Eastern Europe is good for the mind, body and soul. Just the other day, I was talking to a good friend (another expat), and we were discussing why we like this region so much. I concluded it’s because this region is the exact opposite of the West: less consumerism, more authenticity and just general more bluntness without all the fake bullshit.
Recently, however, something has been annoying me about the culture. At first I didn’t know what it was, but after thinking about it for a while, the best way to describe it is there’s a certain lack of “polishness” in the culture. In fact, it can be pretty abrasive at times.
For instance, the other day I requested a taxi via Uber.
The driver arrives and calls me.
“I’m here,” he says.
“Where, here?” I ask him.
“I’m standing at the point you requested.”
“I don’t see you. You’re not at the address I requested,” I tell him.
“No, but I’m at the point.”
“Well, I requested the taxi at a certain address and so you must meet me at this address,” was my reply.
“But I’m standing at the point that’s on the map.”
“But that’s not the address…,” was my annoyed response.
By this time I was ready to hang up and take the bus.
This guy was waiting a few blocks away and refused to go and meet me at the correct address even though he understood that he was incorrect and I was correct.
This, in a nutshell, is the Ukrainian customer service. There’s a reluctance to meet the customer/client at least half the way. There’s also a reluctance to admit fault when the person is indeed wrong.
In this case it was the guy’s fault for not meeting me. He had the right address, but refused to drive to that address because the point on the map was in a different location.
As someone who was getting paid by me to do the work, he had the duty to meet me where I was standing.
Late last year, I rented a nice apartment in the center. Upon arrival I noticed that it was missing a few things. It was missing a hair dryer and a microwave, even though both of them were specified to be included in the apartment on the rental site.
I told the owner about it. To my complete surprise, the owner seemed completely unfazed and unhelpful. She said that the hairdryer was stolen by the previous owners and the microwave stopped working so she threw it out.
All of that might indeed have been true, but the main issue was that she wasn’t even willing to try to solve the problem. She acted like it was my fault for even mentioning this to her. It was as though I was wasting her time with my trivial and silly request. And, indeed, I felt that I was wasting her time for even making her aware of this fact.
I want to say that these have been isolated incidents, but the exception to the rule has actually been when a person was genuinely helpful and understanding. This has also been the case when with other expats that I know here.
Essentially, what you have is a culture that’s completely inflexible in a context of a business transaction (and most likely in personal relationships as well). In the West, there’s a widely accepted notion that the customer is always right. Just like 90-day returns, that’s something that seems to exist only in the West. In America, customer service will pretty much bender backwards to please you and make sure you’re happy.
But I’m not even asking for such royal treatment. No need for such generosity. No need for all the handholding. No need for the fake smiles. It’s not necessary. What’s missing is the ability to admit that something is wrong and it must be fixed. The taxi driver refused to go to the correct address because the point on his map was somewhere else. He knew he was standing on the wrong street. It would’ve taken him less than 5 mins to correct his mistake, but he refused.
The owner of the apartment could’ve at least tried to rectify the situation, because, after all, she was contractually obligated to provide the amenities stated in the agreement. But instead of being understanding and perhaps getting those items from another apartment (or just buying them), she refused to even take my request seriously.
This is one of the major complaints that I hear from the younger (18-34) generation. Many of them travel around the world (and even live abroad), experience some of the friendlier customer service cultures, and then return to Ukraine and are faced with this rudeness and inflexibility. Naturally, they want to leave out of the country on a one-way ticket and never come back.
My good Ukrainian friend, who has lived in Germany and the US, calls this “the Ukrainian hospitality.” Here’s how it works: first, the person asserts authority over you, and then puts you down and makes you feel like a complete idiot for even attempting to get them to understand your issue or problem.
Of course, this isn’t the case with everyone. There have been very helpful people that have gone out of their way to help me or my friends out. But they were definitely the exception to the rule rather than the norm.
This is similar to what I wrote about my experiences in Russia, where I was given very direct answers without anyone trying to “hold my hand.” In that situation, people simply helped as minimally as they could, but still helped. In this case, people are stubbornly refusing to even meet me halfway—when it’s absolutely clear that I’m right and they’re wrong.
If you’re a Westerner who’s used to a more comfortable customer of service relationship, then this will be a major part of your culture shock (and, indeed, this is what Westerners consider “the over-the-line rudeness” of Eastern Europeans). Or, maybe, if you’re an American guy, you might experience a more comfortable type of behavior when you use American-based services such as Uber and AirBnB. I noticed that people seem to change their behaviors by adopting to another culture when speaking a different language.
I spent a lot of time thinking why people behave this way, and came up with some explanations. In this part of the world, a person’s value is placed on honesty and trust. If a person appears as someone who says one thing and then changes their mind and does something else, he’s looked down upon and perhaps may not even be trusted in the future.
So, if someone takes a certain position (e.g., “the point on the map was here, so that’s where I’m going to pick you up”), they will find it hard to change their mind and do something else. They will stubbornly stick to their position come hell or high water unless you prove even more stubborn than they were and demand they serve you as a customer. This stubbornness is part of their culture.
That can be as result of being ruled by brutal dictators for pretty much as long as this region existed. People learned that authority is respected and in order to be respected by others, you must be tough and unwavering yourself. Being easygoing and flexible (e.g., like your typical guy from California) would be looked down upon and considered insincere and untrustworthy.
This has had a profound effect on me. It toughened me up. I became more hardened and less accommodating. Instead of being understanding and empathic to another person’s (incorrect) explanations (which is wrong anyway because you can rationalize pretty much everything even if it’s not done in your best interest), I would stick to the prior arrangement and demand they do what they agreed to do. I’d act more forcefully than I’d usually act in the West.
It also meant eliminating any passive-aggressive behavior and any signs of being a pushover. These are bad traits to have anywhere, but they’re completely useless here unlike some other parts of the world. Eastern European culture is not very kind to such displays of weaknesses. That’s like trying to spend Mexican pesos in Argentina. Just doesn’t work.
Nevertheless, while becoming tougher and more demanding are important qualities in any situation, stubbornness in refusing another person’s point of view, especially in the context of a business transaction, is counterproductive and wrong. Although I could be very accommodating, I do have my limits and boundaries as well, especially if I’m the one pumping much-needed dollars into the frail economy.
I don’t like America. There, I said it. While I’m very grateful to this great country for accepting me as a piss poor immigrant in the late 1980s while the communist project called Soviet Union was collapsing, something about this country always rubbed me the wrong way.
For a long time, I couldn’t understand what it was. After all, I was living in the richest country on the entire planet, a country that practically everyone in the world would give their right arm and leg for an opportunity to immigrate to. How can anything be wrong? Why would anyone want to escape it? What was wrong with me? This discomfort was like walking around with a little rock permanently lodged deep inside my shoe.
It was only after I began to travel (living two years in Brazil was the turning point), did I begin to understand that something was rotten in the State of The Land of The Free. What I ended up learning is that, contrary to popular belief, America isn’t the “best” country in the world due to its many problems and faults.
After living abroad for more than ten years, here are my main reasons why you should do the same:
1) You’ll enjoy a more comfortable and affordable standard of living
One thing I realized during my travels is that the rest of the world is not some shit hole everyone claims it to be, but is incredibly developed, and, in many cases, simply easier to live than America. Here in Kiev, Ukraine, buying a prepaid simcard for my iPhone is $3 and that provides me with 1GB per month (compared to a $75 prepaid AT&T card that you can buy in JFK airport).
In Thailand, I hailed taxis that were furnished with extremely fast WiFi connections. China’s Facebook rival WeChat is miles ahead of its American counterpart; you can use the platform for anything from keeping in touch with your friends to playing games to sending and receiving money. Even Uber, the world’s highest-valued technology startup, recently lost its war for the Chinese market to a very capable homegrown competitor. (It ended up selling its Chinese unit).
Don’t get me started on the immense value. In many parts of the world, you can easily live for as little as $1,000/month (often even half that). That includes everything. No, I’m not talking about spartan living such as camping in the woods and eating bananas all day. I’m talking about quality, well-functioning cities with solid infrastructure: Chiang Mai, Thailand; Medellin, Colombia; Vilnius, Lithuania, and many more.
2) You’ll enjoy higher quality, healthier and better-tasting food
Whether you know this or not, an overwhelming majority of food in America is not “real”: it’s synthetically made. For instance, pretty much all corn that’s consumed in America is synthetic, and its derivative—high fructose corn syrup—is considered by many renowned scientists to be dangerous and even poisonous.
But one doesn’t need to be a scientist to know the difference between “plastic,” tasteless tomatoes and their genuine counterparts; all it takes is a quick trip abroad. I vividly recall that special time when I took a road trip to a small town outside Florence, Italy and tasted a sandwich stacked with mozzarella and fresh tomatoes.
The feeling my taste buds experienced cannot be put into words. Those tomatoes tasted like no tomatoes I’ve previously eaten before. Ever. They felt, well, flavorful. It was like my entire life before that moment was black and white and it suddenly turned vivid color. A year later, I tasted even better tomatoes while living in Vilnius, Lithuania. After that experience, I could no longer look at American tomatoes the same way; as far as I was concerned, they were as good as the plastic ones you see on the tables gracing the showrooms of furniture stores.
The bad news is that American (and other) agribusinesses are quickly colonizing the world. For example, here in Ukraine, a country that at one point fed the entire Soviet Union thanks to its lush farmlands, most of the food is rapidly becoming mass processed. So, if you want to taste real food, you must go abroad. Soon. Like, right now.
3) You’ll speak your mind without being censored by the politically-correct thought police
The previous two reasons probably aren’t a surprise to many: everyone knows that America isn’t cheap (even if they don’t realize that they can get a better value elsewhere) and when it comes to food, people don’t care enough to change their habits. But there’s something else insidious that many people undoubtedly feel but can’t explain: political correctness.
Political correctness is a cultural construct that aims to reengineer human behavior to censor “offensive” or “might-be-possibly-taken-as-offensive” speech.
Not only does it censor “offensive” or “might-be-taken-as-offensive” speech, it also takes into the account the race and gender of the person who’s saying it, giving preference to people lower on the “racial or gender hierarchy.” For example, it’s much more forgiving for a black woman to say something offensive than for a white man. That’s because a white man is the highest on the racial/gender hierarchy (he’s a man and he’s white) than a black woman (she’s black and she’s a woman).
The problem with political correctness isn’t that it prevents racist or sexist remarks (direct discrimination is bad), but that it goes much, much further: it prioritizes the feelings of those who’re lower in the racial/gender hierarchy at the expense of those who’re above in the racial/gender hierarchy. It directly facilitates culture war.
This along with the inevitable shaming that occurs as punishment means that our society doesn’t really have freedom of speech that’s bestowed by the Constitution. It’s censorship, pure and simple. Where’s the freedom of speech if I can’t say something that may inadvertently be taken as offense by someone else?
Political correctness is a luxury bestowed upon rich countries (mostly Anglo and Scandinavian). In the rest of the world, people can’t be bothered to be offended at minor things; they have far bigger problems, like earning an honest living and providing for their family.
When you leave America, you’ll experience much more authentic and honest human behavior that’ll undoubtedly take you some time getting used to, but will make you a more resilient and honest man, both with yourself and others around you.
4) You’ll no longer be shamed for who you are and your beliefs
Most societies around the world are structured according national identity. In Ukraine, almost everyone is Ukrainian. In Russia, almost everyone is Russian. In Brazil, almost everyone is Brazilian. In Thailand, almost everyone is Thai. Of course, that’s assuming a homogeneous society: everyone looks similar and speaks the native language.
A Russian woman who lives in Moscow doesn’t need to join some “women’s group” like march for “women’s rights” or a “coding camp for women” because she doesn’t feel that her rights are being infringed by men in any way. Yes, she’s the “weaker” sex, but she’s very comfortable with being the weaker sex—she’s proud of it. There’s little need for gender-based ideologies such as Feminism.
In America, there’s no such thing as a national identity. Every human being is essentially an atom: floating in space and fending for themselves. The result is a society that’s organized around inner-societal shaming. Women are shamed for being the “weaker sex.” They’re also shamed for slutty or feminist behavior. Men are shamed for being weak (beta), while constantly being made insecure by comparison to those who’re stronger (alpha).
Every element of American society is also strongly divided along ideological lines: liberal and conservative. Need proof? Pick a random person on the street—anyone—and there’s a good chance they’ll have very strong views concerning a specific ideology or a politician. That liberal barista in a New York Starbucks might spit in your coffee if she finds out you’ve voted for Donald Trump; that farmer in rural Iowa will chase you down the street with a manure fork if you praise Obamacare (universal healthcare).
While there are many other liberal democracies around the world, this “divide” isn’t so widespread in other countries where national identity is supreme over political or religious ideologies. I first experienced this in Brazil. Later, this was reinforced in Eastern European countries such as Russia and Ukraine. Here in Ukraine, most people don’t have an overwhelmingly strong opinion about politics one way or another.
5) You’ll meet less highly entitled and self-absorbed individuals
Political correctness breeds the victim mentality, and that directly leads to entitlement: the privilege to feel and behave like a victim and, therefore, be offended at pretty much anything that one can possibly and theoretically find offending. Essentially, it’s the feeling that you’re being oppressed by others by their mere existence, without them having to do anything that adversely affects you.
“I’m a woman and men are bigger and stronger, make more money on average, so therefore I’m the victim and I have every right to get offended at men.”
“I’m a transvestite and conservative white men have enacted laws that prevent me from going to the bathroom of my choice, so therefore I’m the victim and have every right to be offended.”
“I’m a woman who’s had terrible relationships with men all my life. Therefore all men are jerks, and I have every right to be offended at what they do or say.”
Entitlement is a big problem. Instead of feeling humble and open to understanding the world—and perhaps realizing that you’re the one who’s wrong and that every other person isn’t conspiring against you. Entitlement prevents you from realizing that the problem is actually with yourself and not others.
Entitlement breeds selfishness. It gives you carte blanche to believe that you’re special, that your problems are truly unique to you only, that everyone should pay special attention to you, and that, consequently, everyone should sympathize and empathize with you. It makes you think that the world really does revolve around you.
Ultimately, entitlement is a barrier to self improvement and self actualization. Instead of prioritizing yourself to not care about trivial things and instead focusing on the bigger problems, problems that actually matter, problems that will make a real difference in your life, you artificially construct the “us vs. them” mentality in order to feel better about your trivial problems. Instead of digging yourself out of the proverbial rabbit hole, you’re digging yourself even deeper.
A society of entitled individuals is a society that can no longer function cohesively as a single unit. It’s a society that lacks empathy, mutual understanding, and spiritual growth.
While entitlement exists in countries all around the world, I’ve discovered that it’s mostly a factor in wealthy liberal societies that are infused with political-correctness instead of more traditional patriarchal societies.
6) You’ll clear your mind of poisonous advertising and propaganda
Americans are exposed to ridiculous amount of advertising every waking second of their lives. That means that each one of us is constantly being told what to do. That’s done by manipulating our emotions in creative ways, so much so that we can no longer feel them without something else—without doing something extra: like buying that amazingly-smelling cologne or that super fast BMW. It’s all done on a subconscious level; you’re not even aware of what’s going on.
Our emotions aren’t only manipulated—they’re also subverted. It’s no wonder that in highly developed countries such as America, many people are suffering from consumerism and neurosis. People don’t understand that happiness comes from within; not from maxing out your credit card bill on Black Friday or buying that 55th pair of shoes.
Mass marketing was invented in America and has gotten to a point where human beings aren’t viewed as actual, you know, human beings but as consumers whose only purpose in life is, you know, the consumption of products and services.
I’m always amazed at the sheer number of commercials whenever I return to America. On my last trip, I recall boarding a taxi at New York’s JFK airport, and being immediately pitched over the radio anything from low-rate mortgages to cheap insurance to special pills that “you should ask your doctor about.”
While the rest of the world relies on advertising to sell you stuff, it’s not nearly as penetrated in the developing countries as in the land where it was invented and gradually perfected over the subsequent years.
7) You’ll free yourself from the soul-destroying dog-eat-dog mentality
America is one of the few countries on the planet that rewards talent and skill above all else. Anyone, irrespective of religion, race, gender and ancestry, can come here and make it—provided they’re willing to work hard. Examples abound: movie stars like Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme came here with nothing but the clothes on their back and became extremely successful.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that American culture is inherently super competitive. Everyone is fending for themselves instead of cooperating. I was born in Ukraine, but there’s a difference between a Ukrainian (or Russian) in America and a Ukrainian in Ukraine (or Russian in Russia). The former are super competitive; the latter are much more down to earth and open to cooperation. My Mexican, Brazilian and Colombian friends who recently moved to America have noticed the same thing.
This super competitive mentality doesn’t exist in many other countries. When I lived in Brazil, I found the people super friendly and approachable. Same thing for people in Thailand, Indonesia and Lithuania. Even here in Ukraine, people treat each other as human beings instead of some competitor with whom one is vying for the same resources.
8) You’ll develop meaningful, deep and rewarding human relationships
Coming from an Eastern European background, I was used to having a couple of close friends whom I can call anytime and discuss any issues from making money to relationships. There’s even a famous Russian saying that when you’re having trouble with your wife, you show up at your neighbor with a bottle of vodka, and then discuss your problems well into the early morning.
In America, however, I noticed there’s a specialization when it comes to human relationships. Instead of a person having a couple of close friends, you have different people that serve different purposes. There’s a workout partner. There’s a running partner. There’s a business colleague. And then there’s a wingman with whom you go out to meet women.
One reason for such specialization is capitalism and the division of labor. Instead of asking a friend for relationship advice, you go to a therapist. Instead of asking a successful friend who runs a business for business advice, you go to a business consultant. Human connections are replaced by a consultant-client relationships. Advice becomes a service like any other.
I’m fortunate that, while I have plenty of acquaintances, I have about three close friends whom I trust and can solicit advice on all kinds of issues. I cherish their relationships more than anything. They’re all non-American.
9) You’ll stay ahead of the curve in the competitive global marketplace
If there’s anything that the current backlash to globalization has exposed is that there are actually two Americas: the haves and the have nots. The rich are thriving as a result of favorable capital and trade laws, while the poor are getting left behind because their wages are being slashed or their jobs are exported overseas altogether. While the richer are getting richer, the wages for the working class have remained stagnant since about the 1980s.
For the first time in more than 75 years, there are more young people living with their parents than renting their own apartments. That means that living standards are falling.
America is an expensive country. While people have a correspondingly nice salary, allowing them to afford a decent standard of living, in the big cities, the prices for living are so astronomically high that a well-paying professional needs another a roommate (or two) in order to make ends meet.
There’s also the astronomical cost of healthcare, one of the highest in the world, even when compared to other developed countries such as Canada and Australia. Having insurance may not really help: there’s a good chance that your deductible is too high, defeating its purpose in all but the most expensive cases.
While America is still a fantastic place to make money, its place in the world is gradually being eroded. Jobs are moving overseas. Asian tech companies are rivaling (and even overtaking) Silicon Valley firms. Many talented would-be immigrants (e.g., Indians, Chinese, Russians) are choosing to remain in their home countries instead of immigrating to America.
This means that next-generation technology will no longer be developed in America by immigrants, and, instead, this wealth will duly remain in their respective countries. Although this effect on American competitiveness won’t be noticeable immediately, it will gradually compound over the next years and decades.
10) You’ll be surrounded by beautiful feminine women who appreciate unapologetically masculine men
When I moved to Brazil, I experienced a complete culture shock: super masculine men aggressively approached women without any shame, and super feminine and sexy women actually appreciated and responded to such displays of brazen masculinity.
As someone who grew up in America, that kind of behavior not only made me uncomfortable, but I was pretty sure would also get me arrested in the bars and clubs of New York or San Francisco. Because in America, these things are different to such an extent that they’re confusing. Women are eschewing their feminine traits, and, men, feeling lost and confused, are letting go of their masculine traits. The result is a society that lacks the all important polarity. It’s a society where building and maintaining romantic relationships requires the constant intervention of a family psychologist.
If you’ve never experienced true femininity, then you’re in for a huge be culture shock. Don’t worry, once the shock fades, you’ll wonder how you’ve tolerated unfeminine and entitled women for so long.
11) You’ll regain your long-lost masculinity
I couldn’t resist
These days, everyone seems to have an opinion of what “true” masculinity is all about. But as far as I’m concerned the definition is easy: it’s when you can be bold, unapologetic, raw and resolutely go for what you want without being shamed for your behavior by others.
Unfortunately, behaving like an unapologetic man is all but impossible in countries with politically-correct ideologies; PC cultures are about conformity, not masculine/feminine polarity. PC cultures are inherently anti-masculine and anti-feminine.
Thankfully, there’s still a world out there where men behave like men, women behave like women, and children are scared. It’s a world outside America; a world outside the West. And you’ll realize this the moment you step of the plane.
From temporary to permanent
In the beginning of my expat lifestyle, I’ve always thought that once the novelty of living in some exotic foreign country wears off, I’ll pack up and board the next flight back to New York.
But the more I’ve lived abroad, the more I’ve realized that there’s nothing more permanent than temporary. Repatriating to America seems less and less of a possibility with each passing day. Maybe in a few years, I’ll buy property here in Ukraine and finally settle down. Many of my foreign expat friends here in Kiev are planning to do just that.
Leaving America gives you an opportunity to discover a rapidly evolving world, a world where “the land of the free” is quickly getting eclipsed by other countries in value, stability, sanity and ease of life.
To be sure, America still has tremendous value. It’s the best country in the world to learn how to hustle and make money from nothing. Fortunately, you don’t need to live in America in order to make money hand over fist. Thanks to the Internet, one can live in one place while simultaneously marketing and selling an array of products and services to a group of people in another.
Once you taste the sweet nectar of what the world has to offer, I guarantee you that you’ll be cursing and kicking yourself for not having done it much, much sooner.
As I write this from a typical “Stolovaya” in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, I realize that I’ve developed an addiction to this country. Out of the 85 or so countries that I’ve stepped foot in my life, Ukraine is the only country that I have returned to no less than five times in the past five years. Of course, this isn’t just any country: I was born here. And in 1989, while the Soviet Union was breaking up into 15 different countries, I left my homeland and immigrated to America.
I first returned to Ukraine in the summer of 2011. After spending many years living in America and Latin America, returning to this part of the world was a truly surreal experience. Suddenly, everyone around me was speaking my native language, and I no longer needed to master a new foreign language like countless times before. Language is the gateway to culture, so it’s extremely rewarding to connect with the people in ways that you cannot if you don’t speak the local language.
Although I viewed Ukraine as a developing country, I never considered it to be poor. The word “poor” has always been reserved for places in Africa or Central Asia. Perhaps it’s also a result of living in the “developing” countries in Latin America. Countries like Colombia, Argentina and Brazil aren’t exactly as rich as America or Australia, but they’re very comfortable places to live.
Sure, you may not have some of the nicer amenities that Western countries take for granted like two-day Amazon shipping or on-demand food for your pet, but you’re still blessed with the standard stuff you need to survive: functioning infrastructure, good public roads, reliable public transport, running water (potable in Medellin), gas and electricity.
Still, putting a country like Ukraine in the same league as other “developing” countries like Colombia and Brazil isn’t correct either. The latter just feel richer than the former. In fact, when I lived in US, I knew many Colombian and Brazilian immigrants who repatriated to their respective homelands, but I’ve yet to meet anyone in America or another highly developed country who voluntarily returned to Ukraine or Russia. (Someone like me who’s making dollars and then spending them in the cheap local currency doesn’t count).
When Ukraine was part of the mighty USSR, it was considered “the breadbasket of Soviet Union” because of the sheer amount of wheat it produced. (Yes, the bread is really good here.) But that’s where its fortunes end. Unlike Russia, which is blessed with massive amount of important natural resources (e.g., gas and oil), Ukraine’s only advantage is geographical: it mainly serves as a buffer between its mighty eastern neighbor and Europe.
Another reason I didn’t realize that Ukraine is so poor is because I was mostly a fly-by-tourist, a foreigner—not a local. I arrived, rented a nice (and usually overpriced) apartment smack in the center, took taxis around town to coffee shops and ate at nice restaurants. I almost never viewed things from a local’s perspective.
On the other hand, if you have the misfortune of being a local, things are tough. Ukraine is poor. Really poor. The country hasn’t been stable for the past decade, but things really accelerated after the Maidan revolution in 2014. Not long after the—as some would call undemocratic and unconstitutional—change of power, several crucial things occurred: annexation of Crimea by Russia, a war in the eastern part of the country, and a devaluation of the currency, hryvnia, from a fixed 8 units to the dollar to around 29 (as of this writing).
Let’s talk economics. As someone who’s making dollars, I’ve found the capital, Kiev, to be one of the cheapest cities I’ve ever been to. I used to think that Latin America was pretty cheap. And, indeed, coming from overpriced places like San Francisco (where I lived for ten years) and New York City (where I also lived for ten years), Latin American cities are very cheap. But Ukraine is on a completely different level of cheapness altogether.
In the capital, Kiev, an Uber taxi ride is about half the price of a NYC subway ride. I can have a packed three-course lunch for the same price as a small sandwich in a Brooklyn bakery. A decent one-bedroom apartment costs a bit more than monthly Brazilian Jiu Jitsu membership in a good Manhattan school (hint: it’s about ten times less expensive than a comparable apartment in San Francisco).
That means that someone like me can enjoy a pretty great world city on a very comfortable budget, but for a typical local who’s earning $150-300 per month (the average salary in the capital, they’re much lower in the smaller cities), their options are severely limited, considering that all of that money would been eaten by rent.
The chief problem has been the collapse of the currency. In dollar terms, the currency has dropped more 3.5 times. Imagine having $3,500 in the bank which overnight turned into $1,000 without you even touching it. To be sure: you’re still paying for stuff in the local currency, so you still have similar purchasing power for locally produced goods, but anything that’s priced in dollars or euros (e.g., vacations to Italy, pair of Levis jeans, BMWs) is suddenly 3.5x more expensive.
Essentially, people are still working the same jobs, working the same hours, doing the same things, but are now getting three and a half times less income in return. That’s nothing less than a destruction of the cost of living.
Politicians are blaming the currency devaluation on “Russia’s aggression” and the ensuing war in the eastern part of the country. And while wars are such crucial events that they can be blamed for any instability in the country, it’s hard to buy this argument because a collapsed standard of living represents many insidious benefits as well. For one, it’s a wet dream of big corporations anywhere. They can hire labor and pay them a lot less money for essentially the same amount of work. That’s just a couple of levels above slavery.
Ukraine For Sale
One of the major themes of Ukraine’s post-independence history has been the severing of the country’s relationship with Russia (both economically and culturally) and the closer integration of the country towards the disparate collection of states called European Union.
The “Orange revolution” in 2004 was a peaceful event which signalled the initial power shift from the pro-Russian factions to the pro-European factions. Ten years later, the (more violent) Maidan revolution permanently cemented the pro-European position. Although there’s an opposition party in the parliament (every democratic government has one), there won’t be any kind of close relations with Russia anytime soon.
Politics is always a means to a some economic end. And the name of the game is the integration of Ukraine into Europe. Integration is a nice word, but did anyone bother to look up what this “integration” actually means? I have. And what it really means is that the country will be cut up into small pieces and then auctioned off to the highest bidder. Open borders mean people (i.e., the labor force) will leave the country and migrate to richer countries like Germany or UK, which is something that has happened to the Baltic countries (see how many Lithuanians live in London). The country will also be gutted of its natural resources.
Trade makes a lot of sense when both parties benefit. But the fact of the matter is that Europe doesn’t need much from Ukraine. Everything that Ukraine makes, Europe already knows how to make better and more efficiently. Europe (and America) only want two things from Ukraine: cheap labor and control of the land to serve as a buffer zone between EU and Russia. (The latter is more important than the former).
Many locals told me that Ukraine is being deforested with the wood being sold to Turkey at a steep discount, which then makes furniture and sells the finished product back to Ukraine for a nice premium. This doesn’t benefit Ukraine at all. In fact, it’s the kind of mercantilist relationship that was common between Spain and Portugal and their South American colonies.
Since I was so insulated from the locals, I didn’t realize that the country is experiencing a mass exodus. It’s one of those things that you don’t know until you start talking to people and asking the right questions. It all comes down to basic economics: getting a well-paying job is extremely difficult if not outright impossible here: unlike a richer place like New York or London, there’s just not enough capital and money to go around.
One option is to quit the measly paying 9-5 and start your own business. When you become your own boss and control your financial destiny, your income possibilities become limitless. The problem is that building a business in Ukraine requires a certain level of toughness and ruthlessness that few people possess. This isn’t America where you have the complete rule of law on your side. Things can be quite “unpredictable” for business owners here.
Thus, your other options are to either continue living on a meager income, live in modest conditions, or pack up and immigrate to a richer country where working in the same profession will afford you a nicer apartment/house in a nice city, a car, and many other amenities that Westerners take completely for granted.
So, why suffer in a country drowning in corruption when you can have a much higher level of living elsewhere?
While men typically don’t need much and can survive in the most rugged and minimalist conditions, women are always trying to see if there’s a way they can do better. Easily half of the women I met here in Kiev are eager to escape to the West—or pretty much anywhere where there are more opportunities—at all costs.
A solid strategy is to marry a Western man with the hope of beginning a new life in the Land of The Free. Another option is to move to a Western country on a tourist visa and then stay there illegally. When I lived in Brooklyn, NY, I’ve met a good share of young Ukrainian women and Russian women working all kinds of odd jobs. I knew for a fact that lots of them were in the country illegally.
It certainly says a lot about the country when its vast female population is desperate to escape anyway it can.
Ukraine is one of the few countries that I’ve been to where I experienced this level of desperation. I didn’t feel this in Brazil, Argentina and other Latin American countries. I also didn’t feel it in Lithuania, another former Soviet Union republic. I suppose another country with a similarly dire situation is Belarus, a closed off country that’s probably even poorer than Ukraine; Russia is a bit richer with a higher standard of living, so its level of desperation isn’t as high as Ukraine’s.
That businessman who is making good money, but is dealing with mountains of red tape and tough-looking guys in black leather jackets coming over for “protection” is dreaming of moving to Australia and scaling his business there. That talented software engineer who’s making $300/month is dreaming of working for Google and making $10,000/month while living in sunny Silicon Valley. That beautiful girl is cringing at the prospect of having her kids grow up here, and would much rather raise them in EU or America where they’ll have much more opportunities and actually become someone.
The question I keep asking myself as I walk the wide boulevards of Kiev: whose fault is it? Who is responsible for the country’s current mess? Who can fix these problems?
The first answer is communism. As a country which was entirely isolated from the West for many years, and whose economy was entirely controlled by state planning, its industries never had a chance to develop to the level of their Western counterparts. They either made lots of stuff that nobody needed (and had to be thrown out) or made little of stuff that people did need (food, etc).
When communism collapsed and Ukraine became an independent country, it desperately needed to trade with others; state planning and Soviet trade block were a thing of the past. It suddenly found itself as an island surrounded by stronger trade partners on all sides (EU in the West and Russia in the East). Because its economy was so weak and undeveloped, it didn’t really have strong leverage and couldn’t negotiate a strong trade position. This naturally lead to its being exploited by other stronger countries. It was like a little baby who was abandoned by its parents and needed to survive in the tough streets.
But pointing fingers at the country’s past isn’t fair either; communism collapsed more than 25 years ago, and many countries (e.g., Baltic states) have successfully transformed themselves into prospering Western economies. I spent more than two years living in Lithuania, and I can attest that it’s a fantastic place to live and work. It truly feels “European” in every sense of the term.
The leaders of the country share the blame too. Ukraine is the most corrupt place in Europe. As they say, the fish rots from the head. That means everyone and everything below the president, all government organizations, are complicit in heavy corruption in one way or another.
Politicians must take responsibility for the war. No country needs a war, and a poor country teetering on bankruptcy like Ukraine needs it the least. If the politicians wanted, they could’ve negotiated a peace settlement that ended the war yesterday. They could’ve also avoided starting the war in the first place. The fates of the thousands of soldiers and their families are firmly in their hands. They decide the direction of the country. They decide how many lives are needlessly lost.
But there’s also a third party to blame as well: people. With communism long gone, and Ukraine being a democratic country, it’s ultimately the people who decide the country’s future. They vote for the president and members of the parliament. And, failing that, they can always take to the streets and demand reforms or a new government altogether as they did in 2004 and 2014. Corruption can only be so widespread at all levels of government and society if the people themselves believe that “it’s how the world works” and that corruption greases the wheels of the government.
Many locals have told me that it will take a generation or two before the country develops a new mentality, one that will force the government to become more transparent and less corrupt.
Streets of despair
As I walk around the snowy streets of Kiev, I can’t help but have an eery feeling. It’s as though the country is coming apart at the seams. There’s a worry and uncertainty in the air. The liveliness and vitality that was present during my earlier visits is notably absent.
Many questions cannot be easily answered. Will the currency continue to drop more and more? Will the war escalate? Will the financing from the Western countries in the form of debt dry up?
All of this shows a lot of uncertainty. The currency devaluation, the crisis and a lot of this other mess is far from some accident. It isn’t far-fetched to think that the currency devaluation was masterfully timed with the war. It’s classic capitalism: a small number of rich people is getting filthy rich at the expense of the rest 99% of the population.
If this was a random country in Africa, I wouldn’t really care. And who knows, there are probably many countries in Africa that are suffering from an unimaginable level of poverty. But this isn’t Africa. This is Europe. Even though I haven’t really lived here for many years, it’s the only country out of the 85 or so I’ve visited where things just click. It could be because I’m a local who speaks the language. It also could be something special about the people and culture as attested by countless foreign expats who have been living here for many years.
There are also bright spots on the horizon. The war seems to have subsided somewhat. Experts are saying that the currency has bottomed out, especially with the expected infusion of cash from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a sort of an international bank that lends money to troubled economies.
Most importantly, I’m noticing a younger generation resembling the Westerners in their creativity, productivity, and, most importantly, mindset. This means that in 10 or 20 years, this will be a very difficult country that it is today, a country that will have nothing in common with its communist past nor (hopefully) corrupt present. After all, Ukraine has one of the highly educated populations in the former Soviet Union. There are lots of scientists, engineers and technicians with advanced degrees. It’s my hope they’ll put their talents to work in this country and not somewhere else.
As a location-independent nomad, I should be bouncing around the world. It’s what I do. One friend suggested I hit up Bosnia. Another told me to visit Cuba before it gets polluted by American weekend tourists and McDonalds on every block. There’s also Burma which is gradually growing as an up-and-coming destination but without being developed as its next door neighbor Thailand. And then there’s Brazil, a magical country where I lived for two years, that’s whispering sweet somethings in my ears.
But as strange as it sounds, I’m here in cloudy and snowy Kiev, and I have very little reason to be elsewhere—even when it’s -30C degrees outside, and every day I’m fighting hard to avoid a stepping into a three foot pile of snow, while being surrounded by old, crumbling and decaying Soviet-era buildings. The other 84 countries seem like a world away.
As I sit in this Soviet-era “stolovaya” and eat my delicious “borsch,” I’m eagerly following developments and seeing how everything unfolds. Because from where I’m currently standing, it certainly can’t get any worse.
I have a confession to make: I’m sick and tired of Eastern Europe. Several years of traveling around Eastern Europe, followed by several years of living in Lithuania and then about a half a year of living in Ukraine wore me down. I got tired of the Soviet architecture. The non-ending snowy winters. The permanently sad and depressed people.
I got tired of countless emails from guys asking me for advice on picking up Ukrainian women—guys that have no interest in learning about the country or its culture. I got tired of guys emailing me and telling how “vindictive” and “manipulative” Russian or Ukrainian women can be. I was even more tired of guys emailing me their sob stories about how their “dream Ukrainian girl” left them for another guy after they got married and her rich “sponsor” brought her to his rich Western country. I don’t mind giving advice to fellow men, but I can’t help someone if they’re approaching me with such negative and defeatist attitude. I can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. (Though, I will stress that dating in Ukraine and Russia is not for rookies.)
Most of all, I was tired of Ukraine and Eastern Europe in general. I was tired of seeing its people being deceived and manipulated by corrupt politicians with three citizenships and villas in Spain, Italy and Switzerland. I was tired of having countless discussions about how the “the bright future is just around the corner.” I was tired of the “beggar mentality” where people, instead of solving their own problems, are begging EU or America for money. (When did EU or America ever “help” anyone? When did capitalists ever give away their capital without seeking a higher return down the road while holding the country’s future as collateral?)
So, I did what I always do when I’m tired of a particular place and need a new perspective: I bought a one-way ticket to the most random place in the world: Bali, Indonesia.
It was a freezing and snowy morning as I got into a taxi enroute to Kiev’s Boryspil international airport. After arriving, I promptly checked in for my flight to Indonesia. Twenty one hours and two stopovers later—one in Istanbul, Turkey and another in Jakarta, Indonesia—I landed on the beautiful island of Bali.
It was midnight when I landed, and although I couldn’t see the surroundings yet, I immediately knew I had landed somewhere special. The following morning I woke up and saw the paradise in all of its glory. This was heaven. The people were some of the most friendliest I’ve ever met; I haven’t seen people smile as much anywhere else and certainly not in Eastern Europe.
After spending a month there, I headed to the southern part of the island to be closer to the beacher. After two months of living on this paradise, I was ready for another change, so I booked a flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Thailand exceeded all my expectations
I’ve learned early on that the greatest rewards exist for those who don’t follow the herd, but sometimes you have to go where the action is. One such place in Southeast Asia is Thailand’s fifth largest city, Chiang Mai. It’s currently being ambitiously called “The Digital Nomad Capital of The World.”
For a city with such a braggadocious tagline, I naturally approached the once sleepy town with skepticism. However, after spending here just a few days, I knew right away that this place is special.
This isn’t my first trip to Thailand; Thailand was the first Asian country that I visited back in 2004. Back then it was a relatively sleepy little town overcrowded by backpackers with dreadlocks looking for banana pancakes. Man, how times have changed.
There are huge malls everywhere. Lots of affluent young people sporting iPhones 6 and 6 Plus. Fantastic coffee shops that rival even the most hipster-filled American cities. Lightning fast Internet (the coffee shop that I’m sitting at now has 20Mb pipe; the co-working space I was hustling in yesterday had a 50Mb pipe).
And those backpackers looking for banana pancakes? They’re making $5,000/month running their SaaS company (or a similar business) while working at cheap coffee shops or co-working places.
Life was never this easy
Chiang Mai is world’s apart from the bustling capital, Bangkok, but it has absolutely everything one might need. It’s the perfect city for living or for bootstrapping your own business. All that’s missing is the beach, but that can actually be a blessing in disguise.
Then there’s the amazing food, the night markets, the electronic gadgets. I seriously don’t know why I avoided exploring Asia for so long. My heart maybe still in Latin America, but Asia feels fucking amazing right now. Not sure when I’m going back to Eastern Europe.
If there’s a word I can describe my life here it would be easy. Everything is super easy. The apartment I rented is huge and spacious and has everything I need. There’s a laundry downstairs. High speed Internet. All for only $250/mo. I’ve been getting around town on speedy 125cc motorbike (an upgrade from the 110c) around town that I fill up once a week for just $2.50.
I don’t remember the last time my life felt so easy. It wasn’t this easy in Latin America. It wasn’t this easy in Europe. And it definitely wasn’t like this in America. Easy. Everything works.
Where else in the world can you get so much value for so little? This is the question I keep asking myself pretty much every waking moment.
But what I like best about Asia isn’t the fact that my life is super easy. It’s also not the night markets or the delicious food. It’s not the 20Mb-30Mb Internet that’s available in almost every coffee shop or restaurant. All of that stuff is great, but that’s not even close to the best part.
Asia’s Winning Mentality
What I like best about Asia is the mentality. There’s none of that “beggar mindset” that I’ve experienced in Eastern Europe—from Lithuania and Latvia to Moldova and Ukraine. None of that “bailout” or “financial assistance” bullshit that you read everyday in the newspapers. None of that melancholy, hopelessness and despair. No one here is trying to immigrate to some richer country like America, UK or Denmark. No one is asking me “if living in Europe is better than living in Ukraine” or “how many years does it take to get a US citizenship.” I can’t tell you how sick and tired I was of all that.
Eastern Europe is dying; Asia is flourishing. Asians are building their own future. They’re innovating. They’re growing. They’re creating endless value. I can give up traveling and live in Chiang Mai for a year without missing anything useful.
Why didn’t I take seriously Asia before? Why wasn’t it on my list? I really have no idea. There’s so much value here in Asia that doesn’t exist in America or other rich countries.
If there’s one thing I learned from spending so many years in Eastern Europe is that something just ain’t right with the whole region. Something is rotten. For a region that’s gifted with so many intelligent people (at least the ones who didn’t immigrate to Israel or USA), it should be doing better than it is. After all, Communism collapsed more than 25 years ago, so saying that it needs time to get its shit together doesn’t make much sense. It has had enough time. How much more time does it need? Another 25 years? 35 years? A European country?
Don’t get me wrong. I love Ukraine. I love its people. I love its survival mentality. After all, I’m Eastern European by both birth and spirit (so please don’t bother emailing me and telling me that “I don’t get Ukraine, blah blah”).
But something just ain’t right when I visit a “developing” Asian country like Thailand and can have a higher quality of life than in “developed” country like America; where my hard-earned dollar goes further than pretty much anywhere else in the world. Ukraine, on the other hand, is stuck between a difficult past and an uncertain future: Asia is moving full speed ahead.
And in this stage of my life, Asia’s mentality and value is exactly what I need.
I recently tweeted a thought that has been marinating inside my head for quite some time. As you can see, it’s an idea that received wide support, with plenty of tweets and favorites, especially by some heavy hitters who understand how the game is really played.
In the future, you’ll either be a wage slave or a location independent nomad enjoying dollar arbitrage; the middle class will be dismantled.
— James Maverick (@MavTraveler) April 2, 2016
Over 100 hours years ago, an economist predicted that the capital-owned class will be eventually overthrown by the rebellious proletariat (the working class). His name was Karl Marx and, in his pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto, he preached the wonders of a new socio-economic political system called Communism.
These days, Karl Marx’s theories are mostly ridiculed because his predictions didn’t come true. The working class didn’t rebel against the capitalists. While Communism became the economic system of a few countries, it eventually collapsed, leaving capitalism as the only system that efficiently organizes labor and capital.
Nevertheless, Karl Marx was right in his other famous work: Capital. In it, he explained how the capitalist classes exploit the labor-providing class for its own gain.
His main argument was in something called “surplus value,” where a capitalist derives value from workers in excess of what he pays him. For example, if you’re making $50/hour working at your soulless and lifeless 9-5 job, the value your boss derives from your work is typically more than $50/hour—often many times that amount. This “surplus value” goes into his pocket without any compensation to you. If you want to understand how the middle class is being exploited, you don’t need to look much further than this.
The mystery of the middle class
In describing how labor is exploited, I mentioned a term that most of you probably glossed over without thinking twice: middle class. It’s an innocent term that gets thrown around a lot. Politicians love using it when campaigning for an important post such as the Senate or the Presidency. They love it because it carries lots of political capital; mention those two words and you’ve immediately got the attention of the sizable chunk of your electorate.
Here lies the paradox. While this term is of immense value to politicians and other public figures, that’s not the case when it comes to someone who has no aspirations of manipulating large crowds for their own Machiavellian gain—someone like you and me. That means there’s the formal definition of a middle class that’s taught to the masses and the real definition that few actually know.
The formal, economic definition of the middle class: a group of people who’re not poor and not rich. It’s someone who’s making a decent salary, usually at a comfortable 9-5 job with generous benefits.
At least that’s the economic definition, the one touted by politicians and the one you study in your high school textbook.
But real life, as I’m sure you’ve suspected if you’ve been reading this blog long enough, works quite differently. And, I’m here to tell you but you’ve been deeply mislead: this “middle class” is actually something else entirely.
Do you know what “middle class” really means? I bet that nobody told you that the middle class doesn’t really exist. It’s a house of mirrors, a mirage, a smokescreen.
Imagine for a moment that a population is divided into three groups: those who don’t work, those who work for someone else, and those who work for themselves. Out of the three groups of people, the middle class would be the second example (it’s in the middle of the other classes).
Unlike the other two classes, the middle class is the only class that’s voluntarily trading their only precious asset—time—for money, aka pieces of paper that are devaluing at a constant rate due to inflation.
It’s a class consisting of lost and confused people who do pointless and useless things like obtaining bullshit “liberal arts” degrees because they have no idea what skills are actually in demand. So, they listened to their trusty high school guidance counselor (who’s paid by the state to tell you complete bullshit) who was nice enough to tell them that they’re going to “change the world” while forking over $20,000+ of tuition each year. It’s a class that thinks it’ll “change the world” while slaving away nights and weekend at some “startup” whose main business model is quick delivery of organic food to small chihuahuas.
Not only is the middle class lost and confused, it’s more than happy to work hard and subsidize others who don’t work nearly as much. It’s one of the most ingenious schemes in the world. One way this is accomplished is via taxes. The tax code contains all kinds loopholes that greatly benefit those who’re earning lots of money at the expense of those who don’t earn as much (those who make little or no money are subsidized by the government).
Not too long ago, I read an article that talked about how Warren Buffet’s secretary actually paid more taxes than the famous billionaire himself. He was taxed less because most of his earnings were on capital instead of as a result of his labor.
Another ingenious method of robbing the middle class is via a scheme better known by its common marketing name: “the financial crisis.” For one reason or another, these “financial crises” seem to occur like clockwork every ten years or so. Coincidence? During the last big 2008 financial crisis, people had their savings completely obliterated (my own 401k retirement account and other investment accounts were contracted by half, and I lost a substantial amount of money).
Since you’re incentivized by everyone—your employer, your “financial advisor” and the IRS—to contribute to an IRA or 401k fund, the middle class usually has a sizable funds there. Thus, it becomes a good target to raze viaorchestrated “financial crises” just like the big one in 2008.
The middle class is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Always has been. Always will be. It’s the consumer guinea pigs for products and services that are produced by others. It’s a class that’s constantly being scammed and gamed in all kinds of ways.
While Karl Marx was a brilliant economist, his mistake was giving this class too much credit. After all, the middle class is very lazy. Extremely lazy. He expected them to actually stop watching their 500 channels and get out of their comfortable couches in their cookie cutter suburbia homes and actually revolt against the oligarchs (yes, even in America, there are oligarchs like George Soros) that control their lives. How crazy is that?
They didn’t revolt because they couldn’t be bothered. As long as they have their “chic” downtown studio and their 500 TV channels all financed by cheap and unsustainable credit (i.e., finance slavery) to buy a house or some car to impress some girl (if it’s a girl to buy her Louis Vuitton bag), they’re perfectly comfortable.
How to pillage the middle class and get away with murder
Many say that middle class began to decline after Ronald Reagan took office. At that time America was suffering from hyperinflation (a strange phenomenon where prices rise but without the corresponding rise in productivity). In order to battle this problem, the head of the Federal Reserve Bank (the quasi public/private monopoly that controls American currency) heavily raised interest rates that it charges to banks when it makes loans.
The result was that money became scarce, which lead to a contraction of the economy and eventual depression. Since the cost of money went up, this greatly benefited those who had capital and money to lend at the expense of those who didn’t (yup, middle class got duped again).
But there’s a another risk—a much graver one—to the middle class that has been evolving for the past several decades: globalization. Globalization presents an interesting problem for governments. For a government to survive, it must find ways to make revenue. Since a government doesn’t actually sell any products or services, it derives revenue via two ways: taxing the population or borrowing from creditors.
In an increasingly borderless world, it’s getting harder for governments to tax its citizens. In most countries a citizen is not a taxable resident if he spends less than 180 days in the country (America is the only country in the world that taxes its citizens regardless where they actually live in the world; I’m sure that more countries will shortly be following suit). As a result, governments will begin to run higher budget deficits by spending more than they take in.
Guess who’ll be used to make up for the shortfall? Those who’re the easiest to tax: the immobile middle class who doesn’t have much choice but to pay up.
The wall street — which runs the US government – is interested in squeezing the most amount out of the middle class as possible. And it’s actually the easiest thing in the world to do: convince people to pay taxes while giving favorable loopholes that only the rich can exploit to legally avoid paying taxes. Convince people to “invest” their money into funds that are entirely controlled by others.
In fact, having a sizable middle class is preferred for the elite because it keeps the masses fed and entertained while letting the government and the elite covertly raze what they’ve worked so hard for.
Regardless how you look at it—and whether you actually want to believe it—the “middle class illusion” is coming to an end. You can’t have a sustainable society where a large part of the population is defaulting on its credit—credit that’s kept artificially cheap thanks to government subsidized loans—because their jobs are rapidly being outsourced to cheaper regions of the world.
Globalization: the dagger in middle class’ heart
Globalization is making this easy for risk-takers because it’s now easy to move around the world and cherry pick your labor (i.e. hire in a low cost place like India or The Philippines), but the dynamics of this new economy is putting a squeeze on everyone else.
That means if you’re reading this and aren’t sitting in Bali, Indonesia, Koh Lanta, Thailand or San Miguel, Mexico while building your SaaS business whose goal is to generate $5,000 in monthly revenue from some coffee shop with 20 or 50mbps Internet—you’re being squeezed in more ways than you can imagine.
Because someone always needs to be squeezed. Modern economical systems are nothing more than a game of musical chairs. Of course, it won’t be the rich (they own “old” capital and are “protected” by the government). It also won’t be the poor (there’s a limit to how much people can be squeezed; see Baltimore riots).
So, who’s left? The dumb and lazy sheeple class which is better known by its other name: the middle class.
(If you ask me, I think that’s what the middle class deserves: as far as I’m concerned, you just can’t have a sustainable society when you don’t take any risk and yet still enjoy the rewards.)
The utopian society predicted by Karl Marx called Communism is exactly what it is: a utopian society bearing no resemblance whatsoever to actual reality.
That means only one thing: the capitalistic class isn’t going away anytime soon. Capitalists are here to stay. Capital is here to stay. So, if you’re not generating capital, you’re losing out. You’re losing ground because the only thing you’re able to do—labor—is being devalued at an alarming pace.
Capital is back with a vengeance and it’s stronger than ever.
The end of jobs
This is both good and bad news. The good news is that it’ll give new opportunities for people to transition to this new class and own capital for the first time in their lives; the bad news is that things will be harder for those who refuse to make this transition.
In the not-so-distant future, there will be a redistribution of capital between traditional owners of big capital and newly entrants such as entrepreneurs: you’ll either be a location independent nomad enjoying dollar arbitrage or a wage slave permanently trying to make ends meet while working harder and harder to maintain the rapidly decreasing standard of living.
Since capital is being globalized, it’s much easier to hire someone who lives in a place with a relatively low cost of living than to hire someone who wants (or demands) to be paid a high salary and also wants some kind of job security plus all kinds of benefits.
This process is called called outsourcing, and while I’m sure you’re aware how it works, what you may not be aware is that outsourcing also leads to insourcing; the import of lower quality of living as a result of outsourcing all the key manufacturing and service jobs to some distant land. One doesn’t need to look further than a city like Detroit; once the beacon of American industrious might and now a city of ruins like any of the ancient Latin American cities with Mayan or Aztec with beautiful ruins.
Contrary to popular belief, being an employee at a big company is also riskier than running your own business. Much, much riskier. Running your own business gives you more control, you’re intricately aware of all the details of the business; when you’re an employee you’re given a set salary but are shielded from the businesses’ operating details.
Perhaps years ago there was some kind of security-a “job for life” of some sorts, but with the borderless world, every job is an implicit temporary contract. The word stability exists only for those who own capital. It doesn’t exist for those who merely have money, because as you’ve already noticed such money can disappear overnight but capital is here to stay.
The New York Times recently published an article describing how being fired and losing one’s job is now considered some kind of “graduation.” As time goes on, these “graduation ceremonies” will happen more often.
So, what does this mean? While productivity has been slowly rising worldwide, the truth is that increased mobility brings advantages to some while turning into a disadvantage for others. Like money, the world belongs to hustlers. The world belongs to those who make moves. I like to think of all kinds of employment as temporary, regardless whether you’re a “temporary” contractor or a “permanent” employee.
The name of the game is capital. In order to survive in this new world, you must have capital. Capital gives you everything; without it you’re nothing. The middle class doesn’t have any. If you’re trading your time for money instead of investing this time into more productive endeavors, you don’t have any capital. None of it. Not a single drop of it.
The invisible capital
Along with the decline of the middle class, there has been parallel rise in another type of class: the nomadic entrepreneur. This is no coincidence. This is a class that owes no allegiance to any “defined” group of people.
The nomadic entrepreneur crosses religious, nationalistic and geographical boundaries. The nomadic entrepreneur follows the invisible capital. While he isn’t risk-averse, he isn’t necessarily a red-blooded risk taker, either. His job is to create and build capital, a new type of capital that has never been available before. This class is native to Globalization and, thus, is able to leverage its benefits in the most efficient way possible.
Back in 2007 when I quit my job and became a permanent nomad, it was pretty rare to meet guys who lived anywhere in the world while making money from the comfort of their laptops. Although I did meet some of those guys, they were usually associated with less savory corners of the Internet: porn and gambling (among others).
When I visited Thailand back in 2004, I spent a week in Chiang Mai, a small and pleasant city in the north of the country. At that time, it was mostly overrun by backpackers who were traveling on a shoestring budget through SE Asia, eating $1 dinners in night markets and sleeping in filthy $2/night hostels.
Nowadays, it’s very easy to find such nomadic entrepreneurs. There are everywhere. As someone who’s been a nomadic entrepreneur long before it became trendy, it boggles my mind how many people out there are making money and living on their own terms. It’s insane. It seems like everyone is doing it.
The majority don’t make a lot of money—although some of them make an absolute killing—but certainly make enough to get by on cheap in “3rd world” places such as SE Asia, Latin America or Eastern Europe. Regions with a more laid-back quality of life, fantastic weather, and truly easy living. (My present two-month sojourn on the tropical island of Bali, Indonesia has been amazing).
As I’m getting ready to move to Chiang Mai, Thailand for three months in less than two weeks, I’ll be visiting a completely different city from the one I visited ten years ago: these days Chiang Mai is being boldly called by many as “The Digital Nomad Capital of The World.” While it’ll still have its share of budget backpackers roughing in dirty hostels, most of the people I’ll probably be running into guys with monthly revenues easily breaking the four figure mark, some even reaching five figures.
What changed? What changed was the democratization of societies thanks to the Internet and its brother globalization. The world is getting smaller, the borders are being erased, and more and more people are speaking the same language: English.
The beauty of this new world is that, for the first time in human history, you now have access to a completely different way of doing business. In this increasingly borderless world one can create an online presence in San Francisco and ten minutes later take payments from a guy sitting in a warung in Bali, Indonesia, a cantina in Mexico City, or a stolovaya in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. The new rich are being minted every day and it’s also a lot easier to become one than you think.
Becoming a nomadic entrepreneur
The key to joining the new rich is what capitalists and oligarchs have known since the beginning of private capitalism: creating, nursing and ultimately owning your own capital—and not trading your precious time for rapidly depreciating pieces of paper that you’ll have to surrender to starved and hungry governments anyway.
The rush is on for this new capital. Unlike the rubber barons of the 19th century or the great capitalists of the 20th century, you no longer need to be born with a golden spoon or have a roman numeral affixed to your name in order to mint your own capital. Capital is rapidly becoming a commodity.
The simplest—and most powerful way—is to take what you’re good at and expose it to the world. Since most of the things out there are now commodities (e.g., every guy and his dog has a travel blog and an FBA business), the only thing that’s real is you. And since we’re living in an attention-deficit economy, your primary job is to get noticed before doing anything else. It’s ironic that in our world of excesses, the only thing we truly lack is our attention.
Not long ago, entrepreneurship was some buzzword that you study and contemplate being like whether you should order chocolate chip or vanilla ice-cream. It was never something you decided to do automatically.
But that’s quickly changing. Instead of it being some abstract topic that you spent countless hours reading and researching while getting accomplished absolutely nothing, it will cease to be a buzzword and become you.
Many of you read what I write because you lack motivation and need a kick in the ass to get where you want to go. Well, I’m here to tell you that soon you won’t need motivation, you’ll need to do it because you won’t have any other choice in the manner.
And why not? Making money on your own terms has never been easier in recorded human history.
While you’re perfectly comfortable now with your 500 channels, your Internet porn and other distractions that are designed to keep you “in the middle,” soon the word “comfort” will disappear from your vernacular. The longer you delay, the harder the transition to a capital-rich class will be; the longer you delay, the more struggle you’ll face in the not-so-distant future. Not feeling the great squeeze yet? You will.
Right now, the decision is no longer whether it makes sense to build your own capital by tapping into the global marketplace or not. Since working online and building your brand is getting quickly commoditized, the question now is how to differentiate yourself. How can you let the world know that you exist? How do you unleash yourself on the world?
The question isn’t whether to market to a global audience, the question is what to market. The question isn’t whether you should get noticed or not; the question is how to get noticed so that someone like me who doesn’t know you personally can still buy what you’re selling. Every one of us is unique and talented in one way or another; the challenge becomes of the best way to deliver this value to others in a most efficient way possible.
Pondering these questions now instead of later is precisely how you escape the shackles and tyranny of the broken middle class and rise above the mediocre masses while working your way to becoming the person you’ve always meant to be and living the life you truly deserve.
This is important. Because in the future that comfortable job where you get paid for doing nothing will disappear, and—depending on how you act—you’ll either be working as a wage slave or become a nomadic entrepreneur with all the benefits of earning income in hard currency along with geoarbitraging yourself around the world as you see fit.
There are many reasons why I like living in Eastern Europe. It’s cheap. The food is healthy. The people are friendly. The city where I’m now (Kiev) is simply gorgeous and historic.
But there’s more. Above all, as a man, I feel extremely comfortable here. I feel comfortable being myself. For the first time in many years, I’m developing extremely healthy and mutually beneficial relationships with women.
When I’m not working or spending time with amazing women, I’m usually on the mat training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I’ve written about this addiction often, but that’s because of the immense value it adds to my life. While the actual training is great, what’s even better is being in the company of great men, and the bonding, compraderie that goes along with that.
That got me thinking about something that I really like about this part of the world—and something that was desperately lacking during my life in America—male compradore and bonding. Here in Eastern Europe, the women are extremely feminine and men are very masculine. But that isn’t news to any of you; I’ve been talking about this for ages now. What you may not know, however, is there’s a strong demarcation between the things you do with your male friends and the things you do with your woman.
When you hang out with guys, you’re having manly discussions. There’s no politically correct bullshit. Guys tell you exactly how it is. They give you advice when it comes to all kinds of things. They’re on your side. They support and help you. Serious and unfiltered mentoring. No bullshit of any kind.
When you’re spending time with your woman, it’s the complete opposite: you’re being bathed in endless feminine energy. The communication is more emotional instead of logical. There’s endless courting, flirting, seducing. This is regardless if it’s first time you met or someone you’ve been seeing for a while. The feminine energy really knows no bounds. It’s truly a great experience to be constantly seducing and courting a wonderful woman.
Essentially, any interaction that I have here is either strongly masculine or strongly feminine. For instance, I went to get a haircut today. My barber is strongly masculine. He was telling me great places to take a girl out here in Kiev. He told me about the crazy adventures he had traveling in Southeast Asia. How much he loves the hustle. On the other hand, the lady at the reception was strongly feminine. As I was paying for the haircut, she emitted this wonderful feminine energy. Her smile was irresistible. I knew that inviting her out to dinner would be as effortless as signing the credit card receipt.
These two areas that you interact with—the masculine area and the feminine area—are like the proverbial yin-yang. They counterbalance you. They fulfill you. There’s never any confusion what you need to do: you either connect with fellow men or seduce amazing women. Bond or seduce. Nothing else.
The defining factor of a traditional society
This division between the masculine side and feminine side is the defining factor of a truly traditional society. The ability to act either masculine or feminine is treated no less as a religion. These things are as sacred as going to church.
Nobody tries to break you away from it. Women know that you hang out with these guys. They know that when you talk to other guys, you’re probably talking about women. They know there’s masculine bonding going on. They’re perfectly fine with it. And they stay out of it. They don’t shame you. They don’t belittle you for joining some “male clique” when you’re spending time with your men. They don’t try to convince to stop hanging out with your crew and spend more time with them. They understand you for it. They respect for it. In fact, they would be confused if you didn’t have a serious crew of men to spend time with. They might think there’s something wrong with you.
This is what living in a traditional society is like. Masculine men. Feminine women. No one is trying to cross the lines. Everyone is super comfortable where they are. Nobody even knows what “masculinity” or “femininity” really is. Kind of like asking a typical Brazilian guy why he has such great seduction skills. He wouldn’t be able to explain it himself.
Living in a society that has such a strong masculine and feminine polarity has changed how I look at the world in a million ways. It’s making me a better, more capable and more masculine and clear-headed man. And it also allowed me to connect with women in amazingly new ways that I couldn’t connect before. I can act like a seducer with my woman. And act like a red blooded masculine man when I’m spending time with my crew.
No bonding in the West
This sacred demarcation between all things masculine and all things feminine doesn’t exist in the West. Bonding with other men is difficult to impossible. First, male bonding is looked down upon by society. You’re considered “weak” for going to other men for advice and mentoring.
Second, even if you try bonding with other men, you’ll quickly discover that it’s a fruitless endeavor. Mostly because you’re surrounded by guys who’re too politically correct. Politically correctness has diluted their masculinity to almost nothing. These men lack any edge whatsoever. They lack a backbone. They lack direction and decisiveness. On top of that, you don’t even know which of your male friends you can really trust: there are lots of “men” who’re white knights in disguise and are ready to bash and shame you if they deem your behavior “too masculine.” All of this makes connecting with other men a fruitless endeavor.
Then there are the women who’ve crossed this sacred demarcation line and interfere in your masculine affairs. They shame and belittle you for trying to bond with other guys. They call you names and make fun of you. Sigmund Freud would probably say it’s a case of penis envy. I would agree.
I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why that is. Why isn’t feminine and masculine behavior enforced on some natural level by culture and society? Why is there constant meddling from both sides? Why can’t men bond with other men in a healthy and productive way and women be comfortable with their femininity?
One reason is because of the politically correct mentality and culture in the Western countries. Western culture itself is synonymous with political correctness. This culture affects both men and women. It “saps” both men and women of their natural masculinity and femininity, respectively, and, instead of making them stronger, it groups them together as a result of not feeling comfortable in their predefined roles. Men become more feminine and turn into white knights; women become more masculine and turn into ball-busters (which is why negs and teases work so well on them). And, you, a normal, clear-thinking man, who just wants to live a normal life and date normal feminine women, is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Instead of men uniting together and helping each other, they’re divided and pitted against each other. It creates extreme behavior where men begin picking on other men. Men shame other men from all sides. The “white knights” bash men who advice others to “fuck women” because they’re being too aggressive; while other men claim that the only reason guys travel abroad is because they’re losers and can’t get laid at home. Then there’s all kinds of shaming in between: black men for dating white (overweight or not ) women. Asian guys who date white girls. You get the picture.
The ultimate purpose is to weaken society using the old “divide and conquer” method.
This kind of behavior simply doesn’t exist in non-Western countries. There’s almost no man-to-man shaming of any kind. For instance, in Brazil, one of my good Brazilian friends only chased foreign women. Can you imagine other Brazilian guys shaming their fellow countryman because he prefers to chase foreign women? As someone who had lived in Brazil for some time, I can tell you that something like this would be completely unheard of. It would be pure nonsense. Stupid and mindless hate. In fact, it’s probably completely unheard of for other men to shame men in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Southern Europe, etc.
Living in a society with a clear demarcation between bonding with other men and spending time with beautiful women is truly a rewarding experience. There’s absolutely nothing like it. It allows you once and for all to stop debating the arbitrary meanings of masculinity and femininity and grow as a man by creating your own wealth and building your own empire.
But you can’t do that in a society where even two men can’t agree on something trivial and support each other. You can’t do that in a society where a woman feels shamed for being feminine.
There can be functioning society until a clear demarcation line is drawn between what’s truly masculine and what’s truly feminine. There needs to be one or the other—not some grey and muddy area that seems confusing from a distance and gets more and more confusing as you try to understand it up close.
PS: My new book on meeting and seducing women in the wild will be out next week. It’s a book I started three years ago and contains all my knowledge about meeting women throughout the years. I take a unique and different approach. It’s an instructional manual, not a memoir. Early reviewers think it’s better than my previous books. I’ll let you decide.
I looked at the sky. It was light blue, sunny without a single cloud. There were people around me dancing, running, and drinking. The music was blasting from all directions. It was also hot—scorchingly hot. My friend, who invited me out to join him, was now making out with a cute Brazilian girl on the street. Did I also mention that it was really, really hot?
It was mid-February—the peak of Brazilian summer—and I was in downtown Rio de Janeiro attending the world famous Carnival. I remember sweating, dancing and then looking for my friend, who by that point, was nowhere to be seen.
The next thing I remember is waking up back at my Ipanema apartment. I must’ve been pretty exhausted because my “afternoon nap” lasted well into the evening. That would be the first and last Carnival that I would ever attend.
I get tons of emails from readers asking me if it’s worth going to Brazil for Carnival. My answer is usually mixed. It’s not a strong “hell yes” and it’s also not a strong “no.” It’s a maybe. Making the decision requires you to analyze a bunch of factors.
First, it’s brutally hot. Really hot. Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival takes place in mid-February, when it’s not uncommon to experience 110 F+ days (40C+) days with nothing but blistering sun. If you’re a guy who can’t stand very hot weather, you’ll be reeling from the heat.
I’m one of those guys. Rio de Janeiro’s summers are blistering hot, but it’s one thing when you’re sitting at the beach, under the umbrella, enjoying a nice breeze and taking a dip in the water every now and then. But it’s an entirely different story when you’re in some crowded area, drinking beers, dancing (or even just standing). I’d rather be in an air-conditioned club.
The second issue with visiting Brazil during Carnival is that, due to the high influx of tourists, prices for everything skyrocket. A hostel that typically charges $10 for a dorm bed, will have no qualms charging four or five times that. Same for apartments and hotels.
And when you have such a huge influx of tourists, guess who else would be in attendance? The answer: thieves. I’ve known people who had all their belongings liberated, mostly by clever pick-pocketers that were so discreet that these people only realized their wallet and/or mobile phone were gone when they got home. It’s also important to mention that fights break out every now and then.
One huge orgy it is not
Most foreigners think that during Carnival, Brazilian cities turn into one huge orgy, like a scene out of some “girls gone wild” video. But that doesn’t reflect reality. Brazilians are friendly and easy-going people and use any opportunity as a celebration and party. Unlike say a frigid country like Sweden or Finland that’s covered in ice for most of the year, Brazilians don’t really need to go crazy once a year.
For instance, in Rio de Janeiro, there’s a street party every single weekend night in a downtown neighborhood called Lapa. It’s always packed to the brim with people drinking, hanging out and generally enjoying themselves.
During my two year sojourn in Rio, that’s pretty much where you’d find me almost every Friday night. I’d either be near the arches, sipping a cheap R$1 beer or a R$3 caipirinha, or in the other part of Lapa that’s replete with nice Samba bars.
I mostly spent my time socializing with friends, while trying to figure which girl to approach next. Another nice thing about these street parties is that they take place at night when the air temperature is much cooler, making it more enjoyable to pass the time and relax.
Moreover, unlike Carnival, attending a regular Rio de Janeiro street night party means that there’s less tourists, and correspondingly, less chance of crime, although a risk always persists.
Rio’s Times Square
While Carnival is definitely a fun and unique activity, I don’t believe it’s worth structuring your trip to the promised land around. Most likely, you’ll have a much more stress-free activity when you come to Brazil on pretty much any other time period (visiting Brazil during New Year’s can be expensive too, although New Year’s celebrations are fun in their unique way). Brazil being Brazil, you can throw a dart on a calendar, and visiting on the day will guarantee you an excellent time.
Of course, if you’re already living in Brazil (like I was), then, of course, it’s worth going to one of those blocos and seeing what the fuss is all about. Just leave all your belongings at home.
Coming to Brazil for Carnival is like visiting a famous landmark such as Times Square in New York or the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It’s something that you do once before you die. In addition, it also gives you the all-important bragging rights when talking to your friends back home. That’s the first question your clueless friends will ask you anyway once they learn that you’re considering visiting the tropical country.
“James, Brazilian women are quickly becoming Americanized.”
“James, I’ve seen cuter Brazilian women in 15 minutes in New York than during my two-week vacation in Rio de Janeiro.”
“James, the bottom line is that Brazil is no longer a good destination for men.”
About two or three years after I left the promised land called Brazil, I began hearing negative “reports” about the country. At first, these rumors slowly trickled in, but, over time, like an avalanche gathering speed, they became more and more common. Things became so bad that even several of my long-term readers—who’ve never even stepped foot in Latin America—started telling me how Brazil has “changed.” Expectedly, they’re blaming this on Westernization.
A few men who have visited Brazil have reported that the women have lost their quintessential “Brazilian flair” and now closely resemble their American counterparts. They further justify these claims by saying that most Brazilian women now carry newest cell phones like iPhone 6 and prefer to exclusively text with their friends instead of making sexual eye contact with strangers.
As someone who knows Brazil pretty well, I view these “reports” with plenty of skepticism. While I haven’t returned to the promised land in few years, I have continued to travel around the world and carefully observe how different countries are developing. That’s pretty much what I do for a living: give you a “boots on the ground” perspective about different countries and cultures.
I recently returned to Mexico, a country where I lived for over year. I spent several years living in Lithuania, a former Soviet Union republic that was admitted to European Union in 2004. I went to Russia last year. I’ve been to Ukraine many times. I also keep in touch with expats from all over the world (one of the perks of running a popular travel blog).
Don’t get me wrong: Westernization is real. The world is indeed becoming smaller. Countries are changing in a multitude of ways. More and more people are speaking the world’s lingua franca, English.
But it’s not happening evenly across the board. Some countries have become little Americas (i.e., England and Denmark), other countries are slowly getting there, while many more countries are embracing Western values without giving up their indigenous cultures.
One country that’s at risk of being completely Westernized is Lithuania. Lithuania has all the characteristics of a perfect candidate to be swallowed by Westernization: it’s small, Northern European, has low levels of corruption, and its citizens can freely live and work anywhere in Europe.
Lessons from Eastern Europe
Lithuania could’ve changed dramatically after its admission to EU, but I can tell you that it still boasts a very traditional culture and plenty of beautiful and feminine women. My girlfriend of several years was one of the most feminine women I’ve ever met in my life. And I don’t see her suddenly morphing into some man-hating feminist anytime soon. She’s also not some anomaly because I’ve met plenty of women like her all over Lithuania.
Another country that’s a very interesting case is my former homeland of Ukraine. I seem to be addicted to Ukraine because I keep coming back any chance I get. I’ve now been to Ukraine four times in four years. Right now, I’m writing this article from my rented apartment in the capital, Kiev.
The women are some of the most feminine in the world. The girl that I’m seeing now is extremely feminine—as feminine as they come. A couple of other women that I’ve dated previously were also very feminine.
Of course, I can go dig up some “statistics” or make some stories that the women have somehow changed because of the Maidan revolution (or some other event), but I’m not going to create a point of view that reflects non-existent reality. I know what femininity is, and I can’t imagine how the women I’ve been meeting here can be even more feminine. It’s just not possible.
For a country that’s ripe for Westernization, Ukraine hasn’t really changed in noticeable ways. Going out in the beautiful city of Kiev with the super feminine women, I’ve never felt once that I was back in the American bars in New York or San Francisco. Although, I won’t deny that it can easily become a different country in 5 or 10 years.
The Brazilian way
This brings me back to Brazil, a country where I spent a bit more than two years of my life—a country, where, in many ways, I learned what real masculinity is all about. A country that changed my notion of what’s “normal” and “fucked up” (hint: Brazil is normal, America isn’t).
Although I ended up leaving Brazil, I still maintain contacts with a good number of people there. Many of these are women that I’ve been fortunate to get to know during my stay. They still look amazing. They’re still as sexy and feminine as ever. Saying that they’ve become Americanized in just several years doesn’t reflect reality. The fact that they use iPhones like the rest of the world hasn’t changed their sensuality in any way.
I also have many male friends that stayed behind. Most of them have now been living there for over 5 years (some have been living there for 10 years). The fact that they’re still there really says it all; if Brazil was indeed “Americanized,” as some people are claiming, I’m sure all these expats would’ve been on the first flight to some other country.
Brazil is one of the largest and culturally richest countries in the world. Everyone knows where Brazil is. Everyone—from Americans and Italians to Russians and Japanese to Nigerians and Indonesians—have, at the minimum, a certain understanding of the country. Of course, these are mostly stereotypes (Russians and Ukrainians think Brazil is a tropical country full of monkeys), but the fact is that everyone knows something about this magnificent country demonstrates its cultural might.
Brazilians are very proud of their country. When I lived in Brazil, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard locals boast that their country is the best in the world. While to a foreigner that quickly gets old and tiring (it did to me), it demonstrates that people aren’t looking outward to another country or culture for inspiration. Brazilians love Brazil and aren’t trying to become Americans or anyone else. Nationalism and pride run extremely strong in Brazil.
While Brazil is geographically located in Latin America, it’s so radically different from its neighbors that I easily considered it as a country that’s located on it’s own planet in some alternate universe. It’s certainly much more exciting and interesting than Chile, one of the most advanced and Westernized economies on the continent, but also one that’s home to relatively few Western expats as compared to Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and even Peru.
How Westernization affects countries
The common consensus is that Westernization is some unstoppable force that’s taking over the world, pillaging traditional cultures by converting them into mindless masses of consumers. While that may have some truth to it, there’s definitely much more than meets the eye.
Westernization is a complicated phenomenon. At the core it’s simply a set of ideals and values that are battling against another set of ideals and values. And for it to conquer the ideals of another country and its indigenous culture, the latter needs to be weaker and less resilient.
But here’s the thing that most people don’t realize: for Westernization to take hold, not only does the target country need to be weaker and less resilient, it also must want to adopta new culture. It must yearn for change.
A poor ex-Communist country like Lithuania (joined EU) and Ukraine (Maidan revolution) has its reasons for looking to the West; they’ve suffered enough under Soviet rule. But a country like Brazil with one of the most amazing and well-known cultures in the world doesn’t really need the West. In fact, it’s a country that’s exporting its own beautiful culture to the West (I’m sure most of you probably heard of a city called Rio de Janeiro, a dance called Samba, eaten a churrasco and maybe even listened to Bossa Nova)
In this case, a traditional country can have its cake and eat it too. It can embrace Western values such as technology and efficiency, but still continue to party with cheap $1 Skol Beer and caipirinhas in Rio de Janeiro’s Lapa neighborhood every Friday. It can import Western gadgets like iPhones but use them as another medium of communication for sexy and melodic Brazilian Portuguese.
Rumors and reality
During my first few months in Brazil, I was living in Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana neighborhood. At that time I was visiting a particular expat forum. One of the guys there was also living in Copacabana, about three or four blocks away from me.
His experience in Rio was very different from mine. According to him, he was robbed no less than three times in a span of three weeks. After that he vowed to never leave his house without a waiting taxi downstairs.
As I was reading all this, I actually felt like he was living on some alternative universe. I personally walked that street two or three times per day (it was on my way to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training). I walked both during the day and at night. Nothing bad ever happened to me. And I’m a fair skinned dude who doesn’t really look Brazilian.
That’s the problem with rumors: the bad news always spreads much faster than good news or even the lack of any news. Telling someone that Brazil has suddenly been “Americanized” is like telling someone that they’ll get mugged in Copacabana three times in three weeks. An isolated incident never presents the whole picture.
As expected, these rumors always generate more attention and interest than telling someone that Brazil is still a great destination for men—and will continue to be that way in the foreseeable future.
For most of my adult life, I viewed arranged marriages as nothing more than a crude violation of a man’s sovereign rights. Why should a man marry a woman that his parents chose? What if she’s not his type and he wants someone else? What if he already has a serious Western girlfriend? For a Westerner like me, these kinds of arrangements always seemed strange and bizarre.
Lately, however, I’ve been gradually realizing that any blessing can quickly become a curse. Even the so-called “abundance mentality” is slowly beginning to rear its ugly head.
After I quit my job and moved to Latin America, I lost touch with all my former coworkers and acquaintances, except for a few close friends. A couple of weeks ago, after more than seven years of being out of touch, I finally logged into my old account and the first picture that popped up on my feed was my friend standing next to a woman and two children. He was a bachelor no more.
Here was someone whom I thought would be a bachelor forever. I could never picture him ever abandoning his carefree lifestyle and ever settling down. But I guess I was wrong. Now he was a family man. A wife. Two kids. Even a home. And lots of responsibilities that went along with it. He was no longer some kid who got drunk on weekends; he was now a grown up man.
Like the rest of my former Indian co-workers, he met his wife via an arranged marriage; he took a trip to India and was introduced to several women, chose one he liked best and then flew back to marry and bring his new bride to live with him in America.
The Perils of Too Much Freedom
When you’re living in a society without any restrictions on how relationships are formed, where people are eternally “independent,” it’s too tempting to keep going; it’s too tempting to keep approaching; it’s too tempting to sleep with a new girl every day.
After all, why stop? Approaching feels good. Seducing a feels good. Sex feels great. Why stop doing things that feel so good? Why put much effort into the relationship itself? Why try to develop something long-lasting with anyone? If things don’t work out with one girl, there’s always another one around the corner. Thanks to the “abundance mindset,” there’s little motivation to build anything substantial with a specific person.
No one is forcing me to settle down with a certain woman. No one is telling me to build a family (my mom hints this from time to time, but I don’t really listen to her). No one is telling me to sacrifice my short term gratification for my long term success. I’m living my life like there’s no tomorrow and loving every minute of it. And no one is rebuking me for it.
And sometimes I wish someone did.
While I previously viewed arranged marriages as a societal control that violate a man’s sovereign right to live his life on his own terms, I’m slowly beginning to see the positive side of such control. These types of control didn’t arise out of nowhere: their purpose was to protect a man from himself.
When something as important as a marriage is meticulously arranged, it facilitates the proper environment for a man to find a wife, build a family, and focus on working and providing for that family instead of trying to find a mate himself; we all perfectly know what a treacherous and nightmarish—almost futile—process that is in the West. It’s really a necessary evil to enforce some structure into otherwise loose and disconnected culture.
Having your mate preselected by your family comes with numerous key benefits. Your future wife is prescreened to have good economic status. Not only that, but she’s also prescreened to be healthy, both physically and psychologically. All this goes a long way to ensure that the future couple will stay together and raise a healthy family.
While formal arranged marriages are mainly limited to South Asia, other cultures tackle this problem on an “informal level.” In more traditional Southern European and Jewish cultures, it’s common for the parents to select a viable partner for their children by consulting with other families who are in a similar position. I believe Arabic countries do this well.
A couple of my good “traditional” Eastern European friends (“traditional” because they were born in Eastern Europe and moved there after the age of 15 and still have the Eastern European mentality) met their future wives via family connections. One good friend in particular is a ruthless businessman who’s doing exceptionally well. His wife also comes from a very good family. Her father and mother are still together. They’re both doing very well financially. Come to think of it, I really wouldn’t expect anything less from my friend.
Marriage is serious business and being merely infatuated with a woman just isn’t enough. Love isn’t enough. There needs to be genuine compatibility on many levels. That’s where a woman’s background, personality, interests and even socioeconomic status come into play. Just having the woman come from a complete household where the mother and father have good relationship goes a long way to facilitate that.
All of this is changing. As countries are becoming more Westernized, these types of marriage arrangements—both formal and informal—are gradually being phased out in favor of “doing it yourself.” Indians who are born and grow up in the West are behaving just like any other Westerner; they’re choosing to date and marry women they want instead of letting their parents choose for them.
The Antidote To The Western Society
Western society is very unique in a sense that it’s very mobile, but that’s also what gives it a “disconnected” feel. The family unit gets broken up very early when children leave their homes at 18 to go to college. While growing up, they choose to focus on their careers and satisfy their sexual urges with short-term flings, deferring marriage for later years or not marrying at all.
And, if they do marry—that’s a huge “if”—there’s a very high chance that the marriage will end up as a divorce; divorce rate is close to 50%. Families break down and their children suffer for it. Future generations of men end up being raised by their mothers and, therefore, lack a strong male role model. This ensures the cycle repeating itself in the next generation.
When you break down the family unit, you no longer have a proper role model that can serve as a guide on what you should do. You no longer have a healthy authority. And without a healthy authority, all you’re left is with media and your raging emotions. Advertising companies understand this perfectly which is why billions and billions of dollars are spent on manipulating us into doing or buying something because it’ll make us feel good and not provide us with tangible benefit.
We think we’re conscious individuals who make rational decisions, but in reality we’re closer to atoms floating in space, eternally chasing the next great thing that makes us feel good. Perhaps on some subconscious level, men understand this and that’s why they’re running away from the West in search for something new and meaningful.
We are so free to do pretty much anything: to travel, to build online businesses, to make new acquaintances and to have one-night stands. If we screw up, we can do it again; we can start a business, fail, declare bankruptcy and start fresh tomorrow. We can always reinvent ourselves and become someone new tomorrow.
While that has many benefits, it also absolves us of key responsibilities. There’s little permanency. There’s little structure. Depending on how you look it, it’s both a blessing and a curse.
An arranged marriage is a type of societal control. Like religion, it’s a way to manage society’s irrational impulses, sexual drives and urges. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. These forms of control are responsible for keeping whole civilizations intact by preventing people from savagely killing each other. People are mainly driven by their subconscious—they do what feels good and then rationalize it using logic later. After all, someone has to do it. It can either be done via religion or tradition, or by multinational corporations (via advertising).
I’m not claiming that a Western man would necessarily be better off if a marriage was arranged for him; there’s a lot of freedom in being able to choose your destiny and decide how you want to structure your life without anyone else getting in the way.
But if there’s one thing that history taught us is that societies only survive and thrive when there’s a good balance of freedom and control. Too much control and society descends into totalitarianism, stifling freedoms of expression and speech; too much freedom and we become increasingly selfish and ego-driven, always eager to satisfy our primitive reptilian urges instead of being part of and building something greater and more meaningful than ourselves.
[Are you in Kiev, Ukraine? I’m considering having a meet-up. See below.]
I’m currently sitting in a small self-serve restaurant in Kiev, Ukraine. I’m eating basic Ukrainian food: hearty soup with meat, baked potatoes and chicken breast. The food is cheap. The place is very basic, far from glamorous.
I feel good. I feel relaxed. My mind is free. But that’s not how it was four years ago when I came here for the first time. Even though I lived in Latin America for over five years, and Latin America is definitely no civilized West, which I admire, my initial few weeks in Ukraine proved to be very difficult—rough is a better word. It was rough because it was the complete opposite of what I was used to. It was a culture shock in all weight of the term.
But, like a cocaine addict who is never content with just the first hit, I kept returning. I went back to Ukraine in 2013. Then I went to Russia in 2014. Each trip lasted slightly longer than the previous. Couple of weeks ago, I returned to Ukraine and plan on staying here several months.
Many adjectives are used to describe Eastern Europe, words like “different,” “difficult,” “rough,” “undeveloped.” But these words are all wrong because they’re being expressed by people without any perspective whatsoever. San Diego is “different” from Los Angeles. Barcelona is “different” than Madrid. New York can be more “difficult” than sunny San Diego. So, using these words when comparing Eastern Europe to the West simply doesn’t do it justice. It’s also wrong.
To truly understand Eastern Europe, you must imagine a place like America, but without the “American dream,” the fake smiles, the superficially happy people, the persuasive consumerism, the “life coaches” and “productivity experts.” (Although many of these things are gradually creeping in, it still has a long way to go before it ever becomes mainstream.) Yes, places without all that actually exist and thrive.
It’s a place where you’re no longer being told what to do or where to go. A place without hand-holding. A place where you’re not floating in space like a disconnected automaton, but actually connect with individuals on a personal and emotional level. In my view, this makes Eastern Europe more natural, more human, more real, more “closer to the metal.” It better reflects how real civilizations function before being overrun by advertising and public relations firms that creatively turn individuals into anonymous mobs of attention- and happiness-seeking consumers that must produce, consume and then die.
One of the reasons I didn’t find Barcelona too exciting is because, compared to Latin America, Spain is just too civilized and organized. Spain is predictable. Eastern Europe doesn’t have this problem; it’s too corrupt to be organized and predictable.
In The Way of the Maverick, I recount a story when I met a Russian guy outside a nightclub in St. Petersburg, Russia. I had approached a bunch of women, but had absolutely zero luck. I went outside to think and regroup. I noticed a guy smoking and started talking with him. He was a confident guy who seemed like he got laid all the time. We started chatting, and I told him that I have approach anxiety and asked him how he deals with it. He patiently listened. Then he laughed and said, “What do you think? You think you’re special? You think I don’t have approach anxiety? Of course I do—everyone does.”
Initially, I was confused; what he was saying didn’t quite sink in at all. But now it makes absolute sense. Not only do most people have approach anxiety, but approach anxiety—and a million other fears, big or small—are perfectly normal and common. In the West, these fears are being isolated as some kind of “problems” that are being packaged with all kinds of “solutions,” but in Eastern Europe, these things aren’t anything special that must always be diagnosed and given a label; they’re just part of normal life, they’re part of being human.
This aspect is a two-edged sword. On one hand, that’s what makes adjusting to a different way of life so difficult. But on the other hand it’s actually liberating: no one is perfect and no one expects you to be perfect. It’s very easy to meet someone and have an in-depth conversation about pretty much anything. There are no filters. There’s no political correctness. Private conversation never turn into a serious discussion that resemble a Sunday morning talk show.
The big cities in America are in perpetual bubble mode. No, not real estate bubbles—mind bubbles. When I lived in San Francisco, I was in a perpetual tech bubble; everyone and their mom were either running a startup or wanted to start one. When I lived in New York, I was in a perpetual tech and finance bubble. Here, there are no bubbles. I’m surrounded by all kinds of people, young and old. These people are talking about regular things. They’re not talking about some grand ambition (i.e., make a trillion dollars) or what they want to achieve in ten years.
Of course, they’re still ambitious, but their ambitions are more realistic and grounded. Having grounded dreams also makes them much more actionable and achievable and not something so dreamy and realistic that you end up clinging to them all your life instead of actually building them brick by brick.
In San Francisco, I felt like a weirdo if I wasn’t working at or running my own startup (and the startup wasn’t endlessly looking for funding). In New York, I felt left out if I wasn’t making a million dollars working for a hedge fund or hustling. But, here, in Kiev, I just exist. I don’t need to do anything to fit in. I’m no longer brainwashed by superficial needs and desires.
Many guys are trying to improve by reading endless motivational articles. Are you fucking kidding me? You think that’s how you’ll improve? By reading words on a page? Fuck that. I’ve always said that the best way to learn about the world and improve is to uproot yourself and go somewhere new. Change your environment. Shock your mind and body. Go to a new place and surround yourself with new people. Feel the pain. When you go from a place that pampers to your every need and insecurity to a place where people are just living and no one gives a fuck about your superficial emotional problems, well, guess what happens? You will change your thinking and see the world in a different way.
One of my other favorite countries is Brazil. If you’re a Western man, Brazil will rock your world and transform you in a million ways. If you haven’t been to Brazil, then you simply haven’t lived. It’s so different from the Western world, that writing about it doesn’t do the country any justice whatsoever. It just shocks you with a completely different way of life and a lifestyle. And you adjust quickly. Then, once you return back home, you have a reverse culture shock and wonder what happened. Eventually, things click and you realize what’s really going on; you see the matrix.
Eastern Europe is different. It’s no Brazil; it’s the complete opposite. It’s not exotic, nor sunny, nor warm, nor friendly, nor smiley, nor accommodating, nor beautiful, nor picturesque, nor welcomes you with open arms. And that’s precisely why it’s so unique and interesting.
Apart from a brief period in the summer, Eastern Europe is a bland and grey place. But that’s because it mirrors life. Life isn’t always sunny and peachy. We’re told to always be chasing happiness, but that’s bullshit. There’s no such thing as perpetual happiness; happiness is actually those fleeting moments that result from doing something that brings you fulfillment. The conundrum is that the sooner you realize that, the happier you’ll be. If happiness actually existed, then you would’ve been happy years ago instead of always returning to “motivational blogs.” In real life, you’re not always winning. You’re not always having an upside. Sometimes you’re struggling and suffering because you can’t catch a break. Eastern Europe reflects that.
Eastern Europe is good for the mind, body and soul. It flushes out all the false beliefs and poisonous mindsets. It makes you feel “closer to the metal” because you actually get to experience the ups and downs of life, instead of being surrounded by everyone who’s on track to become an “eventual billionaire” with a startup that has “$200 billion” valuation. It removes the veneer of bullshit that you thought was completely normal the entire time. Eastern Europe makes you feel human because you’re surrounded by real people in a real environment that feel pain, struggle and eventually push themselves to overcome it all and achieve new heights. Or, failing that, they have a shot of vodka and go to sleep.
PS: If you’re currently in Kiev, Ukraine, hit me up and maybe we’ll arrange a meet-up.