Back in the U.S.S.A.

Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by headbang8, Dec 14, 2004.

  1. headbang8

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    Things are changing in my life. It’s raised some questions I’d like to share with my online buddies here, since you’re all so smart and reasonable and wise. Sorry in advance for a very long post.

    I suppose you could call me an American. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, I hold an American passport and speak with an American accent, I’m told. But when I was a teenager, my parents moved us to Australia, and I haven’t lived in the USA since. (I hold an Australian passport, too, by the way.)

    After almost five years in Japan, my employer—a British multinational—has decided to kick me upstairs. They’ve offered a dream job; So in February, I’ll move to New York City to take up the position.

    Delighted as I am with all this—and who wouldn’t be?—I have mixed feelings about living, again, in the United States.

    Should I rejoice, for I’m no longer trapped in a silly country run by misguided socialists, like Australia or Japan? Isn't the rest of the world clamouring to be let into the USA?

    Hmmm…let’s compare the US with Australia. When I lived in Melbourne, I paid between 33% and 37% of my earnings in income tax, and 10% sales tax on most consumables.

    It sounds high, but that pretty much was the end of it. Property tax is a token sum…at least in Victoria, where I lived. Gasoline has a high excise, but that’s because there are huge lengths of road to maintain per car.

    Much federal tax is redistributed to the states, which provide schools, police, hospitals, roads, and basic health care. The feds pick up the tab for very basic unemployment insurance, a means-tested aged-pension, an effective defense force and tolerably efficient civil service. With enough left over to subsidise most kids’ university education, endow the arts, and fund programmes for social good. In some years, the Australian government runs a surplus.

    In the USA, federal income tax is much lower (I'm told it's around 25%, on average. Is it?). But one needs to add 7% NY state income taxes (maybe I can commute from South Dakota or Alaska, where there aren’t any). Add the property taxes that pay for police and schools (a friend of mine with a modest house in Dobb’s Ferry NY pays $30,000 a year in property tax! Many people don’t even earn that much.). And add the cost of health care, of course…yada yada yada.

    My reckoning is that if you compare like for like, Americans probably pay as much in taxes and health insurance as anyone else in the developed world. The OECD says that Americans put 29% of GDP through the tax system, while Australians put 31%, for example. Why do US taxpayers seem to get such a low standard of public services to show for it? One which varies wildly from place to place, social class to social class. And doesn’t include universal health care.

    Of course, Australian taxpayers still have plenty to gripe about—I fully expect the Australians who post here to remind us!—but at the end of the day, I don’t begrudge the taxes I paid when living in Oz; I got pretty good value out of them when I needed it. Will I feel so in the USA?

    And it’s not just the money.

    The Australian government recognises gay relationships, so my Japanese lover could join me with no particular hassle. As it is, we’ll need to spend some time apart while he finds an employer to sponsor him into the USA—difficult post-9/11. He and I have traveled the world together, and the only place we’ve encountered any real homophobia was in America—admittedly, small-town North Carolina.

    The USA is the only place on the planet where I’ve heard atheists held up to ridicule; will I need to profess a belief in God to fit in?

    My employer subscribes to a website designed to help us so-called “inpats”. The first sentence in the cultural acclimatization section, shouted in bold letters, reads you must be more careful of your personal safety in the United States than in most other developed countries. It goes on to say, chillingly, that you cannot assume that the person standing next to you in a public place is not carrying a gun. And that the most common motive for personal assault in the United States is robbery, so dress demurely.

    Sites like that often say alarmist things so their readers can’t sue them; I was prepared to take this with a grain of salt. When I checked the figures, though, there was some justification. The USA tops the OECD in assaults per capita; one person in every 125 will be assaulted this year. Interestingly, the next four slots on the table are occupied by the OECD’s English-speaking countries. Australia is at the bottom of these five, with one assault for every 140 people or so. The figures then drop dramatically for Finland and Iceland to about one person in every 200, with the rest of the world safer to varying degrees. I have a one in 3000 chance of being assaulted on the way to the convenience store here in Japan, for example.

    Nanny-state types will doubtless blame this on the English-speaking world’s steady diet of violent American movies and TV.

    Australia, though, is not so crime-free. It leads the developed world in burglaries and car thefts. British LPSGers will chuckle that once a nation of petty thieves, always a nation of petty thieves.

    But property crime is a different story from assault and murder. Particularly when you consider that an assault in the USA is likely to be an armed robbery, and not a pub brawl or road rage. America has a murder rate four times that of Australia; the US keeps company in the stats table with Bulgaria and Uruguay. And to maintain even that level of public safety, the US needs to lock up six times as many of its citizens as Australia does.

    And to top it off, I’ll be paid in greenbacks. Last year, the Japanese government bought ¥33 trillion (USD $330 billion) in US treasury bonds, just to shore up the value of the dollar and keep Americans buying Japanese goods. That’s on an annual tax base of ¥41 trillion. It can’t go on—Asian creditors will need to call home the money sometime soon and the greenback could free-fall. If I intend to retire outside the United States, it’s not healthy to have a 401K in US currency over the next decade or so.

    So, yesterday an old colleague calls me about a job in Melbourne. Taking into account the cost of living differences, the salary is comparable. I’ve already made my mind up to go to New York--and I know New York isn't typical of the USA--but it gave me pause. Is the USA really such a great place to live, day to day? If you were in my shoes, what would you do?
     
  2. D_Humper E Bogart

    D_Humper E Bogart New Member

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    Hey Headbang, talk about going up in the world! I dunno, it's not for me to decide your fate anyway. I would be really interested to see your "inpat" site though.
     
  3. ashlar

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    I would stay as far away from the USA as humanly possible. I've lived here my entire life and hated every second of it.

    The figures you find for crime and so forth however, you have to take into account when compairing those figures to japan or australia or anywhere else, the sheer landmass size and amount of people. Plus, the US is ultra conservitive which is a huge pain in the ass, and not in the fun way.

    Personally, if I ever have the oppertunity to get out of this country and never have to come back I'm taking it.
     
  4. lacsap1

    lacsap1 New Member

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    Easy choice,

    Melbourne has been recently voted as one of the top three most liveable cities in the world. I have to say about Melbourne is it's very clean, neat, tidy and safe compared to NYC. Melbourne reminded me very much of Europe, good public transport, specially the tramway and almost car free in the old city centre. It offers an enourmous choice of cultural events, nightlife, restaurants and a very special countryside surrounding it with beautifull beaches. Due to the location on the bay the climate is very moderate and the pace of life, the (gay) tolerance and friendly attitude of the Melbournians is a big PLUS !

    NYC is busy, stress, dirty, bad traffic, sad public transport and unpleasant people.
     
  5. madame_zora

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    Just came back from a week in NY last month, and other than the people, I'd have to agree with your assessment, lascap. I found the people to be wonderful, artistic, open, and friendly. That being said, I spent most of the week on the Lower East Side and it felt very much like any other midwestern artist community.

    Headbang8, I personally would have a hard time returning to the US if I had been lucky enough to be out for the last few years, you won't be catching your native homeland at it's best. If your decision is already made, I think you'll find NY less uptight and repressive than many other places. I wish you and your b/f well, sorry we aren't what we ought to be here.
     
  6. MisterMark

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    Unless you really want to live in America, I think you'll be happier elsewhere.

    On the other hand, we could definitely use some more liberals in this country. I think it's accurate to say that we're the most conservative modern country in the world.

    Don't forget - this is the country where the sight of a bare breast on TV led to Congressional hearings. :wacko:
     
  7. BobLeeSwagger

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    No, the rest of the world isn't clamoring to get into the US. Quite a few are, but most of them aren't. It doesn't sound like you want to.

    You know why Americans get so little public service from their government(s)? Because that's the way they like it. The entire country was founded on the principle that the government should do a bare minimum whenever possible. That has changed somewhat over the years, but there's a strong anti-government streak in the United States and the government we have usually reflects that. If and when enough people truly get angry enough with our screwy healthcare system, then universal coverage will follow. Eventually.

    Atheists are not held up to ridicule here. They just aren't as newsworthy as religious fanatics.

    It's good that you take the "inpat" warning with a grain of salt because it doesn't have much flavor to it. In my entire life I've never seen anyone brandish a gun outside of a shooting range. The guy standing next to you is very unlikely to rob you. In fact, robbery rates are lower here than in many developed countries. There ARE many places that are crime-ridden, especially inner-city slums. These areas pull up the average crime rate for the whole country. Many cities in southern California, where I live, have a murder rate similar to that of western Europe. But others are dangerous. It's these drastic inequalities that are often the real tragedy, covered up by the crazy perception that Americans are constantly shooting each other. As crazy as it might sound, New York City is one of the safest large cities in the country.

    To answer your question, yes, the United States really is a great place to live, day by day. It's got plenty of problems, but I consider it better than every other place. What would I do in your shoes? I don't know. It would mean I'd have a whole different set of concerns and biases than what I currently have. It doesn't sound like you want to move here that much, so I don't know what I could say that it would convince you. I do know that you paint a picture that's unfamiliar to me, and I live here.
     
  8. wadislaw

    wadislaw Active Member

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    This is a country where 51% of the population (covering what, 90% of the landmass) voted for the Presidential candidate who touted "family values" and "the sanctity of marriage" and then went home to watch "Wife Swap: Meet Your New Mommy".

    Think of it this way: where Australia didn't tolerate Rupert Murdoch, he has near God-like powers in the U.S.; control over the media is control over information, which in turn goes a long way towards controlling people's beliefs. I wimper in rage whenever I hear phrases like "No Spin Zone" (sounds like a washer setting to me) and "Future Headlines" (a segment on a morning CNN show whose name escapes me -- and yes, I know that Rupert Murdoch does not own CNN, but look who does). The former enrages me to think that people can be duped into believing that just because something is marketed in a certain manner, it must maintain that characteristic, and therefore every other rival cannot be that way (another example is brandishing a Presidential candidate as a "Flip-Flopper" -- there are many, many documented cases of Bush flip-flopping, but how many media outlets let you in on those little secrets?); the latter angers me because it's blatant in it's "We'll Tell You What's Important To You" platform.

    Gotta love your insanely rich octogenarians who have gone completely bonkers.

    -Bri

    My two cents didn't get mentioned in "Your World with Neil Cavuto".
     
  9. jonb

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    I agree, Gus. There's this double standard. I mean, so many shows (especially on a certain network owned by one Rupert Murdoch) have titles bordering on porn, if not content bordering on porn. (Cheaters and Temptation Island stepped over the line.) And the music today, well . . . Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, all I can say is, I think I'll just watch porn. Same content, better music.
     
  10. BobLeeSwagger

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    Here's a conspiracy theory for you: maybe Fox lowers the bar on purpose to give the puritans something to complain about. :p
     
  11. madame_zora

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    Yeah, except if I'm watching porn, I can be realtively sure the actors are over 18.
    Britney Spears gives me the willies, and all the teeny-ho's like her. Made a real impression on me that she spoke up for bush....PLONK!
     
  12. Imported

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    gman: While this thread has some interesting points I think it has drifted a little from your original question. If I may I'd like to jump in with some of my experiences with becoming an ex-expat.

    I lived in Germany for almost four years, just south of Munich, near the Alps. It was an extrodinary experience. I got to drink some of the best beer in the world, travel throughout Europe, drink some really great beer, ski whenever I wanted to, drink some really great beer and enjoy the laid back German/European lifestyle. When it came back to return to the US, it was quite a shock.

    I returned to Washington DC. The amount of growth, urban sprawl and traffic that I encountered upon my return took some adjustment. But for me there were other things to return to, friends and family, my home and some of the other very expensive hobbies that I have that I could just not afford to do in Europe (flying). After a period of depression I decided that I would get out and take advantage of what was available. I took adult education classes, I spent time in downtown DC and Baltimore taking advantage of the museaums, restaurants and entertainment that was available there. I've started to expand my circle of friends and take up new interests.

    Are some of the negatives you pointed out a concern? Yes, I'm a little more cautious about my safety here than I generally was in Europe. But there were certainly parts of Europe where it was unsafe. I had one car stolen and another almost stolen while I was there. A German friend suggested I just felt safer because I couldn't read the newspapers very well. The dollar may crash but if it does the whole worlds economy will be affected. Not very encouraging I know.

    Well, this all has been a very long winded way of saying, if you decided to take the job in New York it will be whatever you make of it. There is certainly enough going on in that city that you could have a outstanding adventure if you want to put out the effort to make it happen. If you go in with a negative attitude you will certainly hate the experience. And the last thing to remember is that just because you come back doesn't mean you can't leave again.

    Well this has certainly gone on long enough, so I'll shut up now.
     
  13. D_Leviticus Longrod

    D_Leviticus Longrod New Member

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    Headbang, I went through a very similar experience. I was overseas (Asia and Europe) for 7 years and faced the decision of returning to the US (New York as well). For me, it was a matter of "did I want to return to the US or be an ex-pat for life". I decided on the former and I wanted to be closer to home. There comes a turning point as an expat when it's either "now or never" to return hom. It sounds like you're at that point. But I didn't have a partner at the time which made it easier. And I have absolutely no regrets about my decision. That being said, NYC can be a very rough place. I stayed two years and then left. There's alot to adjust to when returning home (that's the understatement of the year) and New York can be good (very international, sophisticated, etc) but also very bad (hard, stressful on relationships, etc).

    Hope my two cents help. Good luck man.
     
  14. SpeedoGuy

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    This is an interesting thread.

    I have to agree with aloofman's first post. Unless you choose to live in an inner city slum, the problems of violent crime in the US are generally overblown media hype. As for property crime rates, my sister who lives in rural Switzerland has had her home and car burglarized 3 times more often than me.

    As for cost of living, NYC is expensive but so are most big urban areas on either coast. But wages are also higher in those places. Interior cities tend to be cheaper but it sounds like you don't have a choice.

    In the end, you'll have to decide whether you really want to trade your current lifestyle for all the benefits and all the headaches of urban US living.

    Either way, good luck to you in your decision.

    SG
     
  15. jay_too

    jay_too New Member

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    One reason is the $500 billion or so budget for the Department of Defense and the $XXX billion for questionable intelligence services. Surely you don't begrudge Boeing or Lockeed-Martin $50 billion or so to make a prototype a missile defense system that does not work, now do you? After all, Dubya promised such a system in 2000 campaign.

    Errrr...dude, you forgot the NYC income tax in addition to state income tax. I grew up in a NYC 'burb and loved every minute I spent in the city....you will too. The area is liberal on social issues.

    jay
     
  16. jonb

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    When it comes to defense spending, I believe Rummy said it best: "You can have all the armor in the world and still be blown to bits." (After that little talk, I'm surprised someone didn't frag him.)
     
  17. B_Hung Muscle

    B_Hung Muscle New Member

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    Republican Senators Trent Lott, John McCain, Susan Collins and Chuck Hagel have all taken on Rumsfeld, saying they have no confidence in him. I don't know what it will take before the President realizes the liability Rummy is -- but I hope not too soon or at least not before he becomes a true albratross around W's neck and sinks him as well.

    Back to the topic: I just got back from a month in Australia, where I fled after the election. I would move there in a heartbeat. I never thought I'd say this, but I have given up on America.

    I guess for me it starts and ends with this: I just don't understand a rich country where 13 million children live in poverty and 9 million children have no health insurance. Say what you will about welfare, our tax system or crime -- why do we allow children to suffer? It's shameful.
     
  18. ashlar

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    I agree, as long as you don't mind being raped for the cost of rent.
     
  19. headbang8

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    It's been a while since I asked the question at the beginning of this thread. Let me, belatedly, thank everyone for their responses, both on the board and by private message.

    It's now three months on the job in New York, and as aloofman and others predicted, I'm able to live a comfortable, decent and (mostly) peaceful life. The kind which might be the envy of many around the world. So I can't really complain on a personal level.

    The simple act of living in New York can be energising. Everywhere, somone's doing something creative, interesting or remarkable. Rather like Tokyo in that respect, but this time (mostly) in English, so it's accessible. I'm a tourist at home 24/7.

    I joined the local Turtle Bay Residents Association and attended the block party fo Katharine Hepburn's birthday (she was a longtime neighbourhood institution with a house near the corner of 49th and 2nd). I volunteered at the Vanderbilt Y. The Mee Noodle Bar on 2nd Avenue delivers lo mein in 8 minutes, and have still not exhausted the supply of Irish bars in walking distance. I've become a regular at the Gay and Lesbian Center on W 13th St and have made a great many valuable friends. I've made myself a regular, too, at meet-the-author gigs at Barnes and Noble in Union Square. I sometimes do a bit of celeb author-spotting at the Gotham Book Mart just north of Grand Central, near Little Brazil.

    It's a nice life. But that said, if I didn't need to live in the USA, I'm not sure I would. Some of the factors...

    It's OK to live here with a decent income and steady job. But it's very expensive to be poor in the USA.

    My employer subsidises health care, retirement, insurance. The've negotiated deals with cellphone, health club, and pharmacy suppliers...from trivial things like department stores to huge things like cars. There is a seven-person department to administer benefits in an office of 600. If I took advantage of everything, it could mean that the benefits were worth as much as a quarter of my salary.

    What's wrong with that, you ask? Well, it makes me incredibly dependent on my employer. If I had kids and couldn't afford to lose the job, I'd be a lot more docile in my attitude to work. And if I were in a job that didn't offer those benefits--like a casual McJob-- the cost of obtaining them on the open market would almost certainly be prohibitive. God forbid I should ever be unemployed. In the words of the old Tennesee Ernie Ford song, I owe my soul to the company store.

    Nothing is simple. Freedom of choice can be so wide it's meaningless. Or the vast array of choice can hide some pretty rough deals for an innocent citizen.

    US health care is an expensive mess, period. Even with my cushy corporate health plan, I can't choose the doctor I want. I don't understand the policy I signed up for, and the benefits administrators were cagy about explaining the 25 or so options lest they be held accountable for their advice and be sued. How does someone in a less advantaged position than myself make sense of this?

    In buying a cellphone, I faced a bewildering array of plans, none of which involved (shocking idea) buying a phone outright and paying for calls as I go. Freedom from some sort of usurous contractual obligation to a company is expensive to negotiate. Americans find themselves locked into credit arrangements, loyalty schemes, and service contracts in ways that consumer watchdogs elsewhere in the world would never allow. Companies are incredibly powerful in an Amercian citizen's life. Not much freedom, actually.

    Of course, I can choose between Honey-Nut Cheerios and and Almond-Vanilla Special K, cucumber-melon scented Swiffers and fresh-linen scented Lysol Wipes. You can't do that in Russia!

    The average American wastes so much of his energy and intelligence on the simple act of consuming, he has little left over real personal relationships, non-consumer leisure, or to inform himself politically. I turned on a home shopping channel and found people applauding a vacuum cleaner. I know it's staged, but how fucked is that?

    No wonder that the net took off first in the USA--it's one of the few places in public discourse where people who make sense can talk sense to each other.

    Of course, I'm the ultimate hypocrite in pointing out these things. I work for a very large advertising agency. I'm part of the problem. Working in the biz in the USA has given me moral qualms about my profession that I've never felt before. Maybe I've been naive 'til now.

    I don't think I've ever visited a place where so many people are angry, and feel powerless. (Maybe the Middle East?) Is this why we have so many reality shows where the small batlles of one-upmanship are dramatised in such detail? Daily life becomes a series of conflicts, where the other guy is assumed to be an enemy and can't be trusted. Americans have been raised to enjoy the thrill of competition, but is there no respite?

    Even though I work in advertising, one of the ways I manage to keep some sense of serenity is not to watch commercial TV, at all. One important element of the massive consumer choice I actually DO enjoy, is cable video-on-demand. I use it sparingly.

    Personal safety? Statistics show that mid-town Manhattan ain't Baghdad. I feel pretty safe walking the two blocks from my apartment to the office. Except...

    About six weeks into my job, I was crossing Lexington Avenue to my office at about 8.15 am. A bus concealed the eastern side of the street, from behind which I heard a bloodcurling scream of "motherfucker!" in a woman's voice. From behind the bus ran two men, one clutching a woman's purse, heading up 46th Street presumably to lose themselves in the pedestrian tunnels of the Park Avenue overpass.

    It occurred to me in that split second, maybe, to grab one of the guys or trip him up. But it also occurred to me that he might be carrying a gun. So, to my shame, I let them pass. I'll never know if either guy was carrying a gun. But where else in the world would I have hesitated? Russia, maybe. East Africa. Baghdad. Not London, Sydney, Hong Kong, Frankfurt...

    What I do know is that the hotel doorman who ran after them for a short distance DID have a gun underneath his coat. I saw it.

    So...I live in a neighbourhood that isn't a dangerous inner-city slum. My building has a doorman and I installed two locks and an alarm. I'm big enough to defend myself in a fair fight. If someone wants my wallet, they can have it and I'll just cancel the credit cards. What's the problem?

    OK, enough of the negativity. I promise this is the last time I'll kvetch about these things. I'm a US citizen, and I live here now, and I should work for change rather than bitch. Maybe I should get a new job, and devote myself to the right causes. The question is, can I afford to?
     
  20. jonb

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