America: The antidote to Australia
It’s not very cool to say this amongst my Gen Y peers. We are a generation who travel regularly and widely and so countries become passé to us quickly. Mentioning you are visiting the US will generally earn you a raised eyebrow and perhaps an inquiry as to whether it will be a stopover on the way to Cuba or South America. Because that’s where hipsters travel. Add a dash of Asia, eastern Europe and perhaps an African safari or a visit to the Middle East and you have the Gen Y to-visit list.
Expressing pro-US sentiment is particularly perilous in this era of the tea party. Immediately, young people assume you’re an anti-choice conservative visiting America because you never quite got past Friends and the OC.
It’s a shame because in many ways, Gen Y and the US are a match made in heaven. Both truly believe that individuals should follow their dreams. Both are convinced that they are unique and have something special to offer the world. The main difference between the two seems to be that Americans are generally full of genuine encouragement for each other. They want to know your story, heck they want to pray for you as you go on your way! Gen Y-ers tend to be far less effusive with their peer support.
I wasn’t expecting to embrace the American enthusiasm quite so quickly. I mean, I find earnest Australians jarring and I avoid their company at all costs. Self-promotion drives me insane. And I’m the poster girl for cynicism. But in the US, it’s different. In the US, talking about what you could offer the world isn’t self-promotion, and stepping out and trying something new isn’t a lame attempt to be someone you’re not. Instead, they’re both about finding and fulfilling your dream – and there’s nothing closer to the heart of the nation than that.
Don’t get me wrong – there are a lot of places in the States where dreams and people have been crushed through bad laws and bad attitudes. Where the “you can achieve your dreams” attitude has been hijacked and turned into “we can do anything we want – even if it’s at your expense.” But there are a lot of places where the original attitude has allowed the world to change for the better.
For all the towns where racism and homophobia are rife, there are vibrant college towns and progressive cities where diversity is celebrated in a way unlike anywhere else in the world. For all the states where environmental ideas are rubbished, there’s California – the most populous state in America and the most energy-efficient. And music and the arts seem to be embraced almost everywhere.
But enough of the back-peddling – I’m not declaring that America is the greatest country on Earth and I’m not encouraging people to apply for citizenship (although I’m all for more couches to crash on).
I think that America has something important to offer Australians. It’s the perfect ying to the yang that is the tall poppy syndrome nature of Australian society. I love the Australian culture of keeping each other grounded, but there are times when you need an injection of self-belief. And the US is perfect for this. Need some time out to ponder a new career direction? To kick off a creative venture without wallowing in self-doubt? Or maybe time to reflect on how to break out of the humdrum routine you’ve fallen into? Some time with the enthusiastic Americans will inevitably energise you.
From afar the movies seem schmalzy, but up close you realise that Americans live like that – with all their enthusiasm and friendliness and self-belief. And as nauseating as that sounds, it’s infectious. I always come back from the States with really clear ideas as to how to live better – whether it be how to up the ante at work or connect more with my local community. And above all, I come back with energy to be extraordinarily friendly – which can lead to some really unexpected but wonderful connections with people. What’s particularly amazing is how long that energy lasts – my experiences haven’t been those quick hits of holiday enthusiasm that diminish a few weeks after I’m back at work. Instead, that buzz from some of the great US towns seems to linger about for ages – nagging at me when I get lazy or dour.
So that’s why I love the US. There are pockets of the country where the unique snowflakes gather in such a warm and inclusive way that you can’t help but count yourself amongst them – a unique snowflake searching for that bit extra out of life.