As I write this blog, the date is November 14, 2022. Just eight days ago, on November 6th, I turned 83. So many of my classmates, both from my boarding high school and college, no longer walk the planet. Less than half of all Americans born in my year, 1939, were still alive in June 2021. So, at this point, I have more good ideas than the energy to follow up on them. Were I in my early 50s versus my early 80s, however, this is one idea I’d try hard to bring into being: a website describing best practices from around the globe in public policy and culture...
Americans are probably not alone in thinking their country is the best and, in line with that, the way things are done in the motherland is as good as it gets. Of course, although nearly three-quarters of Americans have visited at least one other country, I suspect that many fewer—active military form an exception—have actually lived abroad for a year or longer or even for a few months. And the number of native-born Americans who speak another language fluently, other than immigrant children, is probably miniscule. As the joke goes, a person who speaks three languages is trilingual, two-languages bilingual, and only one language, American!
The active military, to be sure, brings up an important point. The popular post-World War I song by Donaldson, Young, and Lewis, “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After they’ve Seen Paree)?” makes the point that even the least sophisticated recruits, the Joes from Kokomo, come home with the realization that there are ways of living in other cultures that are more interesting and better than what we have here. I experienced that myself in 1958-59 as a late-teenaged exchange student in post-war Germany. I knew of course as a humanities major that Europe had had many more centuries to build their traditions, art, literature, music, buildings, everything. But to discover that, thanks to a later patent, their black-and-white TV pictures were sharper than ours at that time and that their removable showerheads versus our fixed ones in the 50s were more user-friendly shocked me. We’d won the World War after all, yet in these two areas this still-rebuilding defeated country seemed clearly ahead of us.
So, my point here is simply a commercial for how useful it would be for every country to have access to a website that would report on social, cultural, political, economic, and technological practices in different countries and critically discuss the apparent pros and cons of each. The closest we’ve come in my experience is Michael Moore’s 2015 documentary film Where to Invade Next, in which Moore shows what he considers some better practices in different European countries and one nation in North Africa. Would you like to give it a try?