Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In America

Alcatraz and the American flag.  June 2014
This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 21

I took this photo on the boat back from Alcatraz, egged on by my friend Kelly who thought the flag flying on the stern would make a nice addition to the composition.  We looked at the resulting images on my camera and Kelly said 'because nothing says America like the flag, and prison'.
Kelly lives in San Francisco and is as well-placed to comment as anyone else. However as I traveled around the States, I was struck by how open and trusting people were.  I literally lost count of the number of times well-meaning tourists would walk up to me, shove their expensive electronics into my hands and say 'can you take my picture?'.  I also received more compliments about my personal appearance than I ever have in my life.  Mostly on my hair colour, but sometimes on my cut or the top I was wearing.  One woman asked I had been on the TV that day. It was very strange.
I'm not sure this openness and generosity of spirit would have extended to me if I was not a white person, but it was, naturally, an enormous contrast to what I know about America. The land of individual enterprise, competition, no safety nets.  The land of gun crime, extremes of income and randomised street violence leading to lengthy incarceration, often of innocent people.  
In the end, I concluded that as I was mostly in tourist areas, people were in a holiday frame of mind.  But I also wondered if America's vastness and its lack of social welfare means that in order to function, citizens have to frame everyone around them as a neighbour.  There are no strangers here, just friends we haven't met.  
It certainly made for a pleasant, if somewhat puzzling vacation.

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