- I moved from San Francisco to London 10 years ago, and have since lived in Amsterdam and Cyprus.
- Living abroad has taught me a lot about America, and has revealed some aspects of American society that I don’t miss at all.
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In 2008, I packed up everything I owned into two suitcases and moved from San Francisco to London for love. More than 10 years later, I still live in Europe.
There have been a lot of changes in that decade. I got married, had a daughter, and moved around, first to Amsterdam, then back to London, then to my husband’s native Cyprus where we’ve been for the last seven years.
Living abroad has taught me a ton about myself and a lot about the countries I’ve lived in. But more surprising is how much it’s taught me about America.
And I don’t just mean the many long and often outraged discussions I’ve had with foreigners about America’s overseas policies, though those have been eye-opening. It’s also that the differences you encounter living in another country highlight things you never noticed about your home country before.
Some of those are positive, giving you a fresh appreciation for the best of your home country, but some of them are also negative. More than 10 years as an expat have showed me there are things I really don’t miss about America.
Here are a handful of the biggest.
Terrifying healthcare costs
Dear Americans, you are being screwed. Royally.
I am not a healthcare economist and I can’t tell you who is skimming or wasting your healthcare dollars or exactly how, but I am 100% sure something very, very bad is going on with American healthcare.
How am I so sure? It’s not my four years of relying on the publicly funded National Health Service in the UK. It worked wonderfully for routine checkups or the odd vaccination before a trip, but I was fortunate not to need it enough to offer a decent comparison with US healthcare.
What really opened my eyes was moving to Cyprus, which has only a bare-bones public health offering. I was advised to get private insurance. We finally settled on a generous policy covering all non-routine care, here and abroad.
Do you know what we pay as a family of three for this quite decent coverage on the individual market? $US3,500 a year.
When I had my daughter, I had a natural birth at a modern private clinic where I stayed with my husband for two nights after our baby arrived. The total cost before the government and my insurance reimbursed me was $US2,300. In the US it would be five times as much on average. Our pediatrician attended the birth and then came to our apartment twice to check up on the baby and help me get started with breastfeeding. Total bill: $US450.
Cyprus isn’t America, and the cost of living is lower here. But not that much lower. And no, this isn’t a center of medical innovation like the States. But those numbers still shock me.
People often ask if I’d like to move back to the States. The honest answer is yes, we discuss it often. But as two freelancers, the insane cost of healthcare makes the idea seem impossible.
‘Family values’ hypocrisy
Cyprus, for the uninitiated, is a little Greek-speaking island in the Eastern Mediterranean, and I regularly travel around Greece with my rambunctious 4-year-old daughter.
No matter where we go at no matter what hour – from the poshest Kolonaki restaurant to some little beachside taverna – she is greeted by both the staff and fellow diners as a delight.
This says a lot about the culture here. Greeks really love kids. But this fact has also highlighted something simple I had never fully articulated about Americans before I moved abroad. Despite the endless talk about “family values” in some quarters, we really don’t value them.
Of course Americans love their own children as much as any parents anywhere. But raising kids is seen as a private decision, freighted with hardship and annoyances that are to be entirely borne by the parents themselves. Enter many places in America with a preschooler and the unspoken message feels more like, “Please move quietly to the suburbs to suffer in silence. Don’t bother the rest of us with your uncool offspring.”
This attitude goes deeper than just how families are received in restaurants. It’s also reflected in America’s pathetic public support for families, our non-existent parental leave policy, sky-high childcare costs, and underfunded schools and universities. Americans talk about loving families, but from the outside, as a country, it really seems to disdain them.
Bread that tastes like cupcakes
Bread bought at a normal American supermarket used to taste like bread to me. Then I moved abroad.
Now when I go back to the States and buy bread it tastes like a cupcake to me. Seriously, it’s that sweet. And why, after leaving it out on the counter for a week or more, isn’t it moldy? Bread here in Cyprus lasts a few days, max.
American bread really is different. It’s full of chemical additives that are banned in many other countries because of potential health risks.
During my last visit to my family in New York I started checking labels. Whether I looked at salad dressing, barbecue sauce, mustard, or just about anything else, one of the first ingredients was some version of corn syrup followed by a gobbledygook of chemicals. It does not have to be this way. It should not be this way.
Stingy vacation policies
Here in Cyprus, full-time employees are guaranteed 20 days paid vacation leave a year, not including public holidays (of which there are plenty). In the UK, workers get 28. In the Netherlands, it’s 20 as well.
In America, the legal requirement is zero days and the average granted to private sector workers is a measly 10 days. This is crazy, inhumane, and a recipe for burnout. I just cannot imagine going back to it.
Regulations that hurt consumers
I’m under no illusions that Europe is a regulatory paradise. The EU has passed plenty of ill-considered, overreaching, business-unfriendly regulations.
But it also seems interested in protecting consumers from being bullied and ripped off. It’s nice to live in a place where airlines won’t randomly bump you from flights and everyday consumer banking is easy, cheap, and mostly electronic (the overall health of the banking sector is another matter).
There are fewer hidden fees, outrageous charges, and straight-up scams here. For the life of me, I don’t understand why Americans don’t demand their government stick up for them too.
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