In his intercultural blog for Business Spolight this month, Rob Gibson describes a recent trip he made to Florida where he was shocked by American attitudes to the environment. He says:
Large, gas-guzzling cars seem to be used for even the shortest journeys. My attempts to reduce my carbon footprint failed completely. I switched off the air conditioning in my hotel room in the morning only to find that in the evening it had been switched on to full power by the cleaning staff. In one hotel, the breakfast was served on plastic plates with plastic knives and forks. Looking forward to a cool beer in a beautiful restaurant in Key West, at the most southern point of continental USA, I was disappointed to have it served in a plastic cup.
Comparing the US to Germany, Rob wonders whether German behaviour combines a concern for the environment with a desire for order, while the US example shows a confidence in man’s ability to control nature along with a desire for speed, freedom and mobility and a belief in the limitlessness of human resources.
The US has been waking up to environmental issues very late. When I came here about ten years ago, I read articles in what seemed like otherwise respectable newspapers referring to global warming as just a theory. It was an established truth in Europe, yet much of the US seemed to be in denial.
Chris Jordan is an American photographer whose work explores the phenomenon of American consumerism. He creates images that make strong political statements about waste and other issues. They can be viewed at his site, and he also discusses some of them in a TED talk delivered to Americans in which he says:
My belief is that you don’t have to make yourself bad to look at these issues. I’m not pointing the finger at America in a blaming way. I’m simply saying this is who we are right now. And if there are things that we see that we don’t like about our culture then we have a choice.
In a culture where high value is placed on positive politeness, criticism is delivered very carefully. Notice Chris’s ending – ‘we have a choice’.
‘Choice’ has political loading here that it doesn’t carry in BrE. AmE: pro-choice = pro women’s right to abortion. And wasn’t the idea that no choice could be the path to rightness implied by Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just say no’ campaign? I don’t think ‘choice’ is a concept owned by the left/liberals though because it seems like the current war against ‘socialised medicine’ might be waged on the grounds of ‘choice’.
If you’re learning to speak ‘merican, I think ‘choice’ is a handy word to have up your sleeve should you find yourself dancing on the edge of a razor blade in a political minefield.