What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

This is the last full day of our cruise, and it is raining–something that distresses Tom, who tells me that climate change has affected weather patterns in Croatia. He insists it never rained two days in a row during the summer season until very recently. (We have had rain on this cruise, but so far, at night or a brief shower.)

Tomorrow, we go to Split, where we will have three days before heading home via Rome.

Bob and I are both glad we came to Croatia. There may be a more beautiful place somewhere on the planet, but somehow I doubt it. Certainly, there can’t be one with nicer people.

This has been our longest trip ever. So–as our adventure nears conclusion, what have I learned on my summer vacation?

Well,  first, there is the obvious: people in Europe are much thinner, and if looks can be trusted, much healthier. They are also far more likely to be bi or tri-lingual, probably as a result of living closer together, and the demands of tourism and commerce.

Then there are more impressionistic lessons, with the caveat that the plural of anecdote is not data, and the people with whom we interacted cannot be assumed to be representative.

Unlike in the US, we have encountered no one who expressed contempt for education; no one who sneeringly dismissed expertise or intellect as ‘elitist.’ I have also been struck by the nature of informal political discussion and debate–I have heard lots of “these people make a good point, but those who disagree also have a point”–arguments employing much  less name-calling and much more consideration of the merits of competing arguments and points of view.

Then there were the issues we were questioned about repeatedly: American gun laws, the large numbers of people who reject evolution and global climate change, and America’s incomprehensible lack of a universal medical system. These aspects of American culture do not evoke admiration, to put it mildly–although people are generally too polite to criticize  directly. Instead, they ask questions, trying to understand why we haven’t joined the rest of the western world.

These questions have reminded me once again that ‘American exceptionalism’ originally referred to our outlier status, to sociological distinctiveness– not to some assumed superiority. Heretical as it may seem, there is the possibility there are some things we could learn from others.

1 Comment

  1. You say “if looks can be trusted, much healthier.”

    As Marilyn Wann says, “the only thing you can definitively diagnose from looking at a fat person is your own level of stereotype and prejudice toward fat people.”

    You’ve mentioned weight several times in your posts from your trip. And, respectfully submitted, it seems like you are subscribing to some fairly fat-phobic attitudes and stereotypes.

    I really like your political essays and your appreciation for critical thinking processes that deconstruct the glossed-over assumptions and rhetoric that make up a good deal of political discourse. I would like to invite you to apply those same principles to the rhetoric of the “obesity epidemic.” There are some excellent books and blogs out there that critically examine the assumption that “fat = unhealthy/thin = healthy,” that systematically critique the claims made by the diet and bariatric industries, and that suggest shifting the target from “dieting/exercise for weight loss” to a Health at Every Size approach.

    I’d especially suggest “Health at Every Size” by Linda Bacon, “The Obesity Myth” by Paul Campos, and “Rethinking Thin” by Gina Kolata in terms of books.

    The Health at Every Size blog just recently launched but looks like it will be a good resource: http://healthateverysizeblog.wordpress.com/

    And, Sandy Szwarc is not regularly updating any more, but her “Obesity Paradox series” and “Bariatric series” at Junkfood Science are peerless in their systematic scrutiny of bad science and bad science reporting about weight and health:
    (both series are linked in sidebars if you scroll down)

    I hope that you’ll consider these resources using your same fearsome intellect and openness to change that it seems you’ve used in your growth as a political thinker.

    Indiana has tremendous health challenges for its population, but focusing on body size is missing the forest for the trees.

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