America

In the 00s, anti-American feeling was high in Europe.  Even kids between 2002-2007 were cynical about American foreign policy in the Middle East. We were sold the story that European and American values were fundamentally different.  I got brainwashed as a young one by socially and politically liberal parents and aunts, and read anti-capitalist, anti-American books that were heavy on economics and critical theory a decade too early at 13 and 14.

America became a vast alien wasteland, a Great Satan filled with strip malls, “freedom” and concentrated corporate evil. GW Bush Jr. was a grotesque puppet in our news: forever putting his foot in it while he ordered people to their deaths. All this put young people off America, and the Celtic Tiger economy made us think we’d be the first generation that wouldn’t need to emigrate.

I hit college wanting to become a corporate lawyer or businessman, which was a bit of a break with family tradition and the liberalness of my teens. I guess all that economics helped.  The Bowie album we listened to most was Young Americans. There,  I came into contact with Americans for the first time – and realised America is a vast heterogenous continent, with too much going for it in every state to write it off.

Then the 2008 US elections came. I first became aware of the candidates through furry porn posted on the asshole of the internet in 2007, so I was cynical from the off.  We Irish people really believed in the “Hope” and “Change” messages Obama put out, like America was going to emerge from some glorious chrysalis into the rightful leader of the free world. But when that didn’t happen over the next few years, some of us reconsidered America as being more complex than just presidents.

When we met Americans professionally, or socially in college, they were always chill as fuck: polite, friendly, great workers with a lot of cop on. When I went to Florida to the conference, I will admit I stuck with the Canadians and Texans, so I can’t speak for every state. Minnesotans I’ve met have been cool. And I’d love to go to America to see the countryside, and taste your amazing regional food. Shooting sports seem easy to get into too.  I treasure the Leatherman I picked up in the US, and picked up a Nalgene because it was a quality product.

Like most families, I inherited my parent’s beliefs. But I also inherited their prejudices against America without really thinking about it. I wonder if they even thought about it. Celiaxx might wish he was Russian, but living on the cheap (with health insurance) in America would be swell.

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16 thoughts on “America

  1. What can I say, both your teen image of the US and your later impression were kinda correct.

    “America is a vast heterogenous continent, with too much going for it in every state to write it off”

    That’s a solid way of putting it.

    Also don’t base your concept of Americans on Americans you met outside of the US. Severe disappointment might ensue in case you ever actually come to visit.

    1. I ended up in an Orlando motel for three days following the Big 4 conference in Florida, because I had fuck all else to do. I walked 4km in down a 4 lane road called “Orange Blossom Trail” to a shitty motel, and locked myself in my room for 3 days with a botttle of whiskey. It cost me $150.

      I got directions from a pizza place, and hit a few fast food places. People were polite and helpful, but not friendly. I thought about going to a sports bar, but figured it would be awkward: no soccer on TV here.

      People online said the motel was used by methheads, it was full of hookers and the area was sketchy as fuck. It wasn’t any less sketchy than where I lived in Ireland, which was in a mixed industrial park and housing project for the economically deprived. Visible drug use on the streets, gang tags on the walls, caravans getting set on fire, and horseshit everywhere.

      Went to a few fast food places (so much better in America than back home, and a Waffle House). No junkies shouting, no scummy kids running around – just a handful of people who looked tough.

      What freaked me out was that these beautiful pavements and lawns beside the roads had no one walking on them, and apart from the cars, it was deserted.

  2. So I had a big giant response planned, but I’m just gonna use some Craigslist ads to illustrate my point.
    http://dublin.craigslist.org/apa/4715370469.html
    http://dublin.craigslist.org/apa/4663630423.html
    http://www.rent.ie/houses-to-let/Pearse-St-Apartment-Clonakilty-West-Cork/1496986/

    Now, let’s limit the search to 650USD (though $500 is more like it as Ireland’s min wage is the same as my state’s per hour in Euros, basically)
    http://hartford.craigslist.org/apa/4717544101.html
    http://hartford.craigslist.org/apa/4706417744.html
    http://hartford.craigslist.org/apa/4686400490.html
    That’s just Hartford, it’s not the capitol of the nation, nor a big hub like NYC. Let’s look at NYC’s rents, shall we?
    http://newyork.craigslist.org/que/abo/4701272985.html $600 for a single room.
    http://newyork.craigslist.org/jsy/abo/4715849111.html most laughable one yet

    As you can see, where I live, most stuff is fairly shitty, and all is not furnished. In Ireland a furnished apartment seems the norm, along with strangely, internet, TV, etc. Obviously I cherry picked ads, but go look around for yourself what your rent gets you in USA compared to pretty much anywhere else.

    Rent or mortgage is obviously going to be your biggest expense, and despite US propaganda about Europe being so expensive because people will pay $9 for a bottle of mineral water or something, it seems the same almost across all of Western Europe, looking at ads. You can find a nice furnished apartment in a major city/capital city for around 500-600 euros for one month rent, with min wage being 8-9 euros, whereas in most of USA such an equivalent feat is basically impossible.

    I mean it’s kind of sweet we can buy Chinese electronics, hormonized meat not allowed into Europe, and vegetables (from other countries) for cheap, but other than that it’s fairly shitty. I mean yeah, you could buy a plot of land in New Hampshire and live off grid and say fuck everyone ever and take advantage of cheap shit (my original plan before seriously considering going abroad.) Living in USA cheap is a pipe dream unless you wanna do that. I can say personally I’m very comfortable on $180-200 per month for a food budget (what I got with my gov benefits) not eating out ever but buying little treats from the Asian market or candy/sweet stuff, etc and not just eating loaves of bread and rice and beans.

    What about basically needing a car (unless you have your friends drive you around) for everything (unless you’re in NYC and pay like $2000 for your apartment) then it’s another $200 just for gas, $50-100 for insurance, nevermind $200-1000 every few months for repairs (unless you repair stuff yourself) and this of course is assuming you bought a used car with cash, which most people don’t do.

    Oh well, pretty giant post. But yeah. I didn’t even get into political or social reasons…

    inb4 in spam folder

    1. Great song man.

      Yeah… the rental market might seem better from the websites. And they are furnished. Most places won’t include phone/tv/gas/water/garbage however. These sub €500 apartments tend to be single rooms called bedsits. The websites don’t communicate the lines of 12-20 people outside viewings for apartments either. To get somewhere with two rooms, reasonably close to the city centre, might cost €700 or €800. And all these houses are old, some 100+ years. Which means damp, crap insulation, and bad wiring.

      Even friends in the top 30% of income struggle to find affordable rentals in Dublin. And there are fuck all jobs outside of Dublin – no factories, farms don’t hire and the fishermen’s boats can’t cover their fuel. There’s only service jobs in the main cities. Hence 40% of the Republic lives in the greater Dublin area. Though it’s irresistible to play the poor mouth, and say the torrential rains are more torrential, the squalor more squalid, the hopelessness more utterly hopeless in Ireland, I’d prefer to be poor in Ireland than I would in America.

      1. “To get somewhere with two rooms, reasonably close to the city centre, might cost €700 or €800.”

        A two-room apartment in any major US city (with the exception of big cities in flyover states) will easily run you twice that. In New York you’d be paying well over $3,000 for a shitty one-bedroom place anywhere near “downtown”. DC is already over $2,000 and trending upward. Celica hit it on the head, housing is the most expensive part of living in the US.

        Food and necessities are generally cheaper than in Europe, but living costs overall are not lower. East Coast cities are okay as far as public transportation goes, but otherwise a car is a must. Even though gas in the US is dead cheap compared to everywhere else, it still adds up if you have to drive every day instead of just a few times a week.

  3. In all seriousness, though, here’s what I think is the biggest problem with living in America. You can sum up in a few words. Things used to be better. It’s not so much that USA is “the worst” place to live, or that impending economic collapse will turn USA into India (or tribal Pakistan or Afghanistan) overnight or anything like that. It’s that things used to be way way better. In Ireland, things always seemed to suck except for your one bubble when we were kids. So you’re just used to things sucking, and hell, your infrastructure and whatnot isn’t built around the premise of exponential growth and good times forever, nor has your society been conditioned to this thinking since the end of WWII.

    When your parents grew up, things were hard for them, but when my parents grew up, things were easy. Stupid easy. Harvard’s tuition per year in 1967 was $2000. So at $1.40 per hour federal minimum wage, someone would have to work 1428 hours to pay off that year of tuition, or a full year at 35 hours a week per year. Now today, to go to Harvard and pay it yourself working min wage, you’d have to work 5600 hours, or 107 hours per week per year. It’s the same across the board, we can do this with cars, housing, everything. It used to be plain out AWESOME in USA for the vast majority of citizens. As you can see, someone living in the slums could very well pull themselves up by the bootstraps back then and make whatever he wanted out of himself if he indeed did try hard enough. Now, this isn’t the case. It’s mathematically on the verge of impossible.

    This probably is the most depressing part of living in USA. If you’ve always been a peasant, and you stay a peasant, it’s no big deal, right? But in USA, seemingly, we all once were kings for half a century or so, and we’re now being reduced to peasants again. You have to live in lack of hope, as things will not in fact get better, and you can’t tell your kids that things will get better. As they clearly won’t. You’re living in a state of decline and that’s just it. There’s no reasonable way you can say “things will be better.” As they won’t.

    1. “It’s the same across the board, we can do this with cars, housing, everything. It used to be plain out AWESOME in USA for the vast majority of citizens.”

      Fifties and sixties were riding the post-war boom. Previously nonexistent industries were booming and encountering zero international competition. Eastern and most of Western Europe were literally rubble. The rest of the world was either severely undeveloped, or locked behind the Iron Curtain, or both. Organized labor was still alive, although already bleeding from mortal wounds.

      Things aren’t actually declining now, it’s just that the present situation is being evaluated against an unrealistic and untenable past ideal. Sure, some things are shitty. $1.40 in 1967 was the equivalent of $9.97 today, i.e. almost 40% more than the current federal minimum wage, which is mind-blowingly idiotic in an industrialized country. But more people are getting an education, and even a semi-decent education means you won’t have to work for minimum wage. The game is extremely skewed against the ordinary person, but there are still opportunities.

      1. Up in Northern Ireland, they did. So they embezzled money from the UK, not the Republic. The Ulster Folk and Transport museum has one on display.

        Ireland pulled a lot of foreign investment in, so they made quite a lot of cars here. Ford had a large plant in Cork that directly employed 7000 from 1930, and much more in the spin off and support industries. When they pulled out in 1984, Cork didn’t recover until pharma jobs came in the 90s.

    1. all i can think is … damn they are stupid. People throw their lives away smoking crack, and we don’t say “We must make sure crack dealers don’t charge so much; they’re taking advantage of the poor.” Just … you bought a $1500 sofa. oh don’t forget the smartphones.

      1. It never ceases to amaze me how awful many people are at managing money.

        Most people in low-paying jobs that I encounter have better / more expensive smartphones than I do. Almost all people in low-paying jobs drive better and newer cars than I do. The sofa that my wife and I own we got for free, and it probably didn’t cost more than $400 new. We don’t own a single item of $1,000 value or higher. But a couple barely making ends meet bought a piece of furniture that probably cost more than the trailer they live in. I mean, it’s not like you need a BA in financial management to know that $500 per week in less $800 per week out = trouble.

        Stupidity with money isn’t exclusive to the poor. I also know individuals with six-figure incomes who live alone (i.e. no family to support) and who can’t get rid of credit card debt. Intelligent people in all other ways, well-educated too, but show them a credit card and their IQ drops like 70 points. Banks and retailers will slaughter you if given half a chance, drink your blood and claim your firstborn, etc., so why make it even easier for them?

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