America is literally exceptional

From taxes to health care, we do it our way

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

Many Americans take pride it the idea of “American exceptionalism”. There are many things that set America apart from any other nation, now or ever.

For a variety of reasons – or even no reason – we do, or believe, or accept things that thoroughly baffle those from other countries.

“American exceptionalism”, like many terms in conversation these days, is vague to the point of meaninglessness. In short, it means whatever the user wants it to mean.

We in the USA have laws, rules and even holidays unlike those of other countries – even those, like Canada and the UK that we consider close friends as well as allies. Here are just a few;

In debt we trust

For a variety of reasons, Americans find themselves further – far further – in debt than the average citizen of almost every developed country. Many forms of debt that Americans take for granted are essentially non-existent in most other countries – student debt and medical debt, for example.

Credit card debt is huge – and common. Virtually anyone can get a credit card (including several reports of cards acquired under the names of pets or children), and those credit card balances (and their accumulated interest) are nearly eternal.

Is America the “no vacation nation”?

The United States has the fewest paid leave and vacation days in the world. In most industrial countries, virtually every worker gets a total of about seven weeks vacation each year.

This includes public holidays shared by almost everyone. One of the most universally celebrated holidays around the world is May Day, May first. May Day is celebrated by workers across the globe as International Labor Day – but not in North America. For a variety of complicated reasons, the USA and Canada commemorate Labor Day in September.

The educational divide

When you think about it, America’s educational system – and how it is funded – is strange, if not inconceivable. Where a child lives has everything to do with the quality and extent of their education.

Public schools get their funding from local income and property taxes. If a child is lucky enough to be born in, and therefore attend school in an affluent area, they will get more resources and support in the classroom. And if not, they won’t.

Some neighborhoods have higher high school graduation rates. And college acceptance rates. And it has nothing to do with the intelligence of the children.

Zip code origins have more to do with college graduation and income levels – and incarceration levels – than anything else.

Finland has a public policy that no school is “better” than any other. We have “good” schools and “bad” schools – and every parent knows it.

And for some, (as in, those that can afford it) private schools are the preferred choice.

And if your child has any special needs, good luck. You’ll need it.


If you travel beyond US borders, you realize that the confounding tradition of tipping is rare almost everywhere else.

I know it seems confusing, but in other countries, it is expected that employers, restaurant owners for example, will pay their workers. It is not up to customers to (semi-willingly) pay wait staff for doing their jobs.

We as customers are expected to pay the wait staff because their employers don’t pay them enough. Does that make sense to anyone?

We help those who don’t need it

The government always seems eager to subsidize companies, even entire industries, like the oil and big tech companies and utilities even as those industries report record profits.

Those in poverty, with a disability or under financial duress of any kind usually have to prove that they “deserve” assistance. Could we even begin to imagine an oil company that “deserves” its billions of dollars in support.

Health care

It is widely acknowledged that Americans pay far more for health care than anyone else. And in all too many cases have little to show for it. In short, we pay more and get less.

Many Americans avoid doctors as long as possible – which, of course leads to far more serious problems later. But within a system where a cut lip or a sprained ankle can lead to massive debt, or even death, it is all too understandable.

Health costs are the leading cause of bankruptcy in America.

Dual citizens

Many nations allow dual citizenship. The USA does, for some countries and under some conditions.

As you might imagine, being a legal citizen of more than one country can have opportunities, and bring about complications, a single citizenship would hold.

In many European nations, dual citizenship is routine. In the USA, it is a bit more complicated. You can see details here.

Who is “American”?

If you travel the world and describe yourself as “American” everyone knows what you mean. The term “American” has come to mean “a citizen of the USA.” “American” should mean, like the term “European”, any resident of the continent (or in our case, the two continents) that hold the name.

If someone from Japan or Korea introduced themselves as being “Asian”, we might request a little more specificity. But if someone introduces themselves as “American”, we imagine that we know what they mean. And even we Americans have trouble deciding who a real “American” is.

Maybe being an “American” is more of a state of mind than a matter of borders.

Technically, “American” should apply equally to someone from Venezuela or Brazil as much as a citizen of the USA. But they better not try it.

It’s all probably because the term “U.S.A.-sian” hasn’t caught on yet.

The Metric system

Whether it is Celsius or milligrams, Americans just don’t get the metric system. Which is very strange because other countries have been using it for decades – if not longer.

It was first adopted in 1795 in France. Then in 1975 a law was passed that made the metric system the “preferred” system for weights and measures. However, its use was purely voluntary. As you might expect, Americans ignored it.

In the 21st Century, of the 195 sovereign nations on the planet, only three do not use the metric system; Liberia, Burma (Myanmar) and the USA. Burma (Myanmar) has not adopted the metric system, but is moving in that direction.


And yes, I’ve saved the best for last.

Virtually every other country has a system where the government sends everyone a bill – or a refund. The government already has all of our tax and income information already, why don’t they use it? Why are we as citizens saddled with the stress and expense of tax preparation?