life in the UK Archives

June 15, 2006

Americans and passports

On my trip out to Dublin a couple of weeks ago, I found myself seated next to a besuited Lad. He was one of those types who is ignorant of his ignorance, and accustomed to being in control of the conversation, especially if the conversational partner is a woman (even more so, maybe, if she is an American woman, as everyone knows that Americans don't have the least clue about anything outside America.) He never got hostile, happy to say, but he was the sort to be very surprised that I would display assertiveness. Eventually the conversation came round to Americans, and American stereotypes, and the tired old trope about how only 0.000037% of Americans have passports.

Back when I was younger and more stereotypically Europhile, I have to admit, I was also self-righteously horrified by this statistic. But there's nothing like my inner contrarian to make me re-think my assumptions, especially when my people are being dismissed as ignorant by an ignorant man.

The United States is deceptively big. Just ask any foreigner who has made the mistake of driving a long distance on a straight highway in the West, and found himself 800 miles from where he started having only crossed one or two state borders and needing to catch a flight back home the next morning. Moreover, there are a whole lot of places we have been able to go without a passport. Canada. Mexico. The Bahamas. Much of the rest of the Caribbean. Hawaii. The British, in contrast, need a passport to get outside the UK and Ireland.

So it seems that our insularity just might stem from, well, our isolation. The world becomes ever smaller and all, but it is ridiculous to condemn a country simply because most of its inhabitants -- who, lest we forget, have between 10 and 15 days of paid holiday a year -- have not chosen to spend the 5 days they can afford being jetlagged and miserable in Mallorca.

Most of us will get passports, eventually. Probably for our grand European tours, when we've retired and have time to appreciate the trip.

May 7, 2007

mysteries of the royal lifestyle

I realized (again) this week that I cannot fathom what it must be like to be the Queen.

She is head of state of the UK and other Commonwealth countries. She is immensely rich. She isn't what one might call "powerful", in that her constitutional prerogatives are limited, and her job security rests on not making her subjects angry enough to ditch the monarchy, but she is certainly what one might call "influential". She has many duties, but also seems to sensibly book herself the odd week or several away at one of her country palaces. She doesn't spend her life overseas, but does make the occasional state visit.

This week, for example, she and Prince Philip are visiting the US. Nothing they haven't done before, but this time the itinerary included a visit to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby, which according to the BBC "fulfilled a long-held ambition" (elsewhere reported as "a lifelong dream") to attend the race.

How can someone this rich, this influential, and this free (within reason) to do whatever she likes manage to not get around to something as simple as this until she is 81?

About life in the UK

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