Saturday, February 2, 2013

Highway Driving in America

Michael Adams' 2004 book Fire and Ice explored the values of Canadians and Americans - how they were similar or different and whether they were converging or diverging.  Fire and Ice showed the values gap widening between Canadians and Americans.  This conclusion, based on Adams' decade of research, was quite surprising back in 2004.  Today Canadians look south in dismay at a country in denial that their taxes are too low to support enormous military and social spending, a country where politicians spat childishly at the edge of a fiscal cliff, a country where carrying a gun is an inalienable right, but healthcare is a privilege.  I wonder if our values have drifted even further apart.

So, while many around the world assume that Canada and the US are interchangeable, a Canadian traveling in the US is truly travelling in a foreign country.  And this is obvious even while barreling along the highways, where American culture is on display.  My earlier post about Highway Driving in India pointed to some observations about Indian culture too, and is one of the most popular posts on this blog.  So what struck me over the many days I've spent on American highways over the last few months?

The first thing is the prevalence of religion.  There are so many churches, especially in the south.  Most of the southern churches seemed to be Baptist, but with more variations of Baptists than I had thought possible.  And then there were the many churches of religions I'd never heard of.  

Where these isn't a church, there are religious bumper stickers, billboard advertisements for churches, and exhortations to repent such as the one to the right.

The billboards advertising health care facilities hammers home the point that this is a country without a public healthcare system.  (Not that competition is entirely bad; in fact the Canadian system is trying to insert such competition in a public system.)  It also features interesting disruptive innovations in healthcare like the Minute  Clinic kiosks in pharmacies where nurse practitioners provide convenient, quick treatments for a small list of conditions.

And then there is the gun culture - ads for a Gun and Knife Show, billboards advertising guns and ammunition, restaurant signs prohibiting guns inside, and intellectually challenged commentators on Fox claiming fewer people would die if everyone carried guns (and why is it that so many public places in restaurants and hotels have a TV running and it's always tuned to Fox?).  

Ironically, the other observation is the tendency for Americans to adhere to speed limits.  Canadians are the ones with a society built on respect for law and order as opposed to the raw individualism of the US, yet it's Canadians who regularly drive 20-30 kms over the speed limit.  It makes for slower travel in the US - to say nothing of the fact that those miles click away much more slowly than kilometers!

Technology allows one to bring a little bit of Canada along on the road, by downloading and listening to CBC podcasts like The Current, As It Happens, Ideas, Quirks and Quarks and the ever-droll Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe.  How parochial of me!

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