WHAT WE CAN LEARN IN THE USA FROM A PLACE LIKE AUSTRIA
“Give me the strength to change the things I can, the courage to endure the things I can’t and the wisdom to recognize the difference.”
“Don’t compare. It’s neither better nor worse, it’s just different.“
Rule # 1 of being an exchange student is simply another way of pounding into bright-eyed, bushy-tailed homesick teens that to truly enjoy their experience abroad, and get the most out their host country, they will have to come equipped with an open mind.
When you spend an entire lifetime driving the half-a-block to the grocery store, you tend to become misled by the notion that the car is indeed the right way and only possible way to fetch your groceries.
Exchange Student Rule # 1, however, is an over- simplified message for about-to-be overwhelmed globetrotters. But for 16- and 17-year olds spending a year in some faraway land, perhaps their first time away from all that is familiar, I’d venture that, yes, it is a good rule to follow. Definitely do not compare their fork-and-knife eating pizza habits to our shove-it-in-your-mouth methods. Frankly, can we really be sure that Uncle Ted truly did wash his hands when he came in from the bushes and dug into the Pepperoni extra cheese.
But at some point, if we strive to grow and progress, life demands that we adopt Global Adult Rule # 1, which, God help us all, if I were Supreme Ruler of the World, I’d make required reading for all those entering adulthood.
Golden Adult Rule # 1: Encounter the world with a mature mind, able to weigh pros and cons honestly and without the rose-colored glasses of pride or ego in order to maintain a forward moving pace.
One can imagine that the first cave dwellers to slap some hide around their tired, calloused, bloodied, hairy, feet must have suffered ridicule from the cave clan one valley over. But as the smoke and drum beats from the shoed community seeped into the quiet, hungry corners of the cranky, sore-footed neighbor valley, ridicule must have dissipated into cautious skepticism. Maybe perhaps, it is definitely theoretically possible, that those frequent mammoth feasts are made possible by hunters who can run faster and track over greater distances. But who wants to admit they’re wrong and outdone? We’ll just go on with our grim bare-footed ways. But the storm gates of progress are not to be contained. No doubt, some buck-wild, bare-footed Neanderthal teen crashed the Friday night all-you-can-eat mammoth happy hour with his big-toed buddies and scored a pair of shiny, new, leathery-soft, prehistoric Pradas in the midnight pin-the-tail on the megaloceros competition and shoes went viral and feet have never been quite as pained and ugly since.
To think that any society can progress – technically or socially — by its citizens barricading themselves behind stone walls of obstinate obliviousness is to damn ourselves to darkness.
And that’s what’s so great about the website, If It Were My Home. Originally the creators wanted to make disasters more real for the folks at home by enabling users to transpose maps of natural catastrophes to any part of the globe (you can see, for example, what it would be like if the 2010 Pakistan massive flood had struck climate-change denier, Senator Ted Cruz’s home state of Texas). Later the creators of the website used the official figures from national government and international organizations to enable direct comparisons between two countries. How different would my life be if I lived in Austria rather than the US? Well…let’s have a look.
In the US, my friends and family can expect to enjoy 9.2% less free time, spend 64.5% more on healthcare, and die a whopping 0.61 years sooner than those of us in Austria. On the downside, I’ll probably earn 19.3% less money than my counterparts in the US. But in a place with free public universities, universal healthcare, and a public transportation system that charges just 1€/day for annual tickets, who needs more money?
Years ago, there was a trio of old ladies on a US commercial for a fast food chain whose no-nonsense attitude shot them to instantaneous fame. As Granny # 1 jammed her wire-rimmed eye glasses into the big white fluffy bun of the competitor, Granny Peller, clutching her handbag and stretching her lace-collared neck for a better look, demanded, “Where’s the beef?”
In the States, when we tout our greatest-nation-on-earth status, what are we comparing and to whom? Every country I have ever visited thinks itself the greatest. India boasts that it’s the world’s largest democracy, Greece, the world’s oldest and Norway can brag about having the most qualitative. All countries have something to puff out their chests about. Yet an intelligent conversation leading to progress demands an end to platitudes and a comparison based on real figures. Yes, Granny Peller, “Where’s the beef?!”
Comparisons can be dicey. When one side is clearly better, the limping lag-behind is bound to get defensive and lash out. We like our big-toed bunion blistered bare feet! You shoed footed sissies need to trot on back over to that valley of yours and stop all that stupid drumming and grilling! But as modern, intelligent, humans, we must hope, at some point, to have reached the maturity to leave our egos in the cave beside the spears and hammer-stones, and venture to the valley across the mighty mountain and icy river to learn, transfer and improve. And you know what? We might find that those cave crocs are great but could sure use some traction for the stony paths, fur for the winter and color for the misses.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put away childish ways.
I do not believe that Austrians are less criminally-minded. I am also not convinced Americans have a violence gene that makes them more prone to murder each other. Despite the wonderful Alpine air, I highly doubt that “frische Luft” is the reason for fewer infancy deaths here.
So why such differences? Isn’t it time we stop the platitudes, check our egos, climb the mountains, and change the things we can?
Country comparisons and transposable global disaster maps If It Were My Home Website
Check out these Instructions for Prehistoric Pumps. Bound to be the buzz at any paleontology party. People will be emulating you as the picture of progress.
Article from the New York Times about archeological find of prehistoric shoes complete with image of Prehistoric Prada found under sheep dung.
And just for fun: Shoes vs. Beer – which is progress? Check out Heineken’s take on the matter: https://youtu.be/zZfy0gpIARE
Where’s the Beef Commercial on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ug75diEyiA0
Where’s the Beef Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Where%27s_the_beef%3F
Global Democracy Ranking site: Compare Rankings of Countries