February 2, 2008

A question about America’s place in the world

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , , , , , , at 11:00 pm by Lauren

Whenever Allen and I hang out with Mimi and Jack, I think, “Maybe it would be nice to stay in France forever.” But their situation is so different from ours. Jack works from home and corresponds with all English-speaking colleagues. Mimi isn’t working now but has the children to give her a reason to get up in the morning (not that it’s glamorous, but it’s a reason). They leave the country every three months and pay taxes in the States. And at some point they’ll have to live in the States for a number of years if they want their kids to be able to pass their American citizenship to their own children. But they’re committed to staying in France, and they still find everything charming after six years.

We’re happy enough to be coming back to the States at the end of June, which is not to say that we don’t like living in France. Jack asked what it was about the States that made us want to go back. (For the record, I don’t think that’s the right question. Instead, it is things about our life here that leave us a bit out of our comfort zone: lack of a social circle and no obvious avenues to create one, Allen’s job in a French office and all being done in French (which is exhausting no matter how good his French gets), the promise of a hefty tax smack if we stay so much as three days past the end of Allen’s current contract.) But Jack’s question – about what made us want to live in the US – led into a conversation about what is great about the US. I don’t mean it was the kind of conversation where we all chanted, “U.S.A!” and pumped our fists in the air. Rather, it was an exploration of what advantages the US does have over other countries, particularly since it was easy to identify some of the greats of France: great wine, great (fresh, natural) food, excellent health care, and so on.

So the challenge we put to ourselves was to name five great things about the United States. We came up with the following:

1. Career flexibility – In the United States, you could be, for example, an international affairs major who works in a linguistic research organization and then becomes a teacher. Or, to use another completely hypothetical example, you might be a history major, who then becomes a paralegal, transitions to a chemical incident investigator, but finally decides to work in electronic records management. You are not tied to a specialized niche in the US, and you can make an argument for your experience to apply to many other fields.

2. Educational opportunities – If you can afford school (thus why we said opportunities), you will find some of the best in the world in the U.S. Look at our medical schools, for example. The educational opportunities are wide, and there is something for everyone (regardless of cost, there are many different levels and sources of academics).

3. Entertainment – Americans do it right! From films to music (especially music) to TV shows, our entertainment contributions cover the world.

4. Barbeque – That is kind of a joke. I mean, barbeque is really great… And we deep-fry Oreos at fairs!

5. Ideals – The American dream may have changed, the Constitution may not be interpreted as it was originally intended, but the American ideals are still a valuable contribution to the world.

That all being said, this list took us quite a list to compile. Mimi argued against the fifth point because of the difference between our ideals and the way they’re actually played out in America today. So I determined to take this conversation to the internet. So, what do you think?

What qualities does America have that makes it a great place to live?

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