Monday, February 25, 2013

Why Don't Americans Drive Diesels?

This seems to be the most popular question.  

Go to almost any other country and you'll see tons of diesels running around.  Come to America, and there's the odd Audi TDi or BMW 335d, but outside of the major German brands, there's virtually no diesel passenger cars.  

Of course, all our big commercial trucks run on diesel and diesel pickup trucks are always popular, but even then, diesel pickup trucks are a fraction of the sales of their gasoline powered relatives.   It's exceptionally rare to pull up to a consumer gas station and see someone filling up with diesel.  Why?

Let's step way back in time, back to the 1970's.

Diesels were virtually unheard of in the US before 1973, except for commercial applications.  Gasoline was cheap, plentiful, and lightly taxed.  Then the oil crisis hit.  Suddenly, gas prices mattered and that meant that fuel economy suddenly mattered.   Diesel had always been more expensive, but increasing prices brought fuel closer to parity than ever before.  Due to the overwhelming advantage of diesel in regards to fuel economy, for the first time in America, consumers really wanted diesel.

Diesel cars that didn't exist.

Detroit, who controlled the overwhelming majority of the US market at the time, struggled to meet demand.  They hadn't built diesels before, and unfortunately, these were the darkest days of the US auto manufacturer, a time where they had little competition and little fear of releasing inferior or poorly designed and tested products.

To say these first diesels were terrible is to put it mildly.  Almost without exception, these motors were noisy, smelled bad, and were fantastically unreliable even by the already abysmal standards of the 70's domestic market.   They were low on horsepower and slow -- again, even by the already abysmal standards of the mid-1970's.   About the only thing they did well was go a long ways on a gallon of fuel.   At least, they did until they broke and left you stranded.

While some of the European diesel imports were good, they were usually rare and almost all luxury makes like Mercedes-Benz.   Even if you were fortunate enough to see one or even drive one, you still found that they smelled kind of bad, were still noisy, and didn't really want to start when the weather got really cold.

Before long, gasoline prices fell and by the 80's gasoline was cheap again.  Diesel was still more expensive than gasoline, and taxes were far higher on Diesel than gas.  Interest in diesels waned.  The US manufacturers were glad to ditch a product line they never had much success with and consumers had such bad experiences that they didn't want them either, no matter how good the gas mileage might be.

A few Euro manufacturers tried to keep selling diesels here, with little success.    We didn't get the variety that was being sold in Europe, and low sales figures were an excuse to cut the number of models offered with a diesel even further.

Eventually, diesels all but disappeared from the US consumer market.  Since no one was buying them any more, we were left with the horrible memories of bad 1970's diesels.   In our minds, diesels are still noisy, smelly, and belong in trucks.  Due to the vast amounts of black smoke produced by commercial big rigs, they were also mistakenly believed to pollute more.  

The only place you routinely found them was in very large pickup trucks.  They were popular there, as all the low-end torque allowed them to haul a lot more weight.   Of course, they were large diesels intended for work and that meant they were noisy and smelly, just like all the old diesel cars everyone hated so much.  The only real difference is that they were fantastically reliable, often going half a million miles or more.

Really, that's where we are today.   People have a mistaken notion that diesels aren't very good or are just meant for trucks.  They cost more to buy and the fuel they consume costs more, even if they go further per dollar spent.   Gasoline still remains fairly cheap and we have no taxes on engine displacement, so large gasoline engines remain popular.    Even though they're more popular than they've been, there remain few choices and most cars are not offered with a diesel option -- even when one exists in other countries.   It's a self-perpetuating problem -- people believe diesels are bad, so they don't sell here.  Because they don't sell here, manufacturers don't offer them.  Because there are so few to buy and so few that want to buy them, few get sold and few people get to experience diesels enough to change their perceptions.  Since the perceptions don't change, no one buys diesels and the cycle continues.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Just me ... being me

Nothing really about America in this post.

Just kind of lamenting the fact that this is why I never start blogs and the ones I do start never go anywhere -- content and timely updates.   It's actually hard to come up with good, solid content on a regular basis that people actually want to read.  Start doing it on a schedule, and suddenly, it's work.

I've got enough jobs.   But you know, I like this blog.  I like the idea of it.  I think there's a lot I can write here, and once I get the feel for the 'voice' of this blog, I think there's a lot that I see every day here in America that I take for granted and never notice but could really use some explaining.  I'm looking forward to that.

I'm just asking that you bear with me.  I'm going to get there.  I'm dedicated to this.  I've just got to figure out how I'm going to get there. I know there will be a lot of mistakes and reformulations along the way, but this is the one I want to stick.  This is what I want to write about.

Questions / Answers

I'm cheating a little here.  I'm grabbing questions from the original Reddit thread, hoping this gives me some inspiration for an epic post tomorrow.

Pugslayer: Foreigners really have a hard time grasping the sheer size of America. When I toured Europe the car question was one of the most common I got. Why do American's have so many cars? Why are we so obsessed with them. It's hard to explain to them the sheer size of even a small city.
  • I like to explain the scale and vast emptiness this way: Wyoming is roughly the size of the entire United Kingdom. It's not even our biggest state, there are nine that are even bigger. It has roughly 580,000 people living in it. Total. North Dakota is about 3/4 the size of the UK. There are 18 states larger. It has less than 700,000 people living in it. Montana is one and a half times the size of the UK. It's our fourth largest state. It has just over a million people living there. Mississippi is a little smaller than England and it happens to be in an area of the country that's pretty well settled. Lots of people live there. Like a whole 2.9 million.

    Alaska is just comical. Largest state and about 7 times the size of the UK. 730,000 people in the whole place.

NotaManMohanSingh:  Why do "inner cities" (similar to the projects in Chicago? I read a couple of books on those) which are projected as being high crime areas continue to be so?

These are certainly in no way comparable to slums of Rio (for some reason, I felt safer in Jo'burg as compared to Rio), and America despite its deficit, can certainly muster massive financial resources to "fix" the problems.

Why isnt there more visible policing, active engagement of the community, efforts to create jobs, better schools etc in these relatively small pockets? Is it to do with the politics?

  • The biggest issue is that no one cares enough to fix it. Those bad areas of town are areas that you aren't likely to find yourself in unless you're unfortunate. People who don't live there can mostly avoid the problem.

    Actually fixing the problem takes more than just money. Money we've got, though spending it on such a project is often political suicide due to our "you're poor because you didn't try hard enough to overcome adversity" attitude. What you really need are people to go in and spend real time and effort to change cultural norms.

    When they do get fixed, they're usually fixed by gentrification, which doesn't really fix the problem, it just moves it to another part of the city.

    All that said, you probably believe the inner cities to be more violent and dangerous than they actually are. Movies are entirely unrealistic about the inner cities and even our news sensationalizes it a lot. Remember, it's not what the inner cities are actually like, but what people who don't live there believe they're like.

    I once lived in one of the poorest areas of a mid-sized Texas city. It was one of the least safe areas in all of Texas. In my entire time there, I was never robbed, never car jacked, never shot at or had a knife pulled on me. I did get mugged once, but they didn't have weapons and I didn't have anything for them to take. I never saw anyone get shot. None of my friends had any serious problems and never saw any violent crime go down. The only place that had an armed guard taking money to the bank was the local Wal-Mart, but they routinely carried the equivalent of 4 million rupees each day. It's really not common to use an armed guard unless you're carrying $100,000 or more to the bank.

    That's not to say crime didn't happen there. It did. A lot of it, comparatively speaking to the nice upscale neighborhood I live in today. It just probably wasn't going to happen to you, even if you looked like you didn't belong.

    Chicago is one of the deadliest cities in America. They had 500 homicides last year. I'm told more Americans are typically killed there in a year than in Afghanistan. Still, it's a city of 2.8 million people. 38 million people came to visit. If you lived there, your chance of being killed last year was about 0.02% -- effectively zero. I can't even imagine what the odds are for someone just visiting. It's really not as dangerous as you're imagining it.

    I think that's one of the biggest misconceptions that I get from foreigners. Everyone assumes it's scarily violent here and I've had people tell me they'd love to come visit, but they're afraid they'll be shot. I've never been shot at in my life, and I don't expect I ever will be.
DJ_Thundercock: I didn't know that failure had a stigma in other countries. You just summed up the idea of America so beautifully I'm trying not to cry at work right now.
  • I worked for a Japanese company for a while. Failure is not an option. If you fail, you will either lose your job or be marginalized. If that happens, you might lose your standing in society and might even lose your apartment -- some places only rent to people who work at certain companies or have certain social status. Losing a job is a career ender, and you will be lucky to get a job at all.

    This means that everyone is terrified of taking risks. Very few people start their own business, and if they do, they're seen as rebels and mavericks and not traditional Japanese. If a decision has to be made, all of the associated managers will get together and work on it until there is consensus. No one person will take responsibility for any action or decision because if it goes bad, they might lose everything. It is better if five people make the decision, because then everyone agreed it as good and not everyone can be fired if the decision is bad. It's also better to not make a decision at all if consensus can't be reached than to make a bad decision.

    I remember being in a meeting where someone needed to make a decision right now and we couldn't figure out if upper management would approve.

    Being the only American manager in the room, I told them that we were going to go ahead with the more ambitious plan because it's what everyone really wanted anyway, and it was "easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission." This statement stunned every one of the Japanese in the room. One of them finally looked at me and said, "you can say that. We cannot."

    We went ahead and did it since I was willing to take the responsibility, but it was a distinct moment when I realized just how different we were.
fleeingmediocrity: I really do object to the characterization of Canada as America-lite.
  • That line is one that I knew would make Canadians very upset. I know a lot of Canadians, I've been to your country many times and I've even spent a few weeks in Montreal. You guys hate, and I mean really hate the idea that you're some sort of ersatz 51st state. I get it, I really do. There's a lot to be proud of in your country and there are some significant differences.

    That said, there is absolutely zero culture shock for an American visiting Canada. Even Montreal is more of a quaint Americanized version of Europe. It feels different enough to be novel, but not so different that you don't quickly feel at home.

    Go to Europe, and you will know the second you cross from Germany into France. Or from France to Spain. Or Germany to the Czech Republic. Believe me, you'll notice you're in a different country. If you felt at home in one, you'll definitely feel like an outsider in the other.

    Or, for a closer comparison, try visiting Mexico some time. I've done that too. Trust me, you'll feel lost pretty fast. All your normal cultural groundings are gone, even in a world of globalization. Everything works just a little bit differently than you're used to down there -- hell, you can't even drink the water that comes out of the tap and the city might be under martial law.

    I get that you're different. But Canada and the United States are more alike than they are different. I don't mean that as insult, but I am telling it like it will appear to someone who's never visited. I didn't spare harsh words for my country either.

benoit__balls: I wasn't offended, and I didn't think your "America-lite" comment was derogatory, all I wanted to do was point out the fact that neighbouring countries are bound to be similar to each other in many ways. I think what puts most Canadians off is the way Americans refer to the similarity, that doesn't mean Canadians are disputing the congruence. It's always stated as if Americanism is something we aspire to, as if all we are doing over here in Canada is trying to emulate your country (Stephen Harper excluded), like we have no identity or values of our own. Like we are lesser and not equals. It makes us feel belittled and creates the animosity we are apparently so famous for towards our Southern neighbour. Canada is influenced by America and vice versa, it's a two way street, but it's never expressed like that. That's all I was trying to say. I agree that the generalization and perception does not follow reality. I don't expect that you write an encyclopedia on the subject.

Just as a side-note, I have to wonder if the rest of the world (i.e. non-Americans) sees Canada as America-lite as well? I mean, being foreigners? You mentioned you were referring to how the average American perceives Canada. Just wondering if it would be different for other nationalities?
  • Ah. That's an interesting point and not one I've heard my Canadian friends mention.

    I can see how you'd perceive it that way, but I don't think it's all that accurate. I think for Americans, we can look south and see a nation that is distinctly different from our own even though we share a very long common border. It's really hard to identify with Mexico, even for cities and states in close proximity. The cultures and experiences are just so different. You will always recognize that you're not at home. In light of that, all we can see is how similar you are. It amuses us that you think you're so different, and it's just an American thing to give someone a good ribbing when we think they're taking things a little too seriously.

    We don't think you're trying to emulate us, we just think you essentially are us. Remember too, we think of New Yorkers as distinctly different people from Southern Californians, but both share the American culture. You're distinctly different, but no more so than we're already used to. The more you protest that you're not at all like us, the more comical we think it is.

    From my travels in Europe, no one seems to know the difference between a Canadian and an American other than on a foreign policy basis. I routinely passed for Canadian without question -- and some of us do that a lot so that we don't have to continually apologize and defend some of the more asinine foreign policy decisions our country makes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

It seems like the biggest questions non-Americans have for Americans is those of transportation.  Why the fascination with cars?   Why is your public transportation so terrible?  Why doesn't anyone use trains?

Like everything in America, when you start talking in generalities, you're going to get in trouble.   Some of us do use trains.   Some of us absolutely hate cars.   Some cities have fantastic public transportation and in some of those cities, owning a car is actually a liability.

But that's not the case for much of America.

If you're not on the east coast of America, and more specifically, in Boston, New York City, or Washington D.C., your public transportation options are terrible.   Those three cities happen to be extremely compact with very high levels of population density.   They got started early, when cars weren't a thing and anything that meant you didn't have to buy a horse or walk on your own two feet was pretty damn cool.   They also got started early enough that there was pretty good infrastructure by the time the Ford Model T came along in 1908.

Remember, we're a pretty young country.   While New York and Boston got their start in the mid-1600's, they're the oldest cities we've got.   Few cities have significant structures that were built before the mid-1800's.   While many cities started out the 1900's with trolley cars and public rail, few had the resources to build a subway.   Even in cities with trolley systems, the network was small and not of high quality.  When cars became affordable, there was a huge incentive to tear them down.

This is where I have to speak once again of just how huge our country is and how we've never lacked for space.   New York City to Los Angeles is 4500 kilometers.  Fargo, North Dakota to Brownsville, Texas is 2600 kilometers.  The state of Wyoming is a little bigger than the whole United Kingdom, but it only has 576,000 people living in it.  It can be a long way to anywhere and most of the land was empty when we found it -- or we made it empty pretty fast.  

Our first railway linking the East and West coasts wasn't complete (until 1869)[].   Many cities weren't connected even as late as 1900.  Because nearly everyone that moved West did so in pursuit of owning a large portion of their own land -- simply moving out there could give you (640 acres of land for free)[] -- that meant that linking everything up by any kind of rail was problematic and extremely expensive.  I'm mentioning all this because I want everyone to understand the state of our rail system and public transit at the dawn of the automobile.

Automobiles represented real freedom in a country where travel could be and often was, difficult.   Having a car not only meant you were free, but also meant that you were a person who could afford nice things.   It meant that you no longer had to wait for the trolley that didn't run on time and at long intervals.   It meant you were no longer constrained by all the things that had traditionally kept people fairly close to home.   In many ways, these feelings deified the automobile in American culture.   I didn't help that as car prices were declining, America had started to hit its industrial stride.  Suddenly, cars were available to everyone.

In return, we built roads.  Roads were cheaper to build and maintain than rail, and if you needed a road to your property or to your neighbor's property, you just cleared a path.  You didn't need a permit to tap into the existing road and your car worked equally well on the official road as it did on the impromptu path.  Simple.  Easy.  At the same time, all the existing public transit needed repair and replacement.

It didn't make economic sense to continue to build out public transit that only a few people were going to use anyway, and of course, anyone of any means was going to have a car.   So, roads continued to get built and railways and bus lines didn't.   Public transit became the system you'd use if you were poor and couldn't own a car.  In time, it became stigmatized in much of America.

The automobile manufacturers certainly played their part in making the automobile an American icon.  They're not blameless.   Flush with profit, they used their might to relentlessly market the automobile and destroy funding for public transit.  However, they sold all this to a willing public and everyone really did believe that cars were the future.  It's easy to look back and see how this was a mistake.

Today, we still haven't shaken a lot of those values.   It doesn't matter if it's Two Lane Blacktop, Knight Rider, or The Fast and The Furious, the automobile is still king in American culture.  We love our automobiles.  We refuse to get rid of them, and we often own more than one.  Everything, particularly as you move West, was built with the car in mind.  Car ownership is designed to be as low cost as possible.  For instance, my state charges less tax on car purchases than normal items.   Taxes for registration are less than $100 a year.   Gasoline remains cheaper than diesel and barely taxed compared to European countries.  This has created a problem for mass transit and trains in particular, as there's little incentive to get rid of your car.

In America, rail is primarily used for freight.  From what I'm told, it does a very good job of carrying freight.   However, the majority of rail lines are not owned by the public, they are owned by the rail company that built them.  That means a couple of bad things for carrying passengers.  One, passenger trains always have lowest priority.   If a freight train and a passenger train need to use the same rail, the freight train is going first -- even if the freight just got there and the passenger train has been waiting for hours.  Doesn't matter.   Two, the rail lines are primarily built for low speed freight trains.  High speed rail is nearly impossible on existing lines.   Three, destination points are often in the most industrial areas of town.   These are not good areas of town to be in.   Even worse, transit options from these areas to the areas of town you'll want to be in are extremely limited.   Getting off a train with a bunch of expensive luggage and electronics in the worst areas of town really isn't a good idea and not many people are willing to brave it.   As a result of all this, passenger rail tends to be clustered around a couple of routes that work well -- California and the Eastern seaboard -- and rail enthusiasts.    Some people ride trains just because they enjoy riding the trains.  The delays and the fact that it takes significantly longer than driving by car doesn't matter, because they're enjoying the ride.   For the vast majority of Americans, rail isn't a realistic option.

That isn't likely to change in the near future.  We have exactly one high speed rail system, primarily connecting three of our most robust cities for public transit: New York City, Boston, and Washington D.C.   Still, the average journey time is seven hours from Boston to DC and costs about $100.  On the same day, I can take an hour and a half flight for $20 more.    This small rail line cost us billions to build.  Connecting most of the major cities in the US by high speed rail represents a cost that's difficult to calculate and politically impossible to spend considering that all of those cities -- and more -- are more adequately served by car and plane.   I'd personally love to see high speed rail linking just the major cities in Texas -- just a little too far to drive, a little too expensive to travel by plane -- but I can see that it would cost too much to develop, would likely cost as much as a plane to travel on, and still wouldn't solve my problem of needing a car once I'd reached my destination.

In the end, just about everyone in the US owns a car.   At my high school, which was a small school in a small rural Texas town, even the poor kids had a car.  It might not have been a good car, but it did run and they knew how to keep it running.  If you're above absolute poverty, that's how you travel, even if you need to cover long distances.  If you're not, you probably use a plane for travel more than six hours unless you really enjoy the cross country drive.   If you decide to take a bus, you'll likely be dealing with a fair amount of homeless and mentally ill, so you'll probably only do it if's all you can afford.  (Our lack of care for the homeless and the mentally ill is a subject of another post.)  If you happen to be in a city fortunate enough to have a subway, it will be used by all.   Trains, however, due to the high cost of tickets and inefficient schedules, tend to have riders who don't really need to take public transit.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Explain America like I am a Non-American.
(The Original Post from Reddit)

This whole thing started when I came across this question on reddit: Explain America like I am a non-American.   I gave it my best shot, which ended up being very popular, and then someone said, "You've got to write a blog for everyone else on the internet to read."    Reddit seems to know what the internet wants to read, so I'm going to give it a shot.

Here's the original post as it appeared at reddit.  Enjoy.

America is a really strange combination of people who almost all came from different places. You'll find that while most "native born Americans" will identify with being American first, there is a very strong desire to explain where your people came from -- even those of us who have been here the longest haven't been here more than a couple hundred years. Your country most likely has buildings that are hundreds if not thousands of years older than our family histories of being American. This also means that we don't have a very good grasp on history or what "a long time ago" really means. Everything's relatively new here.

You might ask why I didn't bother to mention our true native population. It's because all the people who came to this country did a very effective job of wiping them out and moving the ones left behind to less desirable areas of the country. Unless you're at a casino (typically only found on the land we gave them when we moved them), it will be rare to find a Native American, and even rarer to find two in the same room.

You'll find that because of all this, the "culture" of America is dumbed down, a bland mix of everything from every other culture in the world. It will likely be highly offensive to your culture, because every bit of nuance will be removed and only enough essence will remain that you will be able to recognize how your culture has been bastardized. Not only that, some of the "America" will be baked right in on top of it all and only you will be able to see that most of what everyone likes about your culture is really not your culture at all and instead what America thinks your culture is. You'll hate it. You'll write long blog posts about it. You won't be able to stop mentioning how terrible America is for co-opting your culture and destroying it at the same time.

However, you'll be unable to resist American culture. The problem is, just as it has dumbed down your culture and made it palatable to outsiders, it has done this to every other culture as well. For those cultures that you don't know quite so well, it seems to unlock a world that was formerly inaccessible and unknowable to you. You'll love it because it makes you feel like you know more than you do and that you've had richer and more varied experiences than you've actually had. This is what we do, and we do it very, very well: we take what's great about everything, distill it down into a bland facsimile of the original, and then sell it back to you at a markup.

I'm not proud of this fact, but it is what happens when your culture is new, comes from everywhere, and no one has a real concept of shared experience. Think of us as the nouveau riche of culture. We're simply not old enough to know better.

Also, you're probably going to have a problem with distance. This country is huge. Like really, fuckoff huge. Like "might kill you if you miscalculate how far it is to get somewhere". You are not going to visit New York, then drive to Los Angeles in a week's time. You might be lucky to do the drive itself in a week -- it's about 4500 kilometers and will take about 40 hours of driving. Those maps will look like things are just "right over there", but they are not. Your scale is wrong and you're used to looking at different maps. Don't underestimate this on your travels, it can take a long damn time to get anywhere in this country.

Also, while we don't have the variation of language and culture that say, Europe has, different areas of the country are distinctly different. You can't just visit New York and say you've seen America. Visit New York and Los Angeles, and you're getting closer, but you'd really need to also visit small towns out in the middle of nowhere with names that only the people that live there know, and you'd have to visit places like Dallas and Miami and Seattle and Denver and New Orleans and Alaska and Hawaii and ... well, everywhere. I've lived here 39 years and there's still areas of the country I haven't been to and still areas of the country that surprise me when I visit. It's impossible to "know" America, because it means so many different things to so many different people.

This great expanse means that we're isolated too. It's very hard for Americans to visit and explore other countries. I live within a three mile hour car ride to Mexico, and that's considered close to the border. Of course, three hours by car doesn't take you to any town you'd actually want to visit in Mexico. To get somewhere like Mexico City is going to probably take a plane trip, which is prohibitively expensive for many families. Canada is the only other close neighbor we have that's relatively easy to visit, and it's got the same problems of being very remote from most US cities coupled with the fact that it's really just America-lite. Until a few years ago, you didn't need a passport to visit either country, which is why the majority of Americans don't have a passport. Any other country is a long plane ride away and will cost over $1000 US per person just to get there. Most families really can't justify the money, especially when there's so much to see right here.

That also contributes to the fact that we're not aware of what's going on in other countries. We've never been, we don't know anyone who lives there, and generally speaking, what happens in your country doesn't really affect us here. We know that you know all about us though. Unfortunately, our outsized media, market, and military presence means that we affect just about every other country on Earth in some way. You will feel that we don't respect you because you know so much about us and we know comparatively little about you.

Unfortunately, we will feel that there's so many of you and we simply can't be expected to know every little detail about every little country. We'll also feel that you never really take the time to understand us and you greatly misunderstand us. This is primarily because your exposure to us will either be through our media or our military. Unfortunately, our military doesn't normally recruit our best and brightest and curious and humble for the people you're most likely to meet. 

Our media generally gets nothing right. Remember, we're all about selling cultural experiences to people who are ignorant about that culture. That means that regardless of whether it's your country, your job, or your passion, they're going to sell you something that looks like what the ignorant thinks it looks like. That also includes our country. Baywatch is not even remotely typical of what you'd find on a Los Angeles beach, but it is what people in middle America think you'd find on a Los Angeles beach. Likewise, it's what you think you'll find. Even our news is sensationalized and can be better called "News Entertainment". If you come to visit, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find the country to be nothing like how you thought it would be.

Oh, and for a mixture of races, cultures, and nationalities, we don't speak many languages. We had to default long ago to something everyone could speak, and for many reasons, that language became English. You really do have to speak it to get around in this country, and it's just expected that you'll speak it, so you learn it. Unfortunately, there's no good excuse to learn another language. If you live close to Mexico, and you work with manual labor, you'll find Spanish pretty useful and you'll probably pick up at least a working vocabulary, though probably not a conversational capacity. If you don't work these kinds of jobs, or don't have the good fortune to be born into a family with strong ties to their original country, there's no obvious second language to learn and little opportunity to use it. A lot of people attempt to pick up another language, but with no one to speak it to, the skills atrophy pretty quickly and the motivation to learn more quickly wanes.

We're raised on a culture of exceptionalism, so you'll find us to be a bit full of ourselves. However, we also oddly want everyone to like us, so you'll also find the average American to be quite friendly and genuinely curious about you. We're raised to believe that any of us can do anything, and while that's not entirely true, it's an extremely powerful ideal. You'll need hard work and a whole lot of luck, but it is possible to claw your family from abject poverty to impressive wealth in a single generation. It's expected that you'll start your own business. It's expected that you'll fail. It's also expected that you'll pick yourself up and try again. And again. And again until you make it. Failure doesn't have the stigma here that it has in other countries. That frees you up to take chances and do something great as opposed to plodding along in mediocrity. Unfortunately, all of these things also make us a little insensitive to those who cannot find their way. In our collective mind, they're failures not because they tried and didn't succeed, or because they didn't have a chance, but because they didn't work hard enough to overcome their adversities.

I don't really know where to end this, it's already too long and I could keep writing all day, simply because America isn't a simple concept that can be easily explained. I just wanted something a little better than the stereotypical "AMERICA FUCK YEAH."