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Reflections upon traveling in Europe

I’ve just returned from a family visit to Europe, spending some time off with relatives and friends. During my visit, I’ve repeatedly been confronted with the harsh reality that many Europeans, — although some of them have travelled extensively themselves, — have lost some much-needed perspective on what life is like in the United States, and how Americans must cope with day-to-day life’s challenges without much of the benefits, social safety-net, government entitlements, and systematically “milking the system”.

It is certainly no secret that the United States ranks among the lowest “First World” nations in terms of the social parachute, and overall labor conditions, lagging far far behind comparable societies in Europe, such as Scandinavia, the Benelux nations, the UK, France, Germany, the Alpine nations, etc.

What is most striking are prevailing attitudes among many Europeans regarding daily life, not only where THEY live and work, but also
vis-a-vis those similarly situated in the United States.

It strikes me personally that many Europeans (especially those who have never lived or worked in the U.S. for any reasonable stretch of time) have no particular sense of how well-off they really are, how high their relative standard of living really is, and what luxuries they regard as ‘normal’, not realizing how immensely fortunate they are.  I could go on and on ad infinitum regarding wages, salaries, taxes, purchasing power, cost of living, labor conditions, paid leave, medical care, etc. etc. etc. etc.

Comparing European “apples” to American “apples”, in the proverbial sense, Europeans (“they”) have little to no concept of how good they have it, nor do many fellow Americans ever fully realize how bad we have it, by comparison. So let’s look at your average middle class European who is not on welfare:

  • they earn much higher for the time they spend working
  • they earn even when not working (e.g. when on leave)
  • they receive much more paid leave (vacation, medical, family, etc.)
  • they work far less during the week than most U.S. counterparts
  • their relative cost of living (housing, food, etc.) is lower, excluding luxury goods and clothing
  • their standard of living is much higher, and more modern
  • their job security is much higher, more secure
  • their benefit packages and incentives are more generous
  • their accumulation of assets and other forms of wealth is higher
  • their costs for vacation / travel are considerably lower
  • their medical and social care far exceeds that of Americans in terms of affordability and services offered
  • they enjoy much higher emphasis on wellness beyond the work place, including post-medical therapy and recovery
  • the financial and insurance sectors have many more products available, not presently known or available in the U.S.

Despite all of these advantages, many Europeans lament their station in life, despite their high pay, padded accounts, solid assets, nice homes and cars, their copious benefits and high standards. They love to complain, gripe, and down-play what they have. They feel as though they have it “hard”, earn “little”, pay out “much” in taxes, fees, and contributions.

Compared to how they live and what they have, even in the “middle class”, the United States should be demoted down to 2nd World nation, or even borderline Third World… We work longer, harder for less pay, less benefits, less leisure time, little to no protections during periods of medical need or disability, or family care, our living costs are higher, our social protections are minimal, our job security virtually non-existent, and our daily living almost “primitive” by comparison.

Returning to the United States from a 2-week trip to Europe, just days ago, landing in JFK, on my way home to Florida, arriving in the United States felt like landing in a near-Third-World country, with old, antiquated infrastructure, where things haven’t changed in over 20 years. The U.S. likes to present itself as the Forerunner in virtually everything.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Much of our daily life in the U.S. uses old, outdated standards, methods, technologies, etc.  far behind other parts of the world.  We are nowhere nearly as “progressive” or “modern” or “advanced” as we’d like to propagandize.  It’s almost shameful by comparison how much further ahead other countries and cultures are.  If we are not careful — assuming we even care! —, we are steadily becoming the laughing stock among other nations.

Why are we Americans so darn reluctant to learn from others and to improve how WE do things???  it cannot simply be because Congress is the playground of old grumpy farts stuck mentally in the 1950’s or 1960’s, or is it?

Look to Scandinavia, look to places like Singapore, or Taiwan, or South Korea, or even smaller places like Ireland or New Zealand,… even our neighbors to the north are more modern…   you can pick any measurement metric you choose (infrastructure, manufacturing, R&D, architecture/construction, education, medical/social care, technology, high-speed communications, energy, clean food supply and safety,…),  the U.S. will rank shamefully low behind others.   It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find anything that we Americans truly and genuinely excel at that would really matter for humanity.   (so let’s disregard professional athletics and entertainment).

More Americans should venture beyond our familiar borders and explore other places and speak to other people who live and work abroad. We would quickly return home to realize how much work we really have ahead of us, and how badly we’re being duped.

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