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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Monday, August 21, 2006

When in Rome

Check this post for the deal on Mero's name change.

Just returned from a honeymoon excursion in Italy, and for all the reasons I loved touring the boot with my superhot wife, there are twice as many reasons I'm glad to be back in the good ol' U S of A.

So in honor of breaking down international analysis in true America Versus The World style, I present to you the Top Five Reasons Italy is Better than America, followed closely by the Top Ten Reasons America is Better than Italy.

Why Italy rules:

A helpful graphic
from Buck:

Floyd Landis
They start learning English very young—as early as age 7 or 8 in schools and age 2 on television—and often know at least one other language as well (usually French or Spanish). In America, we should follow this example with Spanish: maybe start kids off in the second grade, then add an optional third language in high school (something they can use, like Chinese or Arabic).

On top of great specialty areas famous for their own variety (for example, the Chianti region), nearly every restaurant has a brandless house wine—just ask for "the house" and get a bottle of red or white upon request. Tends to be extremely cheap, sometimes as cheap as water (see "Water" below). Drunk and dehydrated... what a life.

It's everywhere: on bridges, in train stations, on ceilings, on floors. The great thing about Italian art is that it's not just confined to museums, but is an essential element of so much great architecture. As a result, they turn so many otherwise bland buildings and streets into living, breathing museums, which is how art is meant to be experienced.

Among magazines in English (and I'm talking largely about American magazines "translated" into British, from Esquire to The Economist), they tend to have much more thorough international coverage. Plus, their advertising is noticeably more creative, more risque, more attention-grabbing and interest-holding—in other words, more in line with what advertising is supposed to be.

On top of being awesome, this delicious salted ham product is readily available on pretty much everything (pizza, salad, red wine). One of the most common Italian appetizers is "prosciutto e malone": cantaloupe slices draped with slices of prosciutto. Not very kosher.

And why America tops that:

Air conditioning.
I cannot emphasize enough the wonders of air conditioning, also known as "Man's Triumph Over Apollo." Every human achievement and advancement since the first world war can be credited to the option of comfortably working and sleeping and laughing and loving indoors from the months of May to September. (Fuck penicillin. Air conditioning is king.)

Imagine you're full of wine and trying to sleep in a hot hotel room. Stumbling to the minifridge, you open a $5 bottle of water and gulp half of it down—only to realize you're drinking tonic water. Yep, they carbonate their damn water (calling it water "with gas") as often as possible, even at restaurants and stores, where you have to ask for "acqua stille" or "acqua naturale" just to make sure you get what we humans normally just call "water." Oh, and you actually have to order (i.e. pay for) it at a restaurant, and it always comes in a bottle (no refills!) and never on ice. From the people who brought you aqueducts.

The current exchange rate.
Low dollar + high euro = saved my tourism dollars for shopping back home. Only things I bought in Italy were the bare essentials (see "Wine" above).

Forget the whole "crazy Italian drivers" stereotype. I'm not saying it's untrue; I'm saying there are other, more glaring shortcomings, like visible street signs that actually say what street you're on. Instead of two signs at a crossroad, you'll see maybe a dozen or more; and they don't label the streets, but rather point to landmarks, which at any location can vary from the building next door to—I'm not making this up—Rome. (The street labels themselves are usually on carved stone plaques on building walls somewhere near the corner.) Oh, and roads are often bumpy and extremely narrow. And sidewalks go from narrow to nonexistent, forcing pedestrians to walk on the street. It's a great system.

Food service.
The art of tipping doesn't play nearly as large a role outside the U.S., and as a result, you don't get nearly the same service. I'm not talking about hearing "how is everything?" every three seconds, but having a waiter glance in your direction more than once an hour would be nice. Want to beat the system and tip anyway? Not so easy if you're paying by credit card—there's very rarely a space provided to write in an additional tip.

Open hours.
First off, tons of businesses are closed in the last two weeks of July and the first two weeks of August (and August 15 is a national holiday). Next, many government buildings (including museums and landmarks) operate on some ridiculous schedule like "closed on the second and fourth Monday and the first and third Tuesday of the month." Finally, quite a few restaurants don't serve food (or close down altogether) between lunch and dinner, a time that can span as much as five or six hours. I attribute this to a society immersed in appetite-destructive conditions (see "Air Conditioning" above).

Just kidding.

We have so many channels in America; not because they all feature watchable content, but so we always have access to the select genres we enjoy. Even the options at a four-star hotel are limited to old movies, fuzzy sports coverage, CNN and MTV—about 20 channels in all. No wonder they read so much more than we do.

For the two weeks I was there, every radio station and restaurant played the same two songs by Gnarls Barkley and Red Hot Chili Peppers, as did MTV (see "Television" above). Is it so bad that I want a little more variety? Does that make me crazy? Probably.

Knowing your home country is the most powerful entity in the history of the world.


Blogger Mrs. B said...

Coming from someone who spent two months in Europe one summer, I completely agree with everything you have said. Since Gordon the Gnome lived with me for 3 years, he can attest to the fact that I do not like drinking any beverages that aren't as cold as humanly possible. What is the deal with the lack of ice in Italy and all of Euorpe for that matter? I don't understand. This is why America is a much better country!

Blogger Gordon the Gnome said...

I believe Vanilla Ice put it best when he said "Ice, Ice, Baby." Word to your mother.

Blogger Mrs. B said...

Ah. The remarkable poetry of Vanilla Ice. Another reason America is the best.

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