Thursday, August 31, 2006

Thoughts on America

Having been living here for a little over three months now, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts about America...

As Lindsay remarks, Americans (in America) are great people. I've met some really kind, smart and wonderfully warm people throughout my travels in America. Because there are so many people here, most Americans aren't easily surprised - so they tend to be pretty direct and open, which is a little different to people back home. I find myself much more inclined to make smalltalk with strangers, which is something I've always found awkward. Of course, there's always that element of being a zillion miles away from home, and extremely low chance of ever running into the same person twice...

America is kind of a selfish place. There's a real 'hands-off' approach to government here. In many ways, its seems that Americans would rather 'Do-It-Yourself' than let the government help you. For instance, there's no Garbage Collection where I live - No local government services to help me with urban services at all. No snow removal, or mowing of grass in public areas. My house has it's own septic tank, and it's own well. If I want any of these services, I have to organise and fund them. If I get sick, the government doesn't care - that's entirely my own problem. I have to pay for everything out of my own pocket.

In a weird way, the American's triumph over the British and everything they stood for, seems to have cast out that element of 'government for the people' that means you get something for your taxes. In fact, other than using the roads and sending my kids to school, I haven't had any interaction with whatever exactly it is that my taxes pay for. So, America is the land of the free. Nobody is telling me what to do. But nobody is helping me, either.

Americans like to get stuff done. They tend not to mess around and have endless meetings about things - it seems that people aren't as focused on efficiency, as much as with action. You know - 'A Half-Formed Plan Today...' The end result of this is that I never find myself feeling ineffective - just busy! Of course, it also means there are a lot of half-thought out processes in place... which means there are lots of fun things to pick on. Maybe that's why The Simpsons has been running for so long...

The commercial opportunity here is unbelievably huge. Because there are so many people, and because nearly everything is left up to the private sector, whatever crazy thing it is that you want to sell, there is almost certainly someone eager to buy it. No matter how stupid or weird or obscure the thing you want to sell is, it's all here!

Perhaps that's the reason people like Seth Godin can talk about marketing all day long - Over here, there is no shortage of inspiration. Seth has also started, which is also full of wonderful things to pick on, and you should check it out.

So, it can be crazy, busy and broken sometimes, and it's certainly nothing like Australia (despite appearing really similar in so many ways). But it's always entertaining, and though some days are still a little head-scratchy, I'm glad I came.


  1. Hey Gordon,

    I was browsing blogger, something I almost never do, and happened upon your post on America. As someone who's never been there I found it pretty interesting.

    All the best.

  2. Hi Gord,
    As an ex-patriot I like your insights. You see things in an interesting light and consequently I found your comments very thought provoking. What you say is sure true and some while some people might hate the concept that if you want something done you have to do it yourself, other people might love the idea of being in greater control. Maybe this is why we pay such high taxes in Australia because more things are done for us?

  3. Gordon -
    I have to defend us crazy Americans for a second. The lack of government services is also in part because you live in The Commonwealth of Virginia (Sic Semper Tyrannis!) where thanks to some bad memories about the "War of Northern Agression" and that whole reconstruction thing have caused citizens of Virginia to want their government to be as minimalist as possible. As a result Virginia has low taxes, limited government services, and privitized public services (like trash and snow removal). And we like it that way, dammit.
    Move to other (Maryland, ahem) states and you might pay higher taxes and get more government services than you know what to do with. Of course, I haven't figured out where my taxes area really going either, except for maybe old people's retirement funds and expensive defense projects. (which hey! keep me employed!)
    I have to say personally, I like the whole private service thing. Our homeowners association (which are widespread around here, thanks to the need to organize private services for everything) switched trash companies last year after the services we were using kept missing trash pickup days and coming at 4 in the afternoon after the trash had been picked apart by neighborhood dogs and so forth. The virtue of the private service over the public service is that you CAN fire your incompetant service providers and replace them, which is more than you can say for most government-provided services. God bless capitolism!

  4. Yea, its different for almost every place in the USA. Urban and suburban regions have a lot more tax than the rural regions, this is frequently associated with being in a city and being in the county but not in a city. Re: land of opportunity, well, a hard working person can certainly do well. Especially if they pick the right career. But, if you train in something that no one uses in your area, well, so much for that.
    In regards to friendly people: I am betting your accent gives you an edge there.