When I moved back to America at the end of 2006 I had been living abroad for fifteen years. I came back to the good old U.S.A. almost exactly two years ago.
This was the second time in my life where I had lived in Europe. The first began not long after I got out of college. I had an Honors B.A. degree in political science. The Vietnam War was still raging, and the draft was very much alive. I had been active in the anti-war movement. One time I even marched in an anti-war demonstration carrying some sort of a sign, where I kept walking by General Westmoreland. He was only about 15 feet away from me, and we kept establishing eye contact almost every time I would come around. Of course there were white guys in dark suits, white shirts, dark glasses, and ear buds talking into their finger tips all over the place. Several of them kept taking my picture. I couldn’t help noticing what really fine government-issue Nikon cameras they were using.
I wasn’t prepared to renounce my U.S. citizenship and slink off to Canada or Europe. If I did nothing I would have shortly been drafted, probably sent to Vietnam, and today I very likely would be nothing more than a white cross planted in the ground somewhere. The chances of dying were fairly high if this option was exercised.
At this point in time the U.S. Army was running low on young boys to use as cannon fodder, so their marketing people were coming up with all sorts of innovative ways to get innocent kids to go off to war and at least get mentally scarred for life, perhaps die. One was a program they had whereby instead of being drafted for two years, you could join up for three years. In return for you giving the U.S. Army one extra year of involuntary servitude, they would guarantee you a location where you would serve. So I joined up in late 1971 to be stationed in what was called West Germany at the time. Later the Berlin Wall came down, the east and west were reunited, and this all became simply Germany.
Back to the most recent adventure of living abroad. For 15 years I was the General Manager of the European Division of a multi-national food processing company. An interesting and well paying but high pressure job.
When there are adequate financial savings to be gained, I believe in buying in fairly large quantities. It is like money in the bank. But only of those things which have a long shelf life, and things that you will for sure need in the future. For example toilet paper, tooth paste, coffee beans, shampoo, hand soap, deodorant, laundry detergent, fabric softener, socks and underwear, etc. Over the last two years I have gradually used up most of these routine supplies which I brought with me from Europe.
I still have some of the European laundry detergent left. This morning I finally used up all the European sized office computer printer paper.
In America one normally uses 8-1/2 inch X 11 inch paper. Unless you work for the U.S. Government where they use a special, somewhat smaller size of paper. Of if you are greedy, corrupt, and dishonest (in other words a lawyer) you use paper of the same 8-1/2 inch width but longer (14 inches) which is called Legal size.
In much of the rest of the world, where the metric system is employed, office paper of the A4 size is used. A4 and 8-1/2x11 are pretty similar, but different. If you take a piece of the really large A2 paper and fold it in half, what you get is called size A3. When you fold A3 paper in half you get A4, etc. It is a very logical system.
So this morning I went about changing my standard default printer settings from A4 to Letter sized paper. Of course my European purchased HP printer runs on 220 VAC power, so I have a small transformer powering it.
Over the last two years I have had several friends ask me, “Don’t you miss Europe?”
The 300 kilometer per hour (186 mph) high speed train stopped at a train station a few miles from my house in the south of Holland. So I could get on the first train of the morning around 8:00 a.m., spend the entire day in Paris, France and then return in the evening in time to get a good night’s sleep in my own bed.
I had full coverage health insurance at a very reasonable price. No deductible, no co-pay, everything 100% paid. No waiting to get an appointment, and very competent docs and technicians. The freeways in nearby Germany are constructed to a much higher standard than the interstate highway system in America. The roadbed is twice the thickness, and the specification for the radius of the bends is much more gentle. Thus they are designed for high speed travel. So very often, quite legally, I would set the cruise control on 130 miles per hour. Not KPH, yes MPH. And the BMWs and Porches would absolutely fly past me. The German highway patrol police would sometimes zoom past me too. At 130 mph I needed to stay in the slow lane most of the time.
The European people are far more compassionate than us Americans are. So people who are down on their luck are taken care of. So are old folks. One sees very little hard core poverty. Even the poorest have full health care, a roof over their heads, their kids go to decent schools, and they are not starving.
In Europe they have the Parliamentary form of Democracy. The wishes and needs of the normal people are better represented under this system of government. In America we have the Representative Democracy form of government. Under this system the elected officials primarily represent the interests and needs of their large campaign contributors, rather than what the normal citizens want.
Museums are much more abundant in Europe. If you like to see really old things, like things from the time of the Romans 2,000 years ago, then Europe far surpasses America. If you enjoy viewing paintings and sculpture from people like Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Vincent Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Johannes Vermeer, Pablo Picasso, Juan Miro’, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Max Ernst, Marc Chagall, Magritte, or Salvador Dali you can be sure that there are several art museums nearby that you can go visit on a Sunday afternoon where you can see original art by these men.
The politicians in Europe are mostly arrogant and pompous. Just like in America.
Yes, to be perfectly honest a great many things are nicer in Europe. But some things are nicer in America too.
Where I live in the Southwest of America the weather during the winter is much better than in Western Europe. The sunrises and sunsets are glorious here. The taxes are somewhat lower, and the gasoline is much cheaper. So in America even poor folks can afford to drive gigantic pickup trucks and big SUVs. Fast food restaurants are everywhere, so lots of people seem to get a bit overweight. Just a few miles from my house in El Paso, Texas there are vast wide open, undeveloped spaces. It is much easier to get a driver's license or a pilot's license in America. In America you can graduate from High School with a diploma and manage to be almost functionally illiterate.
I am certain that there are many other wonderful and great things about America. The American Dream and all that. If I give it some more thought I’m sure that I will be able to come up with lots of other advantages that America has over Europe. I’ll get back with you on that.