Going back to the US for the holidays, it's always striking confronting the differences between it and the UK.
I catch myself saying "moe-byel" instead of cell phone and "toe-ma-toe". At a restaurant in Michigan, the server asked if I wanted chips or fries with my sandwich. It took a while to respond, as my muddled brain was thinking, "But they're the same thing!"
Of course, the big differences are the more intangible ones. Not just what people say, but how they say it, the way they behave, the things that are important and not so important. I'm being vague here for fear of offending both Brits and Americans!
But it's something I get asked about all the time. Why do Americans do X? What do Brits think about Y?
I don't think many people understand what complicated questions these can be. For example, I was chatting with friends about driving on the left side of the road, and someone asked if Brits walk on the left side of the sidewalk. No, they don't. In a busy train station sometimes escalators or stairs will be marked so people stay on the left. Otherwise, Brits tend to walk wherever there's space.
My friend found this bizarre. In his mind, since Americans drive on the right and walk on the right, Brits should systematically be the same, except reversed.
But there is no systematic difference. The US and the UK are just different. Apples to oranges. Or rather, apples to llamas.
It threw me when I first came here, too. But I've come to realize that different cultures develop independently, have been for thousands of years. Driving laws, government, education, all have developed in completely different ways. It's fascinating.
And difficult to understand, let alone explain.
So yes, the Brits walk on both sides of the sidewalk (which isn't called a sidewalk, but rather pavement). And even though the US has much more of a car culture, I've also found the US to be more pedestrian friendly. Why? I don't know.
My British friends ask questions, too. Recently, many have been wondering about Americans' fascination with guns. I can explain about second amendment rights, and frontier life, but at the end of the day, there's no clear cut answer.
But I never stop wondering about these differences. Why does the UK have so many more fair trade products available at major supermarkets? Does it have something to do with their history of imperialism? Why do I have better recycling service in the UK than I've ever encountered in the US? Is it because America has more climate change deniers? More Big Oil money? Why is the US at the forefront of sustainable fishing, well ahead of Europe? I have no idea.
Maybe it's not so much nationwide differences as community differences, individuals leading the way, or politicians devoted to certain causes. Or any number of other variables that are near impossible to quantify.
What would really be a blessing would be if we could learn from each other. Often during the American health care debate, I wished that instead of conservatives ripping apart the NHS, politicians, researchers, and health care providers could learn from the NHS and work to develop more humane and efficient systems for both countries.
That would truly be a global revolution.