When Americans chant, “USA! We’re #1!” it’s not actually true.
I grew up believing we were #1. I was born in Chattanooga and raised in Atlanta. When I was in elementary school, our teachers made us practice nuclear bomb safety by crouching under our desks, in case the Russians attacked. And “God bless America” somehow translated to: Everyone else is not as good as us, and God loves us best.
Growing up in America, we’re taught that “I” am always part of the best group, so I deserve to win. And when I cheered at ball games as a teenager, I felt justified in begging God to make the other team lose. And of course, we expected to always beat the enemy and win our wars.
So “USA! We’re #1!” rings really true – until you step outside the borders.
All my American expat friends agree that the biggest change that happens when you live in another country is that you see America more objectively and you realize that other cultures and countries are doing some things more effectively.
Concerning human rights, the CIRI Human Rights Data Report says that Norway topped the list in 2014. The Pearson Global Report ranked South Korea as #1 in 2014 for its educational system – the USA didn’t even make the top ten. The World Health Organization said that France had the world’s best healthcare system in 2014 and ranked USA #37. The World Economic Forum’s report for 2014 said that Iceland is #1 in gender equality, and USA was not in the top ten.
Concerning the best place for a child to grow up, UNICEF ranked the Netherlands as #1 in 2014. And again, the USA didn’t make the top ten – because it has a child poverty rate higher than 20%, “indicating that a country’s economic prosperity does not necessarily secure the economic equality and well-being of its most vulnerable young citizens.”
My expat friends also agree that we appreciate America more now that we’ve lived outside of it – even with all the craziness that goes on. Perhaps it’s because we see it more realistically, and we miss all the good stuff that it has going for it.
When I arrived in Europe, I said to my Dutch husband, Ron, “Wassup with mens’ biceps here?” They seemed long and sinewy, unlike the great guns of American men. I decided that it must be because European men have spent the last few hundred years writing poetry, while American men have been building a country!
Ron laughed one day when I came back excited from a visit to the 300-year-old Adam Thoroughgood House in Virginia. “You wouldn’t believe how old this house was that I saw today!” I told him. “That’s not old,” he said. “A thousand years is old.”
I’ve heard Europeans say that the United States of America is “a young country.” Even though there was plenty already going on here when they arrived in 1492! And that the US is “still trying to find itself. After all, they still play with guns.”
So what if we are a young country? We’re still learning, and we’re figuring it out. And it’s likely that we’ll soon get to the top of some of those lists.
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Photo: Flickr/Sarah Stierch