Saturday, August 29, 2015

Americans vs. Europeans, and Nightclubbing Too

Scenes of vulpine misbehavior in the garden this morning: an overturned bird bath, an overturned potted fern, suspicious smelly spots among the flowers. Olga got up before Dave or me -- which never happens -- and basically pulled me out of bed. She must have heard the critters. I didn't see them until after I'd let her out and she streaked to the back corner of the garden. I went with her to see what was so interesting, and there was a fox atop the garden wall a few houses down, staring back at me. So I brought Olga back inside. I'm not sure the fox will dare come back across our property now that it's seen both me and the dog out and about.

I read an interesting column in The New York Times yesterday by Roger Cohen in which he discusses the differences between American and European social structure. Americans, writes Cohen -- citing a Pew research study and a new book, "The United States of Excess," by Roger Paarlberg -- value individualism and chafe against any perceived restrictions on their freedoms, including taxes, regulations and incentives to conserve resources. Europeans, meanwhile, have a more collective approach, seeing government as beneficial and resource management as a social obligation.

That difference helps explain a lot -- the out-of-control gun culture in America that results in thousands of deaths a year (in more and more spectacular fashion!), the obesity epidemic, the lack of well-used public spaces, the crumbling roads, bridges and schools. I once lived in a part of Florida populated mainly by retirees, some of whom chafed at the idea that they should have to pay taxes to fund local schools. They didn't have children in those schools -- their own kids were grown and gone. Why, they asked, should they have to pay for them? (Can you imagine asking such a question?)

This American go-your-own-way psyche is mystifying to many British and Europeans. Obviously not all Americans feel this way. I'm American, and I don't get it. But there is a strain of ornery individualism there that I am convinced comes straight from the Pilgrims, perpetuated by life on a sparsely populated frontier.

Cohen and Paarlberg aren't the first people to point out these differences, but it was interesting to read them so succinctly described.

On another subject entirely, I read an article in The Week about the demise of nightclubs in England. Apparently there are 1,733 commercial nightclubs today, compared to 3,144 in 2005. The reason? Today's young people don't want to endure the miseries of standing in line to dance in overcrowded, overloud spaces and pay for overpriced, weak drinks when they could hang out and meet each other online, listening to their own carefully selected music. The Guardian points out that other factors -- such as an increase in the popularity of live music and larger dance-music festivals -- has changed clubbing culture.

I have mixed feelings about this. I always had a ball when I went nightclubbing as a young person, although admittedly it sounds like hell to me now. I hope today's young people aren't ceding too much of their lives to computers and virtual connections. On the other hand, connections made in bars and nightclubs are seldom long-term, valuable ones -- so maybe this evolution is a step forward after all.

(Photo: Second-hand furniture in Kilburn, in June.)


  1. I have to agree with you about the American Individualism thing. It's something I just don't get, never have.
    It will be interesting to hear if the foxes come back after seeing you two.

  2. Interesting observations about American versus European culture. It's why America is often described as an adolescent while Europe is considered to embody a more mature soul. As far as the club culture, what I've noticed with my own young people here in New York is they go out in groups, and then not to nightclubs, but to bars, where they talk and laugh and meet other patrons, and, sometimes, not always thank God, drink themselves silly. And yet the people they end up dating are not people they meet in bars, but people their friends might have introduced them to, or people they meet at work, in other words, people to whom they have had the kind of repeated exposure that leads to an investment in one another. I never went to bars at their age (young twenties); it was dancing in nightclubs for me, but now those dance clubs are almost obsolete, as far as I can tell. I might be very mistaken! This is purely anecdotal and not at all scientific!

  3. I think the American individualism thing is a complete myth. We SAY we believe in it and we bring it out and tout it when the government isn't doing what we want it to. But yeah, we're just a bunch of adolescents, as Angella said, yelling at our parents, "You can't make me!"
    And then there's the religion thing- it's a constant battle to keep god out of our government.
    I swear. Sometimes I just want to move.

  4. Gun idiots and "all -about- me-ism" has increased in intensity. A run away train, a toddler with the keys to the family car. There are still pockets of cooperation and sense of community, though rare . where I live it is still somewhat sane, though I am looking elsewhere , getting out of here before the next horrid election, the atmosphere nationally is so wrong. And, as Ms. Moon has mentioned, the religious brain dead trying to sway government is ( taliban) frightening. I miss living in community where all threw earnings on the table, divided it up to take care of bills and food and with what was left, a decent bottle of wine to share. Sorry to hear that the little fox messed up your garden. He did not know, he is just a little fox doing his foxy thing. Pretty sure that knowing OLGA lives there might discourage his next adventure into your garden! Currently shooting for February- somewhere in London for six months. YAY

  5. you have to remember that America was settled by religious extremists, misfits and the rag tag poor and unwanted of Europe. maybe Europe is the way it is because they sent all the troublemakers to America.

    and about the fox. it will be back. it already undoubtedly knew what animals and humans inhabited the garden.

  6. I agree with Cohen's assessment but I also think there is a strain in the American psyche that is just extreme, almost bat shit crazy...One reason I've never felt at home here versus other places. There are times I wish I could just move. As for night clubs and bars, I don't frequent them and have no interest.

  7. Sharon: It's strange, isn't it? And doubly odd because we are taught in America, at least outwardly -- in places like church -- to care for our less fortunate brethren.

    37P: We used to go to bars as a prelude to clubbing, but the bulk of the evening was spent dancing. It's interesting that younger people nowadays, according to your anecdotal report, are more satisfied with just that prelude! As for meeting people, I think it's always been true that very few long-term relationships or even opportunities for multiple dates came about because of a chance meeting in a bar or club.

    Ms Moon: But isn't the individualism also an aspect of adolescence? Teenagers are all about me, me, me. I think there's a lot of truth to the idea that Americans are trained to mistrust any thought of the collective good. Maybe it's a holdover from all that anti-Communist fervor of the 1950s. (Or maybe the anti-Communism is a RESULT of that mindset.)

    Linda Sue: I agree with you and Ms Moon that the religion thing is a problem. For a nation that's not supposed to establish a national religion, there are a hell of a lot of Bible-thumpers in the states. I'm glad there are some pockets of sanity -- I also would have guessed the Pacific Northwest to be such a place.

    Ellen: Yes, indeed, I think a lot of America's problems stem from the individualists -- the outliers -- who for whatever reason couldn't function within their societies at home and settled there. I'm sure we'll see the fox again!

    E: Yeah, I don't know exactly where that maniacal streak comes from -- aside from what I've said above -- but I agree, it's there!

  8. I remember my father explaining the basics of the social welfare state to me when I was about 6 years old. He said something along the lines of: we are all in this shit together, some deeper, some less deep, and some think they are not part of it but when their time comes, they will realise that they have been part of it all along and then they will cherish it. There is no other way to hold it all together.

    I didn't get it but I took it for granted all along incl. a generous student interest free student loan and free university, and since I have been diagnosed with a chronic disease, I truly cherish it. Without it and its statutory health insurance (some American expat friends call it socialist) we would be bankrupt ten times over by now. I could kiss my chemist every time I fill a prescription for a lousy 5 Eur fee.