The U.S.A is a fascinating country, mostly because it has two sides: a glamorous and strong one it shows with Hollywood and through various decisions on the world stage, and a weak one that most people around the world don’t even suspect.
Like most people, I grew up thinking I knew the U.S. I watched American blockbusters dubbed in French, we chewed American gum, smoked American cigarettes, peppered conversations with trendy English words and adopted concepts straight from the States. We both admired and loathed Uncle Sam. Like the popular kid in school, we loved to criticize anything coming from America but at the same time, it was hard to resist the leader of globalization and everybody wanted a piece of it.
And then I moved to Canada. I can’t say I know the U.S. that well, we don’t go there often and the country is huge and diverse. But let’s say I caught a glimpse of it, of how it really is.
And I was shocked.
For instance, I had no idea that Americans had issues with their health care system. A few years ago, I watched a documentary about a team of health professionals, doctors, surgeons, specialists, who travel the world and help those in need for free. They stopped in Central America, Asia and… the U.S.A. Somewhere in the South if my memory is good. And there was a huge line-up of “pure-bred” Americans, waiting to see a doctor for free because they had no health insurance and couldn’t afford paying for basic health care. Crazy, isn’t it?
I also learned that the U.S. had the highest incarceration rate in the world, 3.1% of adults in the resident population. That as of November 2010, 43 million of Americans were on food stamps. That some U.S. states had something called “at-will employment”, a doctrine according to which “the employer is free to discharge individuals ‘for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all’”.
The superpower has feet “part of iron and part of clay” and it never ceases to amaze me.
Last weekend, we took a drive to the U.S. and headed to Watertown, a small town in New York State. A manufacturing centre in the early 20th century, the city was said to have more millionaires per capita than any other city in the nation. This is where the little trees air fresheners were invented! Today, 19.3% of the population live below the poverty line…
We stopped in the town center where time seems to have stopped. There were many small businesses, such as a shoe repair service (proudly displaying a sign saying “army boots repaired here”), a barbershop, a beauty salon, a bicycle shop… But the façades were crumbling and we saw more police cars then residents. The library, masonic temple and city hall seemed to belong to another era, a more prosperous one.
Small town, U.S.A!
You can see the complete set of pictures taken in the U.S on Flickr.