(Photo by Flickr user bsoist, here. Creative Commons licensed)
OK, I admit it, I do, I love the USA, I love it. I always have.
I'm from the USA; I've lived here almost all my life. Then in 2004 I got a job in Canada, so I moved, and, you know, Canada's a nice place, and it's a country with a lot of admirable policies and so on, but the truth is, I love the United States.
Like a lot of people, I am currently going a little nuts about the direction the country is going in. I hate some of the things the United States stands for. But it doesn't matter. What I love isn't a set of policies or decisions; what I love is the country itself.
Right now I am living in Canada, but for various complicated reasons I'm spending the next four months in the US, in Ann Arbor.
I'll tell you about Ann Arbor -- and about its wholesome, fresh-faced denizens -- another time.
What I'm thinking about now is, just what makes the US so goddamn lovable? I mean, lots of countries have democracy, crappy TV, urban sprawl, and lots of cars. What's so special about *us*?
Some years ago, The New Yorker ran a story about Yao Ming. The story described, if I'm remembering correctly, Yao Ming's mother, as a young person, being taken to see the Harlem Globetrotters when they were on a tour of China. Talking about it later, she said she'd never seen anything American, or anything remotely like the Harlem Globetrotters.
She said she thought to herself, "These Americans! They really know how to enjoy themselves!"
Right! It's true, we do! I don't know if it's our best quality, or our most important one, but it's an excellent quality, worthy of love and admiration.
I have a second story that is more complicated. I was riding the bus with a Canadian colleague, and I was trying to explain what it is I like so much about the United States. I was talking about the weird energy, the way everyone is always trying to out-cool everyone else. It's not about money at all: no matter how rich or how poor, everyone's trying to be funnier, to have cooler clothes, to top the next guy. Maybe more in poor cities than in rich ones: you ride the bus, and everyone's either a comedian, a tough guy, a lover, or Mister I-Got-It-Going-On. I was probably starting in on hip-hop, how American it is, and how cool.
My colleague excitedly started to tell me a relevant story. She'd been living in Boston with her girlfriend, and they were at a bar, and they overheard someone talking about Canada. "Ha!" these people said. "Those Canadians think they have slums, ghettos, with that 'Jane and Finch' area. That's nothing! Nobody's got ghettos like we do."
My colleague found this mystifying and hilarious. What on earth?? How could you be proud of poverty?
I know what she means. But I know what those Boston guys mean, too. It's not the poverty that anyone's proud of. It's something else -- it's whatever else gets made into the movies and TV shows that people watch all over the world. I don't know what it is, exactly. But I think it's got something to do with cool, with fun, with knowing how to enjoy ourselves.
It's just cool, the US. I don't know what else to say. I love it like you love a person: not because of the kind of friend it is, or because of how well it treats you, but regardless of those things.
It's not the kind of love that translates easily to another country.