Tuesday, September 1, 2009

For once, a good piece by a foreign journalist about impressions of the US

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the "leaving Washington" piece by Justin Webb from the BBC. Here is a snippit:

On the last day we spent in our home in north-east Washington, they were holding a food-eating competition in a burger bar at the end of our street. The sight was nauseating: acne-ridden youths, several already obese, stuffing meat and buns into their mouths while local television reporters, the women in dinky pastel suits, rushed around getting the best shots.

Ugh. So I was pleased to read a much better piece by Denis Staunton, the Irish Times correspondent in Washington. He is leaving Washington, and writes about his impressions of the US and Americans:

Some snippits:

Living in the US, what’s most striking is the lack of social contact between blacks and whites outside the workplace. In Washington, where 56 per cent of the population is black, almost all the whites live in the affluent northwest quadrant, which also houses all the city’s universities and most of its hospitals.

Blacks and whites not only live in separate neighbourhoods but usually worship in different churches and often patronise different restaurants, bars and clubs.

Few whites are overtly racist, but many have expressed to me a sense of unease if they’re in the minority in a social setting. Some fear that they’ll be unwelcome in a predominantly black environment, though my experience over the past four years suggests the opposite.

Often the only white face at African American clubs, parties and occasionally funerals, I’ve only met warmth and easy friendliness. It’s true that black friends have occasionally offered tips on correct behaviour and when my friend Tino offered to take me to his church one Sunday, he did so on two conditions. “You’ve got to dress properly in a suit and tie,” he said. “And if anybody stands up and starts getting happy, don’t even think about joining in.”

I wonder what if he had been posted to Boston?

Here are three of his "Curious Differences" between Ireland the US. I've noticed these myself too:

COCKTAILS in the US are dangerously potent and two or three are enough to render the average Irish drinker helpless and foolish. Natives, on the other hand, will cheerfully down a couple at Happy Hour and swallow a few more with dinner. Then they’ll drive home.

DATING is a minefield for European imports, most of whom have long ago abandoned the rituals of courtship. Americans are often dating a number of potential partners at the same time, gently testing each one for evidence of financial solvency, social status and personal compatibility. There are no strict rules about when to go home with your date, but be warned: things can move very swiftly after you make your choice. As a recent headline in the satirical weekly, the Onion, put it: “Nation’s Girlfriends Unveil New Economic Plan: ‘Let’s Move in Together.’ ”

DINNER PARTIES in Washington start on time, often with a little speech by the host, and end with miraculous precision. Nobody looks at their watch, but at a certain moment all the guests will rise as one and announce that they must be off. If you check the time, it’s always 10.30pm on the dot. Irish-born hosts are exempt from this rule.

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