16 February 2011

How things are going in the USA: Quantified


Just over 4 months ago I moved to America. It is basically pretty similar to England in many ways, which is perhaps why I notice the small differences so much. Naturally I decided to keep score.

I’m focusing on my entirely subjective experience of living here, and particularly on non-tradables, so there will be no thorny discussion of who has the best pop music or anything like that. I will gladly take suggestions but can’t guarantee to acknowledge or give any credence to them. And this is basically just a list of random stuff tapped into my phone over the weeks, with no reflection or analysis.

Without further ado:

Points for Great Britain

  • Ubiquitous chip-and-pin security for credit cards. Seriously America you can’t manage that?
  • (A decent) Minimum Wage. Meaning proper salaries for waiters, meaning I don’t have to worry so much about tip-maths in restaurants.
  • Universal (and simple!) healthcare coverage. Ugh, paperwork, thank god I never actually go to a doctor.
  • Sensible politicians. You all make the Conservative Party look really really nice. My first week here, the first bar I went to, O’Donnell was on the TV talking about closing the Department the Education.
  • Sensible people. Generally speaking, people get the representatives they deserve right? Far fewer crazies in England.
  • Liberalism. The proper, fully evolved grown up variant which includes social liberalism as well as economic liberalism.
  • Location. Being geographically closer to the rest of world, and foreign cultures.
  • Towns. That are walkable.
  • Public transport. The tube is way better than the NY subway in my opinion. And so are the buses. And there is a Congestion Charging zone.
  • Mobile phone contracts. For some reason there is fierce competition in the UK driving down prices but not in the US. What’s going on defenders of capitalism?
  • Better date formats. It obviously makes far more sense to start with the day than the month.
  • Better sports. We are not the only country who play our sports, therefore they are better. This is almost a tradable as its pretty easy to follow the Premiership over here, but not quite. You can’t enjoy reading the sports pages of a physical newspaper here.
  • Bank ATMs. Somehow Britain managed to get rid of fees for using other bank’s ATMs. It’s good.
  • No flags. Seriously, why are there so many flags everywhere? Are you worried about forgetting which country you are in?

Points for the Unites States of America

  • Turning right at stop signs. Definitely a winner.
  • Better usage of the phrase "public school." I could go on forever about grammar and spelling but that would be really boring. Here is a case where the American version is clearly objectively better.
  • Better weather. Hotter, colder, either way, at least there is actual weather rather than just cold grey drizzle.
  • Food. Enough said.
  • Ubiquitous Pizza. It is everywhere, and it is good. So good that it gets its own point in addition to the point for food above.
  • Automatic cars. Why do we still bother with manual transmissions? Aren’t automatics just a better technology?

Which makes it;

Great Britain 14

United States of America 6

Pretty damning. But I am genuinely trying to be agnostic here. Show me the evidence America! What else do you have going for you!


Anonymous said...

Take most of your Great Britain points, add all of the American points, then emphasize the bad weather and you basically have Canada.

Lorgy said...

Oooh, love this one. As a fellow Brit who lived in the US for a bit, some things I noticed:

- food needs to be split up to multiple benefits - more variety, massive portions = good for tomorrow's lunch, cheap delivery, etc.
- Take 24 hour shopping to a whole new level
- Pubs open past 11pm
- Better cafes
- Huge wide open spaces for brilliant hiking in the wilderness, easily
- Very good microbreweries, especially in the West

- Not getting IDed everywhere! If you don't have a US licence and have to take your passport everywhere that's particularly annoying!
- No really wierd state laws that you can't possibly be expected to know about - the law is the same, everywhere.
- Disagree on the weather. I like it mild and rainy.
- Better regulation of airlines so they have to look after you if they cancel your flight. Still not perfect but way better than the way you're treated by the American ones (thank you, EU!)
- More diverse political system - 3 big parties and another 4 competitive ones, rather than having to shoehorn yourself into being Democrat or Republican.
- No Fox News.
- Better pubs
- Can get a decent cup of tea
- Ale


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Anonymous said...


As a fellow Brit living in the US but with a bit more time under my belt I can relate well to this list, but would also say that as time passes i) USA grows on you and you notice all sorts of pluses you might miss at first ii) nostalgia creeps up too - some of the things that used to drive me crazy in the UK when I lived there are now "charming" when I go back for a visit.

A few things to add to the list:-

- Getting away from it all. Britain is crowded. There are parts of the US where you can never see a soul.
- Related to the above- nature and scenery. Much, much more diversity in terms of scenery, unspoilt natural beauty and wildlife.
- Unrelated to the above: Wildlife i.e. ease of getting a drink after 11pm and range and variety of places to go out of an evening. (If you are living in a big city that is).
- Skiing.
- Shopping for almost anything. More variety, lower prices, near where you live, open all hours.
- Optimism. We're not known for this in the UK, and it's probably a non-tradable.

Pro UK:
- Highly subjective I know but I still love British television, especially BBC and low budget sci-fi shows. Many of the best shows are on BBC America - but it's not the same. (I class this as a non-tradable since you can get US TV shows everywhere on the planet - not so much the British ones)
- Curry. While in general the food in the US is better, the UK still beats the US for high quality, ubiquitous curry houses.
- I'm with Lorgy on the decent cup of tea (which is why I took up coffee drinking when I moved here).

Unknown said...

Crazy US defense comment with ad hominem attack telling you to keep your soccer and tea, expounding on the superiority of this nation, laughing at the Oxford comma and ending with a strong reminder that you can go home; followed by a patriotic sounding quote out of context.

(enjoyed the post)

Anonymous said...

Just a couple of comments on this... date formats, whatever... Expats get used to trivial things like this. In Japan they have year, month, day.

As far as ATM fees, Fidelity/PNC bank have checking accounts that reimburse your ATM fees.

If you don't need a mobile contract, ATT has a pre paid card that offers unlimited texts and unlimited calling everywhere in the US for $2 a day. There is nothing that cheap in the UK.

Location. The UK may be geographically close to Europe, but mentally it is in the middle of the Atlantic.

The tube isn't really that much better. At least many of the trains in NYC have air conditioning which makes a difference (see the sauna that the Central Line is: http://econ.st/h6qgLa). PLUS they run ALL NIGHT in NYC... (even if you have to wait 20 min) so you don't have to be forced to take a bus that circles round everywhere London to get home at 4 in the morning.

Anonymous said...

@tom - oh yes and the other thing that is a plus for the US. Job opportunities. That's why we are all over here, despite your terrible tea, and your tea parties.

Unknown said...

I went the other way, in that I recently moved to the UK from the US. I think what you mention is just about right, although one thing that I like in the US is the less obvious importance of status in everyday relationships. Affiliations to organizations like schools and employers seem to matter a lot more here than I am used to.

The cost of living feels substantially higher than in most parts of the US too, including cities like LA and DC. Housing is prohibitively expensive but looks nice most of the time, which is more than I can say for most American cities with similar incomes to the area I live in.

My favorite things UK include the health care service that I cannot use (emergencies only I assume) and the greater civility of the political discourse. I am not sure if politics are more sensible in the UK because of a more practical political system, education, because of long-standing norms, or some mix of those and other things, but I love the less charged tone.

Lee said...

Ah yes, "class". That is a pretty big negative for the UK.

texasinafrica said...

I hereby register my objection to your definition of what is "American" based on your experience of New Haven. That place isn't normal.

texasinafrica said...

Also, we have real sports. And dishwashers. Advantage, USA.

Lee said...

Real sports with "World Series" competitions that only have 1 country? #fail

Ranil Dissanayake said...

I detest automatic cars. There's no joy in driving and much less control over what your vehicle can do. gah.

Lorgy said...

I also hate automatic cars, and the UK has dishwashers too!

Also not sure how far you can count 'skiing' as an advantage for the US - from New Haven, it's at least as far to any skiing (even Maine...) as it is from the UK to the Alps or to one of the resorts in Scotland (yup, they exist). The fact that it's in a different country doesn't make all that much difference given EU travel rules awesomeness.

Oh, and we have better biscuits. Mmmm, hobnobs...

Lorgy said...

Oh, and if you have a friend in the UK who's a current student you can beat the BBC iplayer block. Next time you're home, get them to take your computer to their library and download VPN software, then you log in as them and surf at will - the BBC iplayer site will think you're in the UK and let you access all. Simples.

mikeJ said...

Better sports in England!!One sport, monopolized by the top spending clubs..
And better tube in London than in NY..were it costs less than a half and it runs 24/7..
Those were good ones, you are a nice joker.

BradGardner said...

The things I miss about America are always non-quantifiable cultural things

1. A fairly amazing musical culture (this is obviously a matter of taste, and subculture, but British people often remark that Americans treat music differently from Europeans).
2. More diversity (particularly helpful with the food)
3. Expensive eccentricity (I met a man who built a life sized version of the game mousetrap)
4. Cheap eccentricity (What the hell is Wall Drug?).

Also, in a weird way, despite being a devout atheist, I like how religious it is in America. I used to walk around bad neighborhoods of Los Angeles and talk to homeless people about God, which isn't really something you can do in Europe.

Lee said...

I am basically cheating a bit and mentally making the comparison with London, so I'm not sure if America wins on diversity.

ewaffle said...

Libel laws: cases like British Chiropractic Association v Simon Singh don't happen under U.S. libel law.

Brooklyn said...

1. Everything is bigger in America. +1 for everything that is bigger. Cars- you can literally live in them here. +1. Portion sizes. +1 Inflation. +1 (things are relatively cheaper) The number of entertaining idiots we have on TV +1. The countryside/ landscape/ mountains. +10 (take a roadtrip/ go to the grand canyon)
2. My tax dollars don't get spent on Kate Middleton's wedding dress +1
3. About three centuries ago, we beat you in a pretty big war. + 5
4. We have to-go food, and cars that cater to it (coffee cup holders) +1
5. Gas prices +1

Points for England:
1. Indian and Middle Eastern food +2
2. Metric system and having freezing be at 0 degrees +1

Brooklyn said...

3. you have far superior chocolate and candy

Audun said...

The idea of closing the ministry of education is both old and british. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koC1rViYaOU&feature=related

I think I prefer Yes Minister to O'Donnell

Andrew W said...

Ever push started an automatic? Useless cars.

c-sez said...

Both countries are vastly inferior to my antipodean homeland, which obviously explains why I've spent about 7 of the last 10 years based in one then the other.

c-sez said...

you might also notice, the longer you stay:

Statutory minimum days of paid vacation. UK: 20. US: 0.

Actual days of paid vacation people tend to get: UK 20+. US: 10, maybe 15.

Actual days of vacation people tend to take. UK: 20, US: 10 and they panic about it.

Huge difference to mental wellbeing and general stress levels.

NFQ said...

The US deserves at least one point for having actual freedom of speech. This is true vs. all of Europe, really, not just the UK, but as long as people can get sued in the UK for pointing out that pseudoscience is pseudoscience (how dare you say such a thing?!), I think this is worth mentioning.

Lee said...

Reasons not to live in Canadian cities: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/dd9bba18-769c-11e0-bd5d-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1LTnLOMvY

rovingbandit said...

I'm adding a point to America for service in bars and restaurants.

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