Grape Crush. Nacho-flavored Slim Jims. Pop-Tarts. Froot Loops. Kool-Aid.
These were the first purchases made by my son’s 20- and 22-year-old friends visiting from Norway this month. They also wanted to try peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, s’mores, and Mexican food, as well as go to Walmart, Chili’s, the Nike outlet, and KFC. These were top on their to-do list…even before skiing, hiking, or any other form of recreation or sightseeing.
What does this say about America?
I could be snarcastic (new favorite word) and say it means we have a reputation for gluttony, sugar, and junk food. But I think that if I did, I just might be missing a different perspective. Sure, there are plenty of issues we need to solve in the United States, but what I’ve learned from both my son’s life in Norway last year and his friends visiting here is that the United States is pretty incredible. Here are some of my observations:
- Choices. The reason my son’s Norwegian friends are so enamored with the junk food is because they hear about the foods from American movies and on YouTube. They see the incredible bounty of things they can’t get anywhere else. We do have a lot of choices, but there is a good reason for that. We compete to make things people like and we get really, really good at it. Where else can you buy 387 types of cereal?
- Economy. The exchange rate was 6 Krone to the dollar when my son was in Norway last year. Today it is 9 Krone to the dollar. That’s a huge change in a year. Why? Because Norway is a country reliant on oil production, which took a hit this year. They are a country the size of Colorado with an oil resource comparable to Saudi Arabia. This means that Norwegians can subsidize all kinds of things with “oil money”…school, healthcare, etc. But when the oil industry takes a hit, the whole country starts to hurt. All of the things Norwegians have come to rely on, such as “free” healthcare or humongous electric vehicle incentives, suddenly become harder to support. To think that places like Norway are good economic models for the United States might be a mistake. We need to make sure we understand where the money is coming from before deciding if systems and seemingly awesome policies are right for us. It has worked for Norway because they have a few people with a ton of one primary resource (2 million barrels produced a day for 5 million people in Norway versus 9.3 million barrels a day for 323 million people in the United States). For us to work like Norway, we would have to produce oil at a rate of more than 140 million barrels a day. That is not really realistic. We couldn’t use or sell that much, nor would we want to. What I’ve learned is that we can’t compare ourselves or our policies to other countries very easily. It is pretty complex.
- Kindness. Americans are incredibly generous and kind. When my son’s friend walked into Chipotle this week and told the people behind the counter that he was visiting America for the first time, they joyfully gave him a free burrito and welcomed him to the U.S.A. Our Norwegian guests have told me that they can’t believe how nice everyone is in America…how people say “hello” …how people want to talk to them…. and how willing people are to offer a helping hand.
So, my American friends, crack open a bottle of Grape Crush. Raise your glasses high. You are amazing people. Cheers to you! America is pretty great.