In the discussion of the Olympic opening ceremonies, Dubbahdee mentioned that Brits are quite fond of the NHS – something we don’t often appreciate here. I couldn’t think of a good equivalence at first, but I wonder if it is similar to how Americans used to look at the postal service, before competing services came in. We knew and liked our letter-carrier. More of the mail we received was from relatives, girlfriends, friends traveling to far places. We sometimes waited anxiously for the mail to come, and knew the appointed time. There were bills, sure, but those weren’t Mr. Cohen’s fault. There was a charm to small-town post-offices, especially the older ones, which suggested something quintessentially American. They got used as movie sets or in still photos to evoke a place or an era. And the big city post-offices – whew – they were impressive marble edifices, which included other rich-people services such as passports, and long rows of PO Boxes with secret codes for locks.
We rather marveled that they could get cards and letters such great distances so quickly – most of the time, anyway. We complained about them losing things or mashing them up, dropping them in the wrong box occasionally or returning them for teeny postage due, but we liked them. They mostly got it right, after all. We heard from time to time how much money they lost and groused about the rate increases. We laughed that some cranks thought it could all be handled privately. We knew that was crazy!
Until it started to happen - with some specialised, larger business mail at first, and then with personal shipping and packages. Then we got angrier with the USPS, even as they improved, because we discovered that someone else can do the job – it’s not magic – and there’s no need to lose money on it. Especially now, as our mailboxes have more catalogues and fliers, and less actual personal mail, we see the USPS as rather hollow. An irony, that we loved them when they were far less efficient and dislike them now.
European health services came in at about the same time as actual improvements in medicine came in, especially pharmaceuticals and medical devices. In England, the contrast is between the bad old pre-NHS days, when doctors couldn’t do much for you - and bright, shiny modern times, with antibiotics and valiums and cancer treatments that actually worked. Look at the era that they costumed the NHS to evoke: not only the childhood of all but the oldest Brits, but just as national care came into being in the 1950’s. They rode the wave of the great successes of the evil pharmaceutical companies and corporate manufacturers of medical devices and diagnostic equipment. But the association remains. Avant moi, le deluge.
So no wonder they love their systems and think we are crazy not to have them. Without realising it, they have no standard for comparison.