Friday, December 7, 2012

The Experts Weigh In: From The Outside Looking In


Well, here it goes. I've been asked to write a guest blog post for Strictly Nutritious, which is surprising because I'm not terribly interesting. Before I begin, I must point out that I don't trend towards the nutritious, so this post will be more about feeding your mind - probably not so much your body or spirit.

I'm an American who lives abroad. I've lived in London now for just over two years. I say 'American living abroad' intentionally because I dislike the seeming finality of saying 'ex-pat'. Saying ex-pat seems to preclude the possibility of moving back (I might) and also seems to indicate that I'm not proud of who I am and where I came from (I am).

However, I've found the experience of living abroad to be quite enlightening. In fact, I think the distance of the Atlantic Ocean has given me a great opportunity to cast a more critical eye on the wild, wacky place that I call my homeland.

I hate to say it but America is an angry place. Having worked in politics for four years in Washington, D.C., I know this firsthand. Our office fielded hundreds of angry calls every day from people all over the world. We use violence to get our points across - even IF our only point is: 'I'm angry'. To make matters worse, politicians and talking heads lob ad hominem attacks on 24 hour cable news talk shows without thinking twice.

"Barack Obama is a socialist dictator bent on destroying everything we hold dear"...

"George W. Bush was, quite simply, Hitler"...

I could go on all day.

When did this become OK? Why have we gotten to this point? Just why are Americans so angry?

OK, to be fair, the majority aren't so angry, but here's one thing I've noticed about the UK. People here aren't so angry. 'Keep Calm and Carry On' isn't just a hackneyed poster that tourists buy on Oxford Street. Brits tend to keep their wits about them. Politics here are carried out with a bit of humor and a healthy dose of British self-deprecating wit. People protest, and sometimes the government listens. People whine and complain, but typically they do so with their legendary stiff British upper lip.

I can't say why for sure that it seems less angry here, but I think the biggest reason is that people just aren't that stressed.

If you lose your job, it's tough, but there's a safety net to catch you and help you until you're back on your feet. If you get sick, you don't have to worry that you'll get dropped from your insurance or your co-pay will be too high. The National Health Service - the kind that some politicians will tell you has ruined Britain - takes care of everyone regardless of whether they're a British citizen or not. On top of that, nobody is that overworked because you get about 25 days of holiday every year. University educations are also inexpensive and accessible to all.

It's an amazing thing just how much stress can ruin your life and make you unhappy. I'm not saying that socialized medicine is the panacea, but it's a start. I'm not saying more holiday will make Americans suddenly stop killing each other, but it's a start. Brits have a healthy distrust of the state, but when all is said and done, they know the state will take care of them should any accident occur - it's that underlying comfort that makes people rest a bit easier at night over here.

Now, in the interest of proving that I'm still quite proud to be an American, I must mention a few things the Brits could learn from Americans...

  1. No, you don't need to put butter on EVERYTHING. Some foods' original flavors like to shine through without having to fight through a thick film of fermented cream.
  2. America is multiethnic. Britain is not. You're not getting overrun by immigrants and you don't need to close off your borders. America gains its strength through its diversity.
  3. We get British humor. We just don't think it's that funny.
  4. For the last time, I know rugby players don't wear pads, but there's no way they could beat up our football players. It's not even close.
  5. It's a vitamin, pronounced 'VYE-tuh-min', not 'VIH-tuh-min'. Because it's VYE-tul you eat VYE-tuh-mins, not VIH-tul that you eat VIH-tuh-mins. Case closed.

Bennett Golder lives and works in London, England, but hails from Marietta, Georgia, like myself. He received his BA in Political Science from Vanderbilt University and his Masters in Political Sociology from the London School of Economics. But that's not all! He still managed to fit a career in politics in Washington, D.C. in there somewhere too! On his day off, you can find Bennett doing lots of walking and eating - exploring all the different neighborhoods and culinary fares that London has to offer (but he still likes his collard greens best, as any good Southern boy will tell you). When asked what his favorite part of London is, he replied "I've never been in a more dynamic city than London. Every neighbourhood has its own distinct feel, its own edge. It's massive but not overwhelming, beautiful but not imperfect, and exceptionally diverse in every sense of the word. The author Samuel Johnson once said, 'If you're tired of London, you're tired of life'."

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