Snippets 174. Which country is the most “free” for the people who live there, the USA or the UK? I wouldn’t like to make a judgement on that, but in 1889 travel writer Max O’Rell expressed a very clear opinion on the subject in Jonathan and his Continent. In his view, Americans were subject to the extremes of bureaucracy, and their only escape from it was a little gentle bribery:
I said also that I considered the people of England freer than the people of America. This demands an explanation. In advancing such an opinion, I mean to say that the English exercise more influence over the Government than do the Americans, and that they invest the agents of authority with much smaller powers. An American policeman, for instance, is endowed with an authority which he can with impunity use in tyrannous fashion. The English policeman is the servant of the public; is responsible before the public for his acts; may be given in charge on the spot if he insults or roughly handles you; and may be prosecuted for making a false accusation against you.
Bureaucracy is much more tyrannical in America than in England. You meet at every turn with a man who lets you know that he has “certain instructions to carry out.” You soon know what that means in a country where there are avec le ciel des accommodements. You get out of the difficulty by the aid of that irresistible argument, named “the dollar.” In the trains, for instance, I have known the conductor refuse me permission to occupy a vacant bed by the side of my own, and which pleased me better than the one that had been assigned to me. “Your ticket bears a certain number, and I can’t change it; I must carry out instructions.” Useless to try and make him understand that the bed, being disengaged, it matters little to the company whether you occupy it or not. Orders must be obeyed. You pull a half-dollar piece out of your pocket, and the difficulty is surmounted. Regulations only come into existence to be trampled on as occasion requires.
The English have the habit of making themselves at home everywhere, but, above all, in places where they pay. Nothing is so repugnant to them as those thousand and one little tyrannies that go by the names of regulations, restrictions, rules, by-laws, etc. If you would be unhampered by such, if you would enjoy perfect freedom, live in England.
How times have changed.
“Il est avec le ciel des accommodements” is a French proverb: “one can arrange things with heaven”.
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