It wasn’t until my 20th-Century American Literature professor said she admired Americans’ tenacity that I realized I hadn’t heard anything nice said about the States in three years.
I was an American in my third year at a Canadian university, and was surprised how good it felt to have someone acknowledge something good about my country. (On the other hand, I had experienced plenty of reminders of how nationalistic, myopic, and fat my kinfolk were — one friend even informed me that all American girls are high maintenance.)
In the wake of the American government shutdown — which is possibly the most irritating thing for a government to do — America’s flaws have been reignited as a topic of conversation here in Canada. And, of course, there are genuinely disconcerting aspects about the States: partisan politicking, exceptionalism, terrible mat leave, and a tendency to know very little about Canada.
But I maintain that, along with fundamental virtues found in many democratic nations — freedom of speech and religion, free elections, diversity, and so on — the U.S. still has a few things going for it. So while congress keeps lobbing American foibles like softballs for Canadians to hit out of the park, below is my guide to Things Still Genuinely Likable About America:
America is truly the land of the free, the home of the outlet malls. It’s a nation of deals and discounts, and if you’re still buying your gas or dairy products in Canada, I admire your patriotism, but pity your wallet.
2. 20th-Century American Lit
In tribute to my professor (a Canadian, by the way), I’m happy to claim that American authors of the 1900s were great, even if the most famous ones preferred to live and write in other countries. Regardless, the world is a better place with Toni Morrison in it.
3. It’s Beautiful
There are other big countries out there, but the diversity of America’s natural beauty is hard to compete with: prairies, deserts, mountains, everglades, redwoods, rainforest — it even acquired tundra and tropics with Alaska and Hawaii. We’ve got a little bit of everything, and a lot of it is stunning. This also means loads of natural resources, a whack of state and national parks, and my next selection…
4. …Road Trips
There is something incredible about taking the same highway from San Francisco to New York City, or Boston to Seattle, or Vancouver, B.C., to Tijuana. The American freeway system was made for road trips, and if you drive any direction long enough you’ll find something worth seeing. (Personal recommendation: road trip Highway 1 up the Pacific Coast.)
5. Fusion Cuisine
Sure, a few important things have gotten burned inside the American melting pot, but it has led to some fantastic culinary hybrids over the past centuries that would never step foot in their countries of origin. Three words: Americanized Pad Thai. Okay, two more words: Korean taco. Oh, what the hell, one more: Tex-Mex. I rest my case.
6. The Film Industry
When I told my Canadian husband that the global film industry floats on the cinematic sea that America created, he felt that was going a little too far (and a terrible metaphor). But the fact remains: while exceptional actors and films come from around the world, Hollywood was made in the U.S.A.
7. Girl Scout Cookie Variety
Although I have to admit the Canadian Girl Guides’ chocolate-covered mint cookie is superior to the American Girl Scouts’ thin mints (sorry, land of my birth!), Girl Scouts offer 10 varieties of cookies during their annual sell-a-thon versus the Canadian count of two. Sure, sure, take your best shot at our obesity problem: you’ll be eating your words once you try a Samoas.
8. No Wedding Gap
For those of us who are still into getting married, America has one big advantage: the reception almost always immediately follows the ceremony. There may be a cocktail hour in between, but rarely will guests be asked to fill four hours on a Sunday afternoon in the bride’s small hometown while wearing heels because the ceremony was at 1:00 p.m. and the reception isn’t until 6:00 p.m.
9. Higher Education
It’s too expensive, you’ll probably graduate with some crazy debt, and you might die during freshman hazing, but 18 of the top 25 world universities on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, released earlier this month, are still American (and seven U.S. universities are in the top 10).
I toyed with a couple options for the quintessential American quality: the aforementioned tenacity, earnestness, pluck, conviction (though I realize some of these might be to blame for some of our, ahem, issues). But I think the most admirable American essentiality is optimism. Because even with a government shutdown, food deserts, the MTV VMAs, and possibly racist border guards, we still believe things are going to get better.
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Lauren Bentley is a writer and editor currently working in higher education and a recent transplant to Vancouver, B.C. Learn more about her work at laurenmbentley.wordpress.com.