Thursday, August 20, 2020


Stanley - Thursday

Somewhere in the mid-1970s, not long after I came to the United States, I started putting down my thoughts for a coffee-table book. It was to be titled America-est because I couldn’t get over the apparent need for the country and what was in it to be the -est at everything: richest, greatest, biggest, longest. You name it. In summary, it is the b-est country in the world.

In addition to the swarm of -ests, there are also other ways in which the country proclaims its superiority over other nations. It has the blueberry capital of the world (Hammanton, New Jersey). But, wait a minute, South West Michigan also claims to be the blueberry capital of the world. As does Cherryfield, Maine, and Oxford, Nova Scotia.

When it comes to strawberries, there is fierce competition: Humboldt, Tennessee is the strawberry capital of the world; as is Stillwell, Oklahoma; Oxnard, California; Pontchatoula, Louisiana; Marion Station, Maryland; Bellville, Michigan; and Starke, Florida.

Plant City found the competition too fierce and carved out a niche for itself by being the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.

And Poteet, Texas, had more modest aspirations, calling itself the Strawberry Capital of Texas.

I could only find one soybean capital of the world – Decatur, Illinois, just down the road from where I went to grad school.

Olivia, Minnesota, calls itself the corn capital of the world, as does the entire state of Iowa. There is a sweetcorn capital: Hoopeston, Illinois; a seed corn capital: Constantine, Michigan; and a broomcorn capital: Elk City, Oklahoma,; or Beeville, Texas; or Wichita, Kansas or Arcola, Illinois; or Lindsay, Oklahoma; or Baca County, Colorado. (Do you know what broomcorn is? I didn’t.)

And so on.

To a large extent, this ongoing proclamation of such-and-such being the best seems to be more common, more widespread, in the USA than elsewhere. Many of us who hail from foreign climes, even if we’ve embraced the United States warmly enough to become citizens, wonder where this practice came from.

Is it because  for so many Americans, the USA is their world? Is it because Americans seem to travel less than citizens from other Western countries? Or do they actually believe what they’ve labelled as the best actually is the best? Or is it something else? I don’t know the answer.

So, my tongue-in-cheek book was going to poke fun at the notion that there could be multiple strawberry capitals, multiple blueberry capitals, etc., as well as at the need for so many in the USA to proclaim that something they were associated with was THE BEST IN THE WORLD!

The more I thought about America-est, the more a related idea started to crystallise in my head – that the USA’s biggest weakness is its belief in its own marketing. If one constantly thinks the country is the best, what incentive is there to ferret out what is sub-par? What incentive is there to try to improve?

And my thoughts for America-est started to evolve in a more serious direction. In addition to photographs of the many peach capitals of the world, and so on – visual jokes in the book –  I could juxtapose other anomalies.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard that American healthcare is the best in the world. There’s no doubt the best of American healthcare is one of the best in the world, but overall is that true? From that question evolved another type of entry in America-est. For example, there could be an interesting contrast between the claim of having the best healthcare and the fact that the USA is 43rd in life expectancy and declining, and 33rd out of 36 in OECD countries for infant mortality. These are astonishing mismatches. And even today, there continue to be shortages of various critical components for the COVID-19 testing efforts around the country. Waiting for a week for tests results makes the tests largely meaningless. 

In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has stripped the veneer off some of these long-held beliefs. I have often heard that the United States is the richest country on the planet, yet very early into the pandemic I was shocked to see kilometres-long queues of cars in Florida, amongst other places, waiting to pick up food parcels. We all know that wealth is not spread evenly, but the need at the bottom end of the population is staggering. I fear that the wealth gap will deteriorate over the next year, leaving millions in the USA in desperate straits.

The food-parcel line in Florida

San Antonio, Texas

So, where does that leave America-est?

Quite frankly, I’m not sure. It could become more serious than I had originally intended, showing the emperor without his clothes. Part of me likes that, but it would be less fun and no longer a coffee-table book. Or it could revert to my original, picture-book idea and ignore the serious stuff. That’s appealing because it would make America-est light-hearted and fun.

What do you think?


  1. I love that "World According To Americans!" So true.

    My feelings about "best" everything is that we have been regarding materialism and comfort as being the best in the world. One can really amass a lot of s*** in the US, and things like drive-through coffeeshops and banks often don't exist anywhere else besides the US. Maybe I've missed it, but I've never seen any drive-through anything in other countries.

    But these American conveniences are not true human essentials, and where we fall down in the US is providing the basics to everyone: food, health, shelter, social support systems. On top of that are the very troubling aspects of the prison-industrial complex, the income chasm between rich and poor, and the same kind of attitudes toward people of color that existed back in the 17th century.

    Even in some technical areas, we are behind. High-speed travel in spotless trains in Europe, China, and Japan put Amtrak to shame. Our Internet connectivity still lags behind countries like South Korea, and Kenya and other African countries have been using phone apps for money transfer systems for years before us. Sweden is now practically cash-free, yet the US still has places of business that only take cash!

    But Stan, I love the idea of a light-hearted coffee table book, because there are many aspects of life in America that are unique, quirky, or downright funny. To me, that's where the fondness for the country comes in. So yeah, that's my vote.

  2. A strong indictment of a method that's kept so many suffering Americans believing for so long that despite their predicaments, they're special. Est in America is a cult...and I don't mean the Werner Erhard cult of the 1970s and 80s of that same name... though, come to think of it, each depends on mind control. Bravo, Stan, for writing this.

  3. There are two kinds of people who would disagree with you, Stan, and together they would constitute the entire population of the USA. One part is all the people who believe America is the b-est. They would be outraged by what you say and tell you to go back where you came from if you don’t like it here. The others, and I think they are the majority of which I am a member, are aware of our country’s failures as well as it’s successes. We hope to carry trying to create “a more perfect union.”

    Many democracies in today’s world get various aspects of self-governance better then we Americans do. But they all learned how to be democracies from the US constitution. Decades, sometimes more than a century after the people on this real estate started trying to make it work, other countries learned from us that it was even possible.
    I don’t think America is the greatest country in the world. These days it is looking like a complete mess. I think, though, that if the majority can beat back the forces of oligarchy in the next election, we the people will at least get another shot at making this most diverse, most passionate body politic into a more perfect union.

  4. Whoa!! Oxford NS claims to be the blueberry capital of CANADA -not of the world.
    We don't do that here.