Not so long ago the dream of the average emigrant to the US was to become rich. America was the country where newspaper boys could become millionaires. It was the land of unlimited possibilities. A few years of hard work and you had a sizable amount of dollars in the bank, a nice home and a big car. In many European countries wealth is something to remain hidden—yes for many it is almost something to be ashamed of. Most people would never talk about their very comfortable salary and most people do not like to be listed as rich persons with information about their estimated net worth.
In America these things are different. Success and wealth may be seen. A significant part of the population regards poverty and economic adversity as the result of making the wrong choices, the refusal to get a college degree, laziness or other things of people’s own making. I certainly know to appreciate the good things of life and am happy to be able to live quite comfortably, but I tend to feel a sharp uneasiness as soon I see ostentatious wealth around me and then, moments later, pass a miserable settlement of the ‘mobile homes’ of those people who can hardly (or not at all) make ends meet. This was what I also experienced when last Sunday my wife and I paid another visit to Palm Springs—a city with over 80 golf courses. We enjoyed the Art Museum that has specialized in contemporary art. A magnificent building, a fascinating art collection, a marvelous garden-restaurant with an assortment of flowering cactuses and modern sculptures—everything demonstrating an exquisite artistic taste and, above all, breathing money and wealth. And yet, when you look around, even in Palm Springs one may see another kind of life. (After all, these golf courses must be maintained by low-paid legal or illegal Mexicans.)
America has an obsession with wealth, but also with format. Things must be big or must have the potential to become big. That is befitting for such a big country (‘our great nation’), a super power with the world’s biggest economy, and with the biggest companies of the world. It may well be that most Americans never read the book Small is beautiful by the British economist E. F. Schumacher, but it is no coincidence that this classic was not written in the USA. Although the rise in the price of petrol (still ridiculously cheap when compared to Europe), may have stimulated many to say good bye to their big petrol-guzzling automobiles, ‘big’ remains the omnipresent adjective. The portions in most restaurants tend to be indecently big, not to mention the size of the containers in which the waiters continuously pour your water or other fluid. When in a Starbucks I ask for the smallest possible size cup for my ‘medium roast’, I must ask for ‘tall’. Strangely enough this word refers to the smallest available cup size (which will easily take the content of three average Dutch coffee cups).
Would it not create a totally different society if the focus on ‘rich’ and ‘big’ were to shift to an emphasis on ‘good’? I would not mind having a bit more money and would not object to exchanging my Citroen C3 Picasso, that is patiently waiting for me in my garage in Zeewolde, for a car with a little more space. And many Dutch restaurants could consider serving the coffee in somewhat bigger cups. But I think that above all I would want to be a ‘good’ person.
In the meantime, the USA remains a nice country for a regular visit. This ‘big’ country has a lot of beautiful and interesting things to offer. I hope that at least for some time to come I can continue to return from time to time.
And—whether you like it or not—I remain a fan of president Barack Obama. He has his faults, but, I think, he is a ‘good’ person.