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The United States: Land of the free, home of the biggest prison population in the world.

In all seriousness, I wish more USians were aware of how much of the rest of the world views the current state of your nation. I could address this specific point, but I just feel it's irrelevant in light of the much bigger issues. I think that this clip is quite insightful to the prevailing attitude in Britain and much of Europe:


At 3:06, Jimmy Carr says "I'd very much like to say something hilarious, but something must be done." Take note of his tone - it's not the indignation usually aimed at America. There's no sense that he thinks you should know better. It's the same tone he would use to talk about a humanitarian disaster in the developing world. He's just sad. We're describing "slavery by the backdoor" and we're not even angry.

We don't view you as "the evil empire", not any more. We don't hate you, we just don't have the heart to. We pity you. We pity what you have become and what you may yet become. You look to many of us like a punched-out former heavyweight - once great, now just an incoherent wreck, old and infirm before your time.

When hurricane Katrina hit, many of us agreed with Kanye West's sentiment that "George Bush does not care about black people". Five years on, many of us have come to believe that the US is just becoming incapable of managing its own affairs. I'm not sure which is a sadder thing to believe.

Us Brits can empathise to an extent - we used to have an empire on which the sun never set, now we're just a drizzly little island with a few rotten banks and a rubbish football team. Where we can't empathise is that we've always been able to feed our poor and sick and old. Since 1948 we've had a right to a hospital bed, regardless of our means. We used to think that you were unwilling, but now we're not sure whether you're just unable.


Meh. I am well aware of how the rest of the world views the U.S., having spent a fair amount of time traveling around it. In Europe I got a sense that a lot of people were rooting for the U.S. to fail, and that those sentiments tended to cloud their otherwise sound judgement. Like for example the girl from Greece I met who swore that 9/11 was a CIA-instigated plot, and said everyone she knew agreed. Or the French guy who was berating America for backing dictatorships in the Mid-East and Africa, while his own government merrily sells them the guns and bombs needed to prolong the oppression. During Bush II I lived in Spain for a time, and the amount of distortions and outright fabrications that appeared in the papers there about things our leaders had said or done never ceased to amaze me.

And then we have the Brits, who never miss a chance to loudly empathize with what it's like to live in an "ex-empire", and boast about NHS--you know, the institution under which my friend waited 13 months to get a knee operation. (That's a long time to be crippled.) Of course, who knows how long that will last, what that hideous budget deficit you're now forced to confront.

The mistake people from other countries always seem to make when it comes to us Americans is that they mistake our politeness for ignorance. We're not blind to our deficiencies, our yours; we're just too polite to go around rubbing them in.

You could learn something from that.

Aside from appearing petty ('someone was mean about America, I'll be mean about their country'), I wouldn't raise the issue of healthcare as an example of America doing things right. You have one of the worst healthcare systems in any developed nation!

My wife is American and when we were first married, we had a discussion about where we would live. I didn't want to leave Scotland, so she moved here. Now she would refuse to move back to the US, even after the election of Obama in the US and Cameron here.

America is a deeply confusing and terrifying country to many people. It's a country that doesn't appear to care about its citizens in any meaningful way - and its citizens appear to be largely in favour of this. There are very deep cultural divides between the UK and the US, divides that are easily missed due to the common language and shared history.

In any event, this particular issue is in no way an American one. The same problem of overzealous police reaction to photographers is widely reported in the UK, to the extent of questions being asked in Parliament and the ACPO issuing guidance telling the plod on the beat to stop harassing photographers, which said plod largely ignore, especially in London.

I think it's pretty much inevitable. Our governments are spending so much time pounding out the 'BE AFRAID, BE ALERT' message that any push back against that is perceived as a direct attack, and is treated as such. The answer is to stop the paranoia about terrorists, but neither of our countries new governments seem keen to do that.

American culture is very sink-or-swim. There isn't as much cultural demand for a safety net. I attribute this to our cultural memory of the frontier. Europeans think of welfare as a country taking care of its citizens--Americans are more likely to think of it as forcing hardworking, productive people to support those who can't be bothered to work for a living.

Incidentally, it's a misnomer that the US has one of the worse healthcare systems in any developed nation. The US has the single best healthcare system in human history, if you can afford it. Some people from countries with socialized medicine actually come here to have stuff done, since they'd rather pay to travel and have medical care in the US rather than wait in the queue in their own country. What the US lacks is a way of making the full use of that system available to everyone.

> The US has the single best healthcare system in human history, if you can afford it.

It's that if you can afford it that makes it worst healthcare systems in any developed nation in some people's eyes.

Everyone is comparing apples to oranges when it comes to this stuff.

System 1: Everyone has health care but it may be subject to wait-listing which leads to major problems.

System 2: A percentage of the population can't afford basic care but those that can, get exceptional care. Emergency care is typically available to everyone through public hospitals regardless of ability to pay but if you can afford part of it, it has the potential bankrupt you.

The systems reflect cultural bias.

Note: Any system has the potential to become rationed.

To compare national healthcare quality you need to look at health indicators for the entire country, rather than the best possible case.

Talking about it in this way is like saying that YC has made a profit on every company that successfully exited. It's technically true, but it tells you absolutely nothing about the performance of Y Combinator as a whole.

A while ago I read an interesting article about why the US and Canada are so different in culture. Unfortunately Googling failed to find it again, but the summary version was that the US was heavily influenced by immigration by Ulster Scots from Northern Ireland, where Canada was more influenced by immigration directly from Scotland.

The difference between a colonising culture (the Ulster Scots) versus a colonised culture (the Scots) apparently explains the huge culture rift.

It was a compelling narrative, but that just makes me suspicious about it. It's easy to convince people of your pet theory if you make it into a good story.

A smattering of anecdotes and you're 'well aware of how the rest of the world views the U.S.'.

Reminds me of the story of the psychoanalyst who, when presented with a patient profile, announced that this was clearly a case of 'X' diagnosed on the basis of his "1000-fold experience". "And I suppose", remarked his colleague, "the next diagnosis will be on the basis of your 1001-fold experience."

It may be possible to say there is a general view as to how the rest of the world views the U.S. but I can’t see how you can make that conclusion from the evidence you've reported.

I'm sorry--was that an anecdote you used to make your point?

This seems strangely off-topic if you're not going to at least vaguely discuss the specific point. And on this specific point, it looks quite strange to be feeling superior as a European. Is Europe better when it comes to asymmetric surveillance, i.e. the government increasingly videotaping everyone but not allowing anyone to videotape them? That isn't the case as far as I know: many European countries have extensive CCTV surveillance systems on the one hand, but broad, restrictive laws about filming "sensitive" government activities on the other hand.

For example, in the UK, there's a CCTV on every corner, but photographing the police can get you up to 10 years in jail (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29225389/) and harassment of photographers is common (http://youve-been-cromwelled.org/?p=1079 , http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/apr/16/police-delete-touri...). It seems Germany harasses photographers as well (http://www.toytowngermany.com/lofi/index.php/t3168.html).

I'm not a fan of the direction the US is going on this issue, either, but I don't think this is a case where Europe is doing better. On health-care and social safety nets, yes, but not on civil liberties, which was the subject at hand.

As far as I'm aware, from following the photographers versus police issue as a non-photographer, and critically, from far outside of London, the advice from the Chief Police Officers to their own staff has been that you can't arrest people JUST for taking pictures, except in very specific circumstances and that taking pictures by itself doesn't count as suspicious behaviour.

The problem is that the police on the ground have been whipped up into an anti-terror frenzy - and are largely thugs in any case - and there's a disturbing number of them just ignoring these instructions.

After the lack of prosecution over Ian Tomlinson's death, there's a strong feeling in the country that Something Needs To Be Done about the police. It's fine for them to club annoying hippies protesting about something or other, but the 'ordinary' people are starting to feel worried now and that won't end well.

Europe is not Britain and vice versa.

As a non-European, based strictly on coverage I've seen as part of the photographic community, it seems that Britain's surveillance-happy tendencies are not nearly so strongly replicated through the rest of Europe.

The freedom situation in Britain has gotten so bad that I'm not sure that Brits have a leg to stand on when criticizing the US for its increasing lack of freedoms, the over-reaching arms of the law.

That being said, Americans have nothing to be proud of when it comes to these sorts of laws - they are a clear encroachment on your freedoms, and a clear example of the exact sort of power abuse that the Founding Fathers specifically forewarned of, and sought to prevent. It's so textbook as to be galling, yet the courts' support of them is just depressing.

German here. Tried to film the police arresting some guy near where I live, they immediately came over and asked me to delete the videos or else they would take my camera (cell phone)

It’s illegal for them to do that. You can tape whatever you want in public places. You might not be allowed to publish it depending on what exactly you are taping but just filming something is not prohibited.

>just filming something is not prohibited

In the UK if any action is causing distress to someone I think the police are allowed to stop you doing it (based on a naive reading). There are some pretty general laws on our statute books.

I guess we are lucky that the law in Germany doesn’t follow the the-camera-steals-your-soul-theory with regard to personal rights – i.e. taking a photo or filming in public is never (pretty much, the exception is stalking) illegal, personal rights of the photographed can only be violated by making the photos public (and the law has certain exceptions were making photos public is legal even without consent of all the photographed).

But it’s certainly true that the police can majorly inconvenience you. They can take your camera away and even though they have to give it back to you and are not allowed to delete anything that they can do that at all does suck. At least they cannot fine you or worse.

The most annoying thing is that many in the police seem to be unaware about the law. (They strangely never seem to have that problem when a law gives them more power.) They will lecture you on and on about personal rights even if those are irrelevant as long as you don’t plan to make the photos public. (And even if you, say, documented police brutality a newspaper could print the photo no problem, they would just have to pixelate faces.)

Maybe you are right, but it doesn't matter. If I had a spare camera lying around and enough resources to deal with the legal system, I would love to provoke them and see how far I can go. But I don't.

They can take away your camera (i.e. you better not stop them from taking away your camera – but they have to give you a receipt) but they are absolutely not allowed to delete or change anything without a conviction of some sort (and you definitely won’t get any conviction for taking photos in public, no matter what you take photos of – stalking is the only exception but that’s not the case here).

They might even not be allowed to look at your photos without a court order (since looking at your photos is a search – I’m not sure about that one).

They can only keep your camera around as long as they plan on using it as evidence – meaning that if there is no investigation or as soon as the investigation ends or after the court is finished with the case they have to give it back to you (unchanged if the court doesn’t rule otherwise – which it won’t).

The good news is that the police in Germany cannot make you pay a fine or get you into prison for taking photos of them. The bad news is that they can inconvenience you by temporarily taking away your camera. Which they can do but as soon as they delete so much as one photo you should defend yourself and sue.

The America I would like to identify with would quite frankly prefer your hatred to your pity.

Every country has its faults and its priorities, and every country has its own circumstances to deal with. For instance, it's easy to avoid racial issues when you have a racially homogenous population. Britain was over 90% white in 2001 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_the_United_Kingdo... US was about 75% in 2008 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_the_United_States...). It's easier to maintain infrastructure when you have one and 1/4 small, densely populated islands, rather than a vast, sparsely-populated continent with clusters up and down either coast.

Yes, we have a high prison population. And for many reasons that's not justified. But it's also largely because our circumstances are different from yours, and there's no evidence yet that, given the chance, Britain would handle those circumstances any better than the US.

You want to talk about civil liberties, when Americans still hold inviolate some of the old English civil liberties that old England has now deemed obsolete? You want to talk about race relations when members of the BNP--of which there is no American equivalent with any comparable level of support--represent your country in the European Parliament? Trust me--as much as you may worry about or pity the Americans, the feeling is quite mutual.


Please don't use that. Aside from the atrocious grammar, we are Americans. We could refer to the British as "wankers" or whatever pejorative is in at the moment, but you call yourselves the British and so we respect that.

Well, the thing is that Great Britain is a country, thus "British" describes someone from that country.

America is a content (two, actually), thus "American" describes someone from said continents, not necessary the most powerful nation on it. I'm well aware of the colloquial usage that "American" = "person from the United States of America", but keep in mind that parent poster was not trying to be disrespectful, but rather wanting to be technically correct.

Which, as Futurama would have us know, is the best type of correct.

There's no disrespect meant when the word "USian" is used, and as a Canadian it's a tiny bit annoying that you guys have unilaterally taken the term.

The United States of America is the only country in the world with "America" in its name, hence we're called "Americans". (Likewise, Great Britain is actually the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland", which means if anything, calling UKians "British" actually excludes part of their population.) If you follow the general rule for naming nationalities (take the country's official name, drop any preceding "People's/Democratic/Federal/Socialist/United Kingdom/States/Republic/Empire/Emirate of", and add "ish" or "an" or "ian" or "n" or "ese" to it or drop the last vowel depending on what sounds best) and apply it to "United States of America", you get "American". Sorry we picked a lame and generic name[1]. I think we considered "Columbia" at one point but it's too late to change it now and people would confuse us with Colombia.

"USians" is technically more ambiguous since we're not the only "United States"--Mexico is "Estados Unidos Mexicanos", which is Spanish for "United Mexican States".

As you may or may not have noticed, the names of countries don't always exactly match every single geographical use of the same word. Some people in Greece were similarly upset about Macedonia, which is why lots of people call it the "former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia". I don't think anyone ever calls their citizens "Former Yugoslav Republicans" rather than "Macedonians", but my Greek isn't up to finding out for sure.

If you want to go further back, "Germany" and "Spain" are Anglicizations of "Germania" and "Hispania", which in the original Latin incorporated much larger areas than these current countries. I don't think many Polish or Portuguese people really mind, though, when I don't refer to them as German or Spanish despite the fact that they live in Germania or Hispania.

[1] Historical reason: of the original 13 colonies, they each had their own names, and the only thing they really had in common were that they were United in opposition to the Crown, that they considered themselves States, and that they were of America. By the time they had become a single nationality, it was too late to pick a more interesting name.

Meh, I would guess being snarky over trying to be technically correct. 'American' has always been the preferred (not just colloquial) demonym for people from the United States of America. I hardly think that Americans intended to step on other North and South Americans' toes by taking that name. In fact, I don't know anyone who refers to North and South America as a combined America. It's much more plausible that 'American' was the logical (or at least the easiest to say and recognizable) name to give people from the United States of America, just as 'British' was preferable to 'Greatian' :-)

It's not an issue I've run into in practice with Europeans, either, who mostly seem to use cognates of "Americans" in various languages. Greeks call Americans Αμερικανοί, the French call us américains, the Danes amerikanere, etc., and nobody seems to think twice about it. Even Québécois typically use américains as the demonym, so the fellow-North-Americans issue doesn't seem to be a big point of confusion. I've seen "USians" on the internet a lot (along with "UKians"), but never encountered it irl. I'm not sure how you'd even say something like that in Greek.

If anything, my experience is that the Europeans I've interacted with use it a bit more widely than even Americans do. While we universally use it to describe the people, many Europeans seem to use it as a name for the country, "America", in places where I personally find it weird. Outside contexts like national holidays and poetry, I usually say "the United States" or "U.S.", as in "I'm flying back to the U.S. next week", but many Europeans I know say things like, "this is my first trip to America" or "I have a brother in America".

Oh, I'm fully aware of where the name came from - and it's totally understandable at that. The problem is that the name "America" is hardly exclusive to the USA. It's as if a country called "The Grand Duchy of Europe" referred to its citizens as "Europeans", to the great dismay of everyone else in Europe. The term "American" is so often used that many Americans don't even know what other countries are on this fair continent - though as a Canadian I have to admit we are far less often mis-continentized than Mexico.

Personally, I use "American" in your intended way, mostly because it's been so damned long since you guys unilaterally took over the name that it hardly seems worthwhile fighting for it.

I'm frankly surprised that this it the first you've heard of it - I've seen the term "USian" used with no possible connotation of disrespect for years, often by Americans themselves. IMHO it's unbecoming that your first assumption upon seeing this word is to assume that he's hostile against your country.

The stereotype of the snobby European prick is about as tired as that of the ignorant American redneck.

I'm frankly surprised that this it the first you've heard of it - I've seen the term "USian" used with no possible connotation of disrespect for years, often by Americans themselves. IMHO it's unbecoming that your first assumption upon seeing this word is to assume that he's hostile against your country.

Trust me on this one, if you've spent any time on the Internet you know it's a passive-aggressive ditch at the US (at least common enough to deserve a couple notes in Urban Dictionary[1]). Anyway, when did it become the role of members outside a group to tell them whether or not they should be offended by the name they are called?

The problem is that the name "America" is hardly exclusive to the USA. It's as if a country called "The Grand Duchy of Europe" referred to its citizens as "Europeans", to the great dismay of everyone else in Europe.

This is completely irrelevant. Citizens of the USA have an official demonym in the English language and it is American. The argument that it is an attempt to avoid ambiguity is bullshit because no one ever uses the term Americans to refer to all inhabitants of the North and South Americas.

[1] http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=USian

Anyway, when did it become the role of members outside a group to tell them whether or not they should be offended by the name they are called?

Um, when they started calling them names? Now, don't take this the wrong way, but that sounds a little defensive. It's quite normal for people to explain the reason they chose a particular characterization of a group, that name catching on, and the other group getting affronted at being called a group. At this point a new characterization, one without connotations, is found. All along, people keep explaining that there's nothing bad at being in a group, or alternately that grouping is only done to divide and conquer.

no one ever uses the term Americans to refer to all inhabitants of the North and South Americas.

And that'll be because they know they'd be misunderstood. I used to call people from the USA "people from the United States", but that got too cumbersome. So I switched to Yanks - fully aware that it is also a poor choice of word, but at least more specific and apolitical around here. I've most recently transitioned to "American" plus qualifiers (such as state), since I've been reading stuff written by themselves. I don't see any other words coming beyond the horizon, except maybe cultural ones.

However, I wouldn't put calling all inhabitants of the Americas "American" past biologists and other non-geopolitically minded people.

"It's as if a country called "The Grand Duchy of Europe" referred to its citizens as "Europeans", to the great dismay of everyone else in Europe."

If the European Union ever turned into a real country rather than a loose confederation of allied states (just like the US did between 1776 and 1865), I bet you'd call citizens of that country "Europeans". Unless their respective countries had joined the EU in the meantime, the Norwegians, Swiss, Russians, Icelanders, Turks, Belorussians, Ukrainians, Moldovans, Serbs, Croats, Macedonians (or is that Former Yugoslav Republicans[1]?), Kosovans, and Bosnians may or may not be annoyed at that usage.

[1] Some countries call Macedonia the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", since some people in Greece are annoyed that they named their country after a region that extends into Greece.

No, I'm sorry but American is not the colloquial usage, it is the correct usage as defined by the members of that nation for the English language. Here[1] is a listing of those names for the citizens of the countries.

[1] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/...

There are other groups of would-be unions of states as well, such as the erstwhile "United States of Africa". The term united states is almost generic, while "of America" is the designator that sets this particular union of states apart.

To your point, American citizens have long emphasized the word America. Since the beginning, in fact: the original Declaration of Independence doesn't capitalize the term "united", calling itself the "unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America" adopted by the "Representatives of the united States of America" on July 4, 1776.

Speak for yourself.

This comment highlights the difference between expressed preferences and revealed preferences. An expressed preference is when a well connected editor at Le Monde publishes a scathing critique of the Yankee barbarity du jour. A revealed preference is when an anonymous tsunami victim hopes an American carrier group distills some more water for him using their nuclear reactors.

Hurricane Katrina demonstrates white hatred of blacks, if you define black as "a particular failed subculture wallowing in professional victimhood who lacks even a turtle's sense to get to high ground when a storm comes" and white as "took decades of civil defense warnings and days of emergency warnings to heart". You want to talk black Americans and hurricanes, let's talk about the rural blacks in the Mississippi delta, who somehow mysteriously seem to take care of themselves, like real adult humans or something.

The NHS guaranteed hospital bed is great! Until you find yourself laying in it without the strength to feed yourself, only to discover that Hospital at Night out-polled nursing in focus groups.

> "a particular failed subculture wallowing in professional victimhood who lacks even a turtle's sense to get to high ground when a storm comes"

I hope you realize how condescending and clueless this makes you sound. (Especially since in the link in the comment you’re responding to it is pointed out that 1 in 9 black males aged 25–29 is in prison. Clearly all just “wallowing in professional victimhood”, right?)

Well, yes. If it isn't genetics or oppression, it must be something else ...

I think there’s something missing here. “Oppression” need not be some active conspiracy to keep a group down. There are all kinds of emergent oppressive social phenomena which arise from economic inequality and differential interactions based on group.

There are many possible reasons that the American justice system is much tougher on blacks (higher percentage of interactions with police relative to the amount of illegal activity – especially w/r/t drug offenses – higher percentage of arrests relative to the number of interactions with police, higher percentage of trials relative to arrests, higher percentage of convictions relative to trials, stiffer sentences relative to number of convictions for identical crimes) than on whites, which I’d speculate include but are not limited to: (1) blacks live in neighborhoods with higher crime and neighborhoods more hostile to the police, (2) the harsher treatment of blacks by the justice system is taken (perhaps subconsciously) by authorities to imply that they are deserving of this treatment ("more dangerous" or whatever) or perhaps just making those authorities used to the difference thereby perpetuating it, (3) blacks have more fragmented families than whites relative to income, partly because of these prison differences and because family instability persists across generations, (4) the black subculture (language, mannerisms, etc.) is seen as inferior by the dominant culture and blacks who interact with authorities are perceived as less intelligent or less articulate than they truly are because of these differences (5) blacks live in communities where crime and prison are more common and therefore less stigmatized, (6) schools in poor black communities are less effective, with different attitudes among administrators, teachers, and students than schools in other neighborhoods, and dropping out is less stigmatized, etc. etc.

Many of these differences are not conscious oppression, necessarily: it’s hard to fault a cop for being more on edge in a really dangerous neighborhood, for example, and that increased edginess is necessarily going to impact innocent people; biases related to the use of non-standard dialects (“ebonics”, etc.) are extremely difficult to overcome, and at a couple of points I’ve been shocked with my own bias after figuring out that someone I was talking to was smarter and more perceptive than I gave him credit for, simply based on dialect... and I try really hard to avoid such judgments.

Anyway, the point is, society is complicated, and simplifying big parts of it down to condescending offensive explanations, even if they sometimes have bits of truth to them here and there, is a good way to make people either pissed off at you or dismissive, without really advancing productive discussion.

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