Four reasons why the U.S. are my favorite country

Okay, okay, that headline was obviously clickbait. It should read: “Four reasons why the U.S. is one of my favorite three countries” because naturally Sweden and Germany are also my favorites. Why the United States though – with their crazy president, gun laws, poor conditions for employees and social inequality? Because, as (probably not only) we Germans say, “Where there is light, there will be shadow”. Everyone talks about the American shadows (even the Americans themselves). But when I’m here, I encounter a lot of light, too. So here is my list of highly subjective reasons what’s awesome about America.

1. Friendliness

Americans have a reputation to be friendly and to engage with others. “You look summery”, “How’s your day going?”, “I like your shirt!” Other cultures often like to remark that this is just superficial friendliness and that’s probably true. But what’s the alternative? I have not yet been to a country where people at a fleeting first encounter display deep friendliness and entertain sincere conversation. And if I can chose between friendliness that is superficial or unfriendliness that is superficial, I will chose the American way. (Oh, and customer service is a part of this. Few things can compete with American customer service!)

2. Traces of History

So the U.S. is a super young nation and their ‘historical’ buildings on the West Coast are 200 years old, which make a European laugh. But what is extremely fascinating is how you can feel history’s impact everywhere you go. Everyone and everything here is a proof of living history. Names, customs, holidays, cultural attitudes – everything reflects the history of this place in a direct, hands-on way. From services with gospel music that originated in the black community to bilingual signage because this was a Mexican city not too long ago, it’s all there.
Americans don’t want the state to interfere with their lives? Ehm, well, that’s the very reason why they came here back in the day. Instead of having just Protestant and Catholic churches (and the occasional Muslim), there is a vast array of confessions, including ‘creative denominations’ – because 250 years ago, British, Swedish, German people left for the U.S. to finally be able to exercise their faith as they wished to. The list goes on. If you want to see the results of history in real life, go to the U.S. and look around (or keep reading).

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Freedom of faith

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American-Persian entrepreunerism

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Spanish well wishing

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Marketing to the Jewish traditions

3. Diversity

Needless to say, that kind of history leads to diversity. Different races, different religions, different traditions, different styles. Media might still portray the all American white girl or guy, but real life gives you all the options. (And media is starting to catch up on that.) All this diversity in at least the big cities also means you are never the odd one out. You can wear what you want, do what you want and be blonde, brown, black or whatever. Because everyone else is also special, you don’t stand out. What a relief.

4. Entrepreneurial spirit

You don’t settle in unknown territory and fight for independence from the Old World if you’re not a daring character. Americans get stuff done. At our potluck dinner, I learned about Emily’s friend’s business, a subscription service for parents and teachers. What I didn’t understand was that she did this on the side of her real job. She had a good idea and just did it. Non-Americans would probably find 100 reasons why this would not be feasible. Maybe the idea won’t work out. It might not be generating enough money. Tax declaration could become more difficult. And, eh, working a side hustle, so exhausting. In the U.S., there’s overall a stronger entrepreneurial spirit, Americans are characterized as optimists – and, frankly, that’s just inspiring.

 

El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles

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As a historian, I am always intrigued to learn how a place came to be. Malicious gossip has it, L.A. is “ahistorical”. Not true! The exhibition “Becoming L.A.” walked me through the – kind of short – history of the city. Imagine that it was only founded a little more than 200 years ago and how much it’s developed! I spent a few hours going through what was a very carefully curated exhibition (with lots of really old things such as the very table at which the Mexican-American war was ended or the original crucifix the settlers brought to L.A.!) with what seemed like a strong focus on political correctness and inclusiveness to me. It could’ve been in Sweden, really. Anyone who says Americans are not aware of their historical and current societal conflicts…go there and reconsider.

I walked from the canoes of the Natives to the foundation of El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles (that’s the original name and they only kept the last part. It would be weird if we did that – I live in Orf? I was born in Erg? I studied in Ala and am moving to Urg?), through the incorporation into the U.S., the Gold Rush, the emergence of the dominant industries (not only movies, also aviation!), the Great Depression and the Post-War-Era. Population growth was insane! In 1850, there was a little more than 1000 people living here. Thirty years later, it’s 11,000. Just fifty years later, they had more than a millon in the city. Today, it’s four million only in the city (that does not include cities like Santa Monica). Angelenos did, however, entice the influx with some pretty professional PR: they (I guess that’s the local Chamber of Commerce among others) had journalists write reports about the area that advertised the great climate and overall benefits of living in L.A..

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Actually, there are exact records of who founded the town. 22 Spanish/Mexican adults and 22 children settled here first and the museum lists them with their names and everything.

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Outside the museum is the Edible Garden that teaches visitors about nature and food. Not only is it beautiful, it is also very well done and informative.

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In the museum shop, you could buy edible insects. For real. I checked the ingredient list.

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“As wealth increases, the colors blue and green increase in a neighborhood”

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During the Second World War, Japanese Americans were deported from L.A.

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The L.A. area is very progressive when it comes to certain sustainability issues. To reduce plastic waste, there are refill stations for your water bottle.

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On the bus home, I caught sight of poetry on the road. What a lovely initative!

 

A People’s Journey

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While its history and present holds a lot of tragedy and drama, I also, or maybe therefore, think the US is an extremely intruiging country and culture. The immense diversity never ceases to enthrall me, so many cultural expressions, beliefs and identities that still all unite in one huge, huge country. When I went to school, we were studying the US a lot, manifest destiny and the American dream were our daily conversation topics, but still it feels that I never fully grasp all there is to the Land of Liberty.

Going to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture was thus an excellent way to add to my knowledge and understanding. It was at the same time an overwhelming exhibition that is hard to recount, with three chronological floors packed with information, and three thematic floors full of facts.

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The entire museum goes in an almost solemn brown and gold theme and its architecture is simply beautiful. The first thing I learned was that Portugal was a major player in slave trade, something I definitely had no idea about. It doesn’t seem like the Portuguese are very keen on discussing their role, but they transported nearly 6 million African captives to the Americas, only England outperformed them. The stories of the trip are heart-breaking, on some ships 350 out of 700 passengers died and many killed themselves by jumping into the Ocean.

It is impossible to deny that the bigger part of the museum is somewhat depressing. It tells the story of mothers who kill their children to spare them a live in slavery and of a new nation establishing a serious paradox with its Declaration of Independence that declared all men equal, but not quite all. The museum takes you all through the Civil War, mentions famous activists and – I find this worth mentioning as it sadly is not yet something you can take for granted in museum work – highlights in particular the women who were part of the movement. It continues in great detail about segregation and integration, sit-ins and the Civil Rights Movement, accompanied by many poignant quotes on the walls. When the chronological third floor ends with Obama, it’s hard not to be affected by what the museum calls A People’s Journey.

The three thematic floors were about sports and music, media and military, theater and travel. Because it took me so long to get through the lower part, I only had limited time to see those floors but I did learn about the 1968 Olympics Black Power Salute, it kind of occured to me that Oprah Winfrey is black (I guess I don’t think of her primarily as a person of color) and I realized how heavily influenced music was by African Americans.

Not only is this collection enormous and well-displayed, it is also entirely free of charge. The museum is a Smithsonian museum and I actually had to look up who this awesome Smithson person was who has really blessed the American people despite never having set foot on US soil himself. He was a British scientist who left all his wealth to his nephew, stipulating that it be used “”to found in Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” The Smithsonian Institution was created and is today running nineteen museums, nine research centers, and a zoo. And you get to visit all of them for free!

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Nobody seems concered about plastic waste.

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Outside the museum

 

Baby, it’s cold outside

Some say that the body changes every 7 years. If that’s true, my body has now, at change number five (I’m old?!), become a sissy that can totally not stand cold and is always tired. I seriously wonder how I survived all those harsh Swedish winters when here I feel close to death when it’s – 5 degrees Celsius. And yes, I wear gloves and hats and all that. I’m so cold I always wear my wool cardigan that used to be restricted to Polar Circle Trips mostly and I try to avoid being outside. Really, I don’t understand what’s happened to my inner heat. And I finally get why so many Swedes spend their entire January/February in Thailand.

Last weekend, at least I was warmed by the company of my little bonus sister who visited me to get some private history lessons for her A-Levels. First, I took her to the Nazi memorial museum in town . We spent the afternoon learning about what is was like to be young during the Nazi time. It was actually a rather good exhibit even though I am not too fond of occupying my brain with too much Hitler. But that was the motto for the weekend so once at home we continued for many more hours. Trying to be an innovative educator, I ran a search for all my remaining playmobil figures (or similar) to build up a scene explaning what happened during Appeasement politics.

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I also got a new intern at work. Today, he got to take over the now so called praktikantkudde. It’s not an award if that’s what you thought, it’s literally the Intern Pillow. Because I am not quite the helicopter internship adviser, the interns have to take care of many things themselves, including accomodation. Apparently, pillows are often not part of the furnished rooms that are rented out in this city and the former intern had bought himself a great pillow that he then did not want to return to Sweden so I, often hosting guests, inherited it. When the current intern told me of the poor quality of the pillow he acquired, I brought the Intern Pillow to work and handed it over. Sleep is important after all!

 

How to get up

The nanny state is real. Or was real. Maybe it still is. In the 1950-70s, it definitely was a thing in Sweden. The socialstyrelsen, the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare filmed and distributed several educational videos for housewives and stay-at-home-moms. These infomercials which were shown in the cinemas during weekday afternoons and are said to be a unique phenomenon for the Nordic countries. National celebrities appeared in the movies that instructed the good wives of Sweden on how to plan their housekeeping. (And of course, it was giant supermarkt chain ICA that was involved in the production.) A particularly popular film was “Fru Plotter och Fru Plan√©r”, depicting two housewives that could not be more different: Fru Plotter, the negligent lady that has to go to the store every day because she is not planning well and Fru Plan√©r, who buys large quantaties and sticks to her weekly meal plans.

My co-worker sent me a movie that’s circulating on Facebook right now and surely hits a nerve with us sleep-deprived young people. The Swedish state explaining how to get a good start in the morning:

My co-worker is actually extremely good at imitating the narrator voice. I now want to make a movie about our work place with her narrating in the 1970s voice.

Del 5 i citat-samlingen:

“Det var l√§ngesen vi kollade p√• prinsessan Estelle. Jag ska googla lite bilder”.

“Den h√§r Ikeakatalogen luktar prutt”.

“We think it is way too warm here.” German external co-worker: “Yeah, for you polar bears it might be a little hot.”

 

Time Travel in Sk√•ne

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Hello from 1831! I am writing this from a huge, huge house. A homestead to be more precise. My room mate Angelina just tried to go from the hallway back to our room and nearly got lost.

It looks like a mixture of a museum and a filmset, just that we are explicitly allowed to touch and use everything. Oh, and yes, it also belongs to my friend Michelle. This place is absolutely amazing, I stop and express my astonishment every other minute, and I have failed to capture it photographically and I feel probably also have trouble conveying it with words. There are antique gorgeous tiled stoves in every room, the furniture is from the 18th and 19th century, there are two pianos, several dining rooms and I accidentally pressed the bell to ring for a servant. Yes, you read right, there is a display of which room rang for the servants in the kitchen ‚Äď just like in the Downton Abbey series!

The adorable dog, Tessan, Raphael and Michelle preparing song books, the homestead

Additionally, this carefully furnished filmset is inhabited by our lovely hosts, my friend Michelle and her parents who have fed us with homemade kanelbullar and waffles. We’re here to celebrate Michelle’s Master degree and little by little, more and more friends will come so that in the end we will be a party of 18 living here. So cool.

I also did lots of stuff in Gothenburg but I’ll just have time to give you a picture parade of that because the past three nights, I’ve finally mananged to fall asleep and I don’t want to mess with that pattern. Good night!

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Coincidentally, my aunts were in Gothenburg, too, so we met up.

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Short visit to the German Church of Gothenburg. Fancy!

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At the German church, they give you Bible words to take away.

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It didn’t rain all the time in Gothenburg.

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The latest Gothenburg shoe fashion….?

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We rented a car (so easy! so cheap! so convenient!) and went to Tjolöholms Castle in Halland to look at a castle that was build by some English Sweden at the turn of the century in Elizabethean style. It had a small Jane Austen exhibition. Very small, actually, But nice merch!

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Joraine and Nathalie in the gardens

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Being Jane Auste

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Quite an okay view those living in the castle had.

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Mrs Blanche Dickson was one of the first to buy a vacuum cleaner. It was rather big.

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In the former worker’s assembly house, they now had a lovely fika place…

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…where an artist displayed illustrations I fell in love with

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The old workers’ village

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On the way back, we stopped at a garden shop

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And Joraine bought plants and paid them via Swish which enables you to textmessage money.

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We went to Henriksbergsterrassen and saw Stand Up Comedy. It was the worst I’ve seen. 3 out of 5 comedians joked about sexual abuse of children. In which universe is that funny?

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Swedish advertising: The labored, worried man.

Pile them high

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One of the locations I looked at today was very close to one of Leipzig’s most famous landmarks, the V√∂lkerschlachtdenkmal, the Monument to the Battle of the Nations.

It commemorates the soldiers who lost their lives in the battle of Leipzig in 1813, the Battle of the Nations, which was the the biggest bloodshed in history before the World Wars.¬†More than half a million were on the battlefield, 92,000 were killed or injured. This battle was the decisive one in defeating Napoelon. Even though parts (or most?) of the Leipzigers were fighting on the French side, they built a monument. It made me think that maybe the whole thing is more about honoring the losses than who won. But that’s just me speculating, I didn’t have time to go inside.

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The pond in front of the monument is called, “Pond of Tears for the Fallen Soldiers”

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Around the monument, there are other little monuments for different anniversaries. This one says, hard to translate, “The voice of your brother’s blood screams to me from the earth”.

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work‚ÄĒ
                                          I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
                                          What place is this?
                                          Where are we now?
                                          I am the grass.
                                          Let me work.