Culture Shock (The Master List): Taking the Wormhole Home

UPDATE (January 06, 2016): I’ve turned this into a sort of master list of all the small things I’ve appreciated about America (and the West in general) after several years in Africa.  Feel free to suggest your own in the comments!

Entebbe Road is like a wormhole linking two points in (material) development.  On one side is the African universe: tropical, poor, and carefree.  On the other is the Western universe: hurried, rich, and ordered.

The doorway to modernity opens gradually.  You get in the cab, sealing yourself from the possibility of having to take public transportation, finally able to relax and anticipate.  You start down the road, one of the smoothest in Uganda, but still narrow and dangerous, choked by the soot of old cars, flanked by noisy bars and ramshackle petty shops most of the way.  Upon reaching Entebbe, a relatively upscale town that’s home to beach resorts, a UN base, and the president’s residence, the shack bars and motley shops disappear, replaced by expanses of manicured green: the golf course, the botanical gardens, the luxury hotels.  Traffic thins and the road widens.

Then comes Entebbe Airport.  After a series of redundant security checks you are finally in: an airlock between Africa and Europe.  The airport is nothing special, really—four gates, a few duty free shops, stale and humid air.  Still, it’s a modern structure, with indoor plumbing, sit-down toilets, and 24-hour electricity.  The winged machines that roam the runways are some of the most advanced engineering feats humans have ever accomplished.  Poverty is barred at the gates: only the privileged enter here.  You’re getting closer.

And then you’re on the plane.  If you’re lucky, you don’t even have to walk outside—the jet way goes all the way to the gate.  You sit down.  The hatch closes.  Can’t believe you’ll be in London in 9 hours.

Then the plane takes off, and the banana trees and scrubby lakeshore foliage fade into the early dry season haze and are swallowed by it.  The scattering of lights marking individual businesses and abodes in the city give way to the blackness of the countryside at night.  Darkness takes over.  Above the whole continent of Africa you don’t see a single light shining from below; during the night it’s difficult to tell when you leave behind land and cross over the Mediterranean.

You enjoy the inflight meal and a cup of wine.  You fall asleep.

You awake still in darkness, though it’s already 6am—the sun should be rising in Africa.

But out the window there are lights.  Countless orange-yellow lights exposing the well-defined paths of paved streets, pairs of smaller white lights crawling between them as cars make their way through the city.  The expanses between the streets are entirely filled in and built, whether by concrete and steel and brick buildings, or by the planned green of parks and recreational areas.  More miles of bridges than probably exist in all of Uganda span any given stretch of river visible through the plane window, the boundaries of the river itself marked by the lights lining its man-built banks.  It’s the Thames.  London’s calling.

The plane lands.  The hatch opens.  And it’s opened onto a different world.  A gust of cold air greets you, where nine hours before the air was warm and still.  It’s refreshing.  You enter the airport—a massive, modern facility that’s carefully designed so as to remove the thought from figuring out where you need to go.  You don’t feel as if you have actually moved some place so much as you feel as though the world—time and space—has moved around you; as though a curtain has closed on one scene, and opened to reveal a suddenly new one.  You’re not home yet, but the airlock has turned and you’ve stepped out in the West.

I’m home for the holidays, and people inevitably ask me if I get “culture shock” when I come back.  The answer I give (despite all the build-up above), surprisingly, is no—at least, not much.  It’s more like moving between two places I’m pretty comfortable in, albeit with a greater appreciation for the metaphorical and actual cushion that life in the West affords (mattress technology seems to have advanced a lot in the last 4 years).

Still, there are a few things that always take a bit of time adjusting to upon returning home, and there’s always at least one thing I notice for the first time or develop a new appreciation for each time I return.  Below is a list of five of these things (more to come later):

  1. Being able to drink tap water. Suddenly, ordering free tap water at a restaurant seems like a luxury.  Africans often don’t believe me when I tell them you can drink the tap water in the West, but I take every opportunity to do so when I am home.  No more wasting money on bottled water.  No more worrying about the water when brushing your teeth.  No more filling up an old bottle whenever there’s a cooler or a water filter around.  Tap water is everywhere—and it’s drinkable!
  2. Not having to take off your shoes when you enter a house. In Africa, everywhere you walk is covered in dust, and bathrooms rarely have shower curtains; put the two together, and it means that a trip to the bathroom inevitably results in you leaving muddy footprints all over the house unless you take off your shoes inside.  In the West, even the outdoors are clean, so you can leave your shoes on in the house—I have to remember that in some homes, it’s even considered rude to remove them!
  3. The scale of the West’s wealth is utterly overwhelming. Sums of money that seem huge in Africa, you realize are chump change back home.  The sheer size of our economies, the level of development of our infrastructure, never cease to amaze me.  Some stats to put things in perspective:
    1. The taxi market alone in New York City ($11.3 billion valuation)* is bigger than Rwanda’s entire economy ($7.5 billion GDP), despite Rwanda having 3 million more people than NYC.
    2. The two richest Americans’ combined net worth is bigger than all five East African nations’ GDPs put together.  43% bigger.  Throw in Ethiopia (94 million people) and it’s just about even.
    3. One big power plant in the US (~1,000 MW) produces more electricity than all of Uganda (682 MW), and all of sub-Saharan Africa minus South Africa (750 million people) consumes about the same amount of electricity as the state of Arizona (6.7 million people).
  4. Variety.  Thai, pizza, English pub food, Mexican, Indian, and more can all be found on a single block in London.  When you’re used to having around 10 or 15 restaurants to choose from—enough to keep things interesting, not enough to make decisions difficult—just deciding where to eat back home can become a daunting experience.  The cereal aisles at upscale Nakumatts in Kampala and Nairobi have maybe 10 varieties—half of which are different brands of corn flakes.  At a humble Kroger there are well over 100.  In the West, you can get EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE.
  5. Driers.  You mean I can wash my clothes at night and have them ready to pack the next day?  You mean I don’t have to plan my laundry, or worry about bringing it in from the line when clouds menace the horizon?  Copious use of the drier is a major perk of being home.
  6. Service at restaurants is TOO FAST. Restaurant service in Africa can be inconceivably slow and comically inept, but in America it’s the opposite problem.  Seriously, when the main course comes out as soon as you’ve finished the appetizer, you don’t have any time to digest the previous course or have a conversation, so you leave over-stuffed and under-satisfied.  You sit down and before you’ve even opened the menu, the waiter is already there asking if you know what you want or if you need “a few more minutes.”  Um, I haven’t opened the menu yet.  Seriously waiters, give us a bit of time to ourselves to eat and enjoy!
  7. Doors being closed doesn’t mean the store is closed. It just means it’s cold or hot outside.  In Uganda, the weather is perfect all the time so there’s no space heating or cooling—and hence no need for businesses to close their doors.  If the store is open, the door is open.  In the US, I sometimes walk up to a store and, finding the door closed, start to turn away, only to remember that I need only to open it.
  8. ROADS! Smooth, wide, well-planned and well-marked, and with mostly non-crazy drivers, Western roads make it easy to drive anywhere without constant anxiety about getting run off the road by a bigger car or having to dodge a pedestrian darting into your path.  The exceptions are 5 lane superhighways with 40 mph wind gusts; while preferable to a 1-lane highway driving into oncoming traffic, it’s almost as terrifying encountering high winds while driving at 70 mph.
  9. The floor for quality in the West is so high. You can find anything in Africa, from a 5-star luxury safari lodge to a $4 a night shack with a pit latrine; there’s a long way to go from the top to the bottom.  The difference in the West isn’t so much that the ceiling for quality is massively more luxurious, but that the lowest quality you can get is still pretty good.  KFC isn’t exactly considered a luxury restaurant, but consider that any KFC in America has an enclosed environment, modern kitchen, central heating and cooling, and flush toilets.  In the West that’s the floor, but Uganda’s four KFCs are yuppie destinations.
  10. Self-reliance is overrated. When I told my granddad that a business partner in East Africa wanted to invest in a house in the US but needed a trusted person to collect the rent, I wasshocked to learn that there are actual companies that do this for you in America—and you can generally even trust them with your cash!  In the West, no matter what your need, there’s probably a business or government agency willing to do that for you.  And if somebody does you wrong, there’s a legal system that can back you up; no need for mob justice.  In Africa, you’ve got to almost entirely fend for yourself in life and in business.
  11. The internet is fast, it’s cheap, and it’s everywhere. 3G coverage in Africa—at least in East Africa—is surprisingly good, but it’s still only in the main towns, and it’s still not that fast.  Moreover, data bundles are expensive and never truly unlimited, so you constantly have to think about your data usage.  Being back in America, it’s simply amazing to be able to do what you want on the internet—streaming movies, syncing files, downloading updates—without having to think about it.
  12. You can do anything on your smartphone. As a result of the above, there’s more you can do with your smartphone every time I come back Stateside.  During this current trip, I paid for Starbucks with my phone and ordered an Uber (is that what you say?) for the first time.  That said, Africa is not that far behind—smartphone use is on the rise, and there’s no telling what may be possible five years from now.
  13. Dishwashers.  You’d think they are a pure convenience, and on days the maid doesn’t come this is definitely true: doing the dishes by hand (especially when you don’t have a disposal and have to pick bits of soggy soapy food fragments out of the drain) is one of life’s small annoyances.  But on days the maid comes, having a dishwasher suddenly seems more troublesome: you’d have to rinse off the dishes and even take them out of the dishwasher yourself.  SO MUCH WORK!
  14. The lack of boda bodas. You mean I can’t just walk outside and find a moto taxi willing and ready to take me where I want to go, cutting through any amount of traffic, for $3 or less?  One of the things that’s LESS convenient in the West.
  15. Rigid schedules. Another thing that’s less convenient Stateside, I’m always shocked that I can’t call someone a few hours before arriving in town and see them the next day.  “I know you just flew 2,000 miles, but I’m booked for the next week!  Maybe next time?”  Americans just don’t have much free time on their hands these days.
  16. North Americans and Europeans are getting ripped off for everything except Apple products. GBP 1500 a month for a 2 bedroom apartment?  $5 for a Greek yogurt?  $40 for a “fair trade” basket that costs $4.50 at the craft market in Kampala?  Prices in the West are criminally high.  The only thing that seems to be really reversed, ironically enough, is Apple, where high prices in America are trumped only by the exorbitant markups n Africa: a $650 iPhone 6 in the US costs $1,200 in Kampala.
  17. Americans, especially, getting ripped off for health care. I bought a package of pills in Uganda for $4.80 that would have cost $90 in the USA.  A consultation at the “expensive” expat clinic in Kampala is $20-30, and a blood test is $15.  Insurance companies, trust me, you have a lot more room to negotiate rates with health care providers.
  18. Tip and taxes not included. It’s bad enough to suffer the sticker shock of paying $5.50 for a beer that would have cost $1.80 in Africa.  Then you face the sinking feeling of realizing you have to add in 8% tax AND another 15-20% for tip.  Tax and the waiter’s wages should just be included up front.
  19. Still, it’s nice not having to always negotiate. Sometimes though, even when the price is high, it’s just nicer to not have to spend effort bargaining over a few dollars or wondering if you are getting the “fair” price.  The price is what it is, so take it or leave it.
  20. Amazon.com. It’s amazing.  Once on a previous trip to the States, I asked someone where I could find a particular item in town (I can no longer remember what it was).  His (somewhat incredulous) reply was, “dude, just get it on Amazon!”  In Africa, you have to know where to look for good quality at good prices.  In Kampala, for example, there’s a particular part of town you go for print shops (Nasser Road), a part of town that sells computers (a section of Kampala Road), even a part of town that sells popcorn machines (not kidding—it’s in Katwe).  In America, everything is just on Amazon—and it’s delivered to your door.
  21. Jimmy Fallon is hosting the Tonight Show. What???
  22. Credit cards. You can pay with credit card anywhere these days, even mom and pop shops.  Cards are not only convenient and safe—you don’t have to carry a wad of cash everywhere—a surprising amount of modern convenience depends on them.  Just one example: no hassle warranties.  When my Kindle stopped working, Amazon sent me another one under warrantybefore I’d returned the broken one.  How could they trust me that my Kindle was really faulty?  Simple: if I didn’t return the broken one, they would just charge my credit card for the one they’d sent me.
  23. Checking the weather before going outside.  Or put another way, WINTER!  In Africa you never need to check the weather, because the only variables are rain and sun.  Just go with a jacket, and you’ll be fine.  But the first step off the plane in the UK or US in December, and you know you’re in a different place.  The air is cold and brisk, and the days are short, which confuses your sense of what time it is, especially after long periods indoors.
  24. Things are just so EASY in the West. Paying without cash.  Drinking tap water.  Home delivery from Amazon.  The endless variety at the supermarket.  Contactless payments on the Tube.  The list goes on and on, and is expanding all the time.  Sometimes I get overwhelmed by just how easy it is here to do or get anything you can think of, wherever you are, whenever you want.
  25. And if we let it get destroyed, it will take centuries to rebuild. Every trip back to the States I make, there’s something new and different.  And usually that new and different thing depends on something else that came before it.  Uber couldn’t exist without the smartphone.  Amazon couldn’t exist without a system of addresses that tell drivers where to deliver packages, or without credit cards that enable remote payments—which in turn rely on a system of laws and a history of trust that reassure vendors that they will actually get paid.  And all these things are dependent on accumulated knowledge stored in books and universities and training programs, and passed down informally by older generations to be added upon by younger.  They’re dependent on accumulated capital: the stock of resources that’s reinvested to produce more.  And they’re dependent on accumulated trust between members of society: that we should all play by the same rules, and that governments despite their flaws are generally looking out for our interests.  None of these things are just here.  They’re not inevitable.  They were built and accumulated, over decades and centuries, and if we ever were to lose them, it would take decades and centuries to build them back.
  26. You can leave your shoes on in the house—and sometimes even should! After 4 years in East Africa it’s become instinctive for me to want to remove my shoes upon entering a house.  And for good reason, considering that everything is covered with a fine (and often not so fine) layer of grey dust and red dirt.  But in Western cities, the outside is kept nearly as clean as the inside (no roads, parking lots, or foot paths made of dirt), so there’s not much to track in even if you leave your shoes on.  It can even feel rude to take off your shoes inside someone else’s house: you feel as if you are making yourself too comfortable in a place that is not your home—indeed, almost like you are getting undressed!
  27. Americans are terrified of gluten. Wheat has been consumed by humans for 12,000 years. Coeliac disease affects only around 1% of people.  Wheat is generally considered to be one of the healthiest staple foods: indeed, some scholars have cited wheat – and gluten’s nutritional benefits in particular – as one of the answers to the question “why did civilization arise in Eurasia before other parts of the world?”  Despite these facts, seemingly half the stuff at grocery stores these days proclaims itself as “gluten-free,” even items you would not expect to have gluten in them.  Gluten-free soy sauce.  Gluten-free hummus.  Even gluten free bath salts!
  28. Guns… wtf? Of course we all know that guns are everywhere in the United States, but there’s nothing like a holiday through multiple airports followed by a trip to Wal-Mart to crystalize the cognitive dissonance necessary to maintain our lax gun laws side by side with our over-zealous security regulations everywhere else.  You’re telling me that one guy, once, in all of history tries—unsuccessfully—to blow up a plane with liquid explosives, and now I can’t carry a tube of toothpaste onto a plane; meanwhile mass shooters strike—successfully—every couple of months, and I can still walk into a Wal-Mart and buy a gun in 5 minutes?  My friends, we are scared of the wrong things.
  29. You have to make reservations at restaurants! In four years in Africa, there have been exactly three times when I’ve not been able to get a seat at a restaurant.  So when we showed up to a restaurant at 7:30 where my cousin had made 8:15 reservations, I still expected to be able to find a table somehow, or at least a seat at the bar.  Of course we could not—even the bar was full!   This must say something about the psychology of markets.  Economics would predict that in response to such scarcity of seating, prices would rise, drawing more entrepreneurs to open more restaurants.  Yet there is no doubt that even as we waited for an opening, countless other equally tasty DC restaurants sat at half-capacity or near-empty, and many will go out of business.  With such “clumpy” demand, it’s apparent that good food (or perhaps more importantly, trendy food), is not just meeting the quantity of demand with physical supply.
  30. “First world scandals”: we seem to be getting more and more worked up over smaller and smaller things.  An athlete may have reduced a ball’s air pressure by less than 10%.  A presidential candidate sent some emails from the wrong email account.  And these are considered huge scandals requiring 24-hour media attention?  Those seem like pretty much the smallest scandals in history.  In Uganda coaches steal money from players’ salaries; politicians steal millions from widows and orphans; and Presidents tear gas the opposition and throw them in jail.   Now those are scandals!  So when we find ourselves getting worked up into a fit over Hilary Clinton’s emails and Tom Brady’s footballs, just know we must have it pretty good!
  31. Quality is everywhere. During a 6-hour drive through Appalachia—often considered one of America’s poorest regions—there was never a moment when we thought we might not be able to find a clean toilet or disease-free food within a 15 minute drive.  We ate gourmet Fro-Yo shop in the middle of Upstate New York farm country.  We stopped at a Sheetz gas station in rural Pennsylvania where you can order custom-made pizzas, sandwiches, wraps, salads, and tacos from a touch screen menu.  The highway is 4 lanes most of the way, and the rural roads are paved and have their own bridges wherever they cross the highway.  Simply put, things are pretty good almost everywhere.
  32. Unnecessary food innovation. What is a “Coolata?” (Besides an attempt to make an unnecessarily creamed up and over-sugared drink sound Italian).  Do we really need Oreo flavoured iced coffees?  Is a pizza really improved by having extra-buttery crust that you can “rip and dip” in 5 zany sauces?  And why is “zany” ever an adjective you’d want describing food?  Oftentimes America’s restless proclivity to endless innovation really works—witness the rise of craft brewing—but other times the results are just… unnecessary.  Try smoke-flavored beer and you’ll see what I mean.
  33. Gigantic specific stores.   Cavenders Boot City.  Bass Pro Shop.  My girlfriend aptly dubbed these “gigantic specific stores.”  The size of general big box stores is already startling, but when you see these specialized stores—selling just pet supplies, just Western wear, justfishing and outdoors equipment, and selling them in huge quantities and endless varieties—you start to realize just how and big, rich, innovative, and hungry the United States is.  Big and rich because there are apparently enough people with enough money to buy enough stuff to keep these stores in business; innovative because inventors have managed to dream up enough varieties of tackle boxes to fill a gigantic store; and hungry because we want exactly what we want so bad that it behoves companies to give us these infinite varieties that can suit every need.  In Kigali’s upper-class Simba Supermarket, there are exactly eight types of spices on sale; in the US you could fill a store that size with ONLY spices.
  34. Good roads can be bad times for careful deciders. The good thing about good roads is that you can drive at 70+ mph (116 kph).  But when you’re trying to decide which exit to take on a 10-lane highway full of thousands of cars also driving at 70 mph, suddenly you find yourself wishing for Africa’s small, traffic-choked and lawless roads, where in a moment of uncertainty you can just stop and ask for directions, while all the cars behind you are obliged to find their way around.  Lawlessness has its advantages when YOU are the one who benefits!
  35. You can get heated water from the sink. At first I couldn’t think of why it’s necessary to be able to wash your hands in warm water; after all it was warm outside!  Then I remembered, summer doesn’t last forever here—it gets cold in the winter.  And when it does, so is the water that comes out of the sink.  Plus you may want to hand wash the dishes or something.
  36. Ice Water. America is obsessed with ice water.  It doesn’t matter that it’s winter and 35 degrees F (about 1 degree C) outside and you’re sitting next to the door so every time it opens you get a gust of cold air.  If you order a water, it’s going to come with at least 50% ice.  Don’t get me wrong, I like my water nice and cold, but the water that comes out of the fountain is already chilled: you don’t need to make it even colder by adding ice to it.  Not to mention harder to drink—don’t you hate all those ice cubes clinking up against your teeth?
  37. Not having to worry about buying water. Despite the ice, it’s nice to have a respite from thinking about where you will get water.  Normally in Africa I hate having to pay $1 or so for bottled water when I go out, so I normally carry around a water bottle that I obsessively refill every time I get the opportunity: the water filter at the house, the cooler at the office, the Teva filter at the gym.  After all, I grew up in a place where water is the free option at restaurants and you don’t expect to pay for water.  But I’d sort of forgotten that.  The other day as I was about to leave a Mexican restaurant, I felt compelled to quickly down the still half-full glass of water remaining at my table to take advantage of its availability.  Then I remembered, I hadn’t paid for that water.  And there would be more free, drinkable tap water at home.  Isn’t that wonderful?  You can turn the tap and YOU CAN DRINK THE WATER THAT COMES OUT!    So the next time you go out and order a water, just be thankful for the $100 or so dollars you save every year from not having to buy bottled water at restaurants.
  38. Not having to worry about keeping your laptop charged. Today as I was writing this, I compulsively ran upstairs to get the laptop charger even though I was still at 100%—if the power went out, I wanted to make sure I had a full battery remaining in case it took 2 or 3 hours to come back on.  Then I realized, the power is not going to go off.  I could have used the laptop until it went down to 10%, then plugged it in.  Not that there is any advantage to doing that other than not having to move the laptop charger, but still—the fact that our power is so reliable that you don’t need to ever think about it, you don’t need a backup generator, is one less thing you have to spend mental energy planning for.
  39. Amazon, mailboxes, and shopping malls prove how little we have to fear traditional bad guys. I recently rolled over my 401k so I could invest with my dad’s company Thrivent, and they sent me a check in the mail.  So for several hours, there was a check for thousands of dollars sitting in my mailbox, unlocked, that anybody could have just gone and gotten.  You can walk into any mall or supermarket without passing through a metal detector; it would be so easy for ISIS or Al Qaeda to just go in there, with legally-bought assault weapons, and kill 50 people—and yet only 45 Americans have been killed by “radical Islamic extremists” since 2001, a rate of 3 per year.  Every day, Amazon delivers hundreds of thousands of packages, many of which are left sitting on people’s doorsteps in plain sight, and nobody steals them (with the occasional exception of course).  Donald Trump says we need to be afraid of immigrants, yet how many lawn trucks do you see passing these same package-laden doorsteps every day, and the immigrant workers in the trucks don’t jump out to steal these packages?  This tells me that there are actually not that many bad guys out there trying to get us.  The fact is, America is safer than it’s ever been.  Most of us have literally nothing to fear from humans’ traditional threats of robbers, foreign enemies, or wild animals.  If these are your number one concerns and you don’t live in inner city Baltimore, you probably need to rethink how tough and fearless you really are.
  40. American culture is possibly the most innovative on the planet. If you want a few minutes of entertainment, tell an Italian you put pineapple on a pizza and watch what happens.  To extend the entertainment, tell them you also put chicken on it.  Their jaw will drop and they will protest that “you cannot put pineapple or chicken on a pizza!  That is not pizza!”  It’s taken me 3 years to find an objective explanation for why certain tasty things are or are not allowed on pizza, which is that “to be real pizza, you can only use ingredients that were available in Italy at the time pizza was invented.”  That’s an objective standard at least, but thing being valued there is tradition: we do it this way not because it is good or bad, but because it has always been done this way.  And most places on earth I’ve been are basically the same, especially with food: for each dish, there’s one right way to do it.  Hell, in Uganda if it is not matooke, it is not considered food at all.  By contrast, as soon as something arrives in America, we have to start dreaming up all the things we can do with it.  10 years ago there were no microbreweries.  Now we have more beers than Belgium; just look at this picture!  Sometimes innovations don’t work out—BBQ smoke flavored IPA?  Gross!—but no one will stop you from trying it.  And it’s not just food: look at Americans’ receptivity to Uber, compared with other countries’ hostility toward shaking up the cab market.  Speaking of which…
  41. Uber is awesome – and you don’t even have to tip!  One thing America does NOT get right is the tipping culture.  Why do you ever tip a cab for doing what you already paid him to do?  I have no idea.  But now thanks to Uber, you don’t have to, and it is surprisingly cheap to get across town.  I’ve taken four Ubers in three different cities this break, including a 1-hour ride to San Francisco’s airport, and spent less than $100 on it.  Being able to call up a car from your phone, know how much you’ll pay before you book, have it arrive in 2 minutes, and then not have to get out your wallet to pay?  Awesome
  42. Nobody cares about American sports, but everyone cares about our politics.  It’s the playoffs?  Already?  In American football?  And what’s that you say, I don’t have to call it “American football,” I can just say “football”?  Because most of the sports we like in the USA—baseball, (American) football, basketball—the rest of the world just does not care about (again, with a few exceptions).  Yet the stars of our national sports can still earn millions more than (association) football players simply because America has so many people and such a huge economy.  When it comes to sports, we really are an island, and when you’re off the island you have a hard time keeping up on its goings on.  In politics on the other hand, I never miss a beat, because the American presidential election is on every TV news show on every TV in the world—we don’t miss a single one of Donald Trump’s antics.  Speaking of Trump, despite his antics…
  43. You have to admit it’s getting better. From listening to Trump and the other Republican candidates and their supporters, America is falling apart at the seams.  So why is it that every 6 months when I come back to visit, this place just seems more and more wondrous?  The economy is strong, we’re creating millions of jobs, terrorists are only killing 3 of us per year, we have hundreds of delicious craft brews and good cheeses when 15 years ago we only had Budweiser and Kraft singles, you can get cuisine from anywhere in the world, crime is the lowest it’s been in decades, and startups are bringing us wonderful new things and conveniences all the time.  Did you know you can deposit a check JUST BY TAKING A PHOTO OF IT WITH YOUR PHONE???  You probably did, but this seems new and incredible to me!  You know how when you see someone every day you don’t notice them aging, but when you don’t see someone and then run into them after 5 years, you notice the changes?  I think it’s the same thing: most people who think America is going to hell in a handbasket have just experienced the improvements in their lives too slowly to notice them.  Sure we have problems—we’re overly scheduled, don’t spend enough time with our families, can’t seem to stop mass shootings, and have been too slow in acting to reduce CO2 emissions—but overall, we are nearly all better off than we were 4 years ago.  I would know, since I only come back every 6 months to see what’s different.  So if you’re considering voting for Trump or Ted Cruz, my recommendation to you would be to go overseas for the next 8 months, come back, and ask yourself: are things better off than they were 8 months ago?  I think you’d be surprised by the answer.

*I’ve estimated the value of the taxi market in New York City by multiplying the current price of a taxi medallion by the number of taxis operating in the city.  The most recent auction price for a taxi medallion was $872,000, and there were approximately 13,000 taxis licensed to operate in New York City.

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One response to this post.

  1. […] « Culture Shock (Part 1)? Taking the Wormhole Home, and 5 Culture Shocks upon Arrival […]

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