Professor Joe Goldblatt
My Search for a New USA and What I Found
Professor Joe Goldblatt
After fifteen years of living in one of the most beautiful and progressive countries in the world, I returned to the country of my birth for a two month visit. My expectations for a new and perhaps somewhat improved USA were immediately dashed and greatly diminished from the moment I stepped off the airplane.
The first announcement I heard in America’s busiest airport was not a warm welcome but rather a stern warning from multiple Tannoy speakers shouting over and over again “If you are not free to leave, you may be a victim of human trafficking.”
This sobering warning was part of the beginning of my return to the nation of my birth following many years of pandemic forced separation. In 2020 I was invited to serve as visiting professor at the New York University School of Professional Studies Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality.
I have often described the many differences between the USA and Scotland by demonstrating how Americans greet one another with a broad smile and when asked how they are feeling grin from ear to ear and then confidently say “Fine!” In contrast, we Scots are a more dour lot and often reply to this same question while unsmilingly saying “Not so bad.”
The phrase “not so bad” is, in my opinion, actually more accurate than the casual and often insincere reply of “fine”. However, both my Scottish and American friends are carrying many of the same burdens today and the difference is that due to its historic roots in independence, expansive geographic size and previous eternal youth as a nation, the people of the USA exude a confidence that we Scots are sadly lacking.
Both Scotland and America greatly fear the future impacts and consequences of the global pandemic. Upon my flight to a mid – sized Midwestern city there were numerous warnings in mid – air that “Wearing face a mask is not optional and is a federal regulation. Any refusal to wear a mask and to cover your nose at all times may result in large fines and your permanent removal from the airplane.” I immediately hoped that my removal would only be activated once the plane was safely on the ground.
America is famous not only for the size of its geographic area but also for the size of its meal portions. The American Midwest is as the Illinois poet Carl Sandburg once defined it is “the hog butcher for the world”. Therefore, I was once again amazed at the large platters of larder that were continually placed before me and meal after meal we hauled “doggie bags” home to be consumed later. The US servers are also well known to be friendlier because of their strict dependence upon gratuities for their basic income. When I asked one joyful young server in Louisiana for his name he actually spelled it slowly and proudly. “E E y a n” he said proudly and then explained that his mother wanted him to have the Scottish name of Iain but she was afraid folk would mispronounce it as “Aye An” so she spelled it phonetically to a avoid future mispronunciations.
I found that most Americans, despite their usual positive attitude, were deeply disgruntled as they told me that they were extremely disappointed with the way the Covid 19 pandemic was handled in the USA and they often enthusiastically commented on how they admired the high levels of uptake on vaccinations that Scotland has achieved. They told me over and over again that the early messaging in America from its leaders about the importance of vaccination was confusing, unhelpful and detrimental to controlling the spread of the disease.
I observed that in both America and Scotland that there are now two nations with similar historic values regarding the importance of education, tolerance, and compassion for others. However, whilst America had turned inward in its thinking regarding collaboration with others during the Trump administration, Scotland has a continuous and growing desire to work with other nation states, as evidenced through its overwhelming positive support of Brexit, to build upon these shared values to create a better and safer world.
As my airplane rose into the blue skies above the endless golden prairies of the Midwest, I once again watched the pre – flight recorded video announcement and noted that all of the actors dressed as pilots and flight attendants, were wearing face masks and also attempting to use their eyes to intensely indicate that they were smiling confidently at their passengers who were also masked. Simultaneously, I wondered if this sense of lingering restraint, as evidenced by their masks, was signifying the harsh reality of the continuing pandemic infections in Scotland and the USA. I further wondered if the smiles behind the masks depicted acts of caution or hopefulness or both? In my view, the America of my birth has definitely changed and not necessarily at this time, for the better. The country of my youth is now growing old and beginning to recognise its fragility.
Scotland may learn many grave lessons from the downward trajectory that has resulted from the wounds inflicted by Donald Trump and his never ending fan boys and girls as well as the global pandemic. The enduring lessons Scotland may learn from America’s depressed spirit is that when we reply in our dour like manner with “not so bad” we must now work even harder with our fellow citizens and others to make certain that our future does not become as bad as that being currently experienced by many of the Americans who, to quote the late great panto comedian Andy Grey are obviously, as they told me, “No so very well.”
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University and is serving for two months as visiting professor at the School of Professional Studies Jonathan M Tisch Center of Hospitality at New York University in New York City.