Several years ago, I returned to the country of my birth, Ukraine, after two decades of growing up and living in America. When I was in the capital, Kiev, I met a local guy who also loved traveling and exploring the world. He has traveled all over Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe and even backpacked a bit in Africa. Feeling very proud of my adopted country—America—and my adopted city—New York—I asked him if he had any desire to visit the Big Apple.
He immediately brushed me off.
“Why? I’ve already seen Times Square and those yellow cabs in so many American movies. I don’t see any reason to physically go there,” he curtly replied.
It was a ridiculous reply—even bordering on childish (especially from a grown up 33-year-old guy). As a very proud New Yorker, I immediately protested and began selling him the “capital of the world” with all my might and vigor. I felt it was more than my duty to do so. I told him that he’s very naive for thinking he can understand a city or even the entire country just by watching a couple of movies on some plastic screen in the living room.
“You do understand that those are just movies, right?” I asked him sarcastically but also seriously, as though he had just insulted everything that I considered important.
He smiled and nodded out of politeness. But I knew he wouldn’t be buying a ticket to New York City anytime soon.
Several years have passed since and lots of things have happened. I’ve lived in a bunch of new countries. I’ve met lots of new people. I worked on and completed new projects. Throughout this time, I’ve traveled back and forth to America to visit family and friends.
My thinking has also changed. It’s now more inline with my friend. I know it sounds strange and even ridiculous to say this, but I honestly don’t believe there’s more (at least, really much more) to New York (or the rest of America) beyond to what people already have seen in the movies. Or, if it does exist, I haven’t yet discovered it.
Yeah, I know exactly what you’re thinking: yet another guy sells everything, packs up his backpack, escapes his responsibilities of life in America, goes traveling around the world, gets “elucidated” about the sheer greatness and diversity of the world, and then, thinking that he’s some unique snowflake—but is actually like thousands of others before him—reaches the predictable and highly unoriginal conclusion that America somehow sucks, and that he doesn’t want to live there anymore.
Explaining the unexplainable
But that’s exactly what happened. You see, I consider myself to be a pretty eloquent guy. I’m heavily introspective and spend the majority of my waking moments making sense of the world and explaining such things to different people. Heck, I even have a blog that’s filled with plenty of long and thought out articles like these where I attempt to break down and explain many concepts that keep me up at night using plain English words and sentences.
And, for the longest time, what’s been bothering me is the sheer difficulty, even bordering on inability, in explaining America to all the random people I’ve been meeting abroad. It’s getting tougher and tougher with each passing year.
Whereas before I used to ponder and eventually come up with a logical answer, nowadays, it’s a type of question that I prefer to dodge and avoid. I just don’t have a satisfactory answer. It’s always much, much easier explaining pretty much any other country.
Mexico? Easy. Amazingly open and friendly people, colorful and spicy food, great music, cheap living. Quick tips: go to Mexico City and Playa del Carmen.
Brazil? Really easy. Palm trees. Tropical. Fantastic climate. Friendly and open people. Beautiful women. A billion exotic juices that don’t exist elsewhere in the world. World class BJJ training. Quick tips: go to Rio, Buzios, Belo Horizonte and, if you like big cities, checkout São Paolo.
Russia? No problem. Cold. Reserved people who require warming up before they open up to you. Super masculine men. Super feminine women. Very hearty food. Quick tips: choose St. Petersburg over Moscow.
I can easily come up with similar definitions for Thailand, Argentina, Romania and Italy.
Furthermore, what I find really interesting is that all these other countries don’t really merit an explanation in the first place. Everyone knows that Brazil has palm trees and friendly people. Everyone knows that Russia is cold and the people are super tough. Everyone knows that Mexico is synonymous with friendliness and great Latin culture. Even before having a chance to visit those countries, everything you may think you know about these countries is exactly true.
And America? Of course, New York has the famous yellow cabs, the Central Park, the Wall Street, and the Bull statue near the Stock Exchange. There’s also the Brooklyn Bridge and the famous hot dog vendors.
Everyone knows about these things. Yes, they’re real. Yes, they exist. They’ve been portrayed in thousands of movies. They’re been plastered all over the Internet in every kind of imaginable filter.
But, still, what exactly is America? How do you define America?
Welcome to America
I’ve just landed in JFK, New York City’s main international airport. New York is busy, loud and wealthy. New York is dirty, impersonal and poor. New York is the capital of the world. New York is an ugly concrete jungle and pales in comparison to pretty much any other big city I’ve visited. New York is a paradox. America is a paradox.
As I walk around the city, the only thing on my mind is making sense of the environment. I’m searching for something. There’s something I’m looking for. But what? What I’m looking for? What the fuck do I want? I don’t know what I want, I just know when I’ll see it. And this isn’t it.
At least, I haven’t found it yet.
Perhaps I need to clarify what I mean. What the fuck am I searching for? Why should I be searching for anything in the first place? What is lacking? Surely, these questions do need a clarification. I must to be more specific.
Or maybe not. I don’t need to clarify anything because this issue never pops up whenever I’m outside America.
Maybe I need to rephrase my objective. The key word is expectations. I have certain expectation when I visit great foreign nations and cities. I have certain things that I plan to do. I have certain things I want to see and explore.
When I’m in Mexico, my goal is to explore Mexican culture, enjoy the bustling and historic Mexico City, eat authentic Mexican food and have great churros from food stands.
When I’m in Serbia, my goal is to explore Serbian culture, eat amazing Serbian food (fantastic meat) and hang out with Serbian people.
When I’m in Brazil, my goal is to explore Brazilian culture, go to fantastic Samba bars, enjoy lively street parties and eat amazing churrasco at “kilo” restaurants.
But whenever I’m in America, my expectations suddenly become blurry, diluted and confused. What are my expectations? What’s my purpose? To checkout the blinking billboards on Times Square? To snap a couple of pictures of a yellow cab? To snap a selfie from the top of the Empire State Building? To pay $14 (or maybe more now) for the latest and greatest Hollywood blockbuster movie in a New York movie theater?
Labels, not humans
As a human being, I want to connect with other human beings; I want to connect with people. America has many big cities with millions of people. All kinds of people from all different walks of life. I see them everywhere. But I can’t connect with any of them.
I can’t because everybody is different. Everyone has different interests. Everyone has different needs and wants. Everyone is part of a specific cult: liberal, conservative, democrat, republican, anti-abortion, pro-life, etc. Everyone thinks differently.
This just covers their beliefs. Ask anyone what they do for a living (always a favorite question at parties), and the replies will always be some ambiguous label. There’s always some guy who’s a “digital marketer.” Someone else is a “social media guru.” And let’s not forget the “customer experience representative.”
I have no idea what the heck all these labels mean. I have no idea what these people do. I don’t know how they can help me. And I don’t know how to connect with them.
It seems everyone is part of something except me. There are hipsters, hippies, yuppies, environmentalists, human rights advocates and feminists. I’m just a guy, a traveler, a human being, but everyone is something else. Is being a “regular” person no longer good enough? No longer fashionable? What if I don’t fit into any of those labels? What if I don’t fit into any of these groups?
When you have a country where everyone considers themselves part of a particular cult, whether it’s along political, cultural or some other lines, the standard way of communication no longer suffices; a remark that someone might find funny, witty or just useful—regardless if it’s completely true and logical—can easily offend someone else. That’s why you need a whole new language—a politically correct language.
In America, everyone talks in a very politically correct way. Everyone talks like a professional politician, even though they don’t have any power and don’t get paid for it. It’s gotten so ridiculous that I cannot even call a woman beautiful because someone else (not only other women, but other guys too) can easily get offended that I’m “objectifying” women by describing them using adjectives that represent a person’s physical appearance instead of their intellectual capacity—and by doing so, they infer using their “special” logic that I’m somehow emphasizing the former and downplaying the latter.
This is one of the biggest problems and explains why it’s so hard to genuinely connect with others, especially women. Whenever I’m on a date with an American girl (or Americanized girl who was born somewhere else), there’s always a hidden wall between us. We both know the wall is there. We feel it.
The wall is what separates the politically-correct speech from the more intimate conversation that should be taking place between two human beings. We’re both afraid of beaching the wall because we’re afraid of saying something that might inadvertently make the other person uncomfortable for completely superficial reasons. I’m afraid she’s going to get personally offended if I utter a politically incorrect joke. And she’s afraid that I might “judge” her if she says something that’s not vetted for political correctness.
Discussing touchy subjects like politics is something I have be very careful about (or better yet avoid altogether) because I don’t know if the guy next to me is a conservative, liberal, libertarian, right-wing, left-wing, centered, tea-party, or 100 other things. I don’t know if my random remark about homosexuals or abortions will suddenly turn him into my sworn enemy.
Discussing male-female relations is even worse: I can’t make a joke about an innocent date I had last night because the innocent-looking hipster next to me can be a white knight or social justice warrior who, at a moment’s notice, is more than eager to bash me about some “sexist” behavior. I really can’t win; pretty much anything I say can easily offend someone and they’ll never talk to me again.
It’s truly ironic that we live in a democratic society that’s blessed with an array of freedoms (including the freedom of speech), yet we can’t exercise these rights for the fear of reprisal and public shaming.
Politically correctness is something I never have to deal when I’m abroad. On my second day in Serbia, I immediately made a bunch of friends by making political jokes about Yugoslavia, Milosevic, Putin and institutions like NATO. I did the same with cultural topics. I connected with the people precisely because I was able to avoid celibate and politically correct speech and talk about the things that people can connect on a deeper level.
Here in Lithuania, I have no problem joking about political topics like “Russian aggression” and say many very politically incorrect things about European Union, Russia, local politics, or pretty much anything else, and I can easily make friends for life. Locals know that it’s all just government propaganda and they don’t take it seriously.
Another easy way to make friends around the world is by telling them how politically-correct and ridiculous American culture is. They always get a nice laugh out of this.
Not talking like a politician allows you to truly connect and feel the people on a much deeper level that you could’ve achieved otherwise. It means being able to flirt with women instead of sitting across from each other and discussing something that’s already been discussed ad-naseum, like last night’s episode of some television show, news program or some celebrity’s choice of clothing.
I cannot tell you how truly free it feels to not deal with politically-correct bullshit everywhere. This is true freedom. Not the “freedom of speech” but real, unadulterated and unfiltered ability to connect with another human being on a actual human level.
Unfortunately, this is something that a guy who has always lived in a politically-correct culture and communicated in a politically correct way will not be able to do. At least not right away. He’ll need to spend lots of time abroad to rid of him the harmful politically correct thinking and speaking. Until he does, he’ll be accompanied everywhere by a thick “wall” that’ll greatly limit his engagement with others.
I was born in Ukraine. My native language is Russian. These two characteristics represent important cultural links that allow me to connect with certain groups of people; that’s why if I’m in Ukraine, I can immediately connect with pretty much anyone. We speak the same language (at least, in certain parts of the country), know the same customs and understand each other on a very culturally deep level. I’m one of them. That’s more or less the same for other former Soviet Union republics like Russia or Belarus.
But in America, a Ukrainian or Russian guy isn’t my countryman or brother. He’s now someone else: he has become my fervent competitor. We no longer possess common cultural links. We’re no longer harmoniously working together: we’re competing against each other. Competing for a good job, competing to impress others with the newest iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, or a luxurious car. We’re no longer “Ukrainians” or “Russian-speaking.” We’ve been stripped of our national identity and reduced to eager rats in a capitalistic rat race.
I have noticed the same with other nationalities. After living in Brazil for a couple of years, I can easily spot a Brazilian who’s from Brazil and a Brazilian who grew up in America. My Mexican friend who’s been living in US for just a couple of years feels the same way. A person—whether he’s Russian, Brazilian, Croatian or Colombian—who grows up in America is now an American. The longer a person has lived in America, the less their cultural origins matter. A Brazilian and a Colombian who has grown up in America do not argue whether the former or the latter culture is better or worse. They’re now all part of the exact same culture: American culture.
You cannot talk about cultures without mentioning the women. In many ways, at least from a man’s point of view, interacting with the women let’s you truly get the feel for the culture. I’ve dated my share of Ukrainian/Russian women in America and Ukrainian women in Ukraine. And I can tell you that comparing the former to the latter is literally like night and day. There’s absolutely no comparison. Both may have been born in the same country, but they’re completely different people. American culture overshadows and masks just about anyone’s indigenous culture.
Less personal and more competitive
Strangely enough, my barometer for understanding a country’s culture is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) training session at a local academy. I’ve been training it for over eight years, and I always make an effort to hit the mats in every single city and country that I spend more than a couple of days. Not only is getting on the mat a good way of escaping the craziness and unfamiliarity of a new city, but every time I come into a new academy, I feel like a medical technician trying a new experiment in a lab. An hourly training session allows me to get a cross-section of a local culture really quickly.
In Brazil, the birth land of the martial art, training is a very casual affair and is a fantastic way to make lots of friends real fast. It’s very common to talk about all kinds of very politically incorrect things. There’s an egalitarian culture where you can easily approach more experienced guys for any assistance. It’s also not uncommon for the whole class to meet up afterwards and have dinner or grab one of the exotic juices at the local juice bar.
This is more or less similar in Latin American or European countries as well. If you’re a foreigner, people are curious where you’re from and how long you’re in the country. If you’re a local, hitting up a local school lets you quickly integrate into a new group and make new friends fast.
In America, training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is more competitive and less personal. What should be a casual training session suddenly turns into a competition. I train with one guy after another without introducing myself. I know nothing about them. I also get the feeling that I’m not even supposed to know anyone’s names. No one cares about getting to know anyone on a personal level. Nobody is there to make friends. Everyone seems to have enough of them. Everyone is busy working their crazy and ambitious jobs. Everyone has places to be. People come to train and then go home.
What is completely natural such as grabbing some beers after training or hanging out on weekend with your training partners is something I would never dream of even proposing in New York, Miami or San Francisco. Training is just yet another activity of many in a person’s busy day.
Reduced to a business model
There’s also the capitalistic aspect that always rears its ugly head—and gives the saying that “there’s no free lunch” a more emphasized meaning. After the free introductory class (when it comes to BJJ, there’s an unspoken custom of always offering a free introductory class to newcomers anywhere in the world), the head instructor always wants to “chat” and that means he wants to pitch me to signup. He wants my money.
That inevitably means getting me to commit paying a monthly fee via some long-term contract that’s very hard to get out of (usually I need to move somewhere else and then show the instructor my new utility bills as proof that I really did move.) I also heard that some American academies actually charge you for a free class. That’s not capitalistic but outright greedy and arrogant. Take my advice: don’t train at these “McDojo’s.”
The rest of the world is more casual about taking your money. When I was in Belgrade, Serbia last year, I went to three classes and received world-class instruction before I insisted on paying for the whole month—even though I knew that I would be leaving the country before the month was up. That has been my pleasant experience in Colombia, Mexico, Spain, Portugal, and most other countries.
People are more lax about taking your money in the rest of the world because money isn’t everything; life doesn’t revolve around money. But in America every human interaction is reduced to a business model.
As a business guy myself, I understand another business man’s point of view. But it’s still really annoying to know that all this nice behavior is just a mask for luring a new prospect into an expensive and difficult to get out of long-term contract.
“You’ll go crazy”
Four years ago, I was on a flight to London, England that would mark the start of my European adventures. On the plane, I was sitting next to an elderly gentleman from Italy. He was flying back to Italy after spending a month in New York.
He asked me where I’m from. I told him I grew up in New York. He looked me at with amazement and reverence.
“What an amazing city! Lots of things are always happening. So much excitement. It’s also very efficient unlike Italy,” he mentioned.
“I think everyone should live there between the ages of 22 and 48,” he added.
“Why only until 48?” I asked him.
“Because you’ll go crazy afterwards!”
Those were wise words, indeed. But I think that the time period can be shortened even further. Nowadays, I see a lot of people come to America for a very short time. They come to earn a higher education degree (masters, PhD) or to work in a competitive field before moving back home.
When I was training BJJ in Manhattan, I met a young Spanish guy from Valencia. He was probably in his early or mid 20s. He was studying for his masters at NYU. I asked him what he thought of New York. He said it’s nice, but he’s looking forward to going back to Spain when it’s over. He thinks the quality of life is much better in Spain. Having been to Spain many times, I certainly cannot disagree.
Another friend of mine, a Mexican guy who just turned 31, has been working in New York for about a year, but knows it’s all temporary. The objective is to gain the proper experience and then return back to Mexico and settle into a comfortable life in Mexico City or Monterrey.
I’m noticing a trend. People come to America for 3-5 years. They work in huge corporation or small startups. They learn how to build and run companies. Then they take all their knowledge and experience back home and build something. People are now viewing America as a temporary pitstop on the way to some grand destination—instead of the grand destination itself.
The American Premium
My ex-girlfriend lives in a tall skyscraper in downtown Manhattan. It’s a small but nice and cozy 1-bedroom apartment (two rooms plus a tiny kitchen). The rent is $3,000 per month.
If I had lived in America all my life and never ventured abroad, I wouldn’t have thought twice about the exorbitant cost of living. After all, she lives in one of the most desirable and famous cities in the whole world. She also has a very nice job that allows her to afford this lifestyle with ease. It’s seems a completely reasonable rent for what she’s getting.
But I fail to see any value. I’ve been around the block (and the world), and for me, paying $3,000 per month to live in some concrete jungle is a complete ripoff. That kind of money can buy me a much higher level of living somewhere else. I can rent a nice apartment in Rio de Janeiro near the beach for that kind of money. I can rent a fabulous apartment or a house in Croatia or Montenegro that’s right on the Mediterranean Sea. Don’t even get me started on what this kind of money can buy you in the less developed parts of the world or even smaller cities that aren’t frequented by tourists.
She has no trouble affording such an apartment, but that’s because she literally works like a slave for a big corporation. But what does the $3,000 per month apartment really get her? Access to cool restaurants, perhaps. Cool bars and lounges in the near vicinity or via a quick subway (metro) ride.
That’s pretty much it.
Oh, and, of course, how can you forget the bragging rights with having a prestigious Manhattan zip code next to your name on your mailing address. But for $3,000 per month? That’s quite a premium. That’s the American premium.
It goes without saying that $3,000 is completely different money in Manhattan than in a place like Croatia, Brazil or Vietnam. In New York, it’s not very difficult to make high five figures or low six figures. That might not be the case in Brazil or Croatia. But so what? I’d rather make less money and have a more balanced lifestyle than working like a slave and have a decent apartment with a fancy zipped.
Living in a pseudo reality
On my last week in New York, my cousin invited me to watch a movie she had recently rented via Red Box, a cheap video rental service. She pointed out that the movie should be good because it had received multiple Oscar nominations. Although I rarely watch movies now, I was interested in catching up and seeing the latest and greatest that Hollywood can offer.
The movie was around three hours long. It chronicled the life of a family that’s living in rural America. It’s shot over a period of twelve years, so you can see the whole family grow up and mature. The children become teenagers and go to college. The parents divorce and develop new relationships, only to marry, divorce and remarry again. The movie ends with one of the kids questioning happiness and the meaning of life.
I didn’t like the movie. But not because I disliked some of the actors; I think the acting was pretty good, and some of the actors are indeed quite famous. The real reason I didn’t like the movie was because of something else, something deeper that involves our sorry state of culture.
Why do people watch movies? As far as I’m concerned, the whole purpose of sitting for a couple of hours and watching other people do something on a plastic screen is to temporarily transport yourself into another life—a life that’s richer, more exciting and more interesting than the one you’re living now.
That’s the major reason why I’ve watched Jason Bourne so many times. It represents an exciting life that an average person just doesn’t live. My lifestyle isn’t terribly boring, but I admit that I don’t have crazy assignments that take me from city to city and country to country day after day. That’s what makes watching such a movie interesting and exciting.
That’s completely not the case if what I’m watching is actually less interesting and exciting than my own life. This was one of those movies. It’s about a bunch of regular people who are living a regular life in rural America, and not much else.
The whole time that I was watching the movie, the only thought I had was: it’s them who should be watching me instead of the other way around. Instead of me paying for the movie, they should be paying me. My own life—the life I’m living right this moment—is much more interesting and exciting than theirs.
Maybe I felt this way because I haven’t watched a movie in really long time. I literally felt like I was in some matrix, as I was watching and becoming intimately familiar with some run-of-the-mill suburban family.
It made me think. If such a movie is so popular in the country and praised by its society (by being nominated and/or winning various prestigious awards), then what does it say about the underlying society? That the real life of the people in the society is less interesting than the life of some random small-town family? Surely that must be the case. Otherwise why would be people spend their money and time just to watch a random family in rural America grow up?
The Sovereign Man dilemma
The biggest “pro-America” argument I hear from people who live in big American cities like New York or San Francisco is that their cities have all the advantages that you’d find by traveling around the world (e.g., ethnic food, a mix of cultures, diversity, etc), but without actually getting on the plane and going to some possibly dangerous foreign country.
That’s not exactly true. Let’s begin with food. Take something as common as Chinese cuisine. There are plenty of Chinese restaurants in America, but the food is quite different than the food I had when I was in Taiwan. It’s more Americanized version of the local cuisine.
Even the ubiquitous Mexican cuisine that it’s on every block all across California cities tastes very different from the food I had just across the border in Mexican towns of Tijuana and Ensenada. The food I had in Mexico City had many items on the menu that I’ve never even seen in California. Nevertheless, I still have to give credit where it’s due: it’s still pretty amazing to live in a place like San Francisco or New York and have the option of trying any kind of food you want from tens of different cultures without getting on the plane.
Then there’s the popular argument that America is this magical place that’s the best of both worlds because it’s the only place in the world where you can meet amazing people who’re trying to achieve something great and change the world, as noticed by networking events and startups.
Except that’s true in any big city around the world. That’s what big cities are: a congregation of various people who are trying to do something new and exciting. This is no longer the 90s when America was on the verge of a dot com revolution; there are young people all over the world looking to start companies. I can point you to plenty of places like Moscow, Madrid, São Paolo, etc., that are brimming with startups and other co-working events.
The other common argument is that you can live in a place like New York or Miami, and take frequent flights to nearby destinations like Central and South America. That way you’ll, again, have the best of both worlds (it never ceases to amaze me that people are always trying to have their cake and eat it, too.)
Having done that before, it’s, of course, doable, but I fail to see the point. Why even live in America at all? If you want to experience another culture, then why not live somewhere else more or less permanently and come back to America when the need arises?
As far as I’m concerned, there’s just no substitute for an original. There’s living in Rio de Janeiro or Belo Horizonte, and then there’s living in Miami and having a bunch of Brazilian friends. There’s living in Moscow, Russia, and then there’s living in Brooklyn, NY and hanging with a bunch of Russian people. There’s living in a crazy megapolis like Mexico City (I recommend Condessa), and then there’s living in a place like San Diego or San Francisco and hanging out with Mexican people. There’s absolutely no comparison between the first and second variant in each example.
“My grasping, greedy American soul”
One night, while riding back to Brooklyn on the Q train, I noticed a elderly man sitting and reading a magazine. The headline of the article was “My grasping, greedy American soul.” I smiled. I suppose I wasn’t the only who was searching for the country’s soul; other people are too. I immediately felt better about my dilemma.
America is the richest country in the world, but all this economic wealth comes at a cost. Wealth is not an indicator of happiness; in fact, wealth and happiness can sometimes be inversely related. How can someone be happy if they’re working 9-7 (or longer) everyday so that they can be able to afford the rent on their tiny apartment in Manhattan? It’s no coincidence that the happiest countries in the world aren’t exactly the richest. Brazil and Mexico have enormous wealth inequalities, but people are very happy.
Sometimes it helps to stand back and look at the bigger picture. Fifty years ago, right after WWII, when Europe and Asia were devastated, America was the undisputed leader of the global economy. It had the largest economy of the world.
Back then, everyone dreamed of emigrating to America. Everyone wanted to live in America. Everyone wanted to have an American passport. Heck, that was more or less true as little as just twenty five years ago. Back then it was common for people to come to America and start their new lives and actually build something of themselves. The whole “American dream” and all that. American businessmen and capital would use these eager immigrants as badly needed labor to build all kinds of things.
But that’s no longer the case. European Union is a growing economic superpower. China is growing like crazy. America’s economy is stagnating; its growth has slowed to a trickle and it now imports more stuff than it exports by borrowing money from other countries. In fact, its biggest export is the dollar which circulates around the world so that other nations can use it to purchase important resources such as oil. (American’s other famous export is “democracy.”)
I no longer see people eager to immigrate to America. At least that’s my impression after spending more than three years living all over Europe. Even in Eastern Europe, where there’re plenty of economic problems, people desire to immigrate to richer European countries like England or Germany—not America.
If America’s greatest export is the dollar, then, maybe it makes sense to leave America but still earn income in dollars for spending abroad? If it’s good enough for the global economy, it’s surely good enough for me.
Greatest cognitive dissonance
America is the greatest cognitive dissonance I’ve ever come across in my life. On one hand, here’s the greatest, mightiest, most amazing and highly developed country in the world that has pretty much everything a person would ever need or want: entertainment, technology, ethnic restaurants, a mix of cultures, order, security, stability, etc.
On the other hand, here’s a country that’s kind of like a mosaic of other countries, but with each specific cultural element being much more diffused, blurred and out of focus than the original. A country that’s known around the world as the land of opportunity, a place where anyone can make anything of themselves.
My brain knows that it’s the greatest country in the world, but my heart is always lonely and confused, and is itching to get out for some greener pastures. It’s an ambiguity that I’ve struggled for a very long time.
No longer. Maybe it’s because now that I’m looking for something concrete and tangible—and not chasing some abstract dream—that the whole American image simply lost its appeal and purpose. And, along with it, the frustrating search for something that didn’t really exist in the first place.
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James Maverick used to work in a cubicle as a code monkey in Silicon Valley. Then, in 2007, he quit his job and a one-way ticket to Brazil. Ever since, he continued to travel, visiting over 85 countries and living in more than a dozen of them. He loved his location-independent lifestyle and has no plans to live in America.