We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

Understanding politicians and what they are likely to do is much easier once you realise that almost everyone in politics (even the ‘nice guys’ who wear sensible cardigans and remind you of Wallace and Gromit) have more in common psychologically and morally with your typical member of a street gang than with most of the people who actually vote for them

Perry de Havilland

[by request]

46 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Did Gromit ever wear a cardigan?

    Best regards

  • I would prefer to forget Wallace and Gromit. Anybody who reminds me of them is not my friend.

  • I rather like W & G… but then I am a cheese addict.

  • Mike Gleeson

    Stop beating around the bush. Tell us what you really think. :)

    Seriously – good one. Personally I would not go that far, but then again I have a tendency toward cognitive dissonance (the original perceived state of the world being that of a fair and just place).

  • RAB

    Um your comedy correspondent is losing the plot here.
    From “Where” has this quote of Perry’s been lifted?
    Not that I disagree , just like to know is all.
    Otherwise it’s a statement.
    That is all.

  • Max

    At the risk of pointing out the obvious, RAB, did you click the link on his name?

  • dearieme

    Quite, but I do wonder sometimes why our American cousins rarely apply that analysis to their Founding Fathers.

  • Verity

    Interesting … to me, at any rate.

    When Americans refer to “our British cousins” they do so in a tone of generosity, respect and familiarity.

    When the British, as in dearieme above, refer to “our American cousins” it is always preachy and sour.

    Britain has become a mean-spirited, nasty country.

  • veryretired

    Most governments throughout history, and by most I mean almost all, have been gussied up “mafia” gangs whose basic message to the governed was, “Give us what we want or we’ll kill you, your family, and your whole village.”

    As “representing the masses” took over from divine right and familial bloodlines as the ticket to the aristocracy, those who could wheel and deal their way into positions of power quickly discovered the heady allure of using the power of the state to not only benefit their constituents, but also themselves.

    I recently read an article discussing the strange fact that the stocks bought and sold by the members of the US Senate outperformed the rest of the market by an unusual amount, returning better than 12%.

    Anyone who watched any of the recent hearings would wonder if some of these guys can tie their own shoes, much less beat career stock analysts at their own game.

    I have often heard comparisons of the US to the Roman Empire, usually in the context of some dire prediction that we too were exhibiting signs of dissolution and decay. I generally get the impression that the commenter is hoping the fall comes soon, right about the time his book comes out.

    Personally, I think a better historical analogy is with the Byzantine. I’ll leave it to someone better schooled than I to sort out who are the blues and who are the greens.

    It took Doug and Dinsdale three tries to figure out the other-other operation. Our current shakedown artists are much quicker than that.

    DINSDALE!

  • You forgot the second part:

    …unless, of course, they happen to be killing some brown people. Then they’re probably telling the truth. And if not, oh well. Killing’s still pretty cool.

    – Josh

  • Isn’t the trouble really not the psychology of politicians but the psychology of voters?

  • Euan Gray

    I have often heard comparisons of the US to the Roman Empire

    100 years ago you’d have heard comparisons of Britain to the Roman Empire.

    usually in the context of some dire prediction that we too were exhibiting signs of dissolution and decay

    All cultures and societies, without exception, eventually dissolve and decay. Just as it happened to Rome and to Britain, and indeed everyone else, so it will in time happen to America.

    I generally get the impression that the commenter is hoping the fall comes soon

    America’s rise has been relatively swift, and therefore it is natural to expect its decline would be equally swift. I think that’s a somewhat facile analysis, but it WILL decline.

    I think a better historical analogy is with the Byzantine

    Which also, of course, in time declined and fell. Like every other one before it and after it.

    EG

  • It is important to note that as long as the rest of the world has leaders that are like street gang bosses, we need people to confront them who know their kind and can make them think twice about messing with us.

    Not making them think twice creates an opportunity for war.

    This is why I dislike the idea of Kennoddy et al being in charge as they would not be rough enough and would immediately be seen as feeble. Ripe for exploitation. Russia would have our gas distribution and power generating networks in a few weeks of them taking office.

  • J

    “Britain has become a mean-spirited, nasty country.”

    And yet you don’t come to live here – it’s very strange.

    I’ve never heared anyone in the US refer to their “British cousins” at all. I think it is only a small and whining part of the US populace that cares about that small and whining part of the UK populace who don’t like the US. Hey ho.

  • HJHJ

    I really do think that Verity is incorrect.

    Most of us rather like and admire many things about the US, but as they are so big and such a powerful influence, we’re inclined to be somewhat rude about certain aspects of the US. Isn’t this inevitable? And let’s face it, even people like me who defend US foreign policy (in the main) are hugely critical of the inept way the US goes about diplomacy – even when, as they often are, they’re in the right.

    But then, we can be pretty rude about most other countries – it doesn’t mean that we don’t like them.

    Very often the US makes itself look, to the general uninformed public, like a bully by not challenging perceptions. Take Iraq – why haven’t they publicised the fact that the reason the Russians and French opposed them was that they’d been sanctions-busting (in contradiction of UN resolutions that they claim are so important) and had signed illegal contracts with the regime there. Why hasn’t the US pointed out – forcefully – that when its opponents claim that it armed Saddam, that this is untrue and that he bought most of his weapons from the French, Russians, Chinese and Germans (the US sold him next to nothing). Why, when its opponents say “it’s all about oil” don’t they point out that the US doesn’t get much of its oil from the Middle East (it gets it mainly from domestic and South American sources) and that it’s Europe that gets its oil from the Middle East. Why-oh-why don’t they work on their image by challenging such misconceptions?

    Incidentally, whenever I’m in the US I notice (and really don’t like) the low quality plastics you see everywhere, e.g. in cars, domestic fitments, etc.. Frankly, and irrationally, it colours my whole view of the place. After a week, I cease to notice this, but it makes the whole place feel tacky for a while. It’s daft, I know, but it’s about perception.

  • HJHJ

    Another anti-US jibe you often hear is about it being a harsh and uncaring society – as supposedly indicated by the proportion of the population without healthcare insurance.

    How many people know the true story – that the US govt spends nearly as much of its GDP on medicare and medicaid as we do on the NHS, or that even the poorest (and those without insurance) have a better chance of surviving major illnessess than the poor do here with the NHS? Or that people in urgent need of treatment can’t be turned away from hospitals through lack of insurance or a credit card.

    In fact, the main criticism of the healthcare ‘system’ in the US is its huge cost and the lack of a proper free market.

    Why don’t they put some effort into improving their image in this area? It’s so easy for those who would denigrate the US when blatently false beliefs by many outside the US aren’t at least challenged.

  • llamas

    HJHJ wrote:

    ‘that the US govt spends nearly as much of its GDP on medicare and medicaid as we do on the NHS, . . ‘

    Actually, it’s more.

    Cost of Medicaid (low-income health care) and Medicare (retiree health care) for 2005, as a percentage of US GDP – 8.3%.

    Cost of the NHS as a percentage of UK GDP for 2005 (projected) – 7.6%.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Verity

    HJHJ – They’ve got over 300m people in a vast country. They don’t really care what the rest of the world, which, against American might, is powerless anyway, thinks about them. Some of the national politicians – by no means all – may be a little more knowing, but they are in office to please the American voter, and if the American voter doesn’t care what people in France or Portugal think about them, why should he lose sleep about it? If he wants to get reelected, he’ll concentrate on American issues.

    This myth about American healthcare irks me, too. I’ve banged on about it here before. The British are so ignorant. They believe what they want to believe. They just do not want to get their heads round how Sovietesque their health service is, and how terrible treatment is.

    J – No, of course not. The average American does not refer to “our British cousins”. I meant politicians, when they’re giving speeches and have reason to refer to us.

  • Verity

    Back to the original quote that started this topic, it appears that the Tories have at last taken up the cosh to good effect. First Charles Kennedy. Then Mark Oaten. Now Simon Hughes. And Menzies Campbell probably next.

    There’s going to be a nice little pile of formerly LibDem votes in this surprising string of events, eh?

    Does anyone doubt the Chocolate Orange Inspector and his team were behind this extraordinary string of events?

  • llamas

    Well, as a person who has spent just about half his life living in the UK, and half in the US, I think I’m qualified to comment a little.

    Americans, generally, have a great fondness and a not-inconsiderable respect for England and the English. There are some ‘standard’ jibes, such as warm beer, iffy plumbing, rain and fog, Lucas electrics, and the fact that UK bars apparently possess a nationwide total of 7 ice cubes and have to share, but generally, the term ‘Limey’ is spoken with an air of affection and not denigration. Americans lap up English culture, even if they have a slightly-naive belief that most of the UK is populated either by Hugh Grant or Helen Mirren.

    The British, by contrast, have always had a strong streak of social anti-Americanism, and believe strongly in stereotypes about both America and its people. From ‘overpaid, over-s*xed and Over Here’ to modern-day ‘global cowboys’, it’s always been quite socially acceptable in England to portray Americans in seriously-unflattering ways and using the grossest generalizations.

    Through the currency restrictions which ended in the 1970s, by which very, very few Britons could travel in the US, I could understand this. It’s hard to know a place where you’ve never been. But nowadays, when everyone in the UK seems to have been to the US – even if it’s only to Disneyland – it’s much harder to understand the visceral, reflexive and sometimes-quite-vicious anti-Americanism which one hears expressed everywhere, and freely, in the UK. And I don’t mean people talking about US policies, or the acts of the US around the world, about which one can honestly differ – I mean vicious, personal, stereotypical characterizations of Americans as individuals.

    I’ve mentioned in the past sitting in the snug bar of a quiet village pub in Hawkshead and overhearing the most graphic and semi-obscene descriptions of Americans, as a people – passing back and forth over the bar with general assent and enthusiasm – with my American wife sitting next to me. The Brits, generally, take unto themselves an air of smug superiority when it comes to talking about America and the Americans. The most outrageous stories about what goes on in the US are passed as true, and accepted without question – virtually no tale is too tall that it will not be believed. Witness ‘The Sun’ and the tales of US Marine gunships machinegunning victims of Hurricane Katrina. These stories passed as current and true in the UK, along with a thousand others just as lurid – none of which, of course, are true.

    In the British mind, every American lives in a vast and wasteful house, drives a huge, gas-guzzling car, and spends every dime he makes on trivial fripperies. Any one can walk into a WalMart drunk on his ass and buy a handgun for pocket change, then walk down the street waving it at passersby. (I was told this story, in the UK, by someone who had seen this on ‘The Simpsons’ – so it must be true, right?) Americans are always completely ignorant of anything going on in the wider world, shallow, callow, and obsessed with money. American women are self-absorbed, gold-digging sluts. American men are racist meatheads who will shoot you dead over a parking spot.

    And so forth.

    You get the idea. I don’t know where this air of social soi-disant superiority comes from, but I think it’s more of a general thing that the Brits have about all foreigners. After all, wogs do begin at Calais. But when an American calls me a ‘Limey’, it’s usually with an air of generous affection. When a Brit calls me a ‘Yank’, or (as is more likely these days) a ‘septic’, it’s done with a barely concealed sneer of contempt.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Verity

    llamas – That has always puzzled me, too. I loved my time living in the US. I loved how well it was organised. How things got done instanter. The vast range of choices that Britain has only got in the last 10 or 12 years. I lived in Texas, and I liked the courtesy. Texans call everyone sir or ma’am. The waitress in Denny’s is ma’am. The gas station attendant is sir.

    Americans are generous and have an instinct to kindness. They make friends easily not because they are shallow, but because they want to connect with other people. They’re open-hearted.

    Before someone writes in sneeringly, “Greed is good” – I am speaking in general, obvious, as are the people who speak contemptuously of the US.

    They sneer that America’s “such a young country”. So naive, you know. Gosh, I guess they became the most powerful nation the world has ever known through dumb luck. (In fact, they’re older than most other countries in the world.)

    I concluded quite some time ago, llamas, that it is naked envy. America took our position as Top Nation and they don’t des-e-e-e-rve it! They’re not as sophisticated as we are. They don’t have our experience, like the excellent Camel Corps in the FO.

    They are Christian, which is toooo funny! And also scary! So naive! What is puzzling is the toxicity of the contempt for the US.

  • HJHJ

    Verity,

    You have a point. Of course, because of its size, the US has often been somewhat isolationist. It was like this before both world wars and even George Bush could be ‘accused’ of this prior to 9/11. I don’t mean this as a criticism – after all what’s wrong with an attitude of “we’re happy to leave you alone and you leave us alone”? But when it is eventually forced to act internationally, it means that it is often poorly prepared diplomatically and by experience and culture as a result and ill-equipped to counter those who would sit back and criticise (whilst doing nothing themselves).

    llamas, there’s truth in what you say, but then you’re talking about the sort of ignorant loudmouths that will spout rubbish on every subject in pubs or wherever. You can be confident that most of the people overhearing the conversation will be highly embarrassed by it but uninclined to enter into an argument with an idiot. And it is easy to join in with anecdotes about ‘dim’ Americans, when really they’re just not very culturally aware of the rest of the world. I have a few myself, like standing in front of the castle in Durham and being asked by an American tourist where the cathedral was (it is huge, 100yds away across a flat piece of grass and in order to get to the castle you have to walk up a road staring straight at the cathedral)

    As for the cultural superiority aspect, I think there is a real, albeit historical, reason for this. A generation ago, the best educated British generally were better educated (in a classical sense) than Americans. Transatlantic version of programmes like university challenge were a massacre. But, as someone pointed out at the time, ten years later, the equally bright Americans would be rich and their British equivalents would still be poorly paid academics. Another example: In the 1930s (I think) Paul Dirac said “there are no American physicists” and, by and large, he was just being factual, not anti-American. This changed of course with the likes of Feynman, but you get my point. I’m sure that this is attitude is fading with time.

  • I’ve never been to the States, but I have heard plenty of stories testifying of the almost unbelievable generosity of many Americans. My sister, who’s a bit of an Americanophile, has a number of stories where she’s got chatting to ordinary Americans. It’s wasn’t uncommon for the locals to ask her (usually after they found out she’s Australian*) and her husband to their place for a meal. This sort of hospitality to a stranger is, in my opinion, a wonderful trait. What’s funny is that when you tell “educated” people about such stories, they laugh patronisingly, as if to say “ah, those simple folksy Americans and their naive hospitality rituals”. Pah! If only everyone was so friendly and generous.

    *I’ve discovered over the years that being an Australian is a very useful accident of birth when on the road.

  • HJHJ

    Yes James, nobody hates Australians.

    They’re very popular here these days in the UK. We like to discuss rugby and cricket with you and offer our commiserations.

    But seriously, Australia is my second favourite country (after Britain) and I especially like Western Australia. My neighbours are from Western Australia and after a long discussion we came to the conclusion that cultural differences are pretty minimal. They even like the summer weather here (they’re not so keen on winter – although it is beautiful outside at the moment).

  • veryretired

    Ah, EG, you’re always such a little ray of sunshine. I had an aunt like you, who visited on rare occasions for family events. I could always count on her to comment that my furniture didn’t fit the room, or the walls were the wrong color for the carpet, or was I gaining weight, my clothes didn’t seem to fit properly.

    Dear auntie died a while ago. She’s probably up in heaven telling God the clouds are the wrong shape, or some such.

    V, ll, and HJ—I don’t want to abuse this thread any further, as it is supposed to be about the vagaries of the political types, so I will just say, as I’ve said in expanded versions in other threads, (what, me?, expanded versions?) that I don’t find the negative views of other people about the US at all surprising.

    For over a century, most people in this world have been taught in their classrooms, churches, and political organizations that the US is everything that is bad, wrong, evil, callous, greedy, imperialistic, warmongering, polluting, racist, degenerate, perverted, etc., etc.

    Indeed, for the last few decades, our own people have been told the same thing by a great many supposedly authoritative sources, esp. in our schools. That concerns me more than foriegn opinion.

    My basic response is twofold: one, even with all our faults, who would the critic prefer to have in our place?; and, two, if we are so inept and wrong about everything, why do we and our friends prosper, while our enemies collapse and languish?

    The world has been a huge laboratory for social and cultural experimentation on an awesome scale for several hundred years. The models are all available for inspection. Take your pick.

  • John K

    This myth about American healthcare irks me, too. I’ve banged on about it here before. The British are so ignorant. They believe what they want to believe. They just do not want to get their heads round how Sovietesque their health service is, and how terrible treatment is.

    Gorgeous George was spouting on about this on Big Brother the other night, blathering on about how if you collapsed in New York the ambulance crew will search you for a credit card before they take you to hospital, whereas in Britain we have a fantastic socialist system of healthcare by virtue of the wise government of 1945.

    I’m pleased to say that his appearance on BB has showed him up for the spiteful sack of shit he is, which was why he was voted out on his arse to the boos of the crowd. Michael Barrymore of all people wiped the floor with him with a dignified speech which shut him up for once.

    As to the Liberal Democrats, you just couldn’t make it up. At this rate they’ll be bringing back Jeremy Thorpe.

  • Verity

    American hospitals are not even allowed to enquire about a credit card, never mind demand one, until they have you stabilised and you’re well enough to be moved to a county hospital if necessary. The closest hospital to the incident has to take you and treat you, by law.

  • llamas

    Verity wrote:

    ‘American hospitals are not even allowed to enquire about a credit card, never mind demand one, until they have you stabilised and you’re well enough to be moved to a county hospital if necessary. The closest hospital to the incident has to take you and treat you, by law.’

    I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve heard variants of the ‘credit card – no insurance – left to die – ambulance will drive away’ story in the UK, and how many times I have replied in the way Verity does.

    And what you get is a blank stare – what used to be called an ‘adenoidal expression’. The words being spoken simply do not sink in, even though they come from an obvious American resident who might be expected to know, whereof he speaks. More than once, I’ve heard the same person, after being told this, go ahead and repeat some variant of the same myth.

    Some of the folk legends told in the UK about the US and its people Simply Will Not Die. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I hear the Poodle in the Microwave, the Spilled Hot Coffee While Driving And Sued, the Set The Cruise And Went For A Nap, the Drove The Rental For Two Weeks In First Gear Because She Didn’t Know It Was A Stick Shift, the George W. Bush Refused To Sell His Home To A Black Family, the Tried To Siphon Gas Out The RV And Got The Sewage Tank Instead, and my current favourite – the Chicago Man Who Shovelled Snow Out Of A Parking Spot For An Hour, Only To Have Some Woman Drive Up And Park In It – So He Shot Her. All gleefully told as true, always told about those dumb-ass Americans.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Jeff Cook

    In the 1890’s, people said the same things about Britain and the britons that are now being said about the USA and americans (the Nation of Shopkeepers was not exactly complimentary, after all and was still being repeated 90+ years post Napoleon). You should read some world press accounts of Britain’s difficulties” in the Boar War. The glee at every British misstep and the pure vitriol is quite similar to what is seen now in the BBC and AFP regardiing Iraq.

  • Earl Harding

    HJHJ,

    Regarding the US arming Saddam, you are strictly speaking correct. The US sent no arms. We did instead send him vast amounts of grain on US agricultural credits.

    He then used the money saved by not having to import grain to buy arms from the British and French. This was well understood to be a standing arrangment by all four partners. SO we just bankrolled the arms.

    This illustrates a problem I have with both pro and anti views on pretty much any subject. People cherry pick the most suitable points to make their argument stand and completely ignore rest of the information.

    Of course when you pull in all the relevant facts surrounding an issue and then you find that issues are usually much more murky and the real differences between the players become slim.

    A good example of this is the usual British disgust about Gitmo. Then ask them about the dirty war fought against the IRA using what came to be known as “Big Boys Rules” and then suddenly the British action of what could easily be argued as extra-judicial killing becomes a valid response to the threat from the IRA.

    It’s a funny old world isn’t it?

  • Verity

    llamas – It’s often struck me that British visiting the US must feel a vague sense of puzzlement that there are no dead bodies lying in the streets; and no one lying on the sidewalk writhing in pain. It must feel almost … eerie.

    I too have told Brits about the American system and I too have encountered disbelief. “Well, yes, but …. blah blah blah … la la la la la I can’t hear you.”

  • HJHJ

    Earl,

    I find it hard to believe that the US deliberately gave Saddam money to help buy arms from rivals of US arms manufacturers. And you’re wrong about buying British arms – he did buy some arms from the UK (more than from the US) but a tiny amount in comparison to China, France Russia and Germany.

    Frankly, I find you comments about the IRA hard to fathom. I’m quite sure that things went on that were less than legal on both sides, but by far the IRA were the greatest murderers and criminal thugs. Far from being an army of occupation as the IRA would have you believe, the presence of the British army saved the Catholics from a massacre. Most people in Britain just don’t give a damn about whether someone is Catholic or Protestant and can’t understand those that do. Most neutrals that spent any time in NI during the troubles came to the conclusion that the only party that deserved sympathy or credit was the British army.

    I remember when on holiday in the South during that period how vehement most people were in their anti-IRA views as soon as they heard my English accent. The Irish army even had to deliver money to and from banks to prevent the IRA from staging hold-ups.

  • HJHJ

    Verity,

    To be fair, the historical obsession with gunfights in US TV cop series must be responsible for much of the impression many of us have of the US. And New York alone did have ten times as many murders as the whole of the UK not so long ago.

    Things have changed, but impressions linger.

  • Verity

    HJHJ – The British cannot get it through their heads that poor people with no insurance get better medical treatment than Brits who use the NHS. They want to believe Americans are selfish, greedy and merciless. They want to believe it. They don’t want to believe that the most powerful country in the world does absolutely everything better than they do. I get sick of the bigotry.

  • HJHJ

    Verity – I disagree. The problem is more with supporters of the NHS who like to contrast it to the US in order to garner support. So they propagate the myth about American medicine. The public hears a distorted story. Where is the counter to this? There is none. It’s not anti-Americanism, it’s just that most people never get to hear the true picture thanks to those that support the medical monopoly here.

    Incidentally, I’m no fan of the American ‘system’ – it is not a free market, anti-competitive practices are rife and it is alarmingly expensive (not that the NHS isn’t expensive for what it does), but does provide better treatment especially for the poor.

    The US doesn’t do everything better – that’s ridiculous. Anyone who is acquainted with both countries could write a list in minutes about things that are better (and run better) here. And vice versa, of course. Perhaps the balance is clearly on the American side, but it is not 100% on the American side.

  • mike

    Apologies to the editors, but…

    “I think a better historical analogy is with the Byzantine… which also, of course, in time declined and fell. Like every other one [civilization] before it and after it.

    Don’t you think the rise and prospering of civilizations is at least as interesting as their decline and fall?

  • Verity

    HJHJ – Maybe you could illustrate your point by naming three or four?

  • Euan Gray

    Don’t you think the rise and prospering of civilizations is at least as interesting as their decline and fall?

    Both are equally interesting, largely because they happen for the same reasons – changing comparative advantage in economic and military power, shifting global balance of power, strengthening and enervation of cultural values, changing trade patterns, and so on. What causes the rise of one civilisation simultaneously causes the decline of another.

    EG

  • mike

    Having picked up on the Verity – HJHJ thread, I’m intrigued: HJHJ – what exactly do you think we are better at in Britain than the Americans? Association football? Perhaps, but not by much.

  • mike

    “What causes the rise of one civilisation simultaneously causes the decline of another.”

    You sure about that? Collapse of the Roman Empire, Western Europe descends into ‘dark ages’ for a few hundred years.

    As it took a good four or five centuries after the collapse of the western empire for the Byzantine Empire to reach its’ peak, I would hardly call that ‘simultaneous’.

  • llamas

    Mike wrote:

    ‘what exactly do you think we are better at in Britain than the Americans?’

    – Driving. Learning to drive in the UK, and much of Europe, is serious business, taken seriously. Learning to drive in the US is a joke. As a result, UK and European drivers are generally much, much better than US drivers.

    – Advertizing. A lot of UK, and European, advertizing, in various media, has significant artistic content – it attracts the eye and pleases the mind. Most US advertizing is the most appalling dreck.

    – Lawyering. For all of the changes being made in the UK, the standard of lawyering, and the adherence to the over-riding concepts of justice and equity, is still remarkably high. The US law, especially the civil law, is now little more than a commercial crap-shoot, where right and wrong have long been abandoned.

    I don’t want to hog the discussion. I’m sure others have other examples.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Verity

    llamas – I hadn’t thought of advertising. You are right. British advertising is wittier.

    Driving – don’t agree. Germans may be better drivers than Americans, I don’t know. But the French – and, by reputation – the Italians are very poor. Erratic, impatient and disregarding of risks – as in routinely overtaking on a bend or near the top of a hill.

    I actually think Americans are the best drivers. It would be interesting to know the stats on accidents per 100,000 drivers, for example.

  • mike

    American drivers can’t be anywhere near as bad as Chinese drivers – you wouldn’t believe some of the stories I could tell you.

  • llamas

    Verity wrote:

    ‘Driving – don’t agree. Germans may be better drivers than Americans, I don’t know. But the French – and, by reputation – the Italians are very poor. Erratic, impatient and disregarding of risks – as in routinely overtaking on a bend or near the top of a hill.’

    I disagree. I’ve driven extensively in France, less in Italy. It’s my experience that both species drive fast, but accurately, and are generally pretty predictable. Lane discipline on freeways is generally very good. They may be greater risk-takers, but at least you can be pretty sure that they are awake and aware of the risks.

    German and Scandinavian drivers are generally very good indeed, and not so forward as the French and Italians. British drivers are also generally very good, and the most polite of all.

    Americans, generally speaking, float down the road in a haze, b*rely-connected to what they are doing. Lane discipline and turn signals are a vague and nebulous concept, and mirrors are apparently there for checking hair and lipstick. Things like stop-light running are pandemic, especially on the East Coast, it seems. To figure out how unaware American drivers can be, you only need to look at the numbers of them that get hit by trains at grade crossings – every day. If you’re not aware enough to avoid a train – you know where it’s going to be, the whistle rattles your eardrums, and it’s big enough to blot out the sun – I suggest that you’re not paying the attention to your driving that you should.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Eric E. Coe

    Actually, train crossings are pretty rare on the East Coast nowadays – most have been replaced with under- or over-passes or are just less common anyway. Freight trains usually have container cargo, and so they get moved on to truck flatbeds for the final leg (and so use roads) and passenger rail is not nearly as common as in England. (For very good reasons.)

    The state with most train crossings I have seen is my current one, New Jersey, which has some of the oldest roads in the country (which accounts for the crazy driving experience – they were originally built for far less traffic and slower speeds). Off the top of my head, I can think of only 5 or 6 in my driving range, two of which are right next to a passenger stations – and these are the only ones I have ever seen with trains crossing them.

    In many other states they have the room to design the problem out of existance. Anyway, safely transversing train crossings is a very underutilized skill, which might account for the number of accidents.

    As far as driver behavior, it varies greatly from state to state – it’s some sort of cultural thing, a set of shared expectations about how far to trespass in the grey areas around the official rules (which are pretty uniform – the main issue is usually: “right turn on red” – legal in this state or not?). You just have to learn a particular state’s driving style and emulate it.