3 Dumb Things About America

I love being in America, and have met loads of really nice Americans. However, there are three particular things about the country which, every time I come across them, I think “Doh! How on earth do such nice people put up with something so broken?” And as I feel like a quick rant, here they are:

1) Stop signs. Why do Americans put up with being made to come to a complete stop at a junction even if there’s no other car within 100 yards? Surely this must be some enormous oil and car company conspiracy to waste petrol. In the U.K., we use two great things – “Give Way” signs (known as “Yield” signs in the U.S.) and roundabouts. Judicious use of the two means that you only have to stop at a junction if – gasp! – there’s another car coming! What an innovation!

2) Unrelated riders on political bills. Who invented a system where any member of the legislature can attach an extra clause about something entirely irrelevant to a bill, and make the legislative body pass or fail the entire thing, rider and all? “Yes, senator, if you want to improve the state of the healthcare system, you also have to agree to fund a baby mincing machine.” How silly is that? In the UK, politicians can propose amendments to government legislation, but they are voted on individually. (Warning: my understanding of the U.S. system comes from The West Wing, so I may have missed something here.)

3) Advertising for prescription medicines – surely by far the biggest contributor to the pharmaceutical culture. These slickly-produced TV ads basically say “Hey, your doctor may think he knows what’s best for you, but he’s wrong. We do. Get all hypochondriacal, get in there, and demand this pill! It’ll make your life better!” In the U.K., advertising these products to the public is banned, on the controversial grounds that perhaps six years of medical training and decades of experience make someone better qualified to judge the appropriate medicine for a complaint than watching a 30-second ad and reading Wikipedia.

Am I right, or what? :-)

27 thoughts on “3 Dumb Things About America

  1. Funny you mention stop signs. Almost every time I come up on a stop sign – or even a red light – people often don’t completely stop if they’re making a turn. Apparently, two miles an hour is “stopped enough” :-)

  2. Almost as ridiculous as a country which started a change to metric in 1965 yet citizens of said country still use yards, feet, inches and miles on its signage! :)

  3. Yes, senator, if you want to improve the state of the healthcare system, you also have to agree to fund a baby mincing machine.” How silly is that? In the UK, politicians can propose amendments to government legislation, but they are voted on individually.

    This is done for campaign purposes… so come november you see:

    “Vote for Senator Buttlick, he voted to improve healthcare for children”.


    “Want to know the truth about Senator Buttlick and what else he voted for? He voted to sell kids into slavery. Vote for Robert Accettura on election day.”

    I’m Robert Accettura, and I approve this message.


  4. oh yea… I 100% agree.

    But in most cases if nobody is around, you don’t stop all the way at stop signs, you roll at about 2 MPH… and then go. So it’s more of a “YIELD!!!” rather than “Yield” sign.

  5. Yep, stop signs are generally silly but it’s a little hard to change now. There are a few towns trying to switch to using more roundabouts but I am afraid that as Americans we won’t know how to treat them properly and they’ll be a bunch of accidents.

    The pork on bills is infamous which is why there’s been a ton of debate about line item veto. there are a bunch of watchdog organizations now that specifically point out and attempt to callout those most responsible for that junk. But in general, I would not consider the West Wing to be the absolute authority on US government as the show has a very strong Hollywood-left feel a lot of the time. Not sure the truth comes first. But hey… fact is… when it comes to legislation and spending and such… it is a pretty bad system.

    The Rx stuff is also pretty screwed up. I think it’s a 2-way street. Part of it is that there is a fairly short period that companies have before the “generic” versions of the drug can be manufactured. So thanks to the freedom they have to advertise, they feel like that the advert $’s are worth it for the increase in business. It’s all about making as much money as possible before the generics come waltzing in. I do love the legal stuff at the end of most of the commercials though… “possible side-effects include…” because often it’ll be something really bad. Then on the other side of it… the side you don’t see are the Rx reps who go around basically bribing Doctors to prescribe their drug over the others. So it isn’t just patients getting hit up hard about this stuff.

  6. We have a lot of roundabouts in Massachusetts, but we call them “Rotaries”, and everyone hates them. In fact, a very famous one is in the process of being superceded by a flyover and highway-style interchange because it fails to serve its intended purpose. Generally, though, I think they work well, and I certainly like them more than stop signs.

    I like telling new drivers that “if a stop sign has a white border it means it’s optional”. ;-)

  7. I once logged into a Great Britan chat room.. in their they were complaining about stuff in america..

    One thing I thought was a good point is americas pricing and taxes. In most places prices are the prices you pay as the tax is included in the price.. In america you are left to guess the taxes untill you go up and pay for it and are told what the price will be.

    I think this is especially annoying when buying food, as some stuff is taxed and some stuff is not.

  8. About the stop signs:

    You can run or “roll” through one provided there aren’t any cars within 100 yards, INCLUDING police cars (That should give it away). And as Ian W. mentioned, alot of state DOTs (And Kentucky’s out-of-nowhere “Cabinet”) are phasing them out because they were built when cars went alot slower and as a result the current ones are extremely annoying and unsafe.

    As to the unrelated riders on political bills, this is mostly a Federal problem. A large number (Probably over 25) states have provisions in their constitutions banning that practice (EG. New Jersey’s “To avoid improper influences which may result from intermixing in one and the same act such things as have no proper relation to each other…”, IV, VII, 4). And from what I know, all additions are offically voted on, but alot of this involves “unanimous consent”.

    You also forgot to add the absolutely impossible to decipher forced acronyms they give legislation (The most notorious example probably being “USA PATRIOT”).

  9. America? You mean the U.S., right? It seems unfair to tar the rest of the continent with the U.S.’s various foolishnesses.

    Also, I sure hope those aren’t your top 3 dumb things about the U.S. :-) Surely we’ve got a couple dozen worse traits than those.


    – A

  10. We recently had a university architect team come through my city and propose making our main intersection a roundabout as part of a city urbanization plan. The reasoning behind the design was to *slow* traffic flow through the city to make people want to stop in the city. The residents rejected it because they thought it would be unsafe.

    The additional bills tacked onto other bills is one of the worst things about our legislature. They claim it is so they can actually pass some legislation otherwise it would take too long to make full bills and go through the voting process. It sounds like BS to me and I personally think we need legislation to ban the practice and make them vote on everything based on its merits not whether they were able to attach their pet project to it. Line item veto is definitely a bad idea. It gives too much power to the president. As we can see from the current president, if you give them an inch they take a light year.

    I actually like the prescription advertisments. I think they harm the drug companies as much as they help them make money. Having to list the side effects on the commercial makes it more likely people would think twice about taking them. If the doctor were to simply prescribe the medicine then you’d likely never know the side effects unless you take the time to read the rainforest of papers the pharmacist gives you.

  11. Andy: I think the problem is that if a town is full of stop signs, people go fast between them and get impatient, and so don’t look at the town. If there are no stop signs, people are more likely to cruise along at 30 miles an hour (yes, yes, Bob :-) and take it all in.

    I don’t know about the US, but in the UK we don’t get a “rainforest of papers” with a drug; we get a small-print sheet in standard format which explains things like the correct dose, the side effects, bad combinations and so on.

  12. Perhaps you had forgotten that we have STOP sign in the UK as well; just not quite so many of them.
    Also, for the budding planners out there, roundabouts only work properly when a) the exits flow smoothly (jam an exit and it jams the whole roundabout) and b) when they are designed properly to allow for the prevailing traffic directions and stop one flow from blocking all others.

  13. Where I live in the UK, there’s this junction that connects four main roads using two mini-roundabouts, which are themselves connected by two lanes each way. To top it off, it all goes over an old stone bridge. Yep, it’s as terrifying as it sounds.

  14. I think it is specifically the 4-way stop junction which takes the biscuit. Why not just give one road priority and make the others stops?

    One feature I do like in the US is the ability to treat a red light as a yield if you are turning (thinks…) right at the junction. A sensible and practical ruling.

  15. I agree that there are things about the U.S. that are silly, sad and superfluous (including the three items the author has brought up…but aren’t there about ALL countries?

    Aren’t there things that every single thinking person/citizen of every single nation, country, province would like changed, improved and eradicated ?

    It seems the original post of being somewhat humorous about a few idiosyncrasies and issues went to slamming the U.S. in general…

    Discussion about necessary change is good, healthy…

    Slamming, bashing, and general criticism of the U.S. is harmful and destructive, divisive…as U.S. citizens we hate the bi-partisanship and then turn right around and emulate it.

  16. Stop signs are useful in situations where you can’t see what’s around the corner without driving right up to the junction and stopping – but they should be used sparingly.

    I am Australian and we have them here, but we also have give way signs, and roundabouts – each for a different situation.

  17. Slamming, bashing, and general criticism of the U.S. is harmful and destructive, divisive…

    …and unpatriotic?

    While that was not the intent of this post (which was just having a bit of fun), and I don’t see much of it in the comments either, criticism of the U.S. cannot be universally labelled as “harmful and destructive”. That way lies a police state where the only acceptable opinion is to agree with the rulers.

  18. In regard to Rotaries/Roundabouts This from the New Jersey USA drivers manual:

    “There are *no* set rules for driving into, around and out of a traffic circle in
    New Jersey. Common sense and caution must prevail at all times.
    In most cases, the circle´┐Żs historically established traffic pattern dictates
    which driver has the right of way.”

    Of course if you are a visitor, you have absolutely no idea at all how to react.
    Most of these have been eliminated in favor of traffic light intersections, but
    one that I travel daily is going to be converted to a roundabout format soon.
    This should be fun.

  19. In reply to JoeS’ last comment: What really causes problems is when people *yield ON THE CIRCLE*, which (to use some foul language), totally screws up the traffic pattern. This at least at the ones I’ve known…

  20. Here in Tucson, Arizona, many residential areas have intersections where there is a yield sign one way and no sign the other way. I find these intersections to be quite dangerous, particularly if there is some physical obstruction to being able to see if another car is coming–and there usually is. I’d feel much safer with stop signs. And this is in the desert where there is hardly any tall foliage.

    And roundabouts? Americans hate roundabouts. Haven’t you seen National Lampoon’s European Vacation?

  21. Roundabouts work well once you are accustomed to them, but they are EXTREMELY confusing for drivers encountering a roundabout for the first time, and still fairly confusing for drivers encountering a particular roundabout for the first time, especially if they don’t drive through roundabouts often.

    That’s a much larger percentage of traffic in the US than in the UK, so they don’t work nearly as well. They are used in a few places, notably in some of the big east coast cities, but out-of-town drivers universally hate and fear them.

    Just last week I pointed one of my coworkers (whom I happened to know had encountered and disliked a roundabout on a trip to Syracuse NY last year) to a web page featuring photographs and a description of the Magic Roundabout in Swindon, and joked that we should look for an excuse to send her on a trip to England, and she totally freaked. “That’s not funny, Nathan!” She meant it: she was more frightened than amused. She grew up in Youngstown, so she’s no stranger to heavy traffic and complex interchanges, but roundabouts are another thing, apparently.

    The unrelated riders on bills are a well-known and well documented issue. Reader’s Digest has been writing this one up every few months for decades, and you see complaints about it elsewhere too, but getting it changed would mean convincing a bunch of *congressmen* that it needs to be changed. Since they are major beneficiaries (indirectly), that hasn’t happened.

    Regarding the advertising for prescription medicines, it’s worse than you probably realise. Among other things, the drug companies constantly send veritable mountains of propaganda, not to mention free samples, to everyone who can legally write prescriptions. As a result, many doctors are heavily biased toward prescribing the new drugs that the drug companies are actively pushing. The best doctors see through this and prescribe what is needed or what works, be it old or new, but they are probably in the minority.

    However, advertising is not the _main_ reason health care is so expensive. Neither is excessive and abusive litigation, although that is a problem too. The main reason is something called the Fundamental Economic Problem — people have unlimited desire to purchase better and better health care, not to the limits of what is affordable, but to the limits of what is *available*. This is true to a certain extent for all products — we always want more than we can really afford — but it’s especially accute with health care. People who will settle for a Ford Taurus, even though there’s a BMW store less than an hour’s drive away, do *not* want to settle for second-rate health care, no matter what the cost.

    What’s scary to me is that increasingly many people don’t want to settle for second-rate health care for their pets. People are now paying thousands of dollars for joint replacement surgeries and so on for their dogs and cats. For now I think this is still the exception rather than the rule, but it’s definitely on the increase.

    People complain about the economy. A lot. But the truth is, the economy is really okay. It’s our *desires* that are totally out of control.

  22. > I think it is specifically the 4-way stop junction which takes the biscuit.
    > Why not just give one road priority and make the others stops?

    Yes, we have a trainload of those in Galion, way too many for such a small city, and most of them aren’t necessary. There’s one just a block from my house, at the corner of Gill and Church, where really only Gill Avenue should have to stop, and Church Street should have priority. Worse, many of the 4-way stops in Galion do not have the little “4-way” label under them, and they really should, for the benefit of out-of-town drivers who might otherwise not be aware that it’s a four-way stop.

    There are, however, some places where an N-way stop *is* necessary, because otherwise traffic in one direction might sometimes not get to go at all for a while, especially certain times of day. (This could also be solved by putting in a traffic light, but that costs more and isn’t always necessary, depending on traffic levels.)

  23. JoeS: If the official rules mandate a free-for-all, you shouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t work and if drivers don’t like them. That doesn’t mean the idea doesn’t work well with the correct rules.

    A subsidiary “Dumb Thing”, while I’m at it, is the ridiculous prevalence of road signs caused by a) not having any country-wide standards for placement and layout, and b) not having enough tested knowledge in the driving test to make many of them unnecessary. They also look ugly because each one is stuck on a separate wonky pole on the roadside.

    Greg: Why are such intersections dangerous? “Yield” doesn’t mean “go without being sure there’s nothing coming”…

    Jonadab said: People complain about the economy. A lot. But the truth is, the economy is really okay. It’s our *desires* that are totally out of control.

    Hmm. Wise you are. :-)

  24. @Asa: Isn’t America two continents?

    @Gerv: I think you forget to rant that we all drive on the wrong side of the road. :)

  25. Gerv: “ridiculous prevalence of road signs caused by […] b) not having enough tested knowledge in the driving test to make many of them unnecessary”

    Notice how here in the UK, the standard pictorial signs for ‘give way to oncoming traffic’ increasingly often have a plate below with the same spelt out in words, even as now illustrated in the Highway Code. Evidently the authorities no longer have confidence that people will understand the sign without it.

  26. Hi all.


    If i may add my 2 cents worth. i am a brit living and working in NYC.
    I don’t drive here much as I see no point. There is a pretty reasonable public transportation system that suits me well (usually). but when i do drive here it can be a nightmare.

    The first problem I have is that there seems to be no hierarchy that i can understand. Driving lanes? Especially on the highways. I grew up with a system where there’s basically a slow lane and a fast lane. The fast lane being for over-taking and general speed freaks. The inside lane (or lanes where cars usually feed in from other roads) are to be driven in with caution. In the UK you often see old times driving several miles below the speed limit in these inside lanes)
    But it seems over her it’s a free-for-all. see any gap and just speed into it. and screw the other drivers. But hey i am kinda getting used it. I just have to to watch out for cars on both sides now!

    Another gripe i have is the signage. I grew up with signs that gave instructions as to how to get somewhere. Meaning that you would get a good warning before hand then when you are near your exit road it would say TheDestinationName so that you know where and when to turn. Over here it appears that you have to know the route off by heart to make any sense of the signs.
    Today was a good example. I was driving up the FDR from lower Manhattan. I wanted the Brooklyn Bridge exit. Before I knew it there was a sign saying Brooklyn Bridge RIGHT. So I turned (or made a) right. Ooooops! the sign mean ‘stay in the right lane until you are nearer the Brooklyn Bridge – NOT make a right at the exit road right under the sign. hmmmm thanks Mr Signage Man. WTF!

    Anyway I continue to get frustrated driving here but I am adamant that I’ll get used to it one day :)