America’s the greatest country in the world? How can anyone say that if they’ve never been anywhere else?

The Jan. 6 riot on the capitol gave the world an image of the U.S. as a third world country.
The Jan. 6 riot on the capitol gave the world an image of the U.S. as a third world country. Wikipedia photo

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. ( 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?