America is Not The Greatest Country on Earth
I remember in grade school we had to stand up, put our right hand on our heart, salute the flag and say the pledge of allegiance every single day. We looked up to the flag hanging near the chalkboard as our nation’s anthem echoed from the school’s loudspeaker and chanted the mantra of our great nation.
At school we were not only taught to be proud at the fact we were American, but grateful. While no one ever distinctly said it to my face, I was educated that America was the best country in the world.
After all, we won wars. We innovated and created. We were a nation of freedom, something that, to me, seemed rare and unreachable in many countries of the world.
This mindset was also fueled by my mother and aunt, both Vietnamese refugees. America gave them everything they have, and they were eternally grateful. Compared to war torn Vietnam, America was heaven.
Every time I turned on the TV or opened up a history book, I heard stories about immigrants and runaways that risked their lives just to make it here. People crossed borders and oceans just to live within our great nation. To many, America was known as the promised land.
So it was needless to say that, before I ever went abroad, I was educated with the American mindset that we were the best. That no country was greater than mine. That we were a world super power, and people were literally risking their lives to make it onto U.S. soil because it was that great here.
As a child and adolescent, It was hard for me to imagine the rest of the world–but a part of me subconsciously knew that, as I was taught, everywhere else must suck compared to the U.S.
Then, I went to Japan.
First, I was alarmed at how clean it was. There was no garbage anywhere.
Secondly, there were hardly any murder stories on TV. There were no shootings, rapes, or gang violence. I wasn’t afraid to walk around at night. I felt safe.
Health coverage was affordable and mandatory (compared to college, where I was uninsured all four years due to my dire financial situation). I was routinely given a physical every year, paid by my company, for the sole purpose of checking my health.
People helped each other and returned lost items. There was no pollution. The tap water was safe for drinking. I didn’t have to buy a car, because public transportation was so easy and affordable.
And then the realization hit me: this country takes better care of me than the United States.
America is not the best place in the world.
In terms of quality of life, safety, education and healthcare–we are not perfect. We are not the promised land.
I once told my Vietnamese auntie that my Japanese friend graduated from University in the states and had to go back to Japan.
“Oh the poor thing,” my aunt replied with pity in her voice. “She couldn’t find a way to stay in the United States. Of course she would want to, but when so many people want to live in the USA, it’s hard to secure a visa.”
“Actually, she is fine going back to Japan,” I replied defensively.
“Not everyone wants to immigrate to the USA.”
My aunt looked at me like I was crazy.
As I met more people from around the world, I began to learn more about other countries and how they operated–particularly those in England and Europe. Some of my best friends are British and Canadian, and stories about their home countries sounded just as good–if not better–than America. The UK has the world’s highest rated healthcare plan (NHS), public transportation, and a much lower crime rate. Germany has free education. France has affordable healthcare and stellar retirement. Northern European countries such as Denmark and Norway are always ranked as the best places to live overall in terms of quality of life.
Over time, the concepts that were pounded into my brain as a child began to melt away. I started to see the world in a different light. While I didn’t think America was the worst country in the world, I no longer thought the rest of the world was inferior to the United States.
Many of my Chinese friends still dream of immigrating to the United States. They always called me lucky for being American, and despite how much I complain I am still very grateful for everything this country has given me.
Still, if I were an immigrant and had to relocate, America would most definitely not be my first choice. England? Sure. Canada? Hell yeah. Australia? Bring on the sun.
But America? I don’t know.
The USA is a place replete with opportunity, that’s for sure, but only if you got what it takes. It’s a great place to excel as a businessman/woman and fully utilize our great nation’s capitalist economy and individualistic society. However, the greater majority doesn’t have the innate skill to invest, to make good decisions, to save for healthcare. Only a select few do. Those that can work the system well are turned into success stories–those that don’t, struggle. Badly.
America is a great place to get rich…. but it’s a terrible place to lead a mediocre life.
Finding Your Own Path
I have a half-French, half-Vietnamese cousin that lived in Vietnam as a child, spent his adolescent life in Paris and followed up his college graduation with years of traveling the world. When he reached middle age he returned to Paris upon his parent’s request, but he was miserable. He missed Vietnam.
So one day, he up and left Paris and moved to Vietnam. My Vietnamese relatives in France were horrified. My aunt is still appalled. Why on Earth would he leave France for a third world nation? To this day, my entire family is still stumped.
But I get it. I totally get why he moved to Vietnam.
As I traveled the world and lived in other countries, I realized that there is no best country. America is a great place to go if you have passion, determination, willpower and a dream for business or monetary success. Europe is a great place to go for stability, peace of mind and quality of life (especially since you’re forking over exorbitant taxes just for that purpose).
For some, the allure of adventure in Asia brings out the best in people. Some feel like the best one can get is in a hammock on the beaches of the Caribbean or Fiji. Others fall in love with the rich and traditional culture of Japan. Some expats have found that home is in more remote regions, such as Iceland, Greenland, or the cold north of Sweden and Finland.
So while I’m proud to be an American, just like I was taught to be when I was in elementary school, I now know that the United States necessarily the best.
It just all depends on what you consider ‘the best’ to be.
Do you think America has an ego when it comes to its global presence? Do you think America is (or would be), a good place to live?
24 thoughts on “America is Not The Greatest Country on Earth”
I have mixed feelings. I feel very fortunate to have been born in the US. It has granted me with a lot of privilege I wouldn’t have had I been born somewhere else. I do really like the principles our country was founded upon. But we have a dark history and are currently suffering from a lot of societal problems, much in part due to that history. At the end of the day, I can’t say I wish I were born somewhere else. I’m sure I’d find something to complain about no matter where I was from!
Oh I’m super glad I was born in the USA. Really. I realized the true weight of privilege I was born with when I moved to China. Just by being an American I was able to do amazing things.
I just meant to say that, well, Americans have an ego when it comes to ranking themselves in the world. The way I was raised and educated, I truly believed that we were the best country in the world. It was quite eye opening to travel to other countries and see that this was not the case (not every world was a third world wasteland).
I think America was founded on excellent principles–but these principles are becoming twisted in our new world. There’s so much tension here and so many problems, it’s a completely different world from my father or grandfather’s America. Still, it’s definitely not the worst place in the world.
And btw, I found your comment! For some reason it was in the spam folder 🙁
Oh, America TOTALLY has an ego. And Americans are so defensive. America needs to get over it.
I think instead of ramming the myth of American exceptionalism down kids’ throats in school, we ought to be ramming a little world geography. And definitely more global history.
And also making them pick up after themselves. Like Japan.
The thing that makes me crazy now is that when you point out the NHS in England, or parental leave in Sweden, or the schools in Finland, or the free higher education in Denmark, Americans have one knee-jerk response: “Go live there, then! America, love it or leave it!”
Which is some pretty short-sighted crap. How about looking at other systems and figuring out how to adapt them in the U.S.?
But no. The majority would rather drown under waves produced by global warming than admit that the U.S. needs an overhaul.
I think more Americans should travel like you did, Mary!
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” – Mark Twain
Autumn, that Mark Twain quote is amazing. I need to paint it on my wall–or write it on my fridge. Whichever Richard will allow.
I can only imagine what my view of the world would be if I had never lived abroad (even travelling abroad for a brief amount of time is completely different).
I agree about more world history in school. I don’t know about kids nowadays, but we learn nothing about Middle, East, and Southeast Asian history. I know it’s a lot to pack in, but we learn a lot about Europe–I’m sure we could squeeze in more! When I moved to China I was ashamed that I knew absolutely nothing about the country, not even the basics (like, when the dynasties were overthrown, and why). This stuff is vital and needs to be taught along with all that crap we learn about the Romans.
And good god, growing up in Utah I spent an entire semester learning about mormon history. Now THAT is a total waste of time (well, for me anyway, mormons should have a special elective or something…).
I think America is really complicated, because we’re a very individualistic society and we love our ‘freedom’ (whatever that is). Americans don’t want the government, or anyone, telling them what they should do (like, have basic healthcare). “It’s my health and I do what I want with it–you can’t tell me what to do!” Even when it comes to retirement, we’d rather have free reign than do what Australia does (basically, an automatic pension for all citizens with option to invest more money).
Thanks for the comment Autumn! 😀
I do think America is a great place in many ways, but by no means is it the best. It was a real mind warp to go to Japan and find that my country was actually more dangerous and crappy than Japan.
Mormon history is REALLY fascinating, actually, but only if you get the uncensored version. Like Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Or “The 19th Wife.”
Yes, we could learn a lot from Australia. Especially today. I am still in awe of how they stopped their gun massacres.
I have never been to America so can’t really comment on this, but it is true that in American movies, etc, there is always some reference as to how great America is, haha. We Europeans usually roll our eyes at this kind of mentions xD
I don’t think there is a place that can be absolutely and 100% the best in all aspects. Maybe America is the best for entrepreneurs, Japan is clean and safe, Spain is great for party and holidays… but they are not so cool in other aspects, call it health care, life-work balance or unemployment rate!
Everyone is different, so there is definitely a best for everyone.
But man, party and holidays!? Spain sounds awesome, haha. America just has workaholics, traffic, and guns. Woot.
Yeah there’s good and bad everywhere, you just have to weigh your priorities. I really loved living in China despite all of the problems (like environment, controlled media, etc..). I think China gets a bad reputation–it’s not that bad at all!
That is absolutely true! China has an awful reputation and only bad news (or weird things) about China get reported in western media.
I roll MY eyes, too. Every time I see it in a movie or hear a Republican candidate reiterate our greatness. And I think of the homeless people, the extinct animals, the concentration camps for Native Americans, the Japanese internment camps, the oil pipeline leaks, and the latest mass shooting.
Because when you believe your own myth, you quit striving for a better country.
>>It just all depends on what you consider ‘the best’ to be.
It’s very much so. I think what one gets out of life depends on what one puts in. Life can sometimes be like a cupcake; some hit the spot and it’s just right, some give you the sugar rush and others sit heavily in your belly.
A dude once tell me that you create your own luck, perhaps. Some strive for happiness while some are satisfy with contentments.
I was just talking to my roommate today about people that never take a holiday and work almost continuously throughout the year. I don’t know how they do it. I think that some people really love stability, and breaking up their routine is more stressful to them than keeping up with the grind.
Myself, on the other hand, have not taken a vacation in a year and I’m losing my mind. Stability drives me insane and I need some kind of excitement to break up the monotony.
We’re all so different, and we all have our own perfect place to be.
I left a comment a few days ago, but it’s not here. Sad panda.
NOOOOO!!! I wonder why?? That’s so strange…
I noticed that has happened to me on other people’s blogs as well. I wonder if wordpress is being weird?
I appreciate your efforts, though! I always love your comments, nooo! Darn you internet!
Check your spam at WordPress, Mary! It’s got some kind of vendetta against Rosie.
“I just meant to say that, well, Americans have an ego when it comes to ranking themselves in the world. The way I was raised and educated, I truly believed that we were the best country in the world. It was quite eye opening to travel to other countries and see that this was not the case (not every world was a third world wasteland).”
Well said. That is exactly what I try to express myself when I said, “America needs some humble pie.” (Yes, I said the same thing). I had a wake up call when a Filipino friend asked me if I am going to the Doctors later that day (I was feeling really sick). I said to her, “I can’t.” She looked shocked, “But you have health insurance. You live in the States. How can you not be able to go to the Doctors when you have the flu?” Right then that hit me hard. She’s right. For an industrial country, that sounds absurd. (I had to make an appointment – I can only go a week later). Pfft. There are other things that really shocked my Filipino friends and her response was always, “But you live in the States…not a third world country!” Boom.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the worst country in the world (not at all) but I also notice the people who say the States is the best country in the world never once left the country let alone left the States they were born.
But it’s okay. In the end, you’re absolutely right – “We’re all so different, and we all have our own perfect place to be.”
I hear you on healthcare, Eileen. The current job I have now doesn’t pay a lot, but I took it because they actually offer decent health insurance (something that more and more companies are skimping on). Without company sponsored insurance I don’t know how most of America affords the bill. I was on obamacare before and calling it affordable was a flat out lie (if you can call 250/month + extra billing for procedures affordable).
I value three things very, very much. Health, Education and transportation. America lacks in all three of these things, and it drives me nuts. Like this morning, my car got a flat tire and I was on the freeway. AWFUL. I can’t tell you how much I miss walking around and taking trains/metro/subway/bus.
I hear you’re moving back soon, too?
It’s only natural to be ‘patriotic’ to our country of birth / adopted country or we speak well of a place where we have strong connections to.
Just recently, I came across blogs partially written by bloggers in a language I have long forgotten. I was surprised I could understand most of it. A picture of a local cake, including recipe (it was my favourite) sent me down memory lane to a life once lived. I have never met these bloggers but I could feel the ‘common bond’.
Sometimes we ‘chose’ to be in place not because it is ‘perfect’ but needs be. There are people working in the hot sun for USD 93.00 a month. I hate to think of the number of people sleeping in a room and most likely, their passports being retained by their employer.
There’s also a fine line between the have and the have not. One would thought being Suitably Qualified eg an experienced and long standing doctor and being highly solvent, one would
expect the individual to lead a certain lifestyle. It’s far from the truth…………….OMG!
Take a look at this.
Having lived in three continents, I have become a better person even though I have had my challenges. We all have our own struggles, perhaps to a greater and lesser extent.
Traveling and living abroad certainly can open your eyes to a world of different experiences and ways of life. America’s hayday is a thing of the past and I don’t think it’s going to be regained. (Anyone watching the Presidental race?) But that’s okay, I think America needs to move forward and stop thinking it’s going to be great again. It’s time to evolve and start thinking globally. Our environment depends on it.
Great post! I so echo your sentiments about America. From my travels, plus seeing the country through my husband’s eyes, I’ve realized it is absolutely not the greatest country in the world.
Anyone who doesn’t think the USA is the best country on earth is very wrong. I’m 14 years old and I thank my lucky stars everyday that I wake up in the US. Americans work for everything they have. Whether it’s jobs or even our Constitution. My grandfather did not fight in WW2 to have people say America is not the best. Because we simply are. Best economy, best army and best medical treatment. We should all be greatful that many before us died to preserve our freedom so we can wake up every day free and safe.
“America is a great place to get rich…. but it’s a terrible place to lead a mediocre life.”
Im not a hyer patriotic blind cheerleader for all things USA, I actually have a dislike for those people, people who wave flags but never served , say racist things but have never exerienced racism themselves, have no connect to the outside world other than what their uncle told them from his military exerience, running their mouth like an idiot about things they kno nothing about, over sexed, etc etc. but I am a realist. There is a cap to the hapiness you can exerience in japan and most peole suffer in silence. I think sometimes its one of the most miserable places on earth, but a safe and controlled misery and its this misery thats often confused with order that initally apeals to outsiders. This order and conformity ensures a job and cheap transortation, medical etc. Its once you figure out whats behind it all, that it hits you hats really imortant. The US, for me anyway, has whats important. Hard to describe, but once you reconnect to it, it hits you hard, that freedom from crushing conformity, mind control, caste system baggage, cronisim, protectionsim, facism etc. The down side is that peole get spoiled, and the trappings of excessive freedom get in the ay with manifestations of greed and exploiting others. but Spencer put down allot of great points that you have to give up first to realy only latter appreciate. The Japanese objective in WW2 was to take, control, then hold, then replace the locals culture with their own. If they would of succeded in reaching all of their objectives and won the ar, it would be a very different world today. would those subjects been given their romised autonomy and democracy? Of course not, because that means loss of control, and control is at the very core of Japanese society. Having worked for Japanese, I can tell you they still will never loose to anybody without a fight so image a young Marine on Iwo jima, fighting that fanatical paradigm, then dying in that sand so I do not have serving some emperor as an inferior subject, just puts it into persective for me, I dont take any of that for granted anymore. its unfortunate that sometimes we have to go to places like Japan to recconnect, rediscover or realize whats imortant, telling our Japanese host how terrible our native country is and praising theirs, but latter realizing what they silently are keeping from you, that is you are where you came from and cant change that, and what they envy are the simple freedoms they cant have.
As I said, U.S. is a great place to get rich; but if you don’t have what it takes to get rich, you become on of the exploited. And if I remember correctly, 1% of the population controls the wealth of the U.S.? Inequality here is outrageous.
Again, I know you really hate Japan, but it’s really not a bad place. Yeah, it’s mentally incapacitating but it’s not hell on Earth. It’s not war-torn Africa, it’s not the Middle East, and it’s not China… or even Korea (in my opinion, Koreans got it way worse than the Japanese, which is difficult for me to even fathom). I know Japanese are xenophobic, but in this day and age it’s rare for a Japanese person to outright berate a foreigner in public, and few foreigners get killed in Japan. Hell, there’s hardly any homicides in Japan. The U.S. has more diversity and crime, but we have way more murders. It’s give and take.
I knew that as a foreigner, Japan would destroy my soul–so I left. I left Japan. But I don’t hate it. The fact is Japan is a clean country where the population is educated, goes to school, has clean drinking water, is well fed, has great public transit, affordable healthcare, and the elderly are taken care of. It’s not a place to get rich or make money. It’s not a place to express your freedom of belief or rights. But it’s a great place to have a mediocre and safe life.
The U.S., on the other hand, is hard. If you are poor, or even low middle-class, and can’t afford to live in a nice neighborhood–you are forced to live in a shit neighborhood and may possibly get shot. Your kids will also go to a shitty school (American public schools are a joke). If you don’t have credit/money to get a car, you’re just shit out of luck getting anywhere (unless you live on the East Coast). As for healthcare and retirement… ha. Obamacare is a joke (as I paid 250/month for the shittiest health care ever, no dental/vision included) and social security is probably going to be gone by the time I’m old (especially with Trump). In America it’s every man for himself–if you aren’t financially savvy and responsible as a young/middle aged person and save for retirement, then you’re just SOL when your old. You have two choices when you’re 65 and you realize you didn’t save enough money 1. go work minimum wage jobs at McDonalds and hope they take you 2. live on the streets. America is a cruel place.
The flip side of this is… if you play your cards right, invest, are smart, make good decisions–you could possibly have some beachfront property in California and a nice retirement through your investments. However, most of the country is not smart and they rack up credit card debt and don’t know how to invest. Plus, with growing inequality, this American dream of “working hard” to get the good life is becoming a distant dream.
And you know, everyone is different. America, Japan, Europe… different folks, different strokes. Some people like the American way of being able to choose everything themselves and not letting government interfere in their lives (I want to drive my own car, pick my own health insurance, go to my own school–I don’t need the government). There are others that prefer the European/Canadian way of life (I want to have security through taxes, I’ll pay more to have free education/healthcare/transportation). I think Japan leans more toward Europe and Canada, but instead of taxation they support the economy through debt and their homogeneous culture (Japanese people follow the rules and don’t cheat the system). This homogeneous culture creates an oppressive society, but it is also the glue that makes Japan safe/pleasant/clean… it’s a double edged sword.
I’ve worked for Japanese too. I knew Japan was a good place, but I was starting to forget that through my daily clashes through my Japanese company. So I quit. I didn’t want to hate Japan. I had to keep it at arm’s length.
I dont hate Japan (or do I?, depends on what day you ask me), just a bit more connected to it than others so I have to deal ith/see things others may not. You made some excellent post about here the US and Japans budgets are concentrated at, and that had me thinking it all over. You posted that the US spends most of its budget on defense and Japan on infrastructure? Great observatIon. But then you posted this;
The U.S., on the other hand, is hard. If you are poor, or even low middle-class, and can’t afford to live in a nice neighborhood–you are forced to live in a shit neighborhood and may possibly get shot. Your kids will also go to a shitty school (American public schools are a joke).
But there is a way out, and its where all the money is at, as you posted; the military. You can join the US military and get all of your college and room and board no paid for with the GI bill. By design? I dont know, but a pretty damn good deal. Then you can get out and work for the gov or contractor and get even more bank. Some vets are attending college overseas, for free.
Now American schools are joke?, thats a bit of a stretch. My high schooling ( I went to like 4 or 5) was outstanding in every catagory. If things have degraded that much, then its not on Japan, Singapore or others to fix it, The American citizens have to fix it. But if they are a joke, why do so many Japanese go there and when I meet them in japan they tell me they hate Japan and love the US? the guy that delivered my pizza lived in SF and told me he dreamed every day all day about returning there and he hates Japan.
As far as the 1% being rich, I think it just needs a ton of effort, like bootstraping up real estate property laundry mats etc and growing that into a passive income source. I dont get what you mean by 1% because when I visit the US whole sections of counties that were once all white and black are all now run by Indians and Middle Easterners, from the hotel to the gas stand. Thats obvisouly not racism like you would find in Japan ( can you imagine such a scene in Japan) so how are they able to do that? Its because they are hungry for life and freedom and gooble up the opportunity. Tell you what, when I get there Im going to get mine, you can bet on that. Its about choice, you wanna get high or shoot, you get high or shoot. You want to get rich, you study it try it and kee at it, or you can just be like a jaanese and accet defeatism and be a drone for japan inc for life until you get your pension and throw snacks to pidgeons in the park all day in the nasty park. Hey, its safe. There is no risk. Its socialism. But that sucks. Id rather live in a place thats poor but has a community college that offers everything imaginable and get every skill I can and hustle that. There is still tons of oportunity in the US, but it ont always be easy to “see” Your right, its not taught to everybody, but it as never meant to be that ay, you gotta try. I can tell you ith 1000% conviction that Japan or other Asian countries are not the “answer” perhas some temp relief, some escape to regain focus, understood. But as a way of life, and many connected souls I know will agree with me, there are many better options available.