Friday, July 16, 2010

Addicted to Cars

By Outi Hakola, Finland

For me American culture is astoundingly addicted to its cars. Although I have a driver’s license, I don’t own a car. I walk to the supermarket and I use public transportation. When traveling within Europe I don’t even rent a car, because I love the local color of trams, buses, subways and trains.

When compared to Europeans, therefore, American lifestyle is dependent on cars. Everyone is supposed to have one, and not any car, but the car that suites your personality. Indeed, during the summer cruise-ins people don’t seem to only show off their cars, they show off their personalities, desires, backgrounds, interests and styles as well.

Moreover, culture’s relationship to cars is more than the personal relationships between the owners and the objects. Cars have shaped the U.S. culture and society at deeper levels as well. And by this I’m not only referring to economic questions of automobile industry in U.S., or the political and economic questions in securing oil sources and creating self-sufficiency. Instead, I’m astonished by how the architecture, landscapes and consumer culture all revolve around automobiles.

For example, whereas in my own culture parking is difficult in city centers, in America the first thing you can find in any downtown is a car parking lot – at least one for each block, so that no extra-exercise is required. Furthermore, most services and shops are surrounded by large parking spaces, so that you can drive from one shop to the next, one drive-in to the next.

I suppose, if you really come to think of it, probably the only service most U.S. cars lack is a restroom. Otherwise you could spend your whole day inside the car, without actually going into the world, without taking in all the sounds, smells and colors of the world outside your secure and familiar vehicles.

For me being without a car is a political choice, both in terms of environmental and health issues. But if I would live in United States, or at least in more rural areas of this country, this choice would not even be an option, so deeply and truly has this culture become one with its cars.

Therefore, before I can become Americanized I suppose I have to try to create a warmer relationship with cars. During my time here, so far the warmest memory linked to any motorcar is my hotel room - 313 - in Pittsburgh. After all, that is Donald Duck’s license plate, and how more American automobile experience can I expect from a hotel?

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