We were dined and feted in America until we felt like wealthy potentates; yet I found the surfeit of luxury so tedious that I was soon craving my normal routine of plain living. American food is soft, mushy and much too highly seasoned. I was confronted with about 10 different varieties of dressing for my salads and the potatoes were mixed with so many other foods that they were unrecognizable and, in my opinion, ruined. I lost count of the number of times I was offered hot doughnuts, waffles and cakes for breakfast when all I wanted was honest-to-goodness ham and eggs.
My admiration for the average American's big thinking, initiative, commercial enthusiasm and charm is boundless. In so many spheres he is decades ahead of his Australian counterpart, but in the basic things he has lost his sense of proportion. Modern society revolves around the family; in America, because family life is unsound, the whole society is sick. Overemphasis is given to luxury. The women want their own cars; they want all the household gear that opens and shuts by pushbutton control. If their men can't earn enough to give them these amenities the women hire someone to look after their kids and go out to make the necessary money themselves. As a consequence, women tend to regard themselves as equals in the American home. In most homes they appear almost to be the bosses. But nobody is really happy. The women are not happy because they are not being slightly dominated, as nature ordained they should be. The men are not happy because they are being dominated, also defying nature's law. When a wife is completely dependent upon her husband, their marriage is more likely to be successful.
It is difficult trying to impress upon Americans that money is not so important in this life as the simple pleasures that generally cost nothing. They have lost touch with the simple pleasures. An Australian family will go to the beach and be content to eat sandwiches on the sand; a European will take his family bicycling in the country with a hamper of bread and cheese and a bottle of wine. An American, after taking his family to the beach, climbs into a flashy late-model car and drives them to a luxury restaurant for a meal! Does he enjoy his outing as much as the Australian and European?
No bread and cheese and wine
Few American men, once they leave college, bother about physical exercise, in marked contrast to Australian men, who are sport-conscious from cradle to grave. I was disturbed also by the quantity of rye and bourbon that the Americans drink, which must be symptomatic of their discontent. Now I believe that you can tell a tree by its fruits. And the fact that the Americans in recent years have not produced many outstanding distance runners is directly attributable to their soft way of life. They are not a hardy race of people, whereas the Australians, Norwegians, Russians and English are.
In facilities, few nations can match America. No matter how complete these facilities, though, they cannot offset the national characteristics of softness and complacency. In some ways America's outlook reminds me of those personal tendencies I try to guard against. To reach that pinnacle of achievement where you're accepted as a leader you must be tenacious and determined. Once there, it's natural to relax and rest on your laurels. Having reached its pinnacle, as it were, America lacks the aggression and initiative of smaller countries, who love nothing better than succeeding occasionally in knocking her off her perch. The fact that America still produces over-all the world's best sprinters, high jumpers, pole vaulters and shot-putters shows that her people are capable of explosive bursts of energy and enthusiasm, qualities that make her businessmen so effective. But sprinters and field-games men do not have to train as gruelingly as middle-distance and distance runners. Twenty 100- or 200-yard bursts in a night may tire a sprinter; they don't wring his lungs out as a 10-mile run would. On the whole, Americans are not suited temperamentally to any race beyond the 880 yards.
Early in February 1959 I made another trip to America and Canada to collect several trophies commemorating 1958 performances. I returned from America after this fleeting visit with three of my earlier impressions confirmed. The average American, even more than the average Australian, can never sit back and say to his wife, "Well, at last everything is ours." He's constantly in debt to the hire-purchase companies. He cannot bear anything to be old-fashioned, and once he thinks it is he'll trade it in for a more modern version. I cannot believe that this unrelenting urge to possess newer, shinier chattels encouraged by big business makes him happy. Most Americans know little about Australia, and the knowledge they do have they've gleaned through the exploits of such sportsmen as Frank Sedgman, Lew Hoad, John Konrads and Jack Brabham. If you were to tell them that the traffic in Collins Street was halted occasionally by a stray kangaroo they'd believe you. As the world shrinks with jet travel, they will learn more.
In hospitality the Americans can't be matched by any people in the world; they overwhelm you with kindness, overawe you with extravagance. Yet sometimes there's an insincere veneer to all their polished charm. They're almost too sweet to be true. On this particular visit it was remarkable how few of the smiling, back-slapping Americans who'd greeted me in 1958 bothered to see me. Naturally, I'm not vain enough to think they should have met me, except that in 1958, when I was competing, they made such a fuss it was embarrassing. "Golly," I would think, "this bloke is so wonderful he'll go through hell and high water to see me the next time I'm here. Maybe we'll have a meal together." And then he doesn't even show up! When someone smiles and shakes my hand as though he means it, I take him for a friend, but in America it merely seems to be the correct thing to do.