Beki Grinter

The United States

In European Union, France on September 17, 2009 at 10:47 am

Recently, I’ve written about how much I dislike a) not being able to participate in the U.S.’s democratic processes b) how insulting I find American public/media discourse about political issues, because it assumes we’re stupid and like everything reduced to its simplest and most extreme form and c) the lack of healthcare. In other words, I’ve told you what I don’t like.

But there is much to like.

And today, I’m in a meeting. There are 17 researchers present. I am the only woman. At the place I’m working currently there are three female faculty, all of whom are visiting from the United States. (The toilets I used are designated women and handicapped, the other choice is men, interesting categorisation–but one that is less surprising when you learn that it wasn’t until 1966 that women were able to open a bank account or take a job without their husband’s permission). I can’t generalise, but my own experiences are that in the United States, I’m far less on my own.

On the career front, the U.S. has given me some amazing opportunities. Because I work in the field of Computer Science, the opportunity to work at Bell Labs (the place where the transistor was invented, also Unix, among other things) was a time where I could connect to that history and be inspired by that degree of innovation and commitment to Science. More generally, Bell Labs was a national institution. It is revered by many in the sciences, I just recently heard a very senior administrator describe it favourably, and I am not surprised. Its walls were the history of the sciences, the people there were names in their scientific fields, and it was an environment that was inspiring and humbling all in one go.

Then I left, the writing was on the wall. Those days were over. So, next stop Xerox PARC. Another place whose very being framed some of the experiences of Computing that we have today. In Silicon Valley, an opportunity to be near, surrounded by, the people who were going to give us many of the next experiences (like Google for example). Again it was an opportunity to live Computer Science. And I thank the United States for that.

The National Park Service is also worthy of a mention. The U.S., particularly the West, is beautiful. It’s a set of incredible landscapes, many of which the increasingly put upon, National Park Service has tried to do to the best of its ability. I enjoy being in the spaces and places that they preserve. I enjoy the interpretation, it’s thoughtful and detailed. (I think that if the NPS did political discussions it would be amazingly good, grounded in relevant history, nuanced and refined, and presented clearly and thoughtfully… ).

And then of course there’s the people. I like the optimism and enthusiasm that many Americans have. I enjoy the spirit of can do, will do. It’s encouraging. I like the curiousity. I’ve been a foreigner there, and that’s been an experience marked for me by the number of people who want to know more about where I come from and are not afraid to ask. (perhaps its not fear, but rather a sense that one shouldn’t ask, but I like the fact that asking is OK, it is permissible). I like the friendlyness here, despite being without US based family for a long time, I always had invitations for thanksgiving and christmas. I like that people want to invite strangers into their homes, thank you everyone!

And most of all there are my US friends. Thank you all.

  1. Despite the sad state of political discourse (and thus progress) there is indeed a lot to like about these united states, and I personally know of several US citizens who like you right back.

    It’s great that you’re blogging!

  2. When you return to the States (or perhaps before) you may enjoy the new Ken Burns documentary film on the National Park Service:

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