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America is big and surrounded by oceans. We don’t need a passport to go skiing, sailing, or sunning. We can do all that without leaving California, much less the United States. Insulated, we develop second-hand assumptions about the rest of the world.
For many of us, the rest of the world is enlightened and, except for niceties of customer service, Americans are backward. We are racist, sexist, materialist, militaristic, unhealthy, wasteful—our list of offenses is long, and our national habit of introspection unappreciated.
Thus when Americans go abroad for more than a couple of weeks vacation, we tend to get surprised. Sexism shocks might be the most common, or maybe they are just the ones with which I am most familiar as a serial expat.
If You Want to Talk about Sexism, Let’s
Student shocks come first. I’ve had many friends who found student exchange family life discomforting because women are still expected to do everything domestic. It makes our typical complaints about 40/60 domestic chore splits seem like fiddling on a thumb violin.
My own surprise involved harassment. In college, I spent some time studying in the south of France. About a week into the program, prompted by our appalled teacher, we called the police to complain of daily instances of men approaching us while masturbating. They’d corner us at the end of a pier or deserted area. They’d also lie in wait in cars and point in a way that, the first time, I thought the guy was asking for the time.
The police laughed us off. Apparently, we were the prudish American girls making much ado about nothing. We resorted to laughing or snorting to dampen the exhibitionists’ enthusiasm. Happily, it mostly worked. None of us got attacked, just grossed out and inconvenienced. (If cornered, we’d have to wait until they were finished.)
Later, a few of us girls went out with some local kids, who complained about boorish and sexist American men. I recall thinking that America might have issues, but that I’d never been cornered for a one-man sex show at home, and if I had, then the police certainly wouldn’t have refused to act. Heck, other men on the street wouldn’t have refused to act. Being left to my own devices in Texas over something like this was inconceivable to me.
So Yes, Let’s Compare Immigration Policies
Immigration issues are high on the culture shock list for Americans. The most memorable example for me concerned conversations about consoling pregnant housekeepers or nannies in Singapore. They hide their condition from their employers because they will be deported. (See the paragraph before “Fees and Payments.”) Call it an unintended consequence of nationalized health care.
But this week is special. Somehow a deal the Australian prime minister made last fall with former President Obama to send us 1,250 refugees, who had already made it to Australia but who Australia did not want, reflects badly on America’s willingness to take refugees? The BBC wrote of Australia’s policies:
The coalition government made Australia's asylum policy even tougher when it took power in 2013, introducing Operation Sovereign Borders, which put the military in control of asylum operations.Under this policy military vessels patrol Australian waters and intercept migrant boats, towing them back to Indonesia or sending asylum seekers back in inflatable dinghies or lifeboats.
As a former maritime attorney, I have more than a passing familiarity with U.S. deportation procedures for stowaways. They might come to the United States hidden in a dinghy, but we do not send them back that way.
Regardless, America is the immigration powerhouse. Even with our restrictions we have more immigrants than the next few countries combined. This prompted an interesting question from none other than The New York Times in late 2015, when Donald Trump was surging to win the Republican nomination and so the media was rediscovering U.S. immigration restrictions:
The United States has some of the most hostile policies toward an immigrant population found in the developed world…. [By whose standard? See comments above.]
So why is it that immigrants in the United States — including those here illegally — have managed to integrate far more successfully into the American economy and social fabric than foreigners arriving to the relatively coddled states of the European Union, where they often enjoy access right away to a panoply of rights and benefits?
The difference is worth pondering.
Yes, the difference is worth pondering.
I do not pick this point to excuse us from self-inspection, as if others’ larger problems excuse our own. But it might do for us to consider what we do that actually works, rather than allow the illusion of other countries’ perfections to color our analysis.
Many of our elites think that other Western nation