Germany or the US, which one is the best place to live? 

Felipe Nascimento

Any kind of comparison is risky because it is very difficult to analyze all the variants – a fact which ends up invalidating the outlined parallels. Comparing life in Germany and America is no exception to the rule. We do not intend to compare Hamburg to Miami, but rather regions sharing similar climatic and socioeconomic conditions such as Frankfurt and Boston. Someone will probably ask: “Do you think that the Frankfurt region is similar to that of Boston? Never!” But after living in these two regions it is impossible not to succumb to the temptation of drawing comparisons. Although I am aware of the risks and flaws, I dare to search for the differences, advantages and disadvantages of living in each one of these two regions.

Official data show that 27% of the population of Frankfurt is composed of foreigners. There are many foreigners in the Boston region but the accurate number is unknown because most of them are illegal in the country and therefore do not appear in the statistics. Once there are so many foreigners in these two regions, they must be attractive, right? And if you were to choose one of them, which one would you go to?

In Germany people relate to strangers and even to acquaintances who are not that close by addressing them as Mr. and Ms. (Sie), an approach which makes relationships much more formal. In the US people address each other by using ‘you’ regardless of age, degree of intimacy or rank.

When there is an option some people opt to live in Europe because of its cultural diversity. It is true that by traveling a few hours by car you will soon be in another country dealing with another language, architecture and new customs. In the US it will take you one week to cross the country and although you will find stores such as McDonald’s, Holiday Inn and other national chain stores wherever you will go (as well as people talking the same language all over the country) you will travel through mountains, plains, fertile areas, deserts, heat and cold and find variegated regional differences. While in Germany there are few people who have never left their country, fewer Americans have ever left the US. They justify this statement by saying: our country is so big that we have all we need here. Why do we have to go to places whose language we do not speak and where the people dislike us?

If we compare the vacation period, we will see that Germans are used to taking 30 workdays off, a number which represents 40 days a year. Americans, however, take two running weeks off and say that they would get bored if they vacationed longer. Indeed, work and leisure have different meanings in these two countries. While Germans struggle to reduce their working week to 35 hours, the number of workaholics in the US is still large.

Germans try to avoid repeating past mistakes and any nationalistic attitude is soon associated with Nazism. Youngsters have a more cosmopolitan view and accept to live with different cultures. Students take advantage of their holidays to travel to exotic places, serve internships in third world countries, etc. In the US, however, it is practically impossible to walk down a street without seeing an American flag hoisted on a house or car antenna or a sticker reading “proud to be American”. Nationalism is cultivated in early school years.

It is curious that despite its bigger openness to different cultures, Germany maintains the “law of the blood” in order to grant German citizenship, that is, the children of foreigners born in Germany keep on being foreigners. The US uses the “law of the land” where every child born on American ground is considered American. This causes many children born of “illegal parents” to become “American children”.

The way of considering and solving problems differs a lot from one country to another. A German unemployed person will certainly blame the government for not having created a post for him. An American jobless person is considered a loser, someone who is unqualified to get or create a post. The same happens as to the participation of the community. Although there are many community actions in Germany, people always blame the government for not doing its part. In the US the community is responsible for solving local problems. Parents run schools, work as traffic police to protect children on their way to school, elect their county sheriff, etc.

By analyzing the healthcare and social security systems, one realizes that Germans are not concerned about old age because they depend on the government to take care of them. When they get sick, the healthcare system provides treatment and medicine. Americans, in turn, spend most of their lives saving up for old age. Even if you have a healthcare plan, falling ill in America means expending money.

What about the educational system? Elementary and high school education is free in both countries, but while German universities are public and free of charge, most American universities are private and very expensive. Even public American universities charge considerable fees, a fact which leads the students to resort to student loans in order to pay for their education.

In Germany the space is small and everything is made “to last”. Environmental awareness leads people to use the resources in a rational way. The abundance of space and resources causes Americans to prioritize the easiest and cheapest things. Environmental awareness is growing but in many regions the culture of disposability still prevails. Differently from the Germans, American consumers have the advantage of knowing how much tax the pay in buying a product because the values are charged separately. This leads the population to demand from the rulers a better use of the resources raised from taxes and fees.

In short, there are many differences between these two countries and regions. Those traveling along Frankfurt in the summertime will see people sitting on park benches drinking beer and will be able to buy cigarettes from a vending machine at every corner. But in traveling through Boston, if one wants to buy a beer or a wine bottle, he or she will have to go to a specialized store and then leave the place carrying his/her bottle inside a brown paper bag which does not even identify the store so that no one will notice he or she is carrying liquor. Consumption of liquor is forbidden in public places. Cigarettes may be sold in supermarkets and drugstores for people over 18 years old who go to a reserved area where the cigarette packs are hidden. Smoking in Boston restaurants and public places is no longer possible because “smoking areas” no longer exist.

So, which place is the best one to live, Germany or the US? My answer is: it depends on what is more important to you!” Living in other countries for a while, traveling around the world, getting to know other cultures, all those things are enriching experiences but in my opinion, while globalization is only a business matter, the best place in the world to live is still one’s homeland where our roots are and where we do not feel as foreigners!

Translated by Traduzca