Earlier this year a friend shared a link to a post entitled 13 Things That Americans Do That The Rest Of The World Just Finds Bizarre. At first glance, it was a list of American stereotypes or cliches that made me chuckle. Growing up outside of America, I’d enjoyed discovering many of them myself when I first moved here. However, as I gave it some thought, a couple of things struck me:
a. It’s not actually a list of things Americans do. For example, we don’t “do” pumpkins, cheese or flags. For the most part, it’s really a list of things about America that the rest of the world finds bizarre.
b. Most of these things foreigners shouldn’t find bizarre, if they have any knowledge of America and its history. All of these things seem to me to relate to either the bedrock of America – its freedom – or American pride in the country itself, its community and institutions, or its traditions.
Items in the list that relate to freedom include: Americans drive everywhere, buy anything at Walmart, eat lots of cheese, enjoy pumpkin flavored things in the fall, take coffee everywhere and (some of us) whiten our teeth. We choose to do these things because we are allowed to and can afford to. And most stores price things without tax because they choose not to. Unlike many countries in the world, our state and local governments don’t generally dictate how stores must display prices.
American Pride and Traditions
Flags, cheerleaders, staying close to our alma mater, the prom and the way we openly celebrate being an exceptional country are all related to American pride and traditions. And it’s not as if other countries don’t have traditions or pride in themselves. Take my home country New Zealand, which refers to itself as Godzone (or God’s own country) and reveres its rugby team, the All Blacks, as much as, if not more than, any top sports team has ever been celebrated.
Here’s a short list of the sorts of things about America that the rest of the world should find bizarre given the country’s founding and history.
1. The world’s only superpower has one of the world’s shittiest post offices.
Over the past several decades, much of the developed world has modernized its post offices, taken them private or required them to compete and make a profit. Meanwhile, the United States Postal Service has just racked up its seventh straight yearly loss, this time to the tune of $5 billion. For a country that prides itself on entrepreneurship and innovation, America’s post office is a sorry black eye. Entering one of its stores is like walking into a shop in eastern Europe during the time of the Soviet Union – long lines, dingy lighting, tatty linoleum floors and surly service await you. Contrast this with countries that have deregulated or privatized their post offices, like Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and Finland. Hours there are now more convenient, lines are generally a thing of the past and a much wider array of goods and services are available. We’ve got great delivery companies like FedEx and UPS, yet they’re not allowed to send my first class mail. WTF?
2. It is illegal to sell milk below a certain price in states across the US.
In the “land of the free”, from Maine to Washington State to Louisiana it’s illegal for stores to sell milk below a certain price determined by bureaucrats. Grocers meet the wrath of regulators when they attempt to offer customers a great deal on dairy. This price floor is supposedly to protect farm incomes, but it’s a raw deal for consumers, especially the poor. Moreover, US farmers generally aren’t impoverished and many, including billionaires, receive government subsidies. Minimum prices and quotas for farm products are an anachronism in this day in age – Australia and New Zealand ditched them in recent decades and Europe will have phased them out by 2015.
3. The United States protect sugar growers to such an extent that average prices here are more than double that in other countries.
Generous loan schemes, import tariffs, quotas and more guarantee sugar producers here a healthy minimum price regardless of market conditions and keep sugar from most other countries reaching our shores. This is at the expense of consumers and manufacturers dependent on sugar for their products. Things have gotten so bad that in order to compete with foreign candy manufacturers US institutions like Jelly Belly are having to move production overseas. It’s estimated that, in recent years, for every one job in the sugar industry that has been supported by these policies, three have been lost in manufacturing industries dependent on sugar. Once again, consumers, workers and particularly the poor suffer from these policies.
4. The drinking age in the land of the free is much higher than most other countries.
For a country founded on liberty, the US isn’t very free when it comes to allowing people to enjoy an alcoholic beverage. With a drinking age of 21, America is way out of line with the vast majority of countries, most of which have drinking ages between 16 and 18. With most products such as cars or guns, the country adopts generally liberal policies and allows people to enjoy them sensibly. Those that abuse that privilege are dealt with appropriately. Yet with alcohol, it adopts a nanny state approach that forbids millions of Americans from enjoying it responsibly.
5. 25% of Americans live in states where their governments have a monopoly over the wholesale or retail sale of alcohol.
America may have won the Cold War, but so many of its citizens still have to purchase alcohol from Soviet-style liquor retailers. Similar to the post office (see 1 above), these places have limited hours and selections, there are often lines out in the street to get in during busy periods, service with a snarl is common and prices are generally well above prices in states with a free market for the sale of alcohol. We experienced all of the above in Washington State until stores were privatized and the industry deregulated recently. None of the fears of those opposed to deregulation has come true. For example. DUI arrests and underage drinking have continued their trend downward. It’s bizarre that, in a country supposedly founded on limited government, there are so many that still own and run wholesale or retail alcohol operations.
Other things to include on a more comprehensive list would be restrictions on pharmaceuticals commonly sold over the counter in other countries that require prescriptions in the US and the federal government’s Amtrak rail service. Share things you’d include in a list of things the rest of the world should find bizarre in the comments.