Not in Kansas anymore

In May of 2007, a grade 5 tornado (the highest possible) destroyed the town of Greensburg, Kansas, killing 13 people, injuring more than 60 others and flattening 95 percent of the town structures (while seriously damaging the other 5 percent). The tornado was estimated to be 1.7 miles (2.7 km) wide at its base, and traveled almost 22 miles (35 km). Wind from the twister was estimated at 205 mph (330 km/h).

In May of 2011, a grade 5 tornado ravaged the city of Joplin, Missouri. Although this tornado was only .75 miles at its base, and traveled 6 miles on the ground, it also had winds estimated at over 200 mph, and, because this tornado hit a city rather than a small town, it had far more devastating figures of destruction: 158 people died, over 1000 people were injured, and around 7,000 homes were destroyed (not including businesses and public buildings).

According to the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) an average of 1253 tornadoes occur in the United States every year. Although more common in “tornado alley” (the Midwest), tornados have been documented in every state in the U.S. After the United States, the country with the largest average number of annual cyclones is Canada, with around 100 twisters.

If there’s a relatively high probability that your home will be completely destroyed in a storm, then “long-lasting” won’t be one of your main concerns when buying it or having it build for you.

Familiarity breeds contempt

A New Broom Sweeps Clean – A fresh leader gets rid of the old and brings in new ideas and personnel. This term can be found in English as early as 1546 in John Heywood’s proverb collection.

Climb/jump on the Bandwagon – Join a growing movement in support of someone or something, often just as that movement appears to have become successful. This phrase developed after American politicians in the late 19th century began using bandwagons when campaigning for office.

First known use: 1899 by President Theodore Roosevelt: “When I once became sure of one majority they tumbled over each other to get aboard the band wagon.”

Familiarity Breeds Contempt – The better you know someone, the more likely you are to find fault with them. First known use: 1386 in Chaucer’s “Tale of Melibee.”

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side – A different situation always seems better than your own. First known use: 1400s.

You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks – Old dogs (and people) learn less well than the young. Although this phrase primarily refers to people, not products, it nevertheless shows how Americans tend to view old things as outdated and unadaptable. First known use: John Fitzherbert’s 1534 The Boke of Husbandry.”

Upgrades

There are a lot of American websites that describe ways to make use of old products after upgrading to newer models. If you type “creative ways to reuse things” into Google, you are met with over 20 million websites with such titles as “40 Awesome Ways to Reuse Old Stuff” and “534 Ways to Reuse Things You’d Normally Throw Away.” These sites have suggestions for reusing everything from bicycles to wrenches, and even to fruit peels.

Some of the suggestions listed on these websites include: Using an old bicycle as a sink stand. Turning an old cassette tape into a coin purse. Bending old wrenches into wall hooks. Cutting old credit cards into guitar picks. Turning an old suitcase into a chair. Grinding old egg shells to make sidewalk chalk. 

Try anything once

The idea that people should try everything once is deeply ingrained in American thinking. In fact, Americans are so hesitant to choose a definite course of action without trying all of the alternatives, that Winston Churchill once said “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

Many famous Americans possessed of a try everything once spirit. American actress Mae West once said “I’ll try anything once, twice if I like it, three times to make sure.” In 1920, G.B. Manly offered to take American humorist Will Rogers on an airplane ride. After the ride, Rogers remarked: “Try anything once. Try some things oftener. When you goin’ again?”

American President Franklin D. Roosevelt also had the willingness to try anything – something which is now said to have greatly attributed to his ability to help America out of the Great Depression. FDR’s wife Eleanor once commented about him that “He recognized the difficulties and often said that, while he did not know the answer, he was completely confident that there was an answer and that one had to try until one either found it for himself or got it from someone else.”

Americans take a similar viewpoint towards products. They don’t want something that will last forever, but just long enough for them to try it, and see how it compares to other products that they’ve used. Then they want to move on to try another product.

Drowning cars

Because Americans like to upgrade products so often, they have developed interesting ways to dispose of their old products. One such way is in an ice car competition.

In many northern cities in the U.S., there is a tradition that involves driving a car out onto a frozen lake in the middle of winter, and taking bets on when the car will break through the ice when temperatures rise. 

The activity became popular in the 1940s when civic groups (such as the Lions Club) realized that putting an old, unused car on the ice and betting on when it would crash through would be a fun competition and a good way to dispose of an old piece of machinery and generate revenue for local cities.

These days, with environmental awareness on the rise, most cities have laws against dumping old cars in lakes. As a result, in cities that continue this tradition, the towns typically remove the engine and transmission, and make sure there are no fluids in the car that might damage the environment. Additionally, the cars are usually tethered to the bank so that they can easily be pulled out of the lake once they break through.

In cities that participate in this tradition, having your car plunge through the ice is considered something of an honor, and it’s not unusual for people to donate their old cars when they want to buy new ones.

“The same product forever?”

Americans rarely want to own a product for an extended period of time. Most are updated, changed, modified on a regular basis, giving them a kind of newness. These include: computers, electronicc, automobiles, and clothing styles.

Even houses are torn down so that new ones can be built in their place. To the extent that a person views themself as a product, some even alter their own physical appearance via cosmetic surgery: lift, tuck, tighten, remove, add.

Americans simply don‘t want to own, use or be seen with the same product for all too long. They want what is new, better, the „next best thing“, whether it is truly better or not.

Think of mobility in the U.S. Large percentages of Americans in a given year move from one place to another. Job mobility has always been a part of the American economy, now more than ever involuntarily.

Americans own cars for shorter amount of years than in most Western cultures. Fashion cycles are short, the trends are frequent. America is the land of fads, crazes, rages. It‘s a very large and diverse market, culture. It is a consume and consumer oriented economy.

Durable is important to Americans, but for a shorter period of time.

„New and improved!“

New and improved! Personal care products seldom change dramatically from year to year in the way that a car manufacturer might add new features or modify the design. Companies redesign the packaging or make some small adjustment and rebrand the product as „new and improved!“ This plays to the American belief that new is inherently good, tapping into the cult of youth, that new equates young with fresh and desirable.

Some products celebrated for their durability are more resistant to rapid change than things like electronics or cars. American-made tools are generally designed to be strong and durable since replacement is expensive and breaking a tool is inconvenient. Durability in the long-lasting, rugged sense is the more desirable quality.

Although old buildings are torn down and replaced with new construction, American building codes specify much more stringent standards than in other parts of the world. What results is high quality – albeit expensive – buildings that endure. Like in many European cities, American historic districts showcase the place’s commitment to the durability of its construction products.

Adapt the Oreo?

Durable. Able to exist for a long time without significant deterioration. From Latin durare to last. Adapt: To make fit (as for a new use) often by modification. From Latin adaptare, to fit.

In the American marketplace, innovation is a constant force driving products towards ever greater efficiency and functionality. American products are constantly modified to meet the changing needs of American consumers.

One way to achieve this goal is to simply improve features that already exist. An example is redesigning the display of an alarm clock to make it more readable. Other products will be redesigned and features will be added to them. One example are the new features of each iteration of smatphones and tablets. Battery life is lengthened, screen quality is improved, and features will be adapted based on user feedback.

Americans rarely want to own a product for an extended period of time. There are many products which are constantly updated, changed, modified. These include: computers, electronics, gadgets, automobiles, and clothing styles. Even houses are torn down so that new ones can be built in their place. To the extent that a person is a „product,“ consumers also alter their own physical appearance via cosmetic surgery.

Companies leverage this sentiment by offering incentives for consumers to upgrade their current product. They may offer generous trade-in offers for cell phones or outdated electronics or special leasing deals for expensive items like cars or houses.

They even adapted the Oreo cookie.

Wunderwerk

“Buy yourself a flatscreen tv!” was the advice given by one German graduate student to the other, after the latter struggled to carry his old television – Röhrenfernseher or cathode ray tube television – up several flights of stairs to his new, smallish, apartment. The old tv is, indeed, just that. Twenty years. It belonged to his grandmother, then to his parents.

This Wunderwerk deutscher Ingenieurskunst – wonder work of German engineering – a term once used ironically by a tv repairman – was built by a renowned German electronics company. Siemens. It continues to work flawlessly.

When the Röhrenfernseher – literally tube far see-er – some day gives up the ghost, it will be replaced by a flatscreen tv. But because the age-old German belief in not throwing anything out which still works applies to this truly durable German household appliance, it could see a few more schweißtreibende Umzüge – sweat-inducing apartment moves.

Crazy Germans!

Unpuncturable

Unpuncturable – it can’t be punctured. No flat tire. 

The Marathon Plus is the only bicycle tire in the world which is allowed to describe itself as unpuncturable. It is made by the German company Schwalbe with its patent on a Pannenschutzgürtel – literally flat tire protective belt. The belt is five millimeters thick and is made of highly elastic rubber. Neither thumbtacks nor glass can cut through it.

The Marathon Plus tire is not only unpuncturable, it has a so-called anti-aging exterior. Schwalbe’s goal was to create a truly durable product, a deep-seated German desire to make things which have Beständigkeit – resistance, stability, permanence, constancy.

Schwalbe was founded in 1992 by the Bohle family. It has remained a family-owned and -run company. It is the leading bicycle tire company in Europe, operates worldwide. They describe themselves as tire fanatics.