Yesterday we booked flights for our next trip to Paris, England, and the U.S. As I’ve written about in previous posts, we have a global family, and try to see them, especially our aging parents, as often as possible.
We’re not using any U.S. airlines, and a U.S. family member asked if it wouldn’t be best to do so. This same person, before President Obama’s inauguration, said ‘only in the U.S.’ regarding the peaceful transfer of power.
Not Only in America
Am I the only ex-pat who thinks U.S. airlines are not the best in the world? Am I the only one who gets tired of hearing ‘only in America’ with respect to mixed race families, peaceful transition of power, democracy, and freedom?
I think America is a great country. My intention isn’t to bash, though I’ve noticed through the years the first response to criticism from any source is often a howl of, “How dare you bash the greatest country on earth?” My intention is simply to point out there’s a bigger world out there, a world with many great countries.
Some of these countries have superior airlines and infrastructure, and many have a much broader awareness of the rest of the world than exists in the U.S.
Both Clive and I have travelled extensively to destinations in Asia, the U.S., and Europe. We’re not outrageously demanding of airlines, asking only for:
· efficient check-in and boarding
· basic pleasant service
· cleanliness of seating sections and loos
· edible food
· decent in-flight entertainment systems, not necessarily state of the art but at a minimum, screens on the back of every economy seat; i.e. not dark ages (as mentioned regarding United Airlines in my post Travel and Books, Part 1)
U.S. airlines lag far behind those of Asia, Australia, and Europe. Notwithstanding everyone has a war story for any airline, broadly speaking there is no comparison of any U.S. airline to Singapore, Malaysian, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, British Airways,
There are magazines and websites devoted to in-depth airline analysis. A short Economist article on 2 February offered a comparison between recent economy flights on Emirates and US Airways (with appropriate admiration for the US Airways pilot who landed the Airbus in the Hudson River).
Based on my own experience, I recommend this article as both accurate and, in a shake-your-head-sadly way, amusing.
This is a much broader topic than airlines, and along with millions of other Americans, I’m hopeful President Obama’s stimulus package will address some of the country’s most critical infrastructure priorities.
In a brilliant New York Times column, Thomas Friedman wrote on 23 December 2008, “Landing at Kennedy Airport from Hong Kong was, as I’ve argued before, like going from the Jetsons to the Flintstones.” Kennedy is one of the worst U.S. airports, but this comparison could apply in varying degrees to a number of others, including Newark.
Friedman contrasts technology and transportation infrastructures from his trip to China and his return to the U.S. He says, “All I could think to myself was: If we’re so smart, why are other people living so much better than we are?”
Attitude and Awareness
What wears thin for me is the combination of the facts with the seemingly constant “we’re the greatest” attitude inside America. I was brought up with that attitude, and I know it well.
I especially get tired of hearing the self-congratulations and accolades from people who have never had a passport or travelled and lived anywhere other than in the U.S. I said above I think America is a great country. I also think its superiority complex is at times quite misguided.
It seems to me there are two forces at play:
1. Many Americans seem to have no idea how their services and infrastructure compare to the rest of the world.
2. Yet they persist in saying, “we’re the best” without knowing ‘what else is out there’ and the basic facts of the matter.
We were in the U.S. on election day, and heard many commentators talk about Obama as ‘the leader of the free world’. There is a large free world out there, who firstly did not vote for him and secondly, do not see him as their leader.
Back in Australia in the weeks leading up to Obama’s inauguration, we heard U.S. citizens and commentators say over and over and over again, ‘only in America’ is power transferred so peacefully. This came out of the mouths of experienced journalists and TV anchors like Sam Donaldson, who I thought should know better.
No Excuse – So Why the Blinkers?
With today’s technology and Internet news penetrating the most remote areas on earth, I don’t think there’s any excuse for Americans to wear blinkers with respect to the rest of the world.
We all see through our own experience, to be sure. It’s natural our primary interests are close to home, and every country has problems. But I think it would be good if more Americans acknowledged the U.S. isn’t always the best at everything.
On my first trip to Paris (and outside the U.S.) years ago, a young French man said to me, “You Americans are friendly, and inventive, and amazingly successful. There is so much about you that we like. But we don’t want to be you.”
This was a profound revelation to my younger self. He didn’t think Americans were superior! He didn’t wish he was one! This was the first I had ever heard of that possibility.
Why I’m Sensitive to This
As an ex-pat, I’ve spent years being the ‘face of America’ to business colleagues and personal friends.
The majority of American managers and executives I worked with seemed genuinely surprised, when they visited Asia and Australia, by the high levels of technological and ‘lifestyle’ sophistication that exist outside the U.S. Being positive about other countries is one thing. Being amazed at how ‘civilised’ they are is quite another. It shouldn’t be such a shock, and for locals, it borders on being offensive.
Ex-pats take the heat (e.g., about George Bush) and the praise (e.g., about Barack Obama). When people in the U.S. say things like, “peaceful transitions only happen here” it’s embarrassing, especially if you’re sitting with friends in a free, democratic country (such as Australia, England, or France) that has a modern history of peaceful transitions.
Of course Americans aren’t all the same, and I’ve spent years defending my country of origin when it’s accused of being ignorant and insular.
I always say, “They’re not all like that.” I know many, including regular readers of this blog, who have a more global perspective. Unfortunately, the overwhelmingly predominant image Americans project to the rest of the world is one of insularity.
I don’t know why there are such blinkers in what Americans seem to see, but suspect it’s a chicken and egg situation.
If Americans were more aware of the rest of the world, would they have a different attitude? Or, if they had a different attitude, would they desire to become more aware of the rest of the world?
Market Opportunity: Fill the World News Vacuum in the U.S.
I think truth is on both sides. I’ve previously written about the world news vacuum in America, and I see filling it as a significant market opportunity.
The media always says, “We give the public what they want.” But I wonder if that’s really true.
I told Clive if I were a multi-millionaire, I’d start a 24-hour world news TV, Internet, and radio station in the U.S. I bet Americans would watch it, starting by channel-surfing, then gradually watching more and more, even when there’s no direct U.S. involvement. Major disasters like this weekend’s Australian bushfires appear to be the only non-U.S. events that make the news in America.
America is a great country, but some of its products, services, and infrastructure are inferior to those elsewhere in the world. Freedom, democracy, and peaceful transitions of power are indeed worthy of celebration. They are not unique to America.
It would be good if more Americans understood this. I’m hopeful President Obama will help take off the blinkers, and Americans will be seen in a more positive light in years to come. I believe with all my heart this will contribute to greater peace in the world.
I realise I may get some opposing comments to this post, and if so, hope they will foster constructive discussion.