All this week AmericaInTheWorld is spotlighting six key arguments from Justin Webb's 'Have A Nice Day: Behind The Chiches, Giving America Another Chance'. You can purchase your copy here.
One of the most frequent criticisms of America is the suggestion that Americans are insular. The fact that 'only' 34% of Americans own a passport is often used to substantiate this point (although the extent of ownership is often understated).
Justin Webb tackles this perception in his book:
"Anti-Americans complain about the attitude of Americans towards the rest of the world, about the insularity of American life, about the percentage of Americans who have passports or have been to Vladivostock or speak fluent Swahili. Yet outsiders - particularly Europeans - often have only the vaguest idea of where Kansas is, or Rhode Island, or indeed New Mexico. And how many British people - proud owners of passports - actually use them only to travel to France or Spain, the equivalent of a jaunt from Chicago to South Carolina, to get some sun and pop home?"
That's the key point. Do most Brits hold passports for mind-exploring travel? How many use their passport simply for a beer-fueled weekend in Prague or to enjoy the clubs of Ibiza? We're not trying to say that holidays in Prague or Ibiza are necessarily wrong; only that a European sense of superiority may be misplaced.
The American landmass is 9,826,630 km²; forty times greater than the land mass of the UK (244,820 km²). Within the borders of the USA is almost every form of natural attraction. America is more of a continent than a nation.
Webb turns the tables on Europeans. Europeans are sniffy about American ignorance of Europe but how many Europeans know that much about America:
"You can be ignorant about how a light bulb works but still cut it in polite society if you know what Proust was getting at. Similarly among the sophisticates of the world, a knowledge of the geography of Europe (where is Lichtenstein?) counts for a lot more than similar knowledge about the United States. Where is Nebraska? Don't care."