On the first point, I mentioned above that the experience of living in the USA has taught us somethingabout the American attitude to their place in the world and to their country.Earlier in the year I took a second job with Berlitz, the language people, as a "corporate resource" onAustralian cultural differences. (putting "Australian" and "cultural" in the same sentence maybesomewhat of an oxymoron!). The idea was that I was to help American corporations who send people towork in Australia. It was very interesting.I met the corporate psychologist person who was the main consultant for Berlitz in the course of thiswork. She was a very knowledgeable Welsh lady who is married to a Japanese, had lived in Tokyo,Sydney and currently New York with a flat in London.With apologies to Max Weber and the people I have already bored with this story, one of her psychological/sociological theories I found quite interesting and with a touch of truth to it. I wouldemphasise that such theories are certainly not true in all cases, as they are only "ideal types" I daresaywith plenty exceptions. Nevertheless I think it provides some insight.She contrasted Europe, the US and Australia by analogy. Saying that Europeans (including the English)were like a coconut. The hard shell on the outside proved to show that they were difficult people to getto know, and put up social barriers. Once you got past the shell however, the inside was an open book (to mix my metaphors) and they were easy to talk to about anything: family, region, politics, history andmorality.SOME Americans on the other hand were like a peach. (They are rather "peachy"!) These Americans atfirst meeting appear open, egalitarian, welcoming and unreserved. All this in obvious contrast to theEuropeans. However, once you delve deeper, there seems to be a hard kernel of social or ideologicaldistance that is hard to fathom or breach. Such an American finds it difficult to talk about the "biggies"such as their history, culture, place in the world, relationship to other countries, religion, politics andmorality etc. without being over-sensitive about these things and very defensive, or offended that anoutsider dare comment on them. They tend to lack a self-critical facility.According to our Welsh lady, Australians are neither of these, and are just "squishy". (maybe meaningthat we really lack all substance).Anyway, I have certainly found a good measure of truth in her metaphor. I think that much of this has todo with the fact that in so many ways, the USA really is the biggest, best and brightest, and so relatively,Americans know little about the rest of the world. They therefore have a tendency to become intimidatedwhen they find that many foreigners know so much about the United States, perhaps even more thansome Americans. I think this may account for the apparent sensitivity and quickness to take offence.The recent crisis of the terrorist attack on 11 September has confirmed these thoughts. Not manyAmericans knew anything about Afghanistan or the Middle East prior to the tragedy.Americans remain fascinated by Australia, or the idea of Australia, and some ask good questions. Mostlyhowever, their questions indicate a near complete ignorance about Australia. This is bothunderstandable, excusable and not their fault!The whole rationale for such exchanges in a small way addresses some of these problems. That is, thatwe all have the opportunity to learn from one-another in a frank and honest exchange of observations,warts and all, free of rancour, free of fear of offence and of imputing other than honest motives to thecorrespondents. Only in this way, do I believe we can develop genuine insights and learn from one-another at a level deeper than a tourist watch a "strange" country pass by through the bus window.Most importantly, we have to be willing to learn and to change our opinions based on what we learn aswe go. After all, this is what life should be all about. We never stop learning, we never stop changingand we should listen to others without cultural blinkers, hidden agendas or closed minds. For me, thiswas the real point of this exchange and what I will take with me about America when I return toAustralia.