Thursday, September 30, 2004

Back in the New World


Maybe the grass is greener on the other side, but I am always excited to be back in North America. Canada is very different from the US, but has a lot of the energy and excitement that you find over there. There is the newness and modernity of everything, the dynamism, the "can do" attitude of the people you meet, and of course blue skies, something you so rarely see in Britain.

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of things missing here, the lack of ancient history which makes up so much of European culture and the fact that most people here only get two weeks vacation but that aside, the social / political make-up over here is so much healthier.

Contrary to all the claims that Britain is becoming the 51st State, Britain is increasingly European and increasingly anti-American, something highlighted in this weeks Spectator.

Americans see Tony Blair on TV and assume that Britain is behind him. Unfortunately, he and all the other pro-American European leaders are not marching in tune with their voters. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. On just about every measure, Britain and America are moving in opposite directions.

Whilst 40% of Americans go to Church, the only thing Britons do in Church is marry (or at least they do on Eastenders). Whilst Americans continue their love affair with the death sentence, judges in Britain are trying to scrap the life sentence. Whilst Americans long ago lost interest in Benjamin Spock, legislators in Britain want to ban spanking. And whilst the US scrapped it's 55mph limit years ago, the British plan to fit speed limiters forcing cars to travel at whatever speed the Government chooses.

Americans, even those who are critics of Bush's policies in Iraq are unashamedly patriotic, whereas the British Intelligentsia are full of self-hatred for their own culture, history and traditions. Even amongst ordinary Brits, you hear a distinct tone of voice that is pessimistic, negative and cynical, that's partially why British comedy is so successful. It hones in on all the bitterness, cynicism and sense of failure that ordinary Brits feel. Whilst Americans are proud of successful people, Britain has hits with titles such as: "we hate it when our friends become successful".

If you want to find a definitive measure of how Britain and America are growing apart, there is no better measure than people's attitude to Government. Whilst Americans have a distrust for "Big Government", Britain is becoming more and more of a "Nanny State", with calls to ban everything from fatty foods to fox hunting. Britons may be horrified by the lack of gun control in the US, but again, their reaction shows just how far apart the two countries are. In reality, the US is a country where most of the guns you see are in the movies, and where even liberal minded people feel it's unhealthy for the Government to tell the people what do (even concerning guns).

I may be generalising, but broadly speaking, it's fair to say that Americans believe in individual responsibility, whilst Britons feel sympathy for the underdog and the downtrodden. It explains an unwillingness by the British law authorities to crack down on crime or why the British Intelligentsia feel sympathy towards suicide bombers.

Back to Canada, Americans may mock it for its "socialist" welfare state and for it's liberal views, but Canada is closer both physically and psychologically to the US than many Canadians care to admit. There is a preference for state rather than federal government, there is multiculturalism that Europeans can only envy and there is still an immigrant culture where anyone despite their social background and their race can "make it". It doesn't matter how many times I fly here, I feel like I'm back in the "New World".