Land of the Free

Tomorrow I’m going to the US for the first time. I’ve saved it up, mainly because I’ve been more interested in going to countries which contrast more with my own. Many who have been tell me I’ll be unnerved, confused, by American culture. Shocked. But somehow I can’t quite believe them, I expect it to feel a bit like home.

There’s an interesting bit in the introduction to Lonely Planet guides to Britain. It says that for Australian/American/Canadian (and even Malaysian/Indian/Burmese) backpackers, a trip to what was once their imperial mother (or slave-driver) is always an emotional occasion. Like it or not, I’m part of imperial America, and it’s no surprise that I partly have the same feeling.

I can’t quite believe America really exists. I’ve seen the movies, I know who the last few premiers are, I can name many of the provinces, I’m fluent in the language, highly conscious about the politics. Normally I have to read a bit about a country I’m visiting to have any chance of knowing what is going on. Not here. I think I know it well, which is perhaps why people tell me I’ll be shocked by what it’s really like.

A few things I’ve stumbled on the last day or two by way of accidental research:

  • A girl who used to be homeless, and keeps an online diary. These posts talk about where she used to sleep in Cambridge MA and a demoralising discussion on healthcare.
  • Nearly election time, and politics is so partisan. Each side demonises the other, it’s hardly healthy. This usenet discussion thread is an example.
  • I usually read the news of a country for a week or so before I visit it, by searching on Google News. This didn’t really work with the US as a search keyword, until I realised that really I’m going to California, a country by itself.
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