America’s the greatest country in the world? How can anyone say that if they’ve never been anywhere else?
A Florida reader who’s moving to Italy just wrote me saying her first week has been like a trip straight to Dante’s Inferno. As a payment for a favor, she took her 66-year-old friend who’d never left the United States. Ever.
This Bible-toting woman hated Italy from the minute she arrived in Rome. There are too many people. (Um, it’s a major capital.) She wouldn’t try the coffee. (Yep. They’re that small here.) The wine is too dry. (Try a Moscato.) The city is too dirty. (Guilty as charged.)
It’s too late to eat at 7:30. (Actually, dinner here is usually at 8.) Oh, and where the hell is the butter? (It’s called olive oil. Try it. It’s why Italians are thinner and their life expectancy is longer. See below.)
They went to Florence and she wanted nothing to do with art museums. She said the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel shouldn’t have paint on its ceiling. She’s tired of pasta and one time ate BBQ for lunch. She eats Oreos and Ritz crackers she found in a small grocery store and wonders when Italy is going to wise up and start selling Velveeta.
She has no interest in meeting Italians and kept talking about how much she missed Florida.
I read this horror story through my fingers and found myself shaking my head at every new whine. But what really made me channel Linda Blair and twist my head 360 was this woman’s daily mantra.
“America’s the greatest country in the world.”
Yes, she’s a Trump supporter. Yes, she watches Faux News. Yes, she’s one of millions of Americans who feel the same.
Look, travel isn’t for everyone. I get that. It can be stressful, scary and expensive. It’s unpredictable. It’s hard to leave your comfort zone for the unknown. People are comfortable with what they know.
It takes some courage to step into the void. Myself? That void has provided me with the greatest experiences of my life. Traveling to 110 countries and living nine years in Rome have defined and shaped me much more than 40 years as a sportswriter did.
But why lash out at a foreign culture based on your own lack of curiosity? I told the reader to tell her friend to stay home. Tell all her Trump friends how bad Italy is. That way, they’ll stay away – not that the average Trump supporter knows where Italy is.
America’s the greatest?
How can anyone who doesn’t travel possibly say the U.S. is the greatest country in the world? It’s so pompous, so narcissistic, so … inaccurate. What do they base that on? We’re No. 1 among developed countries in per capita gun deaths and we’re No. 2 in the world behind Brazil in total number of gun deaths, maybe because we’re also No. 1 in the world in civilian gun ownership.
The U.S. is No. 2 in the world behind Cuba in people imprisoned per capita. We’re 15th among North American and European countries in coronorary heart disease. (https://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/cause-of-death/coronary-heart-disease/by-country/) We’re 18th in the world in healthcare, 21st in quality of life, 46th in life expectancy, 33rd out of 38 Western countries in infant mortality rate and last — LAST! — in vacation days.
Who else is free?
The U.S. is No. 1 in what much of America waves the flag over: military spending. We spend more than the next nine countries combined.
I once mentioned this to a military official I interviewed in Vieques, a little island off Puerto Rico the U.S. used for bombing exercises. “This is what makes us free!” he said with a fist pump.
I’m sorry but the U.S. doesn’t have the world market cornered on freedom. It never did. Is Japan free? Is France free? Is Cameroon free? Is Argentina free? I know Italy is free.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, there are only five communist countries – FIVE! – left in the world: China, Cuba, Laos, Vietnam and North Korea.
Freedom is not a privilege. It’s a basic human right and nearly all people have it. And really, how free can Americans be if they only average 10 vacation days a year?
But these are all mere statistics. There’s an aesthetic distaste for the statement that “American is the greatest.” It may be the greatest country in the world for you. It may be the greatest country for the guy at your corner bar or your doctor. But it’s not necessarily the greatest country in the world for a banker in Switzerland, a school teacher in Canada or a Buddhist monk in Thailand.
You are shoving your value system down other people’s throats. You’re telling them what they should value in life, yet without even experiencing their lives yourself.
Case for Australia
Take Australia. By Western standards of lifestyle, safety, health, economy, just celebration of life, Australia could make a claim as the world’s greatest country. Ask an Aussie what’s the biggest problem facing their country and they have to think about it. They get this puzzled look. One told me about some obscure zoning law that has screwed up the traffic in Sydney. That’s it.
Really? How would you like living in a country where the president instigated a riot on the nation’s capitol? Where the U.S. had 647 mass shootings last year and has already topped 100 this year? Where I saw more homeless people camped near my hotel in San Francisco on a one-night layover four years ago than I have in nine years in Rome?
But you never hear Australians tell people they have the greatest country in the world. Why? Because Aussies travel. They’re worldly. They know there are other ways of living than the Australian way of living. There are other ways of thinking than the Australian way of thinking.
Meanwhile, only 44 percent of Americans have passports. Eleven percent have never even left their home state.
If only Americans adopted more of the Aussies’ philosophy. That way we never would’ve invaded Iraq and we never would’ve elected that Cheeto-faced cumtrumpet as president.
I think Italy is the greatest country in the world – for me. I love the kind people, the slow lifestyle, the healthy food, the superior healthcare, the endless beauty, the fascinating history.
However, it’s not for everyone. My reader’s friend isn’t wrong. Opinions aren’t wrong. Everyone has them. But it is a slap at the human race to tell everyone they should have those same opinions, that if they don’t live the same as Americans, they should want to.
The woman leaves Italy Wednesday, assuredly never to come back. As she leaves, I keep returning to one thought: How can America be the greatest country in the world with people like her living in it?
March 14, 2023 @ 3:25 pm
Brilliant. Many sad truths. Travel cures ignorance. American government doesn’t want Americans to travel. Just my observation. If you read the State Department warnings, they’re not encouraging. Yes the Trumpees need to stay in “Americkah.” They’re clueless that they’re in USA part of America. Ignorant to the fact Canadians, Mexicans —— Central and South American are Americans. Thanks for interesting article.
March 14, 2023 @ 3:35 pm
Well said, agree 100%.
March 14, 2023 @ 3:40 pm
America’s the greatest in “I got mine, I want more.” Oh yea and 71 million people voted for that Cheeto cumtrumpet. Selfish, stupid, racist or a combo of all three.
March 14, 2023 @ 4:10 pm
I am Australian and have friends who tell me Australia is the best country in the world. I find this ignorant.
No country is the best. All countries have good and bad. Australia is a great country, a good place to live for most people, but who can say it is the best?
I feel privileged to be able to spend months in each place every year and travel to other countries as well. I love Finland, France, Greece…I could go on.
March 14, 2023 @ 4:41 pm
I grew up in NW Florida (now MAGAville) and have had to cut ties with many former high school/college friends who share the same outlook as that woman’s friends. Many have them have never traveled far from their hometown much less abroad and have never met/worked with people outside their little bubble. Although Italy (and every country except maybe Australia lol) has its own issues, they are not near as troublesome as the ones you mentioned. Especially the political division (and violence) and the rabid gun culture. Yes, Americans are “free” but at what cost? Not sure I want to live the rest of my retirement years facing all these worsening issues – God knows what will happen with the 2024 election. I’ve already told my husband if Orange Mussolini wins, I’m out…..
March 14, 2023 @ 4:46 pm
I know you’re going to get a lot of flack for this, but I LOVE it… your essay that is, not the USA. I do live here (for now) but put up with it like you would tolerate a child you love, but recognized his/her faults.
I have travel quite a bit as a tourist and lived in 3 countries outside the US for extended periods of time, but the only country that I would (at this point in my life) want to live in is Italy. And I will.
March 14, 2023 @ 4:59 pm
I visited Japan recently. The people there are beautiful. I confided in my Japanese friend that there is a sickness in America. Now I think that this ugly sickness started in a fast food chicken restaurant in Florida.
March 14, 2023 @ 6:51 pm
Just love the old lady from the U.S. Too bad she is so uninformed, so lacking in curiosity, so self-centered, so unable to step out of her comfort zone. As a matter of fact, I know a number of folks just like her who are unable to handle regional differences in the good, old U. S. of A. I must adit, too, that I have had some friends from Italy who seek out Italian restaurants here in the States, and then they complain how un-Italian the food is. While I don’t disagree with them, I wish they try other foods. We do pretty good BBQ here in the southeast, but they wouldn’t even try it. Oh, well.
March 14, 2023 @ 8:24 pm
It’s shocking that any 66-year-old American would have never left the country. That, to me, indicates a profound — and pathetic — lack of curiosity. Wouldn’t you want to discover something — anything — about another culture? Where is the sense of adventure?
Sadly, there are probably a lot of Americans just like her, based on your statistic that 11% have never left their home state. How is that even possible? I’ve been to 49 out of 50. You should cross your state’s border accidentally. It’s not even an economic issue.
John, what finally inspired her to do this? Based on her complaints after spending some time in Italy, someone must have literally forced her. You can’t go to another country and expect it to be just like yours. I moved to Australia, and I even tried eating Vegemite, liking cricket and driving on the “wrong” side of the road.
March 14, 2023 @ 9:01 pm
All true – I have never understood that phrase on any level. I met some American Trump supporters in Italy and they were the same – I wondered why they even bothered to travel when they constantly complained. Yes us Aussies have it good but we also are self depreciating enough to understand that elsewhere is interesting too- most of us anyway and funnily enough it’s the non travellers who don’t!
March 15, 2023 @ 3:06 am
As a reasonably well travelled Aussie, I plan spending my retirement half the year over the Australian Summer and Autumn and then in May travel over to Italy for your Summer and Autumn. Assolutamente perfetto! They are the 2 best countries for me (with a side trip to Scotland every August)!
March 15, 2023 @ 12:32 pm
I’m sure you will be betting a lot of flack from this posting, but I am here to thank you for it. I have traveled quite a bit since my 20s (now in my 70s) and lived in three different countries (not counting the USA) for extended periods of time, and so I can attest, as you, that this, my birth country, cannot claim to be the best in the world. I will take Italy warts and all, over the US in quality of life and hope to make it my finally resting place very soon. This is my second try at posting a comment. For some reason my first one did not go through. Coincidence?
Joe da Rosa
March 16, 2023 @ 7:12 pm
No grip about any of your points, John. Another side of the coin, though, is that while our politics are currently dysfunctional, the U.S. is (or has been till now, depending on the next president) the cornerstone of the West’s and democracy’s security against Figlio di p… Putin and his fellow autocrats.
March 19, 2023 @ 2:11 am
March 21, 2023 @ 9:30 pm
I thought you’d be getting a lot of flack for this post but I don’t see nary a word. Not even mine. This is my third attempt to post a comment, though not a critical one. Hmmm…