Friday, August 30, 2013

Five reasons to live in the USA and as many to live in Europe

It is not so easy to come up with good and sensible reasons why we elect one country our new home and even more complicated when we decide to confront it with our native country.
I had to ask myself and people around me who lived or are still living abroad to give their contribution in writing down a list that has no pretense of being exhaustive, but an attempt to capture some general factors that can help us out to come to terms with our dreams, expectations and even prejudices. Taking informed decisions is important but eventually each and every one of us has to determine what is right for them. Age, education and life expectations play a big role in determining which factors contribute to the list. Originally I planned to come up with ten reasons, however I was struggling to get at least half down.

So, here we are with the top five reasons to live in the USA:

          1.  Space
The most obvious one…everything is big and large on the other side of the ocean. Big houses, big cars, big roads, big national parks, the big Mac, this all contributes to displace the lost European citizen used to overpopulated areas in small hives. Spreading out feels good but sometimes you feel as if you are one little dot lost on a huge geographical map, and you start missing your reference points.

          2. Availability of products
Shopping 24/7!!! Do I have to say more?!? Being able to go grocery shopping at 1 am is a thrill too much irresistible to pass.
Department shopping is cheaper over there, so every European goes ballistic with their credit cards when they see Levi’s jeans for $60 or sneakers that cost half of what they pay in Europe.
But let me tell you that the quality is not the same any more as it used to be. I bought cotton T-shirts twenty years ago that I am still wearing, nice, comfortable and original stuff still made in the USA. Recently I bought clothes that have been dumped not even after a season, stuff made on the other side of the world which has nothing particularly nice or original about it. I bought some brand shirts for office wear that were torn after a couple of washing. It seems nobody cares about quality products and happy costumers!

         3. Less bureaucracy
This country is big because it moves fast. Everything is a phone call away or in the Internet era we can say a click away. Efficiency probably goes hand in hand with it. You can start any subscription or utility service over the phone just like more complex stuff like solving your credit card issues. And that’s a big plus which makes life a lot easier!
The old continent is gasping to renovate its ancient apparatus and bring it to the 21st century, which will hopefully happen soon enough as we are living in a Kafkian nightmare.

          4. Pragmatism
The USA’s motto is “let’s do it”, in private or public business things get done, unlike Europe where you have to ask permission for almost everything. Steve Jobs is a prime example of how America gets things done, albeit his way of dealing with people. James Joyce pinpointed this sense of paralysis one hundred years ago in his “Dubliners” and this is still permeating European societies. Maybe this is due to the fact that for Europeans permission is granted from above, which implies you don’ t take any initiative, whereas this freedom is something Americans grant to themselves.

          5. Where failure is an asset and not a stigma
A business that doesn’t pick up or isn’t ready for its market is no big news in the business world. In the USA though people are willing to give a second chance, if you fail you can get up. In Europe people tend not to forget or forgive..mmhh

Now let’s what are the top five reasons to live in Europe:

          1. Education
Something that hopefully Europe will defend with all its strength: a public school system free to its citizens. Even private schools are not as expensive as their counterparts in the USA. Americans believe that good education comes with high tuition; this not the case in Europe where top schools don’t necessarily have high costs.
A phenomenon that the school business has created is that not always deserving students go to prestigious schools, but only the ones with thicker wallets.

          2. Health services
Just like education, you cannot put a price on people’s health, especially when those are paying taxes. The first question you are asked when going to a doctor in Europe is “what’s bothering you?” in America is “do you have insurance?”. 
Public health care is an achievement of our society, if it were to adopt the American way we would be going back of hundreds of years.

          3. Housing and Infrastructures
American houses are bigger but not better built than those in Europe.
First take a good look at the materials, and you’ll see that in Europe there are a lot of choices for building and improving your house from ecological and efficient products that protect and use natural sources to high tech stuff for the safety in your house.
Solar panels have been around for quite some time here, and only recently this option is available in the USA.
Roads and highways are also better kept in Europe, as well as public lighting. In the area where I lived, people died because they walked on electric cables that were on the ground after a snowstorm.

         4. Cultural varieties
This is a delicate issue and it is difficult to approach in a few sentences, so take it as a reflection of a traveller.
European law has done a lot in terms of protecting language minorities because there is a major sensitivity towards national issues.
America has crushed its cultural varieties creating the myth of the melting pot, where everyone, except for the Natives, can claim a common fabricated past to legitimate their presence in a land that isn’t theirs. One of the most shocking experiences for Europeans is to visit an Indian Rez. We read, we study and yet we cannot understand how this could happen: too much to get involved in this now….
In America you can travel for days and end up in place where people still speak the same language, you can eat the same food and sleep in the same hotel chains. In Europe this is another story altogether. Cultural identity and awareness is reflected in the language, the food and types of accommodation. Europe is always trying to catch up with America, but to see a homogeneous culture from Sicily to Lapland…well it would be plain boring.

         5. Overall quality of life
Daily activities like taking a coffee in town, having lunch and real home cooked dinner are still old rituals in Europe, even though these healthy and happy habits are rapidly disappearing.
Europeans treasure their free time, holidays are a big part of the yearly calendar. In August pretty much all the big factories are closed, so deal with it. Americans rush through their day, like a “bite and go” attitude, they consume and devour things but I am not sure how much they enjoy it.

After all this debating and much consideration I still can’t decide. Is there a country that comprises the best parts of both worlds? Why can’t a country learn what works best in another and adopt and adapt it to its situation?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Hard life for spouses in the USA

Living abroad can get particularly tricky and even harder when you are the one who has to follow your spouse; in fact while your significant other is busy at researching, studying, working and so on, you are left home alone stranded. Depending on the visa you get, there are several limitations and that can have a major impact on your life.
For many working women this can be a huge setback, in fact you will suddenly find yourself isolated socially and professionally, unless your job travels with you and you are used to confinement. Your life will change anyhow, and even more so if you are left without any work. Finding a job while being abroad, it is not only a basic economic need but also it makes you feel professionally and personally accomplished. Don’t underestimate the social life you have in your own home country, if you are used to seeing and working with a lot of people, you can find yourself extremely lonely. In fact, you might start feeling like a second-class citizen!
The USA prides itself as champion in human rights, from women emancipations and human rights in general, however spouses of foreign students/scholars/workers cannot work, and fulfill themselves in any way they wish despite they came into the country legally. Especially young women cannot stand the idea of idling away. The fact that there is something wrong with this status is proven by several cases of suicides among foreign women but I am not aware of any official numbers or research about this topic, but like many others I only heard their stories. Some universities are providing some sort of services for spouses from language courses to cultural activities. However, even though this is done with the best intentions, international spouses feel sometimes patronized despite their cultural and educational level. Most of them, in fact, are as educated as their husbands with BAs, MAs and even PhDs. 
After depicting a depressing scenario, let me show you how you can work LEGALLY in the USA: which again strictly depends on your visa. If you are lucky to be on a J2, you can apply for an employment authorization card: paying a $300 fee (the application process is pretty straightforward but it takes more than a month) you can obtain this card. Now, the ludicrous part though is when you are all set with the paperwork and you meet with people who still refuse you a position because you don’t have the green card!! Come on!! Are you kidding me!! With all the illegal immigrants working there you are giving me the hell of a time when I show you I have everything in order?!?!
The first thought that comes to mind when you imagine your life abroad is how exciting it sounds compared to you dull every day life at home. I am not referring to extreme scenarios like wars or similar situations where moving to another country is really a necessity and not a choice. However, dependent visas are a modern form of submission and reducing emancipated women to that state can only make their lives miserable. Unfortunately, not without consequences, in the worst cases we deal with suicides, in other cases, we see women falling apart, bringing an end to their marriage or leaving the USA and returning to their home country without their husbands. 
Better salaries and working conditions, future prospects, overall higher quality of life…this is all good, but is it all gold that glitters?