone and you might as well have visited Mexico, Nicaraugua, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, and Equador - Without those pesky military/communist/fascit dictatorships and all those bribes. Don't even get me started about Miami.

America is a HUGE and varied country. You can't understand that unless you drive across it, spending time in each place you go; then drive up and down both coasts, and again along the misissipi river.

Only then will you get an impression of the vastness of this country.

I've had various and sundry European friends, and girlfriends, and to a man (or woman), they really had no gut level idea of jsut how BIG america was. I went on cross country road trips with a few of them, and the only way to describe it is AWESTRUCK. These are folks who consider a 300 mile car ride a HUGE trip, that you might do once in a few years; and I used to do that every friday to visit a girlfriend.

Americans simply have a different sense of scale than just about anyone else; because although we may not visit many other countries, most Americans (outside of northeasterners, especially New Yorkers) travel within America quite a lot. That jsut isn't the case with msot europeans, or for that matter most Russians and Canadians (the only two larger countries than the U.S.).

I lived for several years in Ireland. The entire island (including northern Ireland) is about 400 miles high, about 200 miles wide, has about 32000 sq miles of area (lots of inlets), and a little less than 6 million people, about half of which live in Dublin and Belfast. If there were good enough roads you could traverse the entire length and width of the country by car in one long day (there arent, so it takes about two days if you're lucky).

Coincidentally this is about the same height, width, area, and population of Indiana, our 38th largest (i.e. 12th smallest), and 14th most populous state.

Ok, but Ireland is a small country, what about the United kingdom (consisting of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland), the third largest and most important country in western europe? 244,000 kmsq, somewhat smaller than the state of Michigan, our 11th largest state. Of course it has a population of almost 60 million, which gives it about the same population as Texas and California combined. That driving test? Yeah if traffic co-operates you can drive from Lands End to John O'Groats in a day.

Ok, how about France? 675,000 kmsq - about the same size as Texas, population, about 60 million again.

Germany? Ok now we're getting somewhere - yep, at 375,000 kmsq were getting to... Montana. Almost exactly the same size.

Now germany has a population of about 80 million, which is Texas, California, AND New York combined. It's actually about 5/16th or the population of the U.S. for about 1/16th the land area (9.6million km sq).

Ok, so we get the point America is big, what does that have to do with anything?

Well, it means that it's understandable why many Americans don't know all that much about the world outside our borders. There's so much INSIDE them, that most folks never have time to learn. I don't think that's a great thing, but it is an understandable thing.

Guess what though, most other countries are no different. I've lived in six different countries, and travelled to 40 different countries; and all the average citizen anywhere knows about America is what they see on imported television shows.

Which is a frightening thought if you actually watch any TV; because just how representative of our country are they?

The English in particular are frighteningly ignorant about even their closest neighbor Ireland. Many english dont even realize that the Republic of Ireland is a separate country; or that if it is, what parts aren't in the UK and what are.

I was in Luton airport and this lovely young airhead was handing out credit card offers. I told her "no thanks, I live in Ireland" and she said "Oh we cover Ireland", "even the republic" "Oh yes of course". She was cute, and the offer was a decent one so I asked her for more info, but said "Well I live in Dublin, do you cover Dublin" she says "Oh of course, that's in the north right?".

Now Dublin is one of the oldest cities still standing in Europe; the capital city of the republic of Ireland, and is in the news in the UK almost as frequently as London is, and probably more so than Cardiff or Edinburgh. It is very definitely not in northern island.

Postal mail from the UK to the Republic of Ireland is still most often addressed to "Eire" which hasn't been correct for 85 years. Ireland outside of dublin (where folks often go for a relatively cheap pissup on the weekend) is assumed by the common englishman to be some backwater dump full of bogtrotters, turnip carts, and gypsies.

Much how many Americans view Alabama for example.

Don't even get me started on the Germans of the French. Hell the French are so snotty they don't even know about other regions in their own country; and the Germans... oy, Bavaria, Saxony, Prussia, and Wurtemburg, might as well still be seperate principalities. Hell there has only BEEN a "Germany" since 1871; and large portions of some of the places that were "German" ended up outside of Germany (mostly in France, Poland, the Czech republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, and lithuania). There has never really BEEN a unified germany, since people went from being Swabians, to Germans, to Europeans in one lifetime.

So yes, I'd be willing to bet a higher percentage of these countries populations has passports (actually pretty much ALL germans have them - by law they need to for many purposes - , but very few folks from Ireland or the UK do), but most don't use them much more than Americans do; and I'd be willing to bet more Americans outright have and USE their passports than most european countries.

Not only thatl, but I'd guess the percentage of Americans with an knowledge and interest in foreign affairs and other nations cultures and histories may be smaller than many european countries, but I bet it's larger than most, and by absolute numbers I'd bet it's at least two or three times as many as any european country.

but of course, try telling them that. Hell try telling that to your average liberal...