The attack on America

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The cover of a Norwegian newspaper the day of the election. They both vowed to make America great again. Who would be included in this America?
The cover of a Norwegian newspaper the day of the election. They both vowed to make America great again. Who would be included in this America?

I have criticised the U.S. government when I feel that it is justified, as I have my own government. I criticise Norway more, but I don’t think I am anti-American or anti-Norwegian, as some wrongly label it. This is what democracy is about, and it would be something entirely different if voicing an opinion was wrong. The alternative is to never question the decisions the politicians make on our behalf, which is hardly likely to produce a healthy democracy.

Criticising the USA is a popular sport, which is understandable. Decisions made in Washington DC will have consequences for the whole world, both good and bad. It is possible to go too far, though, or to focus on the wrong issues. I recently came across Benny Lewis’ post 17 cultural clashes this European had in America, and by America he doesn’t mean everything between Alaska and Chile (+ a few island north and south of the continent). He means the USA of course, and that’s where he scores one of his minor points. America is more, or as comedian Judah Friedlander puts it in a Netflix special: America is the greatest country in the USA.

I’m not going through the whole list, but would like to comment a few. I encourage you to read the rant yourself. The third complaint on his list is that smiles mean nothing. Americans smile all the time, according to this Irishman, so you never know when they mean it. I don’t know what kind of Americans he has encountered, but it’s probably not that simple. I have almost 50 years of experience being a Norwegian in Norway, and during the 15 years I have lived here with my African-American wife I have seen a lot of smiles, as well as backstabbing. Smiles don’t mean more here than anywhere else, and I probably wouldn’t find more genuine smiles in Lewis’ Ireland either.

His next point is tipping, and I agree that employers should pay higher wages, but when the food is relatively inexpensive I don’t think most people mind giving a little extra. There is not a strong tipping culture in Europe, which makes it confusing, because knowing when it is expected is almost impossible, but Tripadvisor recommends 10 percent in Benny Lewis’ home-country Ireland. Incidentally, this is such a big problem in neighbouring Britain that the government there published a report last year saying that tips should go to workers, not employers. In other words, that hasn’t been obvious to business owners. Is that ok?

The whiny Irish has some points about wasteful consumerism, stereotypes of other countries, always in a hurry, obsessed with money, and thinking America is the best, but are the Americans really the only ones doing this? We all have the inclination to whine. We just whine about different things. Besides, it’s not fair to generalise. There are undoubtedly Americans believing that the military is justified in taking any action, or refuse to act, if that is required to keep America ahead. There are probably a few that would never leave the USA because any other country would be inferior, but I don’t think all 320 + millions of them feel the same.

Besides, we all have some of this attitude. Canadians, Germans, Italians, French, Danes, Japanese and others all believe they live in the best country in the world. They may not be completely satisfied, but when they compare themselves to other countries they probably conclude that life is pretty good. I think my own country has enough bonuses. There are many things I don’t like about Norway, and some of them I only discovered after I got married (there are a lot of smiles that don’t mean anything). The pressure to conform can sometimes be too much for example, but all in all it’s not a bad place.

That doesn’t mean I am not critical, but the goal should be to improve society. I am critical to the naive attitude many seem to have that we should allow unlimited immigration, but the truth is that if too many of the immigrants are refugees, there is a risk there won’t be enough people working. I think people with some sense agree on the main issues, but people are also sensitive to outside criticism. The Swedes don’t like it when we criticise them and we certainly don’t like it when they lecture us on the issues they have so thorughly failed on themselves. The French and British don’t like it when they target each other’s arrogance, and Americans don’t like any European telling them what to do.

Incidentally, you want to avoid using words like anti-American or anti-Norwegian. As Noam Comsky pointed out many years ago the term has been used against dissidents in the old Soviet Union. It basically means that you support democracy. It’s interesting that someone criticising the government is labelled with words used by a dictatorship, and asked to leave the country. That is one of the attitudes one might criticise both America (all of it) and Europe (especially the EU) for. Whether people make sense or irritate me isn’t quite as important as politicians playing a poker game with our lives as the stake.

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