(This post was originally published on July 4, 2013 on a previous website).
Since February, I’ve been slowly adjusting to life in Rome. Slowly being the key word, (more on that in another post). Over the past month though, I’ve started embracing the little annoyances, loving beach weekends on the Mediterranean, and cultivating a great group of coworkers and friends. But as beautiful as Italy is, and as much as I’ve given up ethnic food and gotten used to pasta seven days a week, I’m missing home today, on the Fourth of July.
Normally a critic, I’ve found myself defending the United States more in Italy than ever before in my life. I’m also becoming increasingly patriotic and nostalgic. Today I read an article on the Second Wisconsin Volunteer regiment at Gettysburg, and also read the Declaration of Independence. Not kidding. I even almost teared up at one point. Not to mention, I’m wearing red, white and blue, (something the US living me would have considered horrifying and tacky), and watching YouTube videos of people singing the National Anthem, (a really productive day at work—luckily I share a desk with two other Americans).
It’s not the only time I’ve been abroad for the 4th. I spent Independence Day 2010 in Egypt and barely noticed, so enamored I was with the country. Last year I was in Hawaii, and though still in the United States I felt like I was in another world. This year, patriotism and missing family and friends is hitting hard, which is ironic because I’m surrounded by expats and American celebrations. Maybe that’s what makes it more painful—that it’s so close to being the real thing, but not quite. Last night I attended the US Embassy’s Fourth of July party in Rome. There were burgers, hot dogs, a band, fireworks, and the most Americans you can get in one place in Italy. It was great, but it wasn’t a cookout in my parents’ backyard in Wisconsin, with a cheesy playlist, the smell of brats on the grill and unlimited Wisconsin beer.
So, since this is the only day of the year when I can get away with it, and because my national pride is at a rare all-time high, a list of reasons the United States of America is the greatest nation on earth:
1. Innovation. Sure, China can recreate and mass-produce. But where are their imaginations? 90% of new industry companies are based in the US. The giants Google, Apple, Yahoo, Amazon, Groupon, Facebook, Twitter and hundreds of others. Similarly, Americans generate 48% of the number of U.S. patents received each year. Pretty good for only 5% of the world’s population. (Not sold? You’re welcome rest of the world for motion pictures, television, a little thing called electricity, computers, iPhones, the airplane, the Internet (enough said), and everything else we’ve given you).
2. Giving. Ok, so if you look at foreign aid, the U.S. government might not be giving what it could/should. But when you look at personal giving, Americans give more to charity per capita than anywhere else. (Followed by Israel and Canada). It’s around $70 billion a year. We’re also number three when it comes to volunteering, (of course Sweden and the Netherlands have us beat, but they’re saints!) It should be said, that while the U.S. government gives only a small percentage of its budget to foreign aid, $50 billion is not a small number. And since I can’t say it, I’ll put it in the words of an older Canadian man I met in a restaurant in Venice. “When I’m traveling, and I talk to some guy complaining about the United States and your foreign policy and how big, bad and evil he thinks the US is, I want to grab him by the ear and tell him to look around. He’s usually standing in front of a school or development project with a big, Funded by the United States of America sign on it,” he said. (He also said he wanted to thank the US because “many of the places I travel would not be safe or acceptable to travel in if it wasn’t for the United States,” but that’s another issue).
3. So, speaking of that issue, let’s talk about security. You feel safe in the United States. And other countries, (whether they admit it or not), feel safer when we step in and help them out. (That said, I don’t think we should impose ourselves or assume everyone wants our help).
4. Education. We get a bad rap for education, (in many cases for good reason), but when it comes to the more advanced level, the United States houses more than 60 of the world’s 100 best universities. This goes back to innovation and the high levels of achievement American students reach. Look again at Google, Facebook, advanced pharmaceuticals, putting a man on the moon, building the Hoover Dam, the Panama Canal, breaking the speed of sound… These are achievements of ingenuity and intelligence. Made in America.
5. Alliances. We have the strongest alliances over a sustained period of any major power in history. Ever. We’re looking at 70 alliances, (this isn’t to say they don’t critique us, but that’s to be expected), and this means more than 70% of combined global economic power is organized under this U.S. centric alliance system. As Michael O’Hanlon writes in the LA Times, even “many key neutral countries like India and Indonesia prefer to work with us rather than against us on most global security matters.” Now look at the other alliances. China, North Korea, Iran and Russia…I think we’re on the right track, (though I do have a Persian weakness).
6. Immigration. No matter how much they complain, criticize and pretend to hate us, at the end of the day, who wants a visa to the US? Answer: Everyone. With a population of 300 million, we’re still growing at a steady rate. Every other major industrial power is experiencing a decline in growth and faced with an aging population and low birthrates, which will soon cause great economic strain.
7. Entertainment. Our culture is kind of like world culture. The U.S. exports 25 times the number of TV shows and movies than it consumes from abroad. Aside from Bollywood, Hollywood is everything, (although I’m happy to announce Jordan is getting started on its own major film industry!). Go anywhere abroad, and people will be dancing to American music in clubs, watching American movies with awkward dubbing in their theaters and obsessing over American celebrities just like we do at home.
8. We’re nice, and people like us. Everywhere I have ever traveled, people might perceive Americans as ignorant, (not ideal), but they also say we’re friendly. The friendliest of tourists, in fact. And after being away for extended amounts of time it’s always a shock to step foot in the U.S. and be reintroduced to customer service, the beaming smiles of the Midwest and an overall atmosphere of kindness and respect.
9. Saving the best for last: Democracy and Freedom. Maybe democracy in the United States is tainted lately. Voter ID laws and bipartisan antics are probably making the Founding Fathers roll in their graves. But overall, we’re lucky. Voting rights are scarce outside of the Western world, and technically, ours can’t be taken away. It’s amazing democracy has lasted so long in the United States. John Adams once said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.” But it has lasted, and that’s something to be proud of. American ideals are contagious, and many other countries followed suit or are trying now, but we established those inalienable rights in the beginning. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are two of the most intelligent, respected, emulated and studied works ever written. Pro-democracy activists cite passages from Jefferson and point to the Statue of Liberty. They don’t cite the kings of Saudi Arabia, or hoist cultural symbols of China. Our founders gave us what everyone else wants. (Now, we have to make sure we keep it!).
And then there are the more superficial reasons we’re great, like:
Ice in drinks
CVS (or anywhere you can get medicine, toilet paper and makeup in one place)
IPAs (so sick of Peroni)
Netflix/Hulu/any video streaming system
Driving a car (what if I forget how??)
Real ice cream (gelato is nice, but not the same)
Blow drying your hair without the fear of blowing a fuse
24 hour drive through (drive through in general)
Working, free WiFi
Free bathrooms (really, a euro to use the restroom?)
No Smoking zones
Not having to pay for water
Kitchens with counter space
Breakfast, and more importantly brunch!
Store hours (closing for 2 hours at lunch, and then closing for good before I even get off work is so frustrating)
Bars, not wine bars
Uber (taxis are so 2010)
Being able to travel for thousands of miles and never have your cell phone stop working because our country is as big as your continent
Oh yeah and this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Like I said, this is an unusual bout of patriotism for me, so I’m embracing it. I hope my family and friends are having an amazing time writing their names with sparklers, listening to the Beach Boys, eating delicious, oh-so-American unhealthy food, and getting overwhelmed with the number of flags that pop up this time of year. So tonight, at an expat 4th of July party where we pretend it’s the real thing, I’ll be holding up my Miller Lite, (only to be found in the US Embassy grocery store), and toasting to the land of the free and the home of the brave.
And for the haters: “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” –William J. Clinton
Happy Independence Day!