Thursday, March 10, 2011

Was I born on the wrong continent?

In a Chicago bookstore, I came across Were you born on the wrong continent? How the European model can help you get a life by Thomas Geoghegan, an American labor lawyer. A quick perusal: intriguing writing and questions posed from a Chicagoan who’d become interested in the European model, Germany in particular. So I ordered it from my Army library.

Mr. Geoghegan points out the pros of the German government: though they pay more taxes, they receive more benefits, including more paid holidays, retirement, maternity & paternity leave, nursing home benefits, and guaranteed wages/unemployment. There are also more checks and balances in place, to prevent a recurrence of WWs I & II, which were put into place partially by the US Army.

Other points which interested me: Germany has a lower college education rate than USA, and he points out the German education system needs work. But at the same time, how many of our college grads are working beneath their degrees, as waiters or baristas or secretaries, or personal assistants. Perhaps what we need is less formal education and more life long education. German newspaper circulation is 23 million; USA is 34 million. Total populations are Germany: 82 million, USA: 310 million. 78% of Germans read the newspaper daily for at least 28 minutes. What about Americans? He argues than they have more lifelong education, and therefore are more involved in their government, and the world at large, which I think are probably true.

In Europe, I feel at peace in a way I’ve not felt before. Is it because a night out is dinner with friends for three hours? That weekends are walking in the woods? Is it that people over here watch less TV than Americans and their hours/week are decreasing while ours are increasing? Is it the leisureliness that is inherent in the European lifestyle? I don’t know. But I do know that I feel like I belong here. The values of the Europeans match mine.

On my recent trip home to the states, I felt flat towards my own country. Not distaste, but not belonging either. I was watching myself from the outside as I was there, waiting to see what I’d feel. Would I want to go home? What is home anyway? I felt home in Germany when I went through immigration speaking all German to the customs agent, hopping the trains, quiet and efficient, making jokes with the man sitting next to me, seeing my little car in the train parking lot where I’d left it free for the week, traversing the country roads through the fields, not another car in sight. Arriving home.

I don’t know if the Germany model is the answer to America’s economic woes, but it is worth a look at. As for myself, I am still investigating the European lifestyle, and hope to do so for a while longer.

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