Some years ago we were on holiday in America, in the depths of Florida. We walked into a McDonald’s.
The waitress told us there were no fries. Odd. Then I saw that the drive-in customers were being served fries. I asked politely if we could not have some of those.
The waitress became hostile. I tried to explain, reasonably. The waitress became very, very aggressive indeed.
I realised that we were in the middle of nowhere, among people who shared our language, just, but few of our basic assumptions. That she had probably only heard my accent, middle class English, from villains in Hollywood movies, stroking a cat and planning their next outrage, and was conditioned to react against it.
That she probably had a boyfriend with a pick-up truck, and a rifle or shotgun in it. That the odds of our becoming the subject of a tragic story on the front page of the next day’s Daily Mail had just shortened significantly.
We left, chipless.
Words I never thought I would write: there was a brilliant interview on Radio 4 Today yesterday with Piers Morgan. He ran into trouble, while a chat show host in America, by criticising the country’s gun laws. Bizarre but true fact: more Americans have died since 1968 from gunshot wounds than on every battlefield since the Founding Fathers. 32,500 deaths a year. 15 school/university shootings so far this year.
Morgan spoke of interviewing Americans in the less enlightened parts of the country, shall we say. Why did they need weapons? Because of Barack Obama. Otherwise he might invade.
But Obama, and the Federal government, has the US Marines. And 5,000 nuclear weapons. How long would he, and his arms-bearing compatriots, last?
Who else were they defending themselves from? The United Nations, a body whose role our patriot did not seem entirely to understand, shall we say.
Graydon Carter, the US journalist, once pointed out that Michael Bloomberg, himself no fan of unlimited gun ownership but fanatically anti-smoking, tried to ban objects that encouraged the habit while Mayor of New York. Any country, Carter said, that allowed the ownership of a gun but criminalised the ownership of an ashtray had its priorities sadly wrong.