October 29, 2005

Stranger in a strange land part x

At work we got talking about what it is like to be a foreigner living in Scandinavia. People everywhere are curious to hear how they appear to outsiders. Set aside the idea that after 10 years here I am still an outsider-- that's a surtax I will always be asked to pay. A student said she thought I must be tired of hearing so much criticism of the USA. I replied that it especially bothers me when the people doing the criticizing are ignorant. You often hear arguments of the type, 'we wouldn't want things here (health care, education, consumer rights, commercial TV, etc.) to be like in the US.' And actually, we don't have it so bad over there:

1. Health care. Not hard to think of people I know in the US who are diagnosed as needing a new hip or cataract surgery, and then the procedure is performed, almost before you can say 'boo.' Here people wait and wait-- remember my post some months ago about the guy who went to Poland for heart surgery? The tag line was, if you are going to a Polish hospital, don't forget to bring your own silverware! (Additional comment: Americans pay more and get less than other advanced countries and the medical care is not justly distributed.)

2. Education. Sure higher education is expensive in the US but there are some benefite-- 17 of the world's top 20 universities are in the U.S. People plan ahead to pay for their children's education and for the most part, the children do their best to make the most of the opportunity. In Europe, politically, education is seen as a good way to get the unemployment statistics down.

3. Consumer rights. Product liability lawsuits work. Over here the government is in bed with the tobacco industry (and they are themselves the gambling industry and have a monpoly on selling alcohol), since it brings in so much money.

But on to my main point. I was forced to give an example of a way I thought Europeans were ignorant, and thought, well OK, here goes. Yes there have been significant problems with racial discrimination in the US. Europeans do not recognize or give credit to the US for the amount of work that has been done, individual by individual, to overcome these problems and the progress that has been made. One example comes from my hometown which became home to some Somalian refugees. I was visiting, and happened to read that the mayor had formed a committee to help the Somalians settle into the community. A group of Somalians work at the printing company where two of my siblings work. My very own dear mother was volunteering at an elementary school, tutoring Somalian children. And in Malmoe Sweden they recently wrote in the paper, the rate of unemployment among Somalian refugees is 90%. The folks at work told me that Danes and Swedes pay the highest taxes found, and so they think it is the government's responsibility, and that it is the government's failure that the newcomers have not been assimilated. In the US, God Bless America, for from perfect, people take responsibility and say to themselves well if it is going to get done I am going to have to do something about it. Ask not what your country can do for you. Which all brings me back to something Tim's father is said to have said: If you are not a liberal when youare 20 you have no heart, and if you are not a conservative when you are 30 you have no brain.


At October 31, 2005 5:02 AM , Anonymous Tim said...

I think Winston Churchill said that, my dad may have repeated it.


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