And the things that get in its way.

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American Myths
So the typical stereotype is that Americans are both dumb and litigious. I think we all know that. Europeans in particular enjoy their superior rationality, and therefore also enjoy telling anecdotes about this supposed American propensity. But these are rarely true. Two examples:

Kinder Surprise eggs are banned in the US, which Europeans take as a sign of our deep fear of choking hazards and litigation. In reality, here's why: there's an FDA law from 1938 on the books that bans the inclusion of any non-digestible substance in an edible product. If you know anything about the time period before we regulated food production, you know this is a VERY good law. But it happens to be broad enough to include Kinder Surprise eggs, so from the time they were invented in the 70's, they've never been legal for import. This law has been varyingly interpreted over times - customs didn't really use to care, but now, probably actually because of people bringing attention to the product, they're pickier. So yeah, it's just a really old bureaucratic gap that no one's cared enough to close. You know where they DID pursue a campaign to ban those eggs as a choking hazard? Britain.

You ever heard the case about the woman who earned an insane amount of money from McDonald's because she spilled her hot coffee on herself? That's supposed to be Exhibit A about dumb Americans and the legal system. But here's what actually happened: McDonald's did market research which suggested that regardless of the actual taste of the coffee, the hotter it was, the better it was perceived to be. So they heated their coffee at insane levels, obviously far above what you could consume for a while, so that you would drink it at the hottest tolerable temperature and presumably find it to be the best taste. Thing is, that's really not a good idea. McDonald's employees were getting second and third degree burns from the tiniest bit of sloshed coffee. And this was happening regularly, and McDonald's management was getting told about it, so they talked about it... and decided it was worth it. They would go ahead and mandate that temperature in all their employee manuals, etc., and they would just deal with the fact that some people, primarily employees, were burned badly every year, and they would give them some sort of hush-up payout when they did got hurt which would be peanuts to them (but worth silence to someone working minimum wage). That's fucked up. So eventually, this little old lady customer did spill her coffee on herself, and she was burned very badly, but the difference was that she did not take the immediate payoff and instead her case was used as a figurehead for about 10 years' worth of similar complaints. McDonald's was found guilty, and her crazy million-dollar payoff? It was not to pay for her medical bills, and in fact did not reach her in the end at all. The amount was what's called "punitive damages" - it was assigned purely as a symbolic punishment for McDonald's to pay. It was deliberately calculated to represent two days' worth of McDonald's coffee revenues. So that's the real story: a corporation disregarded something it knew was hurting its workers as well as some customers for around ten years, and eventually an individual case was pushed through to highlight the problem, for which the corporation was fined. It's actually a perfectly reasonable example of how the legal system is supposed to work.

I really do like Europe, and in some ways it is a nicer place to live than America, certainly. But there is definitely a weird bitter streak in them that reminds me a lot of guys who fear women. You know, they're so used to being dominant in politics, culture, etc. that the slightest little crack in that domination makes them really nasty and contemptuous. Well, Europe used to be that dominant. They ruled large parts of the world and defined how civilized a place was by "how much is it like us". That was a huge part of their self-conception: we're the best so we're dominant, and we're dominant because we're the best. Just like ideas about masculinity vs. femininity in the past. But they've lost a good chunk of that power, and now America has it. And what do you do if you've built your identity on your dominance, and then you're NOT so dominant? That's going to cause a serious re-think of your identity, and just like some guys, they resent it. So I think a lot of the European reflexive dismissal of Americans is basically just the international version of the male chauvinist's "Get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich!"


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