Alex Massie

If we’d all have been living in California, We wouldn’t have worked at all...

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Some things never change. Classicist Mary Beard swaps cold and windswept Cambridge for sun-kissed Berkeley and is immediately overwhelmed by American abundance:

Amazingly I have no borrowing limit. Accustomed as we Cambridge academics are to a more or less strictly enforced 10 book limit, I approached the Berkeley borrowing desk with some trepidation. How would I choose between the 12 I wanted to borrow (Berkeley has a wonderful collection – and I had stumbled upon the ‘laughter’ section)? I needn’t have worried. I can borrow as many as I like for up to year. This was like the proverbial child in a sweet shop...

On the other hand, this part of her introduction to California seems very strange. Attending a seminar for visiting academics that included talk on how to"adjust" to life in the US, the indomitable Beard was taken aback by

"...the list of “the values majority culture Americans live by”, drawn from a book by one Robert Kohls on precisely this topic. It was scary stuff. Take this one: “Time is valuable; achievement of goals depends on productive use of time. Result: efficiency and progress often at expense of interpersonal relationships”.

Or “Americans believe competition brings out the best in people and free enterprise produces most progress and success. Result: Less emphasis on cooperation than competition.”

If all this were true of the people of Berkeley, then it might be a grim prospect for the next few months. Happily I’ve seen little sign of these “majority values” so far."

Free enterprise at Berkeley? Is the sky's fall imminent? What the hell is going on?

UPDATE: Of course, commenter Alan Jacobs may well be right: this was a warning to visiting academics who should be very careful when leaving Berkeley's grounds for the shark-infested waters of enterprising America.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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