America: The Best Wife In The World!

The Editor went roaring though the Lush For Life offices looking for an unoccupied writer. I panicked. I don’t know why I hide under my desk, because it’s the first place he looks.
“Did you see the Bill Maher stand-up special?” he demanded. “He was saying that Americans believe that we are the ‘best country in the world’ and that’s like guys who think they have the best wife in the world. He asked ‘How would you know?’ Find out whether we are the best country in the world, and if so, how we know this!”
Actually, the answer was in town, in the person of Dr. Nadya Cedarlite from the Department of Social Anthropology at Trobriand University in the Kiriwina Islands.
Dr. Cedarlite was on the last leg of a two-year visit to the US to study us, the native-born US population. The Kiriwinan Islanders have a long history of scholarship in studying different cultures and societies.
Dr. Cedarlite’s visit might result in a book similar to Kate Fox’s 2005 book “Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour”. This offers a social anthropologist’s view of the English; how they think and behave. It was a best-seller in England because it told the Brits a lot about themselves that they never knew.
Dr. Cedarlite explained: “The problem with being a fish in water, is that when people ask ‘How’s the water’, you can only reply ‘What water?’
“Of course, it’s the water you know and are accustomed to, so it is probably the best water for you. This Maher guy chose a good analogy. You would really need to know about what other spouses are like before you knew whether your spouse was the best in the world. But it is also perfectly natural to say that s/he is the best there is.
“Many people all over the planet think that they live in the best country in the world.”
I pounced. I knew (from Fox’s book, much time spent in England, and my own travels) that many cultures are very critical of their societies, governments, and institutions. The average Englishman will joke about what a shit-hole England is, what small penises Brits have, how little sex they get, how useless their sportsmen are, and what a bugger-up their government-of-the-moment is making.
Dr. Cedarlite refused to be nailed. “The same Englishman would die to defend England’s honor, or it’s black humor, which is darker than that dried blood sausage they eat, or that disgusting beer they import from across the Irish Sea.
“Gale, you’re merely noticing two American sociological quirks. Firstly, in your society, it is often considered unpatriotic to mention that your country is not perfect. Secondly, large portions of US society frown on discussing anything (especially politics, race, and religion) unless everyone shares the same opinions. The rule is “if you disagree, you will be disagreeable” and the assumption is that people are only capable of win-lose debate. This confines people to opinion-silos, and to very shallow chitchat – so Americans know an inordinate amount about where their friends eat and what their pets do.”
I pondered: “So how do we know whether we are a good country? Can’t we decide these things with metrics like standard of living or happiness?”
“There are numerics, Ms. Force, but you have to choose which ones you want. Americans are the seventh happiest people in world studies, but the Columbians are the happiest, and they have plenty of problems. America is 14th in the world in spending on education per child. That is slightly adjusted because schools have to pick up some social services like meals and health checks in the absence of other services in the community. And, of course, you spend less on poor children than on affluent children… “
“So we can’t know if we are the best country in the world.”
“Correct. You can’t. You can’t judge what you don’t know. But my experience of your culture suggests that that won’t stop politicians saying that you are. It’s an American tradition.”
I thanked Dr. Cedarlite for talking to Lush For Life, and wished her well as she prepared to return to what she considers the best place on earth – the Kiriwinan Islands.

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