Up, up and away from America
When the opportunity arose to spend one year living outside America, the move seemed obvious.
One year away from the upside-down world my country has found itself in? An inverted unreality held hostage by gun-sucking terrorcrats where racism is normalized, healthcare is sold out, freedom only means acquiescence? One year away from the bloody froth of the media, the detached apathy of the white middle class, bathroom laws, surveillance states, Russian probes, walls, the hypocrisy of the far left, erosion of workers’ rights, fake news, legalized murder by police, celebrity idolatry and its systematized distraction, environmental corruption, and the white-eyed worship of Capitalism?
Not a hard choice. Not by a long shot.
In August 2017, we moved to Munich, Germany. Call it a hiatus, call it sabbatical, call it a Ross/Rachel break.
We all have our Election Stories. Like 9/11, I’ll never forget where I was, whom I was with, the shock, the looks, the bile and nausea. The vertigo of tipping into the bottomless and lightless hole of the future, the suddenly clear and receding view of what could have been. The ultimate moment of tangency.
Days later, we got a dog; he is the literal definition of “trauma pet”. I swore off Twitter, accepting the unresolvable conflict at its core. My wife marched in Washington. We drank too much.
The administration is worse than anyone imagined. Headline after headline, waves of disbelief, watching the fabric of a delicate democracy stretched until the core frays. Dystopia, unfolding in real-time. You see it too. Maybe you have that same nausea.
Leaving the country was not a hard choice. Now we are in the curious position of looking into the windows of our own home.
Appropriately, friends and family ask the most obvious question first: what’s it like living in Munich? (It’s important to be specific. Germany is big and living in Germany and living in Munich is the difference between the East Coast and New York City.)
In summary: Munich is what America could be — before it’s too late.
There’s a lot of nuance there, of course. But here are the two things I start with that every American can understand: imagine not worrying about guns and imagine not worrying about healthcare. Consider how much those two fears distort, distract and debilitate life in America. Consider how much of America’s core cultural context would change if guns and healthcare ceased being daily mortal threats. It’s literally almost impossible to imagine.
That’s the start, but guns and healthcare change so, so much. There are other differences, not all of them as serious. For instance:
- My kids can walk home by themselves and I don’t worry. Thousands of kids ride the subway every day, without parents. Independent mobility at a young age is encouraged.
- Capitalism is real but regulated to squelch predatory practices and protect both the consumer and the worker. It’s not perfect, but it’s better.
- Germans dress better than you; conversely, they’re terrible interior designers. They’re better engineers; conversely, they’re less successful in industrial design.
- Income inequality is a problem, as it is in the U.S. Home ownership in Germany is the lowest in the EU because real estate is stratospherically expensive. Income inequality is a global cancer.
- Five main political parties, not two.
- Foreign terrorism is not an abstract threat and security is tight as a tick’s asshole in public spaces and airports. (And I mean real security, not TSA security.) This is true for all of western Europe.
- The cultural and economic pressure of refugees and immigrants is real, not merely a political scapegoat, and is central to almost every election and leadership coalition in Europe for the past two years. Not always with positive results.
- Travel across borders is an everyday thing. 13 countries border Germany. Vacation in Italy, Spain, Croatia, Morocco, and other points across Europe, Asia and Africa is the normal. Isolationist nationalism is political rhetoric but does not reflect the reality that Europeans move about all the time.
- Labor is value, not expense. Work-life balance is equal. Long vacations aren’t just encouraged, they’re expected. At the same time, healthcare, pension and other systems ensure deep safety nets for citizens, and losing a job does not put your entire life at risk.
- It’s important to say this again: losing a job does not put your life at risk.
- Most people speak more than German. English is common. Many people speak three languages. Education prioritizes this early on. This goes a long way in dissolving nationalistic tendencies because literal understanding creates paths toward empathy. Imagine if most of the U.S. were fluent in Spanish. Imagine if more of the Western world understood Arabic.
No guns, universal healthcare, fair labor laws, deep social safety nets. The U.S. could have these! But our country has succumbed to the oppression of runaway capitalism, disproportionate and irrational defense budgets, and the insane, no-win, bullshit posturing of a two-party political system.
It’s not too late for America. The happiness index of Europe is all the evidence my fellow citizens need to see that there is path out of the darkness.
Until then, we vote, we march, we add our voices to the fray. No matter where we live, home is still home.