Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thank you, America

It’s that time of the year. Thanksgiving is upon us and we are supposed to feel thankful. When I came to the U.S. as an immigrant back in 1987, I felt a bit weird about this holiday. It wasn’t a tradition I knew what to do with, since it was the first time this holiday had been bestowed upon me.

But since I made the choice to come here, in fact, worked very hard to become a legal resident and then a naturalized U.S. citizen, I felt that maybe I had more reason to celebrate Thanksgiving than many Americans who were born here.

This was a wondrous country with more groceries in the supermarket than I’d ever seen before. It had bigger homes, bigger cars, and bigger most things. Even the salaries were much bigger. The only thing smaller than I was used to, were the taxes.

I loved my new life in my new country; my only serious disappointment during the first year was buying household appliances. I’d never before seen the old-fashioned, huge, washers that required preheated water, nor weird upright vacuum cleaners in dull colors that looked as if they were leftovers from an alien spaceship. Only now, twenty years later, have we in the U.S. picked up the appliance design and features Europeans have enjoyed for many years.

And don’t get me talking about the office and three-ring binders that open up and make all the paper fall out, as soon as you open them. In Sweden we had four interlocking grips that made it impossible for a single piece of paper to fall out. The U.S. paper format I liked though, a tiny bit more square than the European A4 format. Gallons and inches were a different story; to have any measuring system, which can’t be divided by ten, like centimeters and meters, appears to be another hang-over from the medieval ages.

Then we have the U.S. television. Yes, getting another one-hundred channels was really nice, if there only had been something to actually watch. And if not one of those screaming used car sales people came on every ten minutes during a commercial break. That was back in 1987. Today we have one of those feel-good drug commercials with dancing people and happy dogs every ten minutes. I don’t know which one I detest more. Many European countries only have commercials between the shows, at least they did in those days.

One of the things I liked most was that income taxes were less than half of what I used to pay. Funny thing, though, was that housing costs and auto insurance ate up a significant part of the difference. I just read a Swedish newspaper, which proclaimed that the most expensive single family home in Sweden, based on last year’s tax assessment is $1.5 million. Ten times that amount wouldn’t even begin to cover the most expensive homes in the U.S.

But of course, white-collar salaries in the U.S. are twice what they pay in Europe, so in the end it was a pretty good deal, even with that shocking auto insurance. And maybe one problem was that I didn’t have a U.S. driving record and that the first car I bought was a black Corvette. They put me in a high-risk pool and I had to fork over $3,000 for that pleasure—and this was some serious money back in 1987.

The Corvette I bought was less than a year old, however, I got to know the Chevrolet service manager better than the car. That car spent a lot of quality time in the shop; literally once a month. Everything broke down and I wasn’t going to take the risk with another domestic car, so it took another fifteen years until I bought another domestic auto. I know, I know, what do you expect with a sports car . . . but hey, this is the country where everyone had a car one generation before anyone in Europe had this, so I thought Detroit knew how to manufacture those darned things back in 1987.

During my love-hate experience with my Corvette, I bought Consumer Report, checked the reliability—or lack thereof—among American cars, and learned that my experience wasn’t the exception. Today American car makers have finally started to catch up, but they sure aren’t ahead. Nor are the models particularly appealing. So for once I agree with Bush when he told Detroit that car makers should stop bitching and “build a relevant” vehicle. At the same time, I have to say, I love my Jeep, and have had very few problems.

Jeep, in fact, is one of the few American auto brands that has consistently and skillfully created a good product and managed to position itself favorably around the globe. The other American cars you can hardly find in any other country, because very few people except those in the heartland want them. (That’s supported by hard, cold sales statistics.)

But even though I didn’t have a good experience with American cars, I had a great experience with Americans. Few people are as open, friendly and easygoing. The fact that I had a foreign accent didn’t seem to matter until much later in my career, and then I turned it into an advantage by transferring to the international division of a large company. Then again, if I hadn’t been tall, blond, and white, I’m sure my experience wouldn’t have been quite the same.

All in all, I wouldn’t have traded my life in America for anything. Moving here was one of the best things I ever did. That, of course, doesn’t mean that I don’t think there aren’t a few things we could improve, as those of you who may have read my book and my articles may realize.

One final reflection among many, about what moving to a new country does to you, is that you’re really never completely at home. You don’t have the same background and experience as the natives, and after a few years, you also don’t have the same experience as the people in your own home country. So you are something of a stranger everywhere. But that is also the beauty, because your life is so much richer with all those experiences.

And I, for one, am thankful for what America has given me and my family. I hope I have returned something of value and that I’ll be able to continue to do so.


Anonymous said...

Doc, you are no different than munerous immigrants who came from Europe. Once Europien alway an Europien. No one can change that. Yes we all love America (USA & Canada) but..... There is that BUT that most of us use when answering a question either to someone who asked us or to ourselves: Are we really happy that we came, immigrated to America. Just like you we all are torne between this home and the other "home" (land) which is always with us in one way or the other.
Yest most of us did well and perhaps better as far almost every aspect of life is concerned BUT (again) we also look at our Europien friends and relatives and somehow their life style seems simply more appealing to us. That is if we are really honest withourselves. This I am refereing to western Europe, the Europien Union. Eastern Europe although it came a long way since the fall of the Wall, they still have a long way to go especially the Balkans, the underbelly of Europe.
So the Europe the "old Europe" as our decider called it is a much better place to work and live nowdays. In fact one can hardly find any new immigrants comming from these parts to US or Canada. Can you blame them? Look at your own Sweden. I visited it in 2002 and was very pleasantly impressed with everything. Especially the absense of any poverty or homlessness to speak of. When I asked the taxi driver about the lack of obviously poor or homeless, he tells me " We have a lot of homeless in Stockholm" when asked how many he says" There was a survey and they found 80 homless in Stockholm and that is terribly huge number". Coming from a major Canadian city where we have few thousands of homeless and large population of poor, I just had to laugh and laugh and explain to him the reality of their wonderful city. He stili thought that was unacceptible and jet said that anyone homless in Swedan would be looked after if they want to be looked after. So that is one of the aspects of high taxes and good use of it. There were others that I personally liked.
One of the difference that most Europiens don't seem to be able to adjust to: "In America we live to work, while in Europe they work to live". That is a huge difference in way of life.
Of course, we all have lot to be thankful to America, some of us more than others. After all as someone said,"We are all equal but some of us are more equal than others". The big pharma CEO's and other great benefectors of their "success" would agree, one is sure.

Anonymous said...

For some of us Thanksgiving like Columbus Day is a day of mourning. Those of us whose ancestors came several generations ago and married a native have left many who don't look like they mourn but we also don't quite fit in either culture. Se la vi is the phonetic but surely not the real French for the fact. Just don't rob any graves for food and you will be welcomed.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2, If you are right, if I understand correctly, it does not get better even after several generations. I do not know and will not find out, obviously but now that you said it, here what I alredy saw. Numerous "second" generation, children of immigrants from Italy, Spain, Greece, Germany etc are going back to their parents countries to live and work. The irony is that their parents came here to "assure better life for their children". So what is going on? We knew it for long time that immigrants are important and necessary ( how many is the ?) but what we really want is their children, for they are supposed to be the "real" Americans, or natives if you will, or "new" natives because there are only one real natives here, as we know.
In balance, it all works out, if not for all individuals but for the population and country as a whole.
Emigration, is not easy for anyone even for those from difficult situations. The only thing is that decision comes fairy easy, for it always looks or is a good idea AT THE TIME.
ps. one of my own children, born and raised here moved back few years ago to live there. Did I fail or succeed in "assuring better life" for her?

Anonymous said...

After more than half my life in the U.S. I still do not belong here, and I have an accent, both in my native language and in American English. I never wanted to come here. It was my husband's decision. In Europe I did extremely well, in the U.S. I had to do everything over, including my College degree, and it was never enough. Yes, but this, and not that, overqualified, does not fit into this cubicle or that square. I made my decisions, and am an American, and not an European any longer. But I am not doing well, neither are my children or grandchildren. We came here with degrees (M.D., engineer, etc.) to contribute. Some immigrants are doing very well, and others are not. You have to be in business for yourself. Can not be an employee, not even with a MD/PhD. If you are labor, you can do well also. Bought my own home before the age of 25 in Europe, all brick, and reinforced concrete, plus nice millwork. Bought a washer/dryer combination, almost fifty years ago. I am not enamored with the stick-built sheetrock "homes" here, and apartments are cardboard rabbitcages. You hear your neighbor turn over in bed. I miss books in many languages in the public libraries, and the cosmopolitan discourse. My children could not get into Med school here, a tradition in our family, because of quota. Can not go back, but I wish I could.

MsMelody said...

Last anonymous--

Isn't it peculiar that med schools are still run on the quota system--and also adhere to our affirmative action guidelines--while many qualified, committed doctor-wannabe's are denied admission. This only points out the good ol' boys' club that seeks to maintain their god-like status, assure healthy compensation, and limit the availability of needed physicians is alive and well. Lots of things are wrong with American medicine--and the problems begin at the TOP, with the professional organization(s) that encourage exclusivity.

Anonymous said...

Hello Dr Rost

This is a somewhat belated response to your “Thank you America” personal commentary that appeared in this blog homepage last month.

I came across your website by chance while looking for info about homelessness in Europe. It was my first experience at a blog site. Here is a very brief personal profile before I continue: I came in USA in1969 from a southern European country after marrying my American girlfriend in my hometown (actually a big city) and was divorced in late 1993.

Your comments and statements in the “Thank you America” point to the likelihood that like other native Scandinavians you do not seem to appreciate the virtues of your ethnic background and the privilege of being a Scandinavian. I frequently also hear about the “high taxes” in Sweden but as we all should know “the devil is in the details”.

I am not an expert scholar in the field of international tax systems but I have observed the following tax and other personal living costs to US citizens and I wander if this information contradicts your complain that in Sweden the tax rate is too high; after all, it is my impression that Sweden makes more efficient use of its tax revenue than USA does, not to mention the benefit to the citizen who does not have to deal with a myriad of tax related matters or solve complex conundrums in order to understand social benefits. Actually I do not fully understand how you were able to compare “a tax rate” in Sweden with tax demands made from a multitude of government levels in USA as well as the heavy cost of health insurance (as self-employed I pay over 300.00 a month for a health policy with considerable limitations and additional costs that make me avoid to seek medical care).

Aside from the “shockingly high auto insurance” and “housing costs” in USA that you proclaim in your statements, the following costs in taxes or other personal expenses to a working US citizen should also be calculated as a total and then compared to the “high taxes” figures in Sweden. Surely, there has to be some benefits as the result these “high taxes” as I do not believe that public officials in Sweden commonly waste taxpayer’s money or engage in corruption schemes:

Federal and state income tax, social security tax, local and state sales tax, the high property tax rates, the high health insurance premiums, the multitude of varying taxes on most utility bills and other documents, and the need for personal retirement accounts to supplement the SS plan benefits.

In my view the income tax rate in Sweden does not seem be quite as high as claimed and it has the benefit of being much simpler to deal with resulting in far fewer headaches and anxiety to the citizen.

I wholeheartedly agree with your comments about commercials in USA TV. I find most of the commercials, as well as many programs, demeaning to the viewer and designed on the presumption that most people are preconditioned to accept them or are stupid. Public TV is an exception though its children programs are so diversity oriented that are void of objectivity and lack reality. I do not have cable TV.

You failed to mention some very undesirable facets of life in USA and crime is one of them. I have estimated that at any time there are tens of thousands of transient criminals in this country and are hard to apprehend because there is still no efficient system to identify an individual and track such person across state lines. Much of the violent crime in this country is committed by blacks even though they are a minority in the makeup of this country’s population. From the “Zebra killers” to the “Wendy’s killings” there has been no end to such atrocities against others by black criminals since I came in this country and became aware of that fact which is no longer as apparent to the public because of a prevailing disease called “political correctness syndrome”.

Have you forgotten the hideous crimes that have been committed against numerous of your compatriots and other tourists from northern Europe who had the misfortune of accidentally driving in black neighborhoods of Miami FL?

You were accepted and, indeed, welcomed here because you are from a race that is far less likely to behave in a vulgar or violent manner and, as your ancestors who settled in this country in the past, you were ready to work hard to achieve your goals. You should not feel particularly appreciative of the recognition you enjoyed in this country because you had already earned this credit.

Here are a few questions I like to pose to you that are worthy inquiries:

Are Sweden’s most coastlines and fronts of oceans lakes and rivers off limits to its citizens as they are in USA?

Are people in Sweden hindered by millions of fences across its countryside?

Does Sweden allow people who are too young or too old to drive?

Do Swedes experience the fear of unwittingly driving in dangerous parts of towns or cities in their country?

Can a Swedish citizen own a car and drive it without being required to have auto insurance or undergo car inspections?

Does Sweden, by means of poor tax revenue management, waste people’s taxes on trivial non-sense projects and make exorbitant payments for items not worthy of that cost?

Does Sweden have an education system and curriculum that is too fragmented to be truly efficient educationally and economically?

Does Sweden have poor and fragmented building codes and inspections that result in construction and remodeling shortcomings and unreasonable number of fires that kill and injure many people?

Does Sweden have many people including police officers regularly being killed by gun violence?

Does Sweden have a large number of religious people and groups that are oblivious to reason and progress in knowledge and maintain ideas that clash with reality and often spread disparaging, sometimes hateful, propaganda against those who are not religious?

Does Sweden disregard the importance of merit and force quotas and other preferential accommodation of minorities and women in the government and educational institutions as well as private businesses?

Of course there is a lot more material to present but it is late and I must stop here with a message to you; Do you have concerns about the future of Sweden and the rest of Europe caused by the influx of those who use the benefits of living in the Western world but refuse to assimilate to Western culture or understand Western civilization? It is time to defend the values of our European race lest we loose it.

Thank you for your blog page as it gives me the opportunity to have my comments presented — something that I have little luck with when I send them to the news media because they reject them as “politically incorrect”.