Things About America I Didn’t Know While I Lived There

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.


  • A chef in Japan made a different soup of the day for us because we missed it the prior day.
  • When a friend couldn’t find the restaurant in Japan the waitress went out and RAN AROUND for 15 minutes to find her.
  • If we get something cheap from vendors on the street, they often just give it to us for free and refuse payment.
  • In Taiwan I couldn’t eat anything on the menu so the chef made a really cool and unusual noodle and vegetable dish.

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.

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