We've lived in three countries now, which has given me some perspective on America that I didn't have before. Sure, I'd been to a bunch of countries before (only 15 total!), but things are different when you live there.
You learn how the city and the people in it tick.
When I left I expected that everything I'd find in other countries would make me like the US less. This has been true for some things, but there are also many things that I now really appreciate about the US.
Good Food is Cheap
The amount of high quality groceries that are available for a cheap price in the US is insane. Other countries don't have things like Whole Foods.
Panama had a place called Organica that was tiny and maxexpensive. Japan has a much worse selection at a HUGE price. Taiwan has a better selection at a slightly more reasonable price, but many of our staples are twice as expensive here (beans, cereal, etc).
I used to think that the Whole Foods in LA was expensive. Ha! I'd shop there all day now if I could.
Healthy food is a lot easier to find in the US overall.
The US has a Terrible Transportation Infrastructure
This was really surprising. Japan and Taiwan have AMAZING rail systems that can get you everywhere cheaply and quickly. The trains go 180mph with very few stops. You don't need to wait around in advance like planes. If you arrive at the station 5 minutes in advance you can buy a ticket and go.
Japan is particularly great. You can get from any tiny town to anywhere through the trains. It's a bit pricey, but makes a lot more sense than flying.
The US has some metro systems that are good, but none are as good as Asia and Amtrak is a total joke.
Panama has no rail, but Taxis cost $1.25-$2 at most, with no tip, to get anywhere in the city. Regional flights are very cheap, as are buses and renting cars.
People in the US think that cars are so great, but really they're terrible compared to Japan or Taipei. If I lived in either place I wouldn't want a car.
US Cell Service is Really Good
In the US it's really easy to get a cheap cell phone plan that has unlimited internet. Although it is possible in some places, doing this internationally is very difficult and/or expensive.
The idea of having a phone that's always on and checking my e-mail seems so foreign to me now.
Service in the US is Bad
It's time to throw the "tipping gets good service" lie out the window.
The only places I've had better service in the US are places where I'm friends with the staff. There have been so many occasions here that we have received amazing service that we marveled over. None of the countries we've visited have tipping.
These big examples are really the smallest part of the point. The overwhelming majority of interactions with servicepeople here would be in the top 5% in the US.
Shipping is Awesome and Cheap in the US
In the US it is no big deal to order something and have it delivered cheaply.
In Panama one of our two packages was lost forever. In Japan the addresses are barely serviceable. Taiwan is ok.
But EVERY store online caters pretty much exclusively to the US, making it nearly impossible to order anything online. Luckily we've found some amazing stores (the best gear store I've ever seen as well as the best electronics stores are here in Taiwan. The best department stores are in Japan).
We also don't really buy anything.
The US is Really Scared
In the US there's a mentality, which I wasn't exempt from, that the rest of the world is scary and dangerous. Thieves are everywhere waiting to jump you.
When I bought insurance for my stuff I thought it was the best deal ever - I was SURE that my stuff would get stolen. Next year I'll forgo the insurance.
The reality is that MOST big cities around the world are safer than US cities. In fact, the SAFEST US city is only the 45th safest city in the world.
If you're comfortable visiting NY, then you should be comfortable visiting just about any other city in the world.
Interesting, how you say service in the US is so bad. Did you notice that nearly all service jobs in US cities, are held by foreigners? With tips, a waitress in America makes more money than a journeyman machinist.
Very interesting. I traveld to the US for the second time last year. (a brief visit of NY has been the first time) We cruised around the west in an RV. Manly to get to all the epic mountainbike spots we only new from magazines. We generaly experienced very good service and very friendly people. I have traveld a lot and seen many countries and lived in some of them.
My credo has always worked: I treat everybody like I would like to be treated and I never had a problem! Decency and respect are timeles qualitys. They are appreciated around the globe!
Service may be better in Asia, but it's far worse in Europe than the US -- particularly Eastern Europe. The waiters almost act insulted that you want to order from them.
The Europeans are coming to introduce us to there way of life, god help us. Silly Students who stay here a month and now Have the misguided Idea, that they understand the United states and it's people. Funny, Hey I watched east enders so I know all about London. There all a bunch of blue collar cockney dimwits cheating on there wives and getting pissed at the corner Pub.NY is an unsafe city? Funny lived here my whole life no problems, but hey you were here a week , so I will defiantly bow to your extensive in depth knowledge. I will say this one more time, stop believing what you see in Hollywood movies and then have the misguides idea, that you understand the USA.At least we would never tolerate a group of Muslim immigrants raping our women and beating the shit out of our citizens on our streets, Like you highly advanced Europeans..Look at how Sweden is dealing with the problem of Muslims beating there women in the streets, Oh that's right, there not doing anything but running away. You take care of yourselves and well worry about us And for Gods sake stop whining about our Guns, you yellow bellied wimps. Maybe if you had a few Firearms you could handle getting beat up by your Muslim friends instead of crying your little eyes out.Will see how much balls you have when Putin's new Russia comes rolling down to visit with you, or turns off the gas from there pipeline.Next time you get into a jam you our on your own.
however, I think the points mentioned are relative... it depends what you compare with the US...
about food - I lived in the US fo 9 yrs and when I compare it to food in South America and SE Asia, I find it very expensive... plus - you can get amazing fruits and vegetables in Spain for cheap prices...
About the service - after living in Spain and Cyprus, I think the service in US is AMAZING! everyone is so nice and friendly compared to the two.
About transportation - it depends what city in the US you're talking about... I lived in DC and the transportation system there is amazing!!! how ever in suburban areas it's not... I'm living in Cyprus and the public transportation here is non-existent! miss the metro! ;)
I just came back from a trip to Egypt and was amazed that my cellphone worked in the middle of the desert.... and my cellphone in the US didn't work in some cities I visited...
so, I guess it al depends what 2 places you compare...
love your blog!
on the service tip: if you actually asked for that kind of treatment, or if people are feeling obliged to give it to you in order to keep you happy, have you ever considered that maybe you are a douchebag?
service in the US, from my experience goes like this: if you work with them, they work with you. if you're high-maintenence, most people don't want to be bothered by primadonnas. they are not making enough$$ to put up with that, and shouldn't have to.
awesome awesome article, just want to go to japan for metro :P, here in Califronia Bay Area, metro(BART) goes 30 mph, but in Japan 180mph ? can't believe i cant save lot of time. also stumbled.
"Joe". Americans are conditioned to believe we are living in the best country God ever created and that might makes right. Granted, we have a lot of things going for us, but as the saying goes,"Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Our country was based on the right ideals of liberty and justice for all; but the credo has changed since WWII to "He who has the gold rules." I have traveled extensively through Europe, the Americas, the Orient and Middle East and found good people and bad people in every place I've been. If you visit another country and make an attempt to understand their language and customs, more often than not you will be treated with respect, assisted and accomodated. If you arrive with a chip on your shoulder and act like the atypical ugly American you will be treated in kind. You might even disappear, but in your case it might strengthen the gene pool. I have shared meals with people who had little to offer, but offered their best. To refuse would have been akin to spitting in their face. The Romans begat the Crusaders and the USA is nothing less than the new Rome creating ill will and enemies at every turn. Rome fell and thanks to the Imbecile Bush and his puppeteers we are heading the same direction. If you can't bring yourself to understand other cultures, you may want to at least learn a little culture (ie read a book without a centerfold or pictures to color) because the people you look down on today may well be the ones you are looking up to tomorrow. Case in point, China may well hold the note on your trailer since our debt to them is over a trillion and climbing, you'd better pray to God the people you disparage never call in their notes.....
We just found out that we need visas for Taiwan. We probably should have thought about that before, but every problem is an opportunity. If we can't take care of this while we're in LA then we'll take a side trip to the Philippines or something so that we're not there for more than 30 days.
The power cord on my laptop broke the other day. I searched around Panama trying to find a replacement, but there wasn't one in sight. Right now we have a system where Todd charges batteries with his laptop and swaps them out with my dying ones. It's kind of like buddy breathing.
It seemed like we had so much time here, but all of a sudden we're leaving in two weeks. I can't believe how fast the trip has been going so far. We're just starting to feel like we're settling in. We have our routines that we go through, all of the friendly people we've gotten to know at all the places we frequent, and we even know our way around the city.
Making your first trip to East or Southeast Asia? Wondering where to go?
Okay, I've spent significant time in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. I can weigh in on those places for you. I haven't been to Macau, Laos, Burma, the Philippines, North Korea, or Indonesia yet - of them, I've heard great things about the Philippines and Indonesia in particular, but I can't comment.
So, some thoughts about every country -
Japan - Still the crown jewel of Asia, Japan has something for everyone. There's ancient and hyper-modern culture mixed all together. There's amazing technology, high levels of development, basically nonexistent crime, ridiculously high standards of quality and hygiene, and the people are friendly and polite. English isn't widely spoken, but the Japanese take being good hosts seriously and you'll be fine in any major city. You can find quite literally anything here - amazing camping and mountains and forests and oceans, or hyper-developed space-age districts in cities.
The downside of Japan - It's fucking expensive. Like, really really expensive. I hate spending money on eating and sleeping - every dollar I put into basic "staying alive" stuff is less money to be invested in commerce or philanthropy, or learning, or having unique experiences that are more interesting than... well, eating and sleeping. Yet, eating and sleeping is brutally expensive here. If you're not a veteran traveler and don't have friends here, you'll be hard pressed to spend less than $100/day in Japan. If you slum it hard, you can maybe get down to $50/day. Everything's ridiculously expensive, ranging from 400% to 2,000% higher than still-developing countries in Asia.