One phrase gets thrown back at me whenever I bring this subject up - "The grass is always greener on the other side". Well, two if you count "Shut the fuck up, Eddie".

But it isn't that. I know there's a proporation of you Yanks who wish they could be part of the history, culture and, well, smallness of Britain, but you're fools.

Ever since I learned to read and was captivated with pictures in my first encyclopedia of New York City, six-lane freeways, The Golden Gate Bridge, mile-long goods trains and rolling, endless fields of wheat, I have wanted to be in America.

I've been over there since then, but it wasn't the epiphany I thought it would be. It was akin to being given a mouthful of 1993 Rioja and then being denied even a drop more. I held heaven in my hand for three short weeks and was forced to give it back.

But why? I know what you're thinking. I don't see it. I don't know what it's like to live the day-to-day in the USA. Maybe you're right. But I'll guaran-damn-tee that it doesn't get close to the grey, small-minded, claustrophobic grind of a workday in England.

I don't just want it now. I want it back then, back when i was wide-eyed and innocent.

I want to have grown up playing touch football and baseball instead of settling for rounders and one hour of NFL highlights on a Sunday night.

I want to have had the chance to be the mathlete or the starting tight-end or the gearhead or the prom king, instead of watching endless videotapes of Degrassi Junior High (oh, actually, that's Canadian, but when you're 10, it's all the same), Ferris Beuller or Footloose.

I want to eat at Taco Bell and Wendy's. I want Snapple and Coca-Cola Classic and bagels and Hershey's and beef jerky and eggs over easy and Aunt Jemima to mean nothing to me more than my next meal, instead of being something special to savour, a taste of another culture.

I want to be able to use words like offense and aluminum and oregano without people telling me I don't know how to speak English.

I want to have been there in person as Joe Montana threw the winning touchdown or Wayne Gretzky scored on the power play (Okay, he's Canadian too, but you get the point). I want to have been one of the millions....and millions of The Rock's fans in attendance. I want to spend one Sunday every January with buddies who actually care about the biggest game in professional sports.

I want to understand what Sweeps Week is. I want to get excited about season premieres and finales. I want to have been there when Chandler Bing or Jerry Seinfeld or Homer Simpson or Buffy The Vampire Slayer first enthralled a nation. I want to be able to flick between Entertainment Tonight and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and the sixth innings of a Yankees-Red Sox game.

I want to be able to take a road trip upstate. I want to be able to fly home for Thanksgiving. I want to major in history at UPenn. I want to go to pep rallies and keg parties and frat parties. I want to get to second base on a first date. I want to go on Spring Break.

I want to have kids and let them live it all. I want them to do all the things that this English kid could never do. I want to be American. But not now. I want to have been BORN American. I've missed most of the good stuff. And i'm English for the rest of my fucking life.

Can you imagine anything more tragic?


Update: A rebuttal to a brilliant wu by NightShadow.

Yeah, believe me, I know about the 'dark side' of America too. And maybe it *would* scare me if I didn't know what the world was like. Believe me, you could throw any of the problems people face in the US at me and I'll throw the same issue straight back at you from my home country.

'Cos living in the England in 2001 is as different from American perceptions of our culture as our Grease, Friends and Hollywood-inspired perceptions are about yours.

I live in a district of Manchester called Moss Side. We don't have guns here, right? So explain why my fiancée has been twice robbed at gunpoint in the last year. The gang warfare between the local black and Asian drug dealers is turning my area into late-Eighties Compton. I was at the doctor's the other day, picking up a course of antibiotics. While i was there a young woman came in to pick up two trays of methodone. One for her, one for the baby she was wheeling in her pushchair.

But I didn't grow up surrounded by this urban decay. I grew up in a nice, middle-class rural market town in the North of England. Nice enough that on any given Friday night, there was only a 50% chance that you'd be bottled by squaddies or lads coming in from a rival town. Nice enough that the one Indian family in the town were ritually abused as 'Pakis' by kids AND adults on their way to and from school. Nice enough that it is known as the 'trucker haven of the North' because there's a steady stream of 12-year-old girls who will do anything for ten quid and a few bottles of Hooch.

Yeah, we have the oh-so-wonderful NHS, we have the lovely EU making rules to stop the average Joe getting screwed on employment law, schooling or insurance. But we live in an impotent country, still living on the glories of centuries past, which is sadly embracing every single thing that is bad in American culture (gang warfare, racial hatred, ambulance-chasing and obesity) and assimilating it as its own.

I'm young. I'm an intelligent professional. I'm white, male and English. From a personal perspective, I believe I'd make a real big shot in The Land Of Opportunity. Don't try to tell me that there's not a huge proportion of white, suburban Middle America that goes blindly about its business, untouched by every single social problem around it in the same way that white, suburban Middle England does. I want America warts and all. Believe me, I can handle it.

Here's an American's perspective on that...

Having been born an American, I can see why it would seem so appealing. We do have a lot of nifty things going on here from time to time. A lot of it is pretty damn cool. But let me tell you about the darker side of America before you think it's all apple pie and nights at Wrigley Field.

I have a friend who is a Christian preacher. He's a pretty unconventional sort. He's one of the few preachers I've met that has real street smarts and he earned them the hard way. He did missionary work in, of all places, Chicago. One night he was doing his thing, trying to convince some kids to get away from a crack house and step into a church. Pretty noble, right? Well, the kids thought so. Whenever he went into what many consider to be hell, he was left alone. He's caucasian, he's openly homosexual and he's a fairly small guy, but he believes in God and the people he worked so hard to help spiritually respected him utterly because he held firm to his beliefs and never judged them.

Well, on this singular night there was a police raid. He was actually inside the crack house and the kids around him knew what was up before he did. They told him what was about to happen and that he might want to get his ID out and act passively. He did so immediately. The cops came busting in moments later, their guns out, and charged into the room he was in. He held his arms out as a sign of passivity and loudly identified himself as a preacher. Did that stop the cops? Nope. The female cop apparently had a bad day or something. He doesn't really know. Maybe she was just one of those cops you hear about but chalk up to some sort of twisted urban legend, like cops aren't really like that. They protect and serve, right? This lady charged at him with her night stick out and proceeded to beat this preacher man senseless. He didn't resist, he didn't try to put up a fight, he didn't try to run; he just kept shouting who he was and what he was doing there. The woman didn't hear him or didn't believe him or didn't want to believe him. She broke his jaw, his upper left arm and severely bruised portions of his back. The other cops came on the scene by the time she was done and they simply dumped him into a paddy wagon with the other kids (who had been similarly abused). My friend kept silent, not because he felt it would be useless but because he physically couldn't speak. The "bad" kids who'd been taken away with him kept telling the cops that they were in big trouble, they were headed to Hell for beating up a man of God. True words fallen upon deaf ears.

My friend spent three days in jail until the cops finally got off their asses and discovered his identity. They released him into a friend's custody at which time he was taken to the hospital and treated for his wounds. A few days later, he came back to lodge a complaint with the desk sergeant. The desk sergeant's response was, "Officer So-n-so? Oh, no. Can't be. She's been on leave for the last month. You must have the badge number and name wrong. You were hit pretty hard, right? Don't you think you could be making a mistake?"

My friend didn't get the hint. He went to IA, Internal Affairs, the cops' cops. He spent a good hour on the phone being bounced around from person to person until one of them said, clearly and plain as day, "Hello, Dave. You live at X-address and your social security number is XXX. Not only do we know everything about you, but we have a good bit of information on your entire family. You keep pressing this issue and you might get pulled over one day and some smart cop might find a pound of coke in your back trunk. Am I making myself clear?"

My friend dropped the case.

That's just one situation upon thousands that I've heard in my years in this country. What for all the wonderful, incredible, amazing things this country has to offer, there are countless more insidious things lurking in shadows most people don't even know exist until it's too late. The Chinese immigration process, for instance, is a nightmare. It's an open secret that China isn't all that respectful of human rights. Many of that nation's citizens flee to America, most in the absolutely worst of conditions, only to get here and find even more persecution waiting for them. Chinese citizens don't get to meet with the American INS when they come ashore. Oh, no. They instead get put in prison until their case comes up for review, sometimes years after they've come here. This is no bullshit. It's ugly, it sucks, it's corrupt and inhumane, but true. Of course, not all Chinese immigrants are treated this way- only the ones that China would like to make miserable just a tad bit more. This is the kind of "fringe benefit" to having a major trade agreement with China that many people don't know about.

Another fine issue in America is the one about guns. I know that in England guns can be found, but trust me, not to the extent that they can be here. I can (and have) go out and in twenty minutes procure a lethal weapon for less than $50 (roughly thirty quid by your standards). Scary? Maybe not. But what if I'd just had a fight with my wife/girlfriend/child and I was really pissed and drunk? What if I was so outrageously out of my gourd that I had murder on the brain? In less than an hour I could take out quite a few people before I was stopped- if I got stopped at all. There are literally hundreds of unsolved murder cases each year in this country. Most homicides are carried out by someone who is close to the victim, but illogical deaths can and do occur with just as much ease.

Let's say you're an American who works for minimum wage on a daily basis. That's $5.75, or roughly three quid, an hour. Okay. Most places won't allow a min-wage employee to work 40 hours a week because most places are too damn stingy to pay potential overtime. If overtime is earned, many places will roll your hours back the next week so that it all pans out by the end of the pay period (usually bi-weekly). Screwed. It gets worse, though. Let's say you catch that new flu bug that's going around from, say, a customer. You're ill, ill, ill. Can't-stand-up-and-vomit kind of ill. Can't move, can't talk, can't eat, can't think. Your boss gives you exactly 2 days to be out of work before he can legally fire you for truancy. What's worse is that the money you do make is all eaten up by food, rent, utilities, pets (if you're bold enough to own any) and whatever else. Doctor? Hell, you're lucky if you can afford Band-Aids, let alone a doctor. There is no such thing as socialized medicine in this country. Tough shit. Hope you get well soon. Believe it or not, the majority of American citizens live like this. Land of opportunity, right?

Here's another: let's say you're a citizen that has most things going for you. You're intelligent, able-bodied, well paid, housed and you're even responsible enough to own a gun- which is your law-given right, thanks to the NRA. The Constitution, you say? Who're we kidding here? 200 years ago guns were damn near necessary because if some stragling soldier in a war didn't try to overtake your house at the time, then you'd damn sure have to go hunting for food because Kroger's Supermarket doesn't exist. Guns are a major industry in this country, don't you forget that. As long as it remains so, laws will be made to keep them around. Anyway... let's say you're asleep one night and you hear a bump downstairs. You're a law-abiding citizen, right? You've got your weapon in the nightstand and the ammo somewhere else nearby, but not loaded. You load your weapon and go stealthily downstairs. You see the robber as he's about to hoist your TV out the window. You identify yourself, tell him you're carrying a gun and order him to lie down. Instead, he turns and is brandishing his own illegally bought gun and aims it at you. You shoot, he falls. Guess what? You're in big trouble, legally speaking. Yes, he was trespassing, but the law says that anyone who is shot and not killed may press charges of attempted manslaughter or aggravated assault regardless of the location or circumstances. He/she might not win the case if you can afford a lawyer, but affording a lawyer is a hard thing a lot of the time. Somehow you've become the defendant while at the same time being the victim. Odd, huh?

Care to drive through those rolling hills of grain? Most states require insurance. Insurance companies fleece the American citizenry almost as rapaciously as the IRS. On a min-wage job, you're likely to not afford insurance, and if you can, they might drop you for having anything so much as a speeding ticket- and watch your rates soar with any other company because you've been dropped by someone else. Get stopped by a cop in a state where insurance is required, when you're uninsured, and you've got a one-way ticket to jail, court or the bank to refinance that junk heap of yours so that you can pay the minimum $500 fine.

Living in America, being in this country, isn't all it's cracked up to be. A lot of what those of you in other countries see is fluff and Hollywood and ESPN, but there is a darker side to this country that a lot of people either don't think to talk about or want to talk about. Other countries have their challenges, too, but that's par for the course, right? I applaud anyone's desire to be an American, but before you walk into this country with the intention of staying, I urge you to keep your eyes open and, perhaps, have a friend around to watch your back. You'll need it.


My response to FastEddie's rebuttal:

Man, I hear ya. I do. "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the Selfish and the tyrannies of evil men." Ezekiel 25:17. No matter where we go in this world, there are hardships. I guess it all comes down to this: "No matter where you go, there you are." - Buckaroo Bonzai.

I've spent a month in London, England. It was a great trip, but during my time there I immersed myself in that city, trying my best to find its faults and similarities to home here in the United States. I found skin heads beating old homeless men, I watched Hindi women get verbally abused in ways that would make some bigots in this country blush, coppers turning a blind eye to crimes happening right in front of them not thirty yards away. Corruption and evil are so engrained in this world that it simply can't be escaped anywhere.

America is a fantastic place to live, most of the time- and if you mind your P's and Q's. But it scares me when people hail its best qualities while ignoring the bad ones in their WU's. The reason it scares me is that there might be someone out there who isn't American and isn't aware of the travesties that occur here. Such a person might get it in their head that this is the place to be and after they fight tooth and nail to get here, they might be in store for a rude awakening. There are pro's and con's to everything. My best and kindest advice to anyone would be to look at their homeland with the same eyes that they see America. Look for the best qualities where you live and try to appreciate them more. Things suck sometimes, but in the long run there truly is no better place than home. It's as much a part of you as it is something you try to get away from.

Consider the child who grows up and makes a mad dash to get out of their parents' home. The parents might be very good people, but the child's impression is that independence is the only thing that will make them happy. When they finally get into the world of adults, they find things are much different than they'd hoped. If someone tries to come to America, I urge them also to take the best stuff of their own homeland with them and keep those qualities pure in their heart. After all, your home is where your heart is.

It's nice reading about people from First World countries telling each other how so much better it is on the other side of the pond. :-)

Living in the Third World, we're envious of the various little things you guys take for granted. (Try looking at the face of a child as he watches American children throwing food at each other on TV. A food fight is almost sacrilegious in a place where so many people go hungry).

So your police occasionally get overzealous and beat up an innocent caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. How about a police force that shoots first, and asks questions later? (Anecdote: police chase a van full of kidnappers, manage to set up a roadblock and bring it to a halt. They then open fire, riddling the van with 5.56mm rounds, killing or wounding most of the kidnappers, as well as ending the life of the 8-year-old kidnap victim inside.)

How about getting hauled up in front of a court where money talks the loudest (it doesn't matter whether you're innocent or not, or whether you've got a good lawyer - it's all about how much you can pay the judge. No jury - less people to pay off.)

Most disputes don't make it to the court. Someone dents your fender, and if that someone is sufficiently high on the social scale, you don't make a fuss, you go home quietly. Or risk getting a bullet in the head for your trouble.

Internal Affairs is a dream, in places where kidnap-for-ransom or bank robbery gangs are run by policemen in active service (where do you think they get all their firepower?). The only protection you can get is being able to call on a friend or relative in the military (make sure he's high enough) to keep the criminals off your back.

Availability of guns - anybody who is anybody owns a few. We pretend to be a democracy, but we're really a feudal society, where the dukes and barons of old are now mayors and governors, each toting private armies of heavily armed goons (grenade launchers, machine guns and mortars are par for the course) - winning elections are a matter of deciding who can haul more cowed peasants to the voting booths. (Shooting wars between rival candidates aren't unknown).

Health care? Government-run hospitals will turn you away if you're unable to provide a deposit, up front (in cash, mind you) - and they're the cheapest around. Most people only go to the doctor in extreme cases (gunshot or knife wounds, strokes) due to the cost. And keeping healthy is tough when you're dealing with malaria, cholera, dengue fever, and the whole entourage of tropical diseases. Don't think having money means you're safe - I live in a middle-class neighborhood, and we get regular typhoid and dengue epidemics nearly every year. (I caught amoebiasis a couple of years ago - not fun, especially when you can't afford to stay in a hospital).

It's not actually the corruption, the violence, or the poor economic conditions that makes life so hard. It's the general feeling that you just can't win, whatever you do. Pay your taxes, work as hard as you can for most of your life, and you can't even raise enough money to get your family out of the gutter. And you have to live with the knowledge that in all likelihood, your children and your children's children will be doomed to the same fate.

In contrast to Karmaflux's assertion that a manual construction laborer makes US$8.50 an hour - here, unskilled labor gets less than a dollar a day, tops. Skilled labor (electricians, plumbers, carpenters) make about US$3 a day. I've a graduate degree in Computer Science, and I can expect to make about US$50 a day, working for a private firm as a software developer.

The freedom to move around isn't a given. You'll get hassled by functionaries, police and military officers if you do a lot of traveling, even if we were scientists working for the government. This involves demands for your papers, searches through your trunk and baggage, with guns pointed at you all the time. Try living in a place where you have to go through three different checkpoints, each operated by different forces (police, military, and rebels) just to get from one town to another, about an hour's drive.

It is any wonder we want to live in a place where you can get money from the government by merely proving that you have ten children, a disability, and no job? Where someone who works his ass off has a chance to actually make a living?

Don't get me wrong - we don't all think that America is a happy place where we all automatically get fat and prosperous. But based on what our friends and relatives find living there, it is far better than what we have now. Yes, we long to be American. Or Canadian, or Japanese, or English, or German, or anywhere else except here.

To paraphrase Jamie Zawinski*, most places in this world suck, but some places suck less than others.

Disclaimer: I was born in the US, but I've moved around a lot since. I've lived the longest in the Philippines, but I've also spent several months in Indonesia and India. Note that due to my place of birth, I'm an American citizen, even though I haven't been on US soil in the last 25 years.

*I originally thought the quote was from Linus Torvalds; corrected by litui.

Granted, America isn't perfect, but we do have an enormous amount of checks.
I'm concerned because nothing was mentioned of Miranda (specifically: right to counsel). Also, law firms and lawyers in private practice sometimes take cases without compensation (pro bono). And, lawyers will sometimes take cases where their fee is a percentage of the damages.

There is a time limit in which legal action can be brought (statute of limitations). Often we think of this statute as a tool for law enforcement agencies, but it is certainly a tool for individuals as well -- for example, it affords an individual the time to bring forth legal action.

It is the role of law enforcement to serve and protect (why do we need that protection?).

Insurance
We do not have a national public health care system that provides coverage to all individuals, but if Medicare serves as any micro-model, the abuses are many -- not the fault of the government, but due to greed (there are abuses through private health care (HMO's, for example) but, once again, due to greed).

Minimum Wage
We do have minimum wage law. We also have a public education system and numerous ways of funding higher education -- be it formal or technical -- via grants, scholarships, and loans (opportunities to go beyond minimum wage).

China
I don't know about INS practices, but I assume the topic is in regard to those who specifically enter the country seeking asylum.

Human rights issues have been uncovered concerning our trade agreement with China, and conditions imposed. How far should the U.S. go toward policing other countries? (is this not one of the sources of bitterness toward the U.S.?)

Guns
Guns ownership increased due to fear of random shootings (eg., drive-bys and freeway shootings), and robberies. When it looked like gun laws (eg., the Brady bill) were going to be "too restrictive" the NRA came out to play.

Anyhow, many checks are present within our system...

it'd be interesting to know how many people who believe in noble slogans like, "Live free or die" will ever have to make such a choice.

Hi, my name's The Custodian, and I'm an American.

I like having the right to move about my country as I feel.

I understand that not bringing I.D. or cash may make me less than welcome.

I enjoy baseball. Not on T.V., but the go-to-the-park-and-munch-peanuts-while-you-throw-the-shells kind of baseball.

I also don't make enough to afford the $45 the average ticket costs more than once or twice a month.

I have more than one motor vehicle. I enjoy a convertible in the days it's warm; I spend some weekends wrenching on it (hey, it's British) and I have a Japanese one when I need it to get soemwhere reliably and/or it's raining.

I consequently deal with those same insurance companies mentioned above.

However, I've been hit in my little convertible by another driver from behind...and those insurance companies he was forced to pay repaired my car. Oh, not without threat...but they did.

I spend many weeks a year in a place where people wear handguns openly and think not much of pulling them out when on a walk to plink an inviting can or two. I've also seen them remove their guns and hand them off to their friends so they could continue a drunken bar brawl.

I pay many taxes.

I donate to charity to offset that.

I can't afford to live a life of leisure.

A life of leisure would bore the snot out of me.

I enjoy the attempt of a few hundred thousand racial mixes to share land, life and loves.

I know it doesn't always work.

I like good beer. Which doesn't include Budweiser, Schlitz, or whatever the designer clear piss-du-jour is this week on MTV.

I keep pets. I feed and house them. They entertain me. I don't ever have to worry about being hungry enough to consider eating them.

Do I have regrets? Yes. Am I grateful? Hell yes. I regret not doing more to correct the wrongs that so many have brought up here that afflict my country. I regret not having spent time seeing enough of the world to really appreciate what I have. I'm grateful I was brought up here.

I really dislike my President and am embarrassed by him on the world stage.

I'm proud that even in the face of that nightmare of an election, it never really occurred to anyone here to get guns. Our natural instinct seems to have been to shout, write furious articles, and file lawsuits. All of which I prefer infinitely to The Late great unpleasantness.

I take comfort in knowing that he can't really do that much harm, comparatively.

If you earnestly want to join me here and try to enjoy it and make it better, warts and all, I'd love to have you, even if I can't comprehend the obstacles you'll face.

Better yet, bring America to you, if you can't get here. Try to live like us (or like we're supposed to), if you can; if not, try to think like our more noble exports claim you might want to. But don't think we're better than you; don't think you're better than us. Hope, with me, that we can all realize that we have to share this tiny rock.

I love my country.

I won't apologize for that.

My name's The Custodian, and I'm an American.

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