By Robert Scott
All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
My brother Ralph and I just returned home following a two-and-a-half-week trip primarily to Italy, but also including short side trips into Slovenia and into the Austrian Alps. Both widowers, we were one another’s company for most of the trip, except for a short excursion on and near Italy’s Po River. That trip saw our group include eleven former strangers from England, Ireland, the U.S., and Canada; with only 13 of us and thrown together for six days, we got to know one another quite well, and share ideas and experiences.
There are many things for which we Americans are acknowledged to be the world leaders. Our economy is the most obvious. Notwithstanding the ups and downs of inflation, gasoline prices, and immigration issues, issues that we share with most other western democracies, other countries look up to us as the example to follow in making their own economies work better. Partially as a result, if you are polite and a good listener as an American in Europe, you will be respected and most people wish to be your friend, just as they wish our country to be, overall.
The countries we visited were very clean, but one can miss the little things that Americans take for granted: how well our toilets work, including the easily available and cost-free ones in restaurants and public buildings; the ubiquity of signs in and around transportation hubs, easily read even if you cannot read the local language; the overall cleanliness of rivers and streams we have for the most part, throughout the United States; and many others.
But there are things that other countries do better than we do. One is how to cope with high energy prices; gasoline in Europe, for example, costs over $8.00 per gallon and is rising faster than it is here. They cope by having much smaller and more energy efficient cars. You just don’t see gas guzzling SUVs in supermarket parking lots in Italy. Even in rural villages with stucco and wood houses built in traditional styles, the tile roofs are much more likely than here at home to sport solar energy panels. Public transportation is everywhere and is used by many, especially buses and trains. They ran frequently enough that they were not overly crowded. If we were to use northeast Italy as a model, there would be express trains every hour or so linking Augusta to Columbia, Atlanta, and Charleston, and local trains much more frequently tying in Edgefield, Trenton, Johnston, and Ridge Spring. We used to have that here, in decades past; we need to do so again. High energy prices are here to stay, but we can cope with that by learning from our European allies. Their taxes are higher to pay for such things, but their cost of living is much lower as a result – and so is their use of limited resources. And by the way, recycling bins were everywhere; they are serious about reusing paper and plastics.
One thing in particular: there was no fear of some teenager or man with a grudge who legally buys a gun and then murders children in a school, a crowd at a supermarket, or young people enjoying a day at the theater. These societies have all the freedoms we have regarding the press, assembly, unrestricted speech, and openness to those ethnically or religiously different from the majority. If a politician there were to assert there is a “God-given right to bear arms” he would be ignored as some kind of kook. We can learn a lot from our allies!