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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 February, 2005, 12:27 GMT
America leaves a lasting impression

By Rob Watson
BBC Washington correspondent

The arrival of President Bush in Europe this week may well bring the demonstrators out on the streets again, to protest about American action in Iraq and inaction over the Kyoto climate treaty. But not all Europeans find fault with the United States.

Statue of Liberty
The US is the world's foremost economic and military power

In these times of anti-Americanism this is by way of a love letter to the country where I have lived for a quarter of my life.

Like any relationship it has changed over time. From that first swooning sensation when the taxi took me towards the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan, the December day I arrived in America in 1994, to the deeper feelings I have now.

Ten years on after all, I have travelled much of the country, have got to know its people and I am proud to have a daughter as an American citizen, a rather beautiful one at that.

But as I am a bit out of practice at writing love letters, you are going to have to bear with me.

Fond memories

Like any love affair I will not deny there is an element of looks here. To me, America is stunning in both its beauty and diversity.

When I was living in New York, my favourite treat at the weekends was to head north to the neat New England villages of Connecticut and Massachussets to search for trout in summer, to gaze at the fiery reds and yellows in autumn and to ski clumsily in their quaint resorts in the snowy white winter.

On moving to Washington, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia became my escape of choice, where it is still possible to hear bluegrass music played with finger-numbing virtuosity, and where time appears to have stopped somewhere in the 1950s.

Its enduring appeal is the way it feels, its people and their attitude to life

Although the heat and humidity was shocking at first to my British sensibility, there is now nothing I like better than to be in a steamy southern town like Savannah in Georgia where only the cicadas seem to have any energy in the days of summer.

I have even come to love the flyover states, as they are often called, located in that chunk of America between New York and Los Angeles.

States like North Dakota where I drove down lonely highways, my only company being the combine harvesters which work the vast fields of crops night and day during harvest time.


But at the root of this love affair is personality.

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson's wishes remain relevant today

Though I love the way America looks, its enduring appeal is the way it feels, its people and their attitude to life.

It may all go back to Thomas Jefferson's claim in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 that the pursuit of happiness is among life's unalienable rights.

Whether it is or not, I have no idea, but certainly most of the Americans I know are in hot pursuit of the happiness thing.

And most are pretty successful according to those surveys so beloved by the opinion pollsters, which suggest Americans are among the happiest people on the face of this earth.

As infectious as their happiness is their optimism and "can do" spirit, the sense that there is no problem which does not have a solution.

When covering the child sex abuse scandal surrounding the Roman Catholic Church in Boston, I was stunned at the determination and belief of local Catholics in their ability to reform their Church rather than deciding to leave it, as often happened in the wake of similar cases in other countries.

What I found most refreshing here was the remarkable lack of envy in American society

As a reporter, who would not love this country where people trustingly invite you into their homes and lives, and where opinions are given so forcefully and freely.

I will never forget a lady in Arkansas who was asked, during the 2000 presidential campaign, whether she was leaning towards Bush or Gore. She replied that Al Gore was the kind of man who would rather climb a tree to tell a lie than stand on the ground to speak the truth.

I guess we know which way she voted.

As a European, what I found most refreshing here was the remarkable lack of envy in American society.

When Americans see someone doing well, they do not grumble about it being all right for some, instead they say, one day that could be me.

American dream

I have marvelled too at the country's ability to absorb so many immigrants, from so many different places, and at the ease with which Americans adapt to change.

President George W Bush with wife Laura at the Republican convention
George W Bush has begun his second term as US president

Driving it all is the American dream, which still motivates immigrants and those born here alike. A belief that tomorrow is always a better day and that there is nothing you can not do if you really put your mind to it.

Of course many, maybe most, end up being disappointed, but the dream endures nonetheless.

I am not the only person living here who loves America, most Americans do too. This is what drives all that "God Bless America" music and flag waving that you see at the drop of a hat.

It is not the unhealthy nationalism of "our country is better than your country", after all most Americans have never stepped outside the place, but rather an expression of "life here is good, whoopee".

The rest of the world has far more to learn from you than it has to fear

Of course, this country has its detractors around the world, its foreign policy is strongly criticised and there are problems at home as well.

As a journalist I have spent most of the last five years broadcasting about them, that being the nature of the news business.

But a love letter is hardly the time to bring up past quarrels.

So thanks for everything America.

I know they say long distance relationships do not work out, but do not worry, my feelings will not change.

Until I return, I will not mind telling anyone that the rest of the world has far more to learn from you than it has to fear.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 19 February, 2005, at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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