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362 Comments:
abalashov said 2 months ago:

Author here; I was very surprised to find this ancient (from my POV — I wrote it in Dec 2014) article at the top of HN, but am pleased at the discussion it has generated, whether you agree with my perspective or not.

I’ve been back in the US a while now and things have changed both here and in Armenia. I don’t think the big picture on offer is much different, but perhaps there’s room for a sequel.

lobotryas said 2 months ago:

I am enjoying exploring your blog and reading old posts. Hope you and your family are well and that you will be able to return to posting on your blog soon.

abalashov said 2 months ago:

That is very kind! Thank you -- I think it is time to get back into writing...

vsskanth said 2 months ago:

Thanks for sharing your perspective, looking forward to the sequel.

andralex said 2 months ago:

Would love a sequel!

vsskanth said 2 months ago:

As a quasi-immigrant to the US myself, I applaud the author for having the courage to write such an excellent and detailed critique of life in the United States. I totally agree that life here has it's pros and cons.

It seems that it is expected amongst the native citizens that you be grateful to be provided the privilege of living in a developed nation (my own experience). If you want to critique, you can always go back to your third world nation where you came from ("if it's so bad, why are you still here?").

This article is an excellent showcase for why you can be grateful for the opportunities and still point out what isn't normal by other countries standards and what can be improved.

thank you

klipt said 2 months ago:

And because many Americans are ignorant about how things work in other countries, when they do realize there are some downsides to American culture, instead of recognizing it's an American problem they will usually blame it on whatever group they're politically opposed to.

Eg take for example the lonely individualism and lack of community the article talks about. If you discuss that with an American gender studies student, they'll say "oh we have many studies about that, it's called toxic masculinity" which implies it's a global problem with men who need to be "fixed". But actually as the article points out, no such lonely individualism exists for men in many other cultures, so it could more accurately be called "toxic Americanism".

pjc50 said 2 months ago:

No, it definitely manifests in other countries, but because it's cultural it looks different. Lots of places have an ugly relationship with alcohol, violence, and football, especially at the same time.

Der_Einzige said 2 months ago:

I can assure you that this is a gross mischaracterization of gender studies students. There are a significant number of them (maybe over 50%) who don't even use language like "toxic masculinity" and out of the remainder they won't attribute American individualism to it.

danbolt said 2 months ago:

Interesting, most examples of toxic masculinity I see are related to machismo when it hurts men and those around them. Wikipedia [1] seems to consider masculinity toxic once it is considered “harm”. I’m curious if you have sources about it being related to lonely individualism.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxic_masculinity

klipt said 2 months ago:

> I’m curious if you have sources about it being related to lonely individualism.

Literally the second paragraph of your link: "Self-reliance and emotional repression are correlated with increased psychological problems in men such as depression, increased stress, and substance abuse."

"Self-reliance and emotional repression" are phenomena which as the OP article says, are much less present in eg Armenia than America.

danbolt said 2 months ago:

Haha, I should have read it further. Thank you for pointing it out!

ta847019377 said 2 months ago:

Agreed that it's an excellent article. I'd also agree that it's normal to prefer things about the old country, or the previous job, or the previous anything, and there's nothing wrong with saying so.

But, I also think it's normal that sometimes things work the way they do because it's part of the local culture and the natives actually like it that way. Other times, of course, the bad aspect is just dumb, yet also very hard to fix (American healthcare).

In the last couple of decades in America, some "thought leaders" have made a serious effort to convince us that "it's like that because we live here and like it that way" is not a valid reason, at least when that reasoning gets in the way of the country being more of a commercial clearing house. In other words, a political trend to convince Americans that if you don't have an economic argument, you don't have an argument. This frustrates many people, and I guess sometimes makes them say reductivist stuff like "if it's so bad, why are you still here?"

Edit - typos

abalashov said 2 months ago:

Oh yeah. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard — and still hear — “love it or leave it”.

Well, I’ve been here since I was 6. It’s home. I’m not going anywhere. I’m still allowed to have a critical view.

refurb said 2 months ago:

I applaud the author for having the courage

Writing a blog post of your own opinions is courageous?

This seems like a pretty standard blog post where the author has strong opinions about how people should live and then critics his adopted country using those same opinions.

vsskanth said 2 months ago:

I think it's courageous because it is not easy to critique the country you immigrate to without inviting a lot of pushback. It implicitly feels like it's not your place to complain because you weren't born here.

refurb said 2 months ago:

Shitting on the US is the internet’s favorite pass time. If anything the guy would get kudos for writing it.

abalashov said 2 months ago:

Only because we read US-centric parts of the Internet—which are admittedly many, given the US’s standing in the world.

Still, I’m pretty sure many readers in Country X would agree that “shitting on Country X is the Internet’s favourite pastime”, or perhaps “among the favourite pastimes of the Internet”.

ericmay said 2 months ago:

Absolutely beautifully put. Cars and suburbia are destructive:

"Few people can prepare themselves for the degree to which Americans have, in the last half-century or so, taken this entire corpus of human experience and thrown it completely into the trash, with the exception of a few older cities–not the places where the majority of Americans live. What has replaced it is a surreal moonscape. For those accustomed to the traditional urban civilisation, the primary question in America is: where do I go? What do I do? Looking around leads to an intangible but intense realisation of emptiness. "

cscurmudgeon said 2 months ago:

> Cars and suburbia are destructive:

That may be the thing which saves the US in a pandemic like this.

Gotta love the constant car hate that is usually coupled with an anti-development NIMBY attitude that prevents denser cities.

ericmay said 2 months ago:

It is likely to help, of course, but it's a happy accident and doesn't come close to making up for the amount of pollution, deaths, and money spent on this unnecessary structure.

cscurmudgeon said 2 months ago:

There are other ways of reducing pollution and deaths without making us live on top of one another.

Also, not everyone can afford to live in dense cities. Cities may be even worse in terms of pollution if we cared to look at data rather.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-myth-of-the-s...

   Urban areas are usually celebrated for their energy efficiency and low per capita carbon dioxide emissions,
   but such accounting ignores how and where they acquire their resources
Poor people commute for miles to denser cities for jobs everyday not because they want to pollute but because they have no other choice.

It is usually the poor racial minorities who end up commuting for hours daily.

https://www.abc10.com/article/traffic/she-commutes-from-stoc...

ericmay said 2 months ago:

I think this is a great video that you might enjoy that would help inform the perspective I'm taking here:

https://www.ted.com/talks/jeff_speck_the_walkable_city/trans...

And yes, you're right, people with less economic means aren't commuting for fun, but cars just enable that. If you don't have a car and can't commute, either you move closer to your job or your job has to move closer to you.

cscurmudgeon said 2 months ago:

> If you don't have a car and can't commute, either you move closer to your job or

Totally, everyone can afford to move to SF right?

ericmay said 2 months ago:

No, and they shouldn’t.

dodobirdlord said 2 months ago:

These criticisms (cost, commuting time, pollution) point to a need for more urbanism and increased density.

cscurmudgeon said 2 months ago:

If you don't actually look at the data, yes that is the conclusion.

opportune said 2 months ago:

Those are usually two entirely separate groups of people. The anti-car people are usually always pro-density and development

burlesona said 2 months ago:

While some people do hate cars, I think most of the people who speak against cars are really speaking more against the land use patterns that make us fully dependent on cars.

As far as the pandemic, it's interesting that it's obvious to most folks that people riding the subway to work in a big office tower represent a lot of concentration and exposure, but not so obvious that the people driving in from many miles around to the Costco also represent a similar concentration and exposure.

If you'd like a more detailed explanation of this, I found this article really thoughtful: https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2020/3/25/effective-quar...

tonyedgecombe said 2 months ago:

There seems to be some evidence that exposure to pollution exacerbates the disease. Car culture may be making it worse.

said 2 months ago:
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nnvvhh said 2 months ago:

To me car haters are pro-development. Have you really encountered people holding both of the views you described?

llampx said 2 months ago:

Is it saving the US right now?

dhruvkar said 2 months ago:

>> The problem is more insidious, though; the way that we build our settlements has deep implications for our civic life, our communities, our patterns of interaction, the relationships we form, the company we keep, and ultimately, the purpose and meaning we find in our lives.

I've been waiting for this view to be shared by anyone else. I've been in the US for 20 years, since I was 11 years old.

Midwest -> West Coast -> Midwest.

In the Midwest, it's hard to live anywhere but suburbia. Five years in California, and the best time I had was two years in a 300 sq ft in-law apartment in Berkeley, squashed in between friendly neighbors, cousins and frequent visitors.

I've lived in India, China and traveled many other developing nations including Brazil and parts of Africa. The stark difference to mental and emotional well-being is scary. At this time, I don't know if the conveniences of American life are worth the hit.

Suburbia is harmful to mental and emotional well-being and it's unavoidable for the vast majority of Americans.

opportune said 2 months ago:

So is our cultural aversion to multifamily households.

I'm in my mid 20's living on the West coast, and have seriously considered getting a 2bed condo or small house and asking my parents to move in with me. I'm white and my parents are from the US as well, so it's not something that's culturally expected of me at all - it just seems like a good idea for socialization, getting help around the house, maintaining relationships. But when I've broached the topic with friends and even my own parents they think I'm absolutely crazy. I could see it being harmful for dating solely because of the cultural expectations, but I really don't see what the problem would be.

Suburbia is also so harmful to the elderly. I saw it happen to my grandparents where they usually only socialized with each other indefinitely unless someone came to visit with them. They couldn't drive, so they had to have someone get groceries for them or take them shopping every week. They had no need to walk around or climb stairs on a regular basis, so entire parts of their own home were completely off limits to them, and I think it contributed to them losing the ability to do so. Of course they didn't want to leave their house, but living in suburbia also made it much harder for family members to take care of them, because everything was out of the way. Thinking about it still makes me sick - it seems so stupid to me that this is the life we decided to invest in across most of the country.

refurb said 2 months ago:

You do realize that suburbia was created because of demand? People wanted to work in a city, but have a home with more space, more families, hence suburbia.

The way you describe it is that it's some bizarre form of living that was forced upon people.

analog31 said 2 months ago:

You have to make "sacrifices" to live in a higher density area. I put the word in quotes because it's of course highly subjective, and some folks consider living in suburbia to be a sacrifice.

I live and work in a mid sized town in the Midwest. My main uses for a car are related to being a part time working musician, and I could probably figure out how to use Uber/Lyft/Cab for that activity. My spouse and I can both bike to work, and are within walk / bike distance of basic shopping.

But if you want that lifestyle, you have to demand it. Perhaps somewhere like Berkeley, you don't demand it because it's thrust on you, or the alternative involves 2 hour commutes each way. Perhaps you won't be as choosy about your job, which in any event is a feature of living in a less dense / rich area.

And of course the other problem with the US is that you feel like you have to reach for that high income, because of the risks of being poor or even middle class in a cutthroat society. I suspect if we had free health care and a better safety net, people would be more willing to make those "sacrifices" and live a slower paced lifestyle.

dchyrdvh said 2 months ago:

Harmful for some, good for others. Not everyone loves crowds and noise.

dhruvkar said 2 months ago:

Absence of suburbia != crowds and noise.

There's a level of isolation in the suburban US that's hard to put into words if you haven't experienced any alternatives. That may also be true for other developed nations, I don't have first hand experience.

dchyrdvh said 2 months ago:

I have experienced alternatives a good part of my life. The words I'd use to describe American suburbs are: quiet, green, peaceful. I get that many people are scared to be alone, but that's entirely in their heads.

crdotson said 2 months ago:

Thank goodness somebody else realizes that not everyone likes to be crammed in small areas with lots of other people. It’s amazing how much diversity (which is a good thing!) is praised by many of the same people who think everyone likes big cities because they like big cities.

said 2 months ago:
[deleted]
threatofrain said 2 months ago:

Churches and special interest communities make all the difference, but you have to be very deliberate about it.

carapace said 2 months ago:

Oh God, that was brutal. I wonder if Canada is still open?

The "problem that has no name" is, IMO, very real: I spent some time living in Lynnwood WA, just north of Seattle, for a job and it was "unrivaled in its monotony and depressing blandness" despite being quite nice in many ways. It was just so empty.

Christopher Alexander has done a fantastic job of putting forth a solution (Pattern Language; Nature of Order) and his main site is actually called "Living Neighborhoods". https://www.livingneighborhoods.org/ht-0/bln-exp.htm

What to do about the rest of it I have no idea.

bjornedstrom said 2 months ago:

This was the best part in the article I think.

> Much of the rest of the world takes for granted architectural principles of how to build life-affirming human settlements. These principles evolved over thousands of years, and it’s no accident that so many cultures reached the same conclusions. Urban Europeans, and indeed Armenians, are accustomed to vertical growth, mixed-use development (shops on first floor, apartments above), sidewalks, plazas, public squares and street cafes. These are the fixtures amidst which your halcyon childhood days played out, where you walked hand in hand with your first love, where you met friends for coffee, and hopped the train to work. It’s the corner with the pastry shop, it’s the supermarket down the street, and the bench in between.

> Few people can prepare themselves for the degree to which Americans have, in the last half-century or so, taken this entire corpus of human experience and thrown it completely into the trash, with the exception of a few older cities–not the places where the majority of Americans live. What has replaced it is a surreal moonscape. For those accustomed to the traditional urban civilisation, the primary question in America is: where do I go? What do I do? Looking around leads to an intangible but intense realisation of emptiness. Suburbia is both a cause and an effect of the destruction of civic and community life in America: there’s increasingly little to come home to, and vanishingly little to go out to.

acheron said 2 months ago:

> Much of the rest of the world takes for granted architectural principles of how to build life-affirming human settlements. These principles evolved over thousands of years, and it’s no accident that so many cultures reached the same conclusions. Urban Europeans, and indeed Armenians, are accustomed to vertical growth, mixed-use development (shops on first floor, apartments above), sidewalks, plazas, public squares and street cafes. These are the fixtures amidst which your halcyon childhood days played out, where you walked hand in hand with your first love, where you met friends for coffee, and hopped the train to work. It’s the corner with the pastry shop, it’s the supermarket down the street, and the bench in between.

That reads as though it were written by an alien. L'enfer c'est les autres. The idea of being required to live in an apartment above and next to a bunch of other people I didn't choose, and where I am immediately confronted by teeming masses of humanity whenever I leave my residence, is a dystopian nightmare, like Winston Smith in 1984 or something. This is the exact opposite of "life-affirming".

(I am perhaps exaggerating a bit, but the writer acting as if this is some sort of universal desire is ridiculous.)

noisy_boy said 2 months ago:

I grew up in a place like that where we had neighbourhood shops/cafes/eating places, all almost next door or at a walking distance. They provide the ingredients that make your memories rich and colorful. I have fond memories of the kind of food that I could only get at the corner shop, the barbershop that used to play corny movies while I got a haircut, the very odd place where we could buy coal for cooking AND rent comics. They are fodder for mutual jokes when I catchup with childhood friends.

One only realizes what the writer is talking about when it is part of their experience growing up. You can't universally desire it but only reflect back at what you had and decide how it was for you.

graeme said 2 months ago:

Have you ever lived anywhere at all outside America? There are plenty of spots in the rest of the world that are both tranquil and yet near amenities within walking distance.

IC4RUS said 2 months ago:

It might seem a bit exaggerated, but I'd expect that's because he's comparing it to growing up in a generic suburb where going on simple errands likely requires a car, and anything other than rows of similar looking houses can be miles away. So, the pastry shop on the corner/ supermarket down the street that the author mentioned are likely inaccessible to those in their childhood days.

That might not immediately seem so bad, but imagine that you didn't own a car (due to being too young or too poor). Then, suburban life may start to feel positively suffocating.

opportune said 2 months ago:

Or too old to drive anymore

ryandrake said 2 months ago:

I think the key qualifier here is "For those accustomed to the traditional urban civilisation." Sure, if you're used to living in a European-style urban environment, American suburbia seems like an alien planet. Just like if you're used to suburbia, living in a city is shockingly different. I appreciate that the author is just laying it out here and and describing it as different, trying not to impart some kind of good/bad judgment.

IC4RUS said 2 months ago:

I see what you're saying, but the oddness may feel apparent even to those growing up in suburbia. I can distinctly remember watching miles and miles of suburban settlements sprawl out from where I grew up and telling a friend that I felt like I was in the book 'The Giver,' which included a barren and (literally and figuratively) color-less landscape filled with occasional identical towns. This was exacerbated by the fact that quickly-developed cities had roads in perfect grid systems and public buildings/schools that adopted the same architectural styles. During travel sports season one could get on a bus, take a nap, and wake up in a town completely indistinguishable from the last...

Furthermore, there is a distinct lack of independence for teens who can't drive - the nearest non-residential building can be more than a mile away. Even if you can drive, the popular destinations for errands are big-brands like starbucks, walmart, and CVS. Public transport is practically nonexistant.

This is obviously anecdotal and I think you make a good point, but it should still be considered that being familiar with American suburbia does not mean that it's impersonal and almost surreal nature is invisible to those who grew up there.

mordechai9000 said 2 months ago:

That's where I grew up! I know exactly what you mean. I heard that it was a test market for new product introductions by national fast food chains. I'm not opposed to fast food businesses, and I think they have a right to market their products, but it was oppressing to live in a place where they defined the entire culture. It seemed like most people living there didn't care, or even preferred it that way.

I suppose they did prefer it that way. They voted with their dollars and they ended up with main drags that run for miles, filled with parking lots, strip malls, mega-stores, and fast food restaurants.

When I've gone back in the last couple of years, it's not quite as bad as it was in my memory. It still has the same nationally marketed conformity, but it is not as uncontested as it used to be. There are a lot of mom and pop ethnic restaurants, for one thing. It's not as uniformly crass as I remember.

I took a long, rambling walk while I was on a visit last year, and I was pleasantly surprised. Off the main roads, in the residential areas, it can actually be an interesting place. Maybe this is true of almost anywhere. Of course, it is all built for people to get in their cars and drive to the business districts.

Growing up wasn't all ${nationalBurgerChain} and car culture, though. My friends and I rode our bikes for miles, and anywhere we found woods or swamp we built forts and played make-believe games with D&D themes.

carapace said 2 months ago:

Yeah, the weird thing about Lynnwood was that pretty much each piece of it, each house, most of the buildings, and even the national fast food chains, are nice! And there's tons of nature. There was a glorious bike/ped path near my house. But somehow the "macro-structure", if you will, is "atomized". By being spread out and organized as in-fill from the road grid you wind up with car culture and weirdly lifeless neighborhoods.

Otho: "We're dealing with negative entertainment potential. There's absolutely no organic flow through."

Delia: "I noticed that, too. It's like a giant ant farm."

StavrosK said 2 months ago:

I don't know that Canada is that different. Vancouver, for example, struck me as very similar to SF, and the Anglo culture was similar between the two countries. Montreal is rather more European, but I spent less time there, so I can't say for sure what the culture is like.

scottLobster said 2 months ago:

Considering the vast majority of Canadians live within 100 miles of the American border and there's a ton of cross-border traffic, I don't find it that surprising that the cultures are similar.

As an Washington DC area kid who visited Ottawa as a teenager (Canadian relatives), aside from having to go through customs and everything being in French as well as English, I felt right at home.

carapace said 2 months ago:

It was mostly a joke.

I spent some time in Canada, and yeah, it's "America, but civilized." ;-) The main cultural difference is that they never threw off English rule, they're still technically subjects of Her Majesty the Queen of England (or something like that.) Quebec has this dual culture going on where the French were overthrown by the English and are still a little huffy over it from time to time.

I don't have any idea how CA stacks up to the USA on all the points the article raised though.

Zenbit_UX said 2 months ago:

> The main cultural difference is that they never threw off English rule, they're still technically subjects of Her Majesty the Queen of England (or something like that.) Quebec has this dual culture going on where the French were overthrown by the English and are still a little huffy over it from time to time.

It boggles the mind why people think this of Canada. The queen takes up a combined 0% of our collective thoughts and concerns. English rule is non existant, we're a sovereign nation.

With the possible exemption of some archaic laws 99% of people wouldn't be able to cite, England has 0 influence over Canada.

Likewise your assessment of Quebec is quite dated by a few hundred years. It's the equivalent of Europeans wondering if the US south is still dealing in slaves. With that said, tensions in Québec are not imagined, but they often miss attributed. As an English Québec I feel I can confidently state that issues are almost 100% due to how the government of Quebec desperately seeks ways to preserve their French culture while being in the middle of North America. Most of their laws and issues, no matter how misguided come from this very understandable motivation to keep their culture.

Der_Einzige said 2 months ago:

The south today is still far far far worse to be in if you're African American. I expect that you're slightly downplaying the role that the queen has in Canada's affairs. For one thing, Canada will come to the aid of the UK far more quickly than the US would in crisis times. That's the whole point of the "Commonwealth of nation's"

carapace said 2 months ago:

I'm still mostly joking. No offense intended.

In re: Quebec specifically, I was obliquely referencing the 1980 Quebec independence referendum (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1980_Quebec_referendum) and the laws about having French names on stores, that kind of thing. But yeah, FWIW, I agree with your assessment.

agilebyte said 2 months ago:

It's Her Majesty Queen of Canada. Yes, she is Queen of England, but also Queen of Canada, a separate role (though yes, I don't see her moving from Buckingham Palace to say Ottawa anytime soon).

The role of Quebec can be understood as Aboriginal, British and French are considered the founding people and English and French should have equal status throughout the government. It's also a very populous province that, by uniting around a single Quebecois political party, has to be considered in deal-making.

freeone3000 said 2 months ago:

That may be the role of Quebec federally, but "historic anglophones" are definitely being pushed out in Quebec proper. More and more places it's becoming illegal for the government to speak French - no more English power bills are legal, for instance, and no more English pay slips. "Hi" was outlawed three years ago in shops open to the public; now legally, it must be Bonjour. So, to say that they have equal status in Quebec or that there are not tensions isn't entirely accurate.

cheese4242 said 2 months ago:

I'm not sure why you think Canada is going to be any different.

kylehotchkiss said 2 months ago:

I’m an American who’s visited Armenia for fun. I had a lovely time and think your country deserves more tourism and understanding. Yerevan is a very unique city, and I hope to visit again one day. While I understand it isn’t the wealthiest country, I would rather struggle there than other unwealthy countries (The weather in Armenia is comfortable and the views of Ararat are really nice)

Outside Armenia, this article was a fantastic introduction to immigration to USA and as I’m working on that process with my wife now, I think what I’ve read here can help me better explain what to expect to her. Thanks for writing this.

AvImd said 2 months ago:

Some highlights:

1. Suburbia is very distinct from European-style cities. It is monotonous, very sparse and requires a car to live there. Most of the people in the US live there!

2. The life there is very lonely for someone accustomed to less individualistic societies. And for Americans as well, so they heavily medicate their mental problems which would probably just not show up in more close-knit societies.

3. The legal system is obsessed with letter of the law and disregards its spirit. For-profit prisons lead to the highest incarceration rate in the world. Plea bargaining practice also contributes to codifying unreasonably harsh punishments. It can be traced back to the Bill of Rights that sets basic procedures and not basic principles.

4. Compared to Western Europe, the taxes are on average somewhat lower but the services provided by the state are much worse.

5. Healthcare is costlier than either a truly free market would provide or a socialized system.

6. The war on drugs is fought brutally from all sides, and you are very likely to suffer some damage from it.

7. It is a good place for you if you are young and entrepreneurial. It can provide you with great opportunities but it's hard to lead a stable and calm life there.

886 said 2 months ago:

"Like many people, Armenians have a tendency to compare the worst aspects of life in Armenia with the best aspects of life in America, or elsewhere abroad."

This is usually the case in America vice versa, comparing the best aspects of life in America with the worst in other countries. In reality, an individual living an ordinary life might actually be happier than those in America.

swimfar said 2 months ago:

This definitely depends on who you spend a lot of time around, and where you consume your news/media/entertainment from. I experience the opposite. Where I only hear mostly negative things about the US, and positive things about most other countries. Of course, some perception bias could come into play here too.

plandis said 2 months ago:

Yes, this is my experience. I rarely if ever read anything good about the US on HN.

aerovistae said 2 months ago:

This is an unbelievably well-written and fascinating article. If you don't have time to read all of it, I strongly, strongly recommend you read the section titled "Suburbia, layout, and transportation". It makes a point I had never thought about before and changed my view of the US in a small way.

Causality1 said 2 months ago:

>How stingy do you have to be to only send back $300 every month

Is this an Armenian thing or an immigrant families in general thing? From my perspective that's a breathtaking level of entitlement. If I accomplished the difficult task of establishing myself in a new country and was then generous enough to donate money to my relatives on an ongoing basis, whining about how much I give them would probably result not only in the money stopping but me never speaking to them again.

FabHK said 2 months ago:

I’d say it’s not specifically Armenian. In fact, your answer illustrates the cultural differences the author alludes to.

1. Many countries are much more collectivist than the USA. If in your family or clan or tribe or village someone starves, and someone has food (or money), then the expectation is that the food flows to where it is needed. There is much less “mine vs yours”.

2. The difference between market exchange rates and purchase power parity, taking into account the cost of living. A household gross salary of say 72k p.a. in the Bay Area might really not be very much, but 6000 USD per month seem huge for a family in the Philippines or Armenia. So you should be able to give up 1000$ a month easily - it would help the family at home immeasurably, while for you going from 6000 to still unimaginably opulent 5000 should be peanuts.

3. As highlighted by the author, the USA epitomises wealth for many. The reality that many Americans also live precariously or even struggle hasn’t arrived in less educated circles (and most US TV shows consumed abroad don’t help to correct that picture).

GordonS said 2 months ago:

Not just an Armenian thing.

One of my friends is married to a Chinese woman, and she sends money back to her parents in China every month.

That might not seem a bad thing by itself, but her parents are constantly pushing her to send more, and berating her for not doing well enough to send more. She has 3 siblings, all of whom also live outside of China and send money back, and her parents make a kind of nasty competition out of it. Poor woman has been in tears plenty times because of it. My friend isn't too impressed with this, especially as she actually sends more money back that she keeps for them.

kazen44 said 2 months ago:

This is also a cultural difference i think.

The US as a society is highly individualistic. Living on your own at 18 for instance, is considered absurd in a lot of regions of the world because children are supposed to care for their father/mother later in life.

StavrosK said 2 months ago:

You're right in general, but the "because" is wrong. You could say that the causality goes the other way (you should take care of your parents because they took care of you), but it would be more accurate to say that people just take care of family at every turn because that's what you do.

As a data point, my family (and most others I know) doesn't consider its member's wealth really separate. My parents consider their wealth as ours (the children's) too, my sister and I would spend all our wealth taking care of our parents if they needed it, etc.

cryptica said 2 months ago:

I get the feeling that the idea of "If you work hard and work smart, you will succeed" is more true in America than in the rest of the world.

Living in Germany, I think this might explain why I get into arguments with people on HN when I comment about the unfairness of the system. There may be a mismatch between our experiences. It seems that working hard does seem to lead to success for most people in America.

I think it could be that there are fewer cracks in the system and therefore fewer people tend to fall through them as they do in Europe... That said, as few cracks as there may be in the US system, those that do exist seem to run deep; people who fall through them may have a much harder fall; it doesn't surprise me that the US has a homelessness and opioid problem - That's what happens to people who fall through the cracks; you don't see them on HN complaining about how unfair things are (as I tend to do - Complaining is an activity reserved for partial losers, not complete losers).

In America, the winners get to shoot rockets up into space. On the other hand, the only things that losers shoot up are schools and heroin...

gok said 2 months ago:

> Americans spend more time commuting to work than almost anyone on Earth.

American commute times are actually the third lowest in the OECD.

graeme said 2 months ago:

That figure is debateable. Citylab raises three issues:

1. American commutes tend to be by car. Other countries have more walking, biking and transit commutes. (Note that foreign transit tends to be more relaxing than American transit). And a walk or bike commute is exercise, which americans have to go to the gym to do. 2. In cities, American commutes are much longer than average. The article was talking about urban centers where immigrants go, so it would be instructive to compare to foreign city commutes. 3. Other datasets show the US having longer relative commute times.

https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2011/10/american-comm...

dchyrdvh said 2 months ago:

Gyms are now closed. The thing about suburbs is that you can be anywhere anytime, thanks to your car and garage space to store bicycles and various recreational things. If I lived in the city, I'd likely have neither and would be bound to my city block (parking isn't cheap there).

freeone3000 said 2 months ago:

You can definitely walk further than your city block! Here in Montreal, I walk a mile to work daily. In summer, I could bike, but there's no reason to.

Another thing is in mixed-use developments, you might not have to go too far. My block is entirely condos, but the next block has a pharmacy and a grocery store, and the block the other way has a grocery store, a few fast food places, and across the street is a rather nice sushi place and a bar. Instead of going to the things, you just live where the things are.

yazaddaruvala said 2 months ago:

I live in an apartment in downtown Seattle. I store two bikes easily, and use them often for exercise but also to visit farmers markets (when they are open).

abalashov said 2 months ago:

I’m the author of the article, and agree that this figure was poorly chosen. I think “commute distance” and “commute distance by automobile” in particular would be a much more compelling metric to explore. Otherwise, we get mired in red herrings about heavy traffic that leads to even slower average travel speeds in some other global metropolises, or long train commutes that aren’t apples-to-apples to long car commutes.

morelisp said 2 months ago:

Do you have a citation for this which includes part-time jobs, and breaks out self-driven vs. public transit?

cscurmudgeon said 2 months ago:

But let us not let data pollute a mildy disguised US hate fest.

robert_foss said 2 months ago:

Citation needed

projektfu said 2 months ago:

This parallels some of my experience traveling in Mexico, where salaries are high enough and prices are low enough that the middle class scrapes by, but many things are unaffordable (like a new car). There’s also a large peasant class in Mexico that feeds and houses itself but has no way to earn money. A remittance of $100/month goes a long way for that group.

ape4 said 2 months ago:

On suburbs: "You will not take leisurely strolls to admire the scenery, for there is neither admirable scenery nor anywhere to stroll."

germinalphrase said 2 months ago:

Exacerbated by the lack of sidewalks in many suburban neighborhoods. I once lived the equivalent of four city blocks from a grocery store but wouldn’t have been able to get there on foot without walking on the shoulder of a highway.

asdff said 2 months ago:

A lack of connectivity, too. Your parcel might be adjoining the back lot of the grocery store, but you cant get there without walking over a half mile to get out of your cul de sac and to the major road.

LeoTinnitus said 2 months ago:

Where I live, that only exists on actual county highways or new suburbs. When they get to be 10-15 years old (and if it's grown enough to become a town or something), the local area typically makes an ordinance to have sidewalks.

Mkide said 2 months ago:

Not to mention, of course, that if you stroll around, you might look suspicious and some suburbanite may call the police on you.

nitrogen said 2 months ago:

Neither the lack of strolling nor the heightened suspicion are true of all suburbs in the US.

said 2 months ago:
[deleted]
markbnj said 2 months ago:

The author nowhere claims that these things are universally applicable, and is careful to note many exceptions. If enough people read it and think the shoe fits, then it probably fits.

cscurmudgeon said 2 months ago:

In the city, you get attacked by "youths". So it gets cancelled out.

eropple said 2 months ago:

> In the city, you get attacked by "youths". So it gets cancelled out.

You're showing your true face with this projection and it is a very bad look.

Meanwhile, as somebody outside that land of that weird projection: I've lived in some of the "worst neighborhoods" of my city, as an ethnic group that very much did not fit into that area, and have never felt anything but safe walking down the street. To the best of my recollection my SO never felt worried even as she walked a mile-plus to the train every day, either.

Crime happens, certainly. It is not some terrifying scourge and it also happens to not be isolated to the racial groups you fear or hate or both--and I'd appreciate if you don't dissemble about this one 'cause let's be honest, you're not exactly showing enough subtlety to not scarequote "youths" and we all know what that means in America in 2020.

cscurmudgeon said 2 months ago:

> You're showing your true face with this projection and it is a very bad look.

I was personally attacked in SF but keep ignoring that there is not problem.

eropple said 2 months ago:

That sucks, I'm sorry to hear that. Now when you extrapolate it out to a statistically meaningful sample, what happens?

fxtentacle said 2 months ago:

This is one of the best summaries of unexpected US oddities that I have ever read. Thank you to the author :)

vbezhenar said 2 months ago:

What I always wonder why Americans don't build solid houses? In Russia and in Kazakhstan everyone builds house with thick (70-150 cm) walls with bricks and with good foundation. Even poor people don't build houses from plywood. But in America it seems that everyone, poor and rich builds extremely fragile houses. Like I can punch a wall with my knuckle. It seems so absurd. Especially with those prices that I'm hearing about, like house costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, up to a millions of dollars. I can build awesome house here for like $200k with very quality materials. Can American build a good house from bricks with very thick walls for a reasonable amount of money?

stevenwoo said 2 months ago:

Two reasons - at least on the West coast, building codes incorporate earthquake survivability of the occupants, inexpensive solid walls collapse easily in earthquakes, 2. speed and cost of construction and availability of labor for woodframe housing and even multistory apartment buildings across the USA.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-02-13/why-ameri...

arwhatever said 2 months ago:

We build our houses so that if they collapse on you, you can just dust yourself off and walk away. :-)

crazygringo said 2 months ago:

All over the world houses are built according to available local materials and the degree of weather insulation required, mainly.

In America, houses in Maine can be built completely differently from houses in Florida.

The reason we don't build out of stone/brick, besides cost of construction, is that they're terrible insulators. So your heating or AC bill is going to go absolutely through the roof.

A wood frame stuffed with insulation means your home can be energy-efficient. This is a good thing.

We don't fetishize a house being "solid" and we don't generally punch our walls on a regular basis. :) "Solid" sounds like a big waste of money to me.

Bayart said 2 months ago:

>The reason we don't build out of stone/brick, besides cost of construction, is that they're terrible insulators. So your heating or AC bill is going to go absolutely through the roof.

I'm writing this from a perfectly insulated 200 years old stone house. We've got access to a wide array of insulation technology in Europe, often in the form of panels that can be used to renovate an older building. And you can just blast insulation on the bottom part of a roof, which costs a penny and takes care of a most of your thermal dissipation. Plus insulation is getting subsidized when the government wants to save energy.

>"Solid" sounds like a big waste of money to me.

Paying for a paper house sounds like a scam to me.

umvi said 2 months ago:

Instead of thinking in hyperbole, think in CS terms:

"Solid" houses are "immutable", and "paper" houses are "mutable".

I recently redid some plumbing in my "paper" house. It was real easy: shut off the water, cut some dry wall, make the fix, put some drywall back in, plaster, and paint.

How would this work in a solid house? Do I need to jackhammer through stone and then mix concrete to seal it back up when I'm done?

laurencerowe said 2 months ago:

Pipes tend to be exposed in brick houses so you don’t need to tear the wall down when you have a leak.

Bayart said 2 months ago:

>How would this work in a solid house?

I've got copper tubing running along the bottom of the walls and going through inner walls and flooring. I can't think of anything going through the outer walls. We've got an antenna cable routed through a window frame.

avmich said 2 months ago:

You don't. You really don't need that for years and years in a row. When you need, you do need some tools though.

I see we can have all kinds of analogies; I guess habits play a big role here. Different places in USA have different house styles - it's a big country.

NanoWar said 2 months ago:

Yep. It's a ton of dirt

crazygringo said 2 months ago:

I seriously don't understand this seeming cultural hate for wooden houses. Where is it coming from? Because it's just not based in any kind of reality.

Look, you're emotionally attached to the kind of house construction you grew up in as a kid. I can get that.

But do you realize how freezing it gets in the northeast USA here? When it's -10°C or -20°C, I don't care how insulated your roof is, your walls matter a ton. Stone makes zero sense.

And even suppose you wanted a house made out of stone. It would just so much more expensive to build it's crazy. People don't have the money for it.

There's zero "scam" here. Our houses are not "paper". You do realize we're not building houses out of plywood sheets, right? That we use strong wooden beams that can be covered in whatever siding material you want?

And that wooden houses aren't a "new cheap" thing -- I had friends in high school who lived in 150-year-old wooden houses. They're wonderful and charming, full of history.

Seriously. I do not understand this prejudice at all. Where does it come from?

Like, do you see news photos of destruction of trailer parks in hurricanes and blindly assume that's what happens to our houses (totally different thing) with a slight gust of wind? Because that's seriously the only thing I can guess here.

Bayart said 2 months ago:

>I seriously don't understand this seeming cultural hate for wooden houses.

Well, we do come from societies where having a house made of stone meant it wouldn't entirely burn in the next war.

>Look, you're emotionally attached to the kind of house construction you grew up in as a kid. I can get that.

This isn't some misplaced nostalgia for archaic traditions. It's how everybody lives on my fucking continent.

>But do you realize how freezing it gets in the northeast USA here? When it's -10°C or -20°C, I don't care how insulated your roof is, your walls matter a ton. Stone makes zero sense.

I honestly couldn't tell how right or wrong you are. On one hand the countries I know that reach those temperatures do like wooden houses, on the other hand they have an overabundance of timber. In any case it's entirely irrelevant to the weather in most of the US, where they still build like that.

>And even suppose you wanted a house made out of stone. It would just so much more expensive to build it's crazy. People don't have the money for it.

Our cheap default building material is concrete blocks. But stone is still an option.

>And that wooden houses aren't a "new cheap" thing -- I had friends in high school who lived in 150-year-old wooden houses. They're wonderful and charming, full of history.

I have a 700 year old house round the corner. I don't know of any wooden building in the area older than the late 1600s. It's just not made to last.

>Where does it come from?

France.

>Like, do you see news photos of destruction of trailer parks in hurricanes and blindly assume that's what happens to our houses (totally different thing) with a slight gust of wind? Because that's seriously the only thing I can guess here.

Well, everybody's seen those images of houses torn by tornadoes, or rotting from flooding, or burned to a crisp, or just crumbling after a few decades of neglect.

I'm looking into buying at the moment, and I've got my eyes on a few houses. All traditional houses made out of thick granite as we do here. The idea that someone would take on a debt that possibly spans decades over something that's not literally rock-solid is mind-boggling to me.

So, yeah, it might be entirely cultural. But that's still one thing on which I'll never give an inch.

crazygringo said 2 months ago:

> It's how everybody lives on my fucking continent.

Great. That was my original point. That housing construction depends on local considerations.

So why don't you stop judging the housing where I live? You've insultingly called our houses "paper" and a "scam". And now you're swearing.

I'm not judging housing in your country, but you're judging mine. I'm not asking you to "give an inch" on where you want to live, but you're the one saying Americans are making bad decisions in how they build.

Why don't you show a little empathy and stop?

Seriously, why all this judgment?

freeone3000 said 2 months ago:

>on the other hand they have an overabundance of timber.

Oh hey, like America.

norswap said 2 months ago:

I'm sorry but this insulation talk is complete nonsense. Here (Belgium) houses are mostly made of concrete blocks with an insulation filling, then fronted with bricks. No reason why you'd need to use wood to add an insulation layer.

Then why is wood more isolating than stone? Have you ever visited a medieval castle in the heat of summer? I guarantee that the thick stone walls offer more insulation than any modern home I've ever visited. Of course, we don't make walls that thick, but the material is not at issue.

PaulDavisThe1st said 2 months ago:

(Background: I live in adobe home, with 24"/ 61cm thick adobe walls in much of the structure).

Brick/stone/adobe are not insulators. They have substantial thermal mass, which means that they act to stabilize temperature. Put differently, they create a phase delay between exterior and interior temperatures changes.

The problem with this model is that it works in both ways if you live in a climate (like much of the USA) with substantial swings in typical daily temperatures between seasons.

The same massively thick stone wall that keeps the medieval castle cool in the heat of summer is also chilled to well below freezing by the deep cold of winter, and turns the castle (or whatever) into an icebox.

This is why sensible construction involves both thermal mass (stone/brick/adobe) and insulation. The former helps stabilize temperature, the latter prevents substantial gradients between the structure and the interior (or exterior) from causing major energy flow.

crazygringo said 2 months ago:

You don't seem to understand how insulation works (or is necessary) in the US.

It's not that wood is super-insulating (though it's certainly better than stone). It's that wooden beams are spread far apart, and the space between them can be chock-full of insulation.

And as another commenter pointed out, the main reason isn't summertime insulation -- it's wintertime insulation. Stone is freezing. When it's -20°C out, insulation in between wooden beams makes all the difference.

Concrete blocks filled with insulation still just have way too much concrete to transmit the cold directly from outside to inside.

hindsightbias said 2 months ago:

Concrete is not very green or cheap. Stone quarries and transportation for modern suburbia would be very ungreen and expensive.

Aerated concrete for walls is a very awesome idea from Europe, but it’s not structural and by the time you build the structure for a typical two storey I’d bet that stick framing would be cheaper.

Euros typically put a much higher ratio of their income into housing and are willing to spend more. Same for Japan, and they build very good houses, but then tear them down after a couple of generations.

nitrogen said 2 months ago:

"Solid" sounds like a big waste of money to me.

It's my experience that our American housing/apartment market is obsessed with pictures and numbers. Square footage. Dazzling photos. Checklists of amenities.

And this has been the source of much misery for me. For years I have hunted for somewhere to live with even a modicum of soundproofing. I've tried older duplex buildings with deep basements that are now illegal for fire escape reasons, higher end apartments, standalone houses, ...

Nobody advertises based on "soundproofing", with one exception that was ultimately a lie. Nobody advertises based on air system quality.

It's like we have completely forgotten that we have any senses other than sight.

eeZah7Ux said 2 months ago:

> The reason we don't build out of stone/brick, besides cost of construction, is that they're terrible insulators. So your heating or AC bill is going to go absolutely through the roof.

The very opposite. A thin layer of plywood is a terrible insulator. Bricks are very good.

crazygringo said 2 months ago:

I mentioned in another comment, nobody's building houses out of sheets of plywood. (I mean plywood may or may not be involved, but that's not the "wood" part of a "wooden house".)

Wooden houses have wooden frames, with the wooden beams spread out, so that the space between them is chock-full of insulation.

This insulation is far, far, far superior than brick/stone can ever be. Brick is a terrible insulator. That's just a fact.

avmich said 2 months ago:

The point in brick/concrete walls is that they are much sturdier and harder to break - voluntarily or involuntarily - than plywood. It sounds like proponents of wooden structures keep forgetting that.

For thermal protection you can add the same insulation as for the wooden frame.

How those stone houses in New England fare during the year, are they that obsolete in terms of insulation?

freeone3000 said 2 months ago:

I can tell you how the stone houses in Quebec fare - they're shit. It's drafty and awful and you have to continually run the heater. Compared to my modern insulated condo with drywall walls and joist-and-beam construction (with a concrete support beam and an entire wall of windows), where I run the heater for maybe 20 minutes a day? It's a difference.

mturmon said 2 months ago:

The stone houses are cold in the Northeast, and the brick or stone ones fall down in earthquakes in the West.

PaulDavisThe1st said 2 months ago:

Bricks are actually very poor insulators.

A wood-frame house with the framing elements filled with appropriate thicknesses of insulation is a very, very much better insulated structure than one made (only) of brick.

enriquto said 2 months ago:

The thing is, the USA is the country with most tornadoes in the world. A solid house with thick walls is tornado-resistant. Yet, you lose thousands of plywood homes per year due to tornadoes, while the rest of the world builds real houses with stone walls just because they are more beautiful. What it seems to me is that you have a weird, unhealthy fetish for paper-thin houses.

pimlottc said 2 months ago:

There are vast areas of the US that are not generally affected by tornados. It’s a big country.

vageli said 2 months ago:

> The thing is, the USA is the country with most tornadoes in the world. A solid house with thick walls is tornado-resistant. Yet, you lose thousands of plywood homes per year due to tornadoes, while the rest of the world builds real houses with stone walls just because they are more beautiful. What it seems to me is that you have a weird, unhealthy fetish for paper-thin houses.

It seems this fetish is spreading. My family is from a fairly small island in the Mediterranean where all the houses are constructed of solid reinforced concrete and foreigners who are buying property for vacation homes have been putting up little timber boxes which are the subject of local gossip.

clairity said 2 months ago:

physics basically--same reason why wings aren't built with high rigidity (or with bricks).

brick walls have good downward (and in-line lateral) force resistance and suck at every other direction and torsion. tornado forces are multi-directional. wood frame walls are strapped down to the foundation in earthquake/tornado zones. plywood acts against (some) lateral and torsional forces.

plus, flying bricks are more dangerous to squishy humans.

avmich said 2 months ago:

Do you often have flying skyscrapers? Or pieces of concrete during tornadoes? Or even just rocks from mountains? The concrete technology is supposed to be able to achieve similar results. Does it take too much expensive concrete? What numerical comparisons are saying?

robin_reala said 2 months ago:

Relative to land area, the UK has more tornadoes than the USA (and anywhere else in the world): https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/climate-information/extreme-events...

buckminster said 2 months ago:

As the article notes, the UK's tornadoes are generally weak. It's national news if a single house loses a roof. We don't get massive twisters marching through towns cutting a swathe of destruction.

djohnston said 2 months ago:

tornadoes effect a minority of people in the US. population dense centers like california are more likely to succumb to earthquakes, in which case your concrete home is way worse

throw149102 said 2 months ago:

Even if you do live in "Tornado Alley" tornadoes can have a surprisingly limited effect - small tornadoes have the habit of carving small paths in the city, capable of leaving one side of a road pristine and the other destroyed.

In either case, building a home out of stone would do very little to stop, say, a refrigerator picked up by the tornado moving at 200 mph. Nor will it stop the house from pressurizing and blowing the roof off, stone or no stone. I mean, it could, if the walls were a foot thick each and there were no windows.

As a result, most Americans in the Tornado Alley (who can afford it) have a basement that has stone walls, and just accept the small probability that they lose almost all of their home.

karatestomp said 2 months ago:

> Can American build a good house from bricks with very thick walls for a reasonable amount of money?

Not really, no. You can build a much bigger house and/or save money for upgrades to things that are expected to increase the later sale value of the house (chiefly, the kitchen, but also things like nice outdoor spaces) instead of building with brick. In some areas brick houses are more common but they are mostly older ones. It’s difficult to recover the extra cost of building with brick when selling a house, so it’s rarely done. Since most houses are build by housing developers contracted to one or more newly-building neighborhoods, they’re very sensitive to anything that would reduce their margins or see finished houses sit on their books, and all-brick construction would usually do that.

Brick is sometimes used in pasted-on façades, usually as a kind of “skirt” on the lower part of the front of the house. These may not even be full bricks, but ones cut lengthwise to maximize use of material and reduce weight (see: “pasted-on”)

[EDIT] I should add that the overriding concern of almost all home construction and renovation in the US is reducing the amount of labor required. That’s where most of the cost is, so it’s ruthlessly optimized.

orthoxerox said 2 months ago:

> That’s where most of the cost is, so it’s ruthlessly optimized.

What about all these illegal immigrants I keep hearing about in the news? Shouldn't they depress the cost of manual labor?

PaulDavisThe1st said 2 months ago:

That is already factored into the comment you're replying to.

yayana said 2 months ago:

Building with insulated concrete forms costs about 5% more.. So it is really not unaffordable to build a durable house in the US.

Everything is done to minimum standards in the US because of paradoxical markets like banks competing to give mortgages. The bank that wants only houses that will survive the mortgage let alone second buyers mortgage (for the threat to resale value) loses.

microcolonel said 2 months ago:

I think the concept that timber houses are inherently fragile is not really true.

> Even poor people don't build houses from plywood. But in America it seems that everyone, poor and rich builds extremely fragile houses.

It isn't generally just plywood, that would be a very unusual house.

As for your question of cost, with brick exterior walls, the marginal cost of interior volume decreases with size, so the question of an "awesome house" kinda changes. What people expect to be paid for labour is also higher.

Brick is not a panacea, when it comes to building houses. It is an efficient thermal conductor, so insulation is more difficult, the way you have to fasten the interior of the house to it causes thermal bridging. Common ways of constructing brick buildings can cause condensation on the inside in cold winters, which can cause damage and harm air quality.

There are two and three hundred year old timber homes. It is quite doable if you have large enough overhangs, and a durable roof.

Also keep in mind Russia and Kazakhstan have a completely different climate to most of North America.

Then on top of all of this, a lot of North Americans think of houses very differently. There are people who are building for a lifetime and a legacy, but most are content to have a comfortable sizeable dwelling which isn't going to collapse. It's fine to build a mediocre timber home, if it means that people get more or less what they wanted. As somebody who appreciates fine quality housing, I'd like it another way, but it seems that my fellow North Americans have something else in mind, and that's their business.

HarryHirsch said 2 months ago:

It's fine to build a mediocre timber home

How do you have sex in that? How do your teenagers have sex in that? Is that what you wanted or merely what you put up with because you don't know that it could be done any better?

Also: open plan kitchen. You can't cook in there; if you do everything smells of cooking and it covered with oil mist in short order. You can't remodel, because you house is your biggest tax-free leveraged savings vehicle and Americans are surprisingly conformist; your remodel just won't sell.

oh_sigh said 2 months ago:

Open plan kitchen: You have a range hood. It's the standard way of exhausting cooking smells, smoke, and oil droplets. You should probably have one even if you don't have an open plan kitchen.

I like my open plan kitchen because I can be cooking, and supervising my young kid playing in the living room at the same time. Or, if guests are over, I can be cooking dinner and still be part of the conversation.

microcolonel said 2 months ago:

Are you alright? I have no idea what you're trying to say here.

I don't generally put up with it, but who am I to dictate everyone else's standards for their own living?

> Also: open plan kitchen. You can't cook in there; if you do everything smells of cooking and it covered with oil mist in short order

Open plan kitchens are fine if you have a proper range hood, but yeah, some people undersize their range hoods... but also lots of people don't cook much.

GordonS said 2 months ago:

Not the OP, but I guess the sex thing was about sound proofing.

karatestomp said 2 months ago:

I doubt most kitchens have a hood at all. I’ve seen a whole lot more of those fans that just spit the air right back into the room, through ineffective filters that no-one ever cleans or replaces, than real hoods. Those don’t seem to become common until you’re also looking at houses with those oversized commercial-alike ranges.

throwaway894345 said 2 months ago:

I think the you're largely observing the difference in purchasing power of a dollar between the US and eastern Europe. If you spent $200K to build a stone house, it would be much smaller (for example, in Western Europe where the purchasing power is more similar to the United States and stone construction is more common, houses tend to be much smaller than the US). This isn't to say that large houses are ideal, but Americans in general certainly tend to value living space more than Europeans.

Further, the American model might be more susceptible to damage, but the damage is more cheaply repaired. It also lends itself to remodel as trends change (e.g., central heating and airconditioning, innovations in indoor plumbing [like removing lead-based plumbing], computer networking, as well as changes in interior layout trends), which allows a property to hold more value for longer.

Iv said 2 months ago:

The difference in purchasing power comes from the difference in labor cost mainly. I think that in a construction project, labor costs are going to outweigh material costs by a lot. In such a case, it makes little sense to prefer cheap materials.

Maybe it has to do with competitions. Many old European houses are made of stone. New houses have to compare to that.

GordonS said 2 months ago:

I considered getting a house designed and built here in the UK some years ago, and quickly found that the biggest cost wasn't labour, it was land.

Land anywhere you'd want to live, that has planning permission for buildings, is very expensive.

There is a lot less land in the UK than there is the US, and planning regulations can make things difficult.

kazen44 said 2 months ago:

Also, many european cities are build quite dense because of their age. Especially medieval town centers are build dense because building large buildings was very hard to do.

This results in many requirements for living being close together(shops, markets etc).

Also, the automobile made it possible to create large suburbs in america. In many european cities the focus on the car didn't happen because spending money on a car was not a reality for many people. (americans own considerable more cars then most europeans, and have so for decades, even compared to western european countries).

avmich said 2 months ago:

Many Europeans are lazy. They don't want to have to repair damages. They prefer to build so that damage doesn't accumulate for decades. Don't see the point in easy repairing.

ranDOMscripts said 2 months ago:

Anybody semi-capable can easily modify a stick built house. And Americans _love_ to modify their houses. DIY stores are big business here. I, myself, am adding some recessed LED lights into a couple bedroom ceilings this weekend. When I'm done, apart from the light fixtures themselves, you will never know the work was done 50 years after the house was built because there are no cable raceways and no external plugs.

cpursley said 2 months ago:

As an American now living in Russia (in a region with 30% Armenians), I can confirm this. Our construction quality of our house in the US is trash. It's made out of cheap pine and plywood and has terrible thermal properties. We recently had to replace all the siding because it just rotted off. Meanwhile the places in Russia are smaller, but generally higher quality (which I prefer). Also, many Russians don't take on mortgages and pay for property with cash - which is amazing considering how low salaries are vs the West (they're huge savers - at least the older generations).

kazen44 said 2 months ago:

The legacy of the old soviet systems of tenant housing also should not be understated.

Many people of former soviet nations simply own their appartments/houses and do not have a mortage. Usually these appartments are inhereted

betaby said 2 months ago:

In southern Europe houses are also often inherited. Thus quality of the construction is important.

cpursley said 2 months ago:

This is certainly true.

djohnston said 2 months ago:

the thermal properties of a wood house with insulation is far better than that of a concrete one

distances said 2 months ago:

In general, concrete housing would have insulation. Though depends on the place of course, probably not in the Mediterranean while lots of it and triple glazing in the Nordics.

the_gipsy said 2 months ago:

what about a stone/brick/concrete house with insulation?

mturmon said 2 months ago:

In general, any thermally-conducting path from outside to inside will reduce the insulating value of the wall by a lot. The standard framing method used in American houses is described in basic terms here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Framing_(construction)#Balloon...

(Platform framing is different from balloon framing in some details, but that's not important for our purposes.) The gaps between the vertical "studs" allow insulation to be put in, covering ~90% of the surface area. I forget the details, but there are code and construction-method developments that are working to raise this figure closer to 100%.

The final wall would then be a roughly 7" sandwich. Details vary, but perhaps 1" exterior cladding - stucco, siding, etc., 5.5" of insulation where the frame is, 0.75" of interior wallboard ("drywall"). In older homes, alas, the insulation is thinner than 5.5".

The brick, concrete, concrete-block, and stone construction methods I know about do not allow such a thick layer of insulation. I know there are products available to get higher insulating value in less thickness, thus allowing for 3" of brick + 3" of rigid foam, but of course these are applicable to both methods.

And, as I've tried to clarify, the concrete-block methods I know about have areas where there is a non-insulating path through the concrete.

Perhaps there are other concrete or brick methods that provide significant insulating value, that I'm not aware of, that are realistic for single-family homes?

the_gipsy said 2 months ago:

Reinforced concrete is used mostly in Spain, where I live. Then walls are either traditional bricks, or some plasterboards stuffed with insulation, or an outer layer of thin bricks, insulation, and an inner layer of plaster.

I think we're moving away from bricks because everybody has A/C now. But houses are still "solid", with a concrete skeleton and walls that you can't "punch through", at least the outer walls.

tomatotomato37 said 2 months ago:

We do... on the East coast where the risk of a category 4 throwing a palm tree through your kitchen is higher than an earthquake causing all the bricks in your house to disassociate with one another. The Midwest is screwed either way with what tornados are capable of so they just build whatever is cheapest to rebuild

NortySpock said 2 months ago:

I'll point out, as a midwesterner, that while we have tornadoes, they have a VERY narrow footprint vs a flood or earthquake or hurricane. There's plenty of houses around that are 50 to 100 years old.

But yes, the preferred strategy for dealing with a tornado is a basement, below-ground shelter (aka root cellar) or concrete-and-steel "panic room", all of which are designed to protect the occupants, not the entire house.

kylehotchkiss said 2 months ago:

I am temporarily living outside USA in a concrete walled apartment. The concrete cracks constantly, tiles fall off the walls, and the door fitting seems to be totally variable based on temp and humidity.

I miss living in houses made of wood. And how easily central air systems are installed in wooden homes.

cambalache said 2 months ago:

It seems you live in a shitty apartment then. Plenty of concrete apartments all over the world are well built.

vbezhenar said 2 months ago:

This is just bad house. I'm sure that one could find comparably bad wood house. Usually nothing like that is happening.

throw1234651234 said 2 months ago:

I have never found an answer to this question, especially given the thermal efficiency costs. Homes in Crimea have meter-thick walls and hold insulation really well, that's actually a huge point considering how high my monthly electric bill is.

Anyway, ONE reason is that the drywall home is more pliable - you can adjust the layout and change out the wiring / piping with relative ease. Of course, at that point you don't have much house left, other than a few supporting structures.

The American home is really the cement basement/foundation (outside of Florida), a carrier beam or two across the basement (metal) and a few wood carrier beams on the upper floor / floors. Insulation is typically fiberglass. After that, there is not much substance to it. The brick on the outside does not bear weight.

They do last a decent amount of time when maintained though. Then again, maintenance is high.

amiga_500 said 2 months ago:

Financialisation of land due to banking. The more land costs the less you have for materials.

nickbauman said 2 months ago:

Americans tear down houses a lot more often than Russians and former Soviet client nations do. The housing sector in the US represents an oversized % of its GDP. In fact there are a number of sectors (health care/insurance, housing, military, VA) that are super gigantic compared to even a well off OECD country that, if sized down to a more "normal" level, would turn America into just another average OECD country. Something that might be really great for a number of reasons.

Torwald said 2 months ago:

> In Russia and in Kazakhstan everyone builds house with thick (70-150 cm) walls with bricks and with good foundation. Even poor people don't build houses from plywood. But in America it seems that everyone, poor and rich builds extremely fragile houses.

Not everyone. In the more rural areas there are a lot of farm houses build very solidly.

These are usually build according to traditional techniques stemming from the European guilds of carpenters and masons.

prostoalex said 2 months ago:

1) As others pointed out, need to account for seismic activity.

2) The invention of air conditioning (and low prices for heating) allow inefficient architectures while maintaining reasonable comfort.

3) Corporatization of construction led to structures that are efficient and quick to erect.

4) Insurability of a tract house with standard architecture is much better, due to predictable materials + labor costs.

tyingq said 2 months ago:

I imagine part of it is that we want big houses in the US, so cheaper materials allow a bigger house without a linear increase in costs. Also, I believe lumber is cheaper here. Wood houses are also popular in Norway, where wood is cheap.

quaquaqua1 said 2 months ago:

Almost every town has some code that says you can't do that.

Or the house is already built, and tearing it down to make a brick one is $$$ plus permit maybe will be denied.

And most homebuilding companies only use wood.

dan_hawkins said 2 months ago:

Brick houses don't fare well in seismic areas (think California) and they're more costly/time consuming to fix in areas frequently visited by tornadoes.

desert_boi said 2 months ago:

The entirety of the American West is subject to seismic areas. We're still having aftershocks from a magnitude 6.5 earlier this week in Central Idaho.

https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/map/#%7B%22autoUpdat...

hirundo said 2 months ago:

For one thing most of America is at a much lower latitude than most of Russia and Kazakhstan. Houses don't need as much insulation to be habitable in the winter.

DubiousPusher said 2 months ago:

Yes and this influences even the places at higher latitudes. I live in WA state and it's very clear that during the 50s-90s a lot of the residential construction here was influenced by what was going on in California. I know a lot of trades people that moves up from CA in that time.

So the houses are not built to adequately handle rain and are drafty due to colder temps here. WA state finally started instituting more specific build codes that match the region in the late 90s and 2000s

Koshkin said 2 months ago:

Climate in much of the US is far from being mild. Winters are pretty cold at lower latitudes, and summers can be very hot.

fulafel said 2 months ago:

The energy costs are probably a major part of the equation. Heating/AC costs are lower so it doesn't make sense to invest in energy efficiency. Same as low gas prices with very lightly taxed fuel compared to other western countries. This all has to change with the global warming threat (the much worse alternative of giving up on it, of course exists too)

galkk said 2 months ago:

Come on, brick wall of 150cm? It's insane, no one builds that for individual house.

joncp said 2 months ago:

One thing is that we Americans loooove remodeling our houses. We have whole TV channels dedicated to the topic. So, besides the benefits that other people have mentioned here, wood-frame structures are easy to change to suit our needs.

kazen44 said 2 months ago:

what constitutes remodeling? Changing the entire layout of the house?

because from my experience, nearly all houses in my country have the same kind of layout. Having lived in both pre and post ww2 housing. The major differences seem to be:

- new, post ww2 houses have larger kitchens - old, pre ww2 houses seem to have a smaller living room and a "front room" (with load bearing walls in between). Modern houses have these rooms combined into a larger, single living room. - the bathroom in post world war 2 houses are considerably larger.

Also, what is the deal with many american houses having multiple bathrooms with showers/baths in them?

jhbadger said 2 months ago:

Having multiple bathrooms (with showers) is nice because in the mornings people can get ready in parallel rather than in serial and so people are less likely to be late. It's a good thing to have, but yes, it isn't really a necessity. It's a relatively new thing even in America -- the 1960s era house I grew up in America in the 1970s-1980s had just one bathroom for the whole family.

Torwald said 2 months ago:

> But in America it seems that everyone, poor and rich builds extremely fragile houses.

Not everyone. In "flyover country" there are a lot of solid craftsmen doing solid work.

missosoup said 2 months ago:

Americans and Australians still haven't learned about double glazing.

Definitely one of the more 'wtf' moments when I moved.

projektfu said 2 months ago:

Most new houses have double glazed windows. The cost to renovate all the windows in an old house usually doesn’t pay off in increased efficiency. The biggest bang for the buck is usually increasing insulation of walls and attics.

missosoup said 2 months ago:

> The biggest bang for the buck is usually increasing insulation of walls and attics

Take out a FLIR imager and observe that every window is a black hole compared to even poorly insulated walls.

leetcrew said 2 months ago:

yes, and it will still look like this even with the best triple-pane insulated glass. it's an inherent property of transparent materials. unless your house has an unusually large amount of window area, it's more cost effective to just consider the windows a loss and spray a foot of foam insulation across your entire attic.

projektfu said 2 months ago:

True, but even relatively efficient windows are like holes compared to insulated walls. If you have a whole wall that is losing heat, fixing that is cheaper and more effective than upgrading a few square feet of windows. The best (triple paned) windows are still only equivalent to R-5.

iends said 2 months ago:

I was told it would cost $80,000 to redo all the windows in my house.

missosoup said 2 months ago:

This feeds back into OP's point - the costs are loony. There's maybe 8k worth of materials and labour to double glaze a house (and that's still on the really high end), not 80. If the average Armenian can afford it, there's no natural reason why the average American shouldn't be able to.

nikanj said 2 months ago:

Armenia did not spend the last few decades convincing it’s children that only losers go into trades, so the wages an armenian window installer are quite a bit lower

thaumasiotes said 2 months ago:

> Armenia did not spend the last few decades convincing it’s children that only losers go into trades

Doing labor has been stigmatized in most of the world for the last few thousand years. You could be excluded from "polite society" on the strength of a rumor that you personally produced goods you sold.

Of course, for most of history, there were a large number of people who knew they stood at the bottom of society and so were willing to do these sorts of jobs anyway, but that's not quite the same issue.

PaulDavisThe1st said 2 months ago:

Much of the "progress" of the last few thousand years, and in particular the last few hundred, has been the move away from the sort "polite society"-centric policies and towards a model in which we recognize the value of so many different kinds of human activities.

Besides, I think the comment you were replying to was really about the almost complete absence of post-secondary "technical education" in the USA, in particular when compared to countries like Germany.

thaumasiotes said 2 months ago:

> Besides, I think the comment you were replying to was really about the almost complete absence of post-secondary "technical education" in the USA, in particular when compared to countries like Germany.

Are these two different phenomena? If there are more glaziers in Armenia than there are in America, is that because Armenia sends the message "glaziers are winners" and America says "glaziers are losers", or because America sends the message "no matter who you are, you're a winner, and therefore you shouldn't be a glazier" while Armenia is fine with telling its losers that maybe winning isn't for them and they should consider being a glazier?

PaulDavisThe1st said 2 months ago:

In a country that sends a clear message that "being a plumber is an important and rewarding job with above-median-income job", more people will entertain aspirations to become a plumber.

In a country that sends the message "being a plumber means you're fairly stupid, have no other talents and are doing a nasty, dirty usless job", people won't aspire to being plumbers.

Note that in the US at least, experienced & skilled plumbers are paid above median income (in some cases, a lot above median).

thaumasiotes said 2 months ago:

> Note that in the US at least, experienced & skilled plumbers are paid above median income (in some cases, a lot above median).

Something analogous is true in India, where men are willing to take substantial pay cuts (~50%) in order to hold a white-collar job instead of a blue-collar job. They do that because women don't want to marry blue-collar workers.

Focusing on income levels in marketing to the men would seem to be misplaced.

xnyan said 2 months ago:

A home's worth of windows and labor for 8k? What market is that?

karatestomp said 2 months ago:

WTF? Are they all non-standard sizes so you’d either need custom windows or extensive framing work? Usual replacement cost is more like $200-300 per window, installed, maybe somewhat more if you want something fancy, but not... thousands.

kube-system said 2 months ago:

200-300 sounds like a good price for standard size double hung.

I am guessing the person above got a quote for premium custom windows in a large house.

I have odd-ball sizes in my home that aren't double-hung style, and basic vinyl double-pane windows were about 1,000/ea on average.

mc32 said 2 months ago:

I j know someone who replaced all their non-standard dimension windows on a 2500sf house with double pane windows and it was 30k. So 80k sounds high, unless it’s a really big house.

aidenn0 said 2 months ago:

If you have stucco, then the stucco repair can exceed 10k on its own.

coryrc said 2 months ago:

You may have been told that, but that is not a good offer.

leetcrew said 2 months ago:

this is a bold claim from someone who was no other information about iends's home (overall size, number of windows, size/shape of existing windows, local labor market, etc.).

said 2 months ago:
[deleted]
DubiousPusher said 2 months ago:

Or zoning your HVAC if you have a multilevel. I've heard that does wonders.

Schweigi said 2 months ago:

The house building quality like windows was a big surprise for me too when moving to the US.

Currently more and more houses do triple glassing by default in Switzerland. Double glassing is already done since the 80’s and mandatory for all new house since a long time.

Obviously its more expensive so energy saving standards and energy prices have a lot of impact on how houses are built or renovated. Especially in Texas energy is cheap and I can see that there are not a lot of incentives to invest in lower energy usage by building more expensive.

evv555 said 2 months ago:

Stacked cinderblocks are dangerous in areas with powerful earthquakes and tornadoes.

projektfu said 2 months ago:

When you step out of the wood frame and asphalt roof mold, construction is considered specialized and costs go way up. You could use, for example, concrete masonry units or aerated concrete panels, and a metal roof. Your costs probably just doubled per square foot.

frank2 said 2 months ago:

In South Florida wood-framed buildings are rare and most small buildings, e.g., houses, are made from concrete masonry units -- or at least that was the case when I left in 1984. "CBS" it used to be called: "concrete block structure".

projektfu said 2 months ago:

South Florida is a different business environment and metal roofs are also not overly expensive there.

StavrosK said 2 months ago:

Sure, but it's specialized because not enough people do it, so not enough people know how to do it, so that's no explanation. You're basically saying "Americans don't build with brick because they don't build with brick".

HarryHirsch said 2 months ago:

It's the same phenomenon as in the Eastern Bloc countries, where the state subsidized prefab concrete construction and left the building trade to starve. The result was cheap housing for millions (sorely needed after the destructions of the War) and complete destruction of the construction trades.

projektfu said 2 months ago:

That’s exactly what I’m saying. There’s a chicken and egg problem. Perhaps an entrepreneur could change things but I think you’d have to be ready to lose a lot of money before getting traction.

plandis said 2 months ago:

If you built with brick that would be against code and you’d be incredibly likely to die if there is an earthquake.

Additionally, Americans are fairly fond of tearing down existing structures to rebuild which is harder to do with brick.

Thirdly, wood is an abundant resource in the US.

carreau said 2 months ago:

Not saying it is a good reason, but wood is more flexible so resist better to earthquake. Brick and concrete will crack more easily even if you have many small imperceptible tremors. So in some area it may make sense. I agree though it's weird.

hash872 said 2 months ago:

An entertaining, informative read, and I agree with 60+% of it. I'm still going to nitpick the stuff that I don't think is correct. Also I read the piece on his front page via HN last year, about how it's literally impossible to scale a consulting business past a size of 1 employee, and thought- good, entertaining writer but a bit of an exaggerator:

I don't believe that overall US tax rates are the same as Western Europe, sorry, especially as he seems to add in every line item that he can find (excise tax, etc.) Aside from the fact that European income tax rates are consistently described as significantly higher- there's a 20-25% VAT to consider, yes? To be fair if he lives in California I can see how it's approaching European rates. I also do agree we get less for what we pay for.

The US does have a huge problem with most of the best jobs & human capital being concentrated in a very small number of cities, and I agree that this does contribute to high rent/real estate prices. (And some people are determined to maintain this system because of some handwavey idea that this is a desirable state of affairs). But you can definitely have a quality lifestyle in a tier 2 US city with a professional career, and I'd suggest everyone- immigrant or native- who thinks the Bay Area/LA/NYC/Seattle/Boston/DC are too expensive to move. You don't have to live in an area where the average house price is $1-2 million.

Suburbia is dreadful and has been criticized in the US for decades & decades now, but it is definitely not true that the vast majority of Americans live in a suburb. I share his desire for walkable, medium-density cities.

The US legal system is also extremely bad/overly punitive, but I philosophically disagree with whatever he's trying to say that judges or prosecutors should have more discretion in the interests of a higher ideal of 'justice'. Way too much to fit into an HN comment, but rule of law societies should be procedural/formal/rigid- when we give government functionaries broad discretion to use their subjective 'judgement', they're just or more likely to abuse it and be unfair, racist, even more punitive, etc. (This is in no way a defense of how over-criminalized the US is, but the solution is to change the laws- not gives judges & prosecutors more arbitrary, discretionary power and hope that they choose to be nicer with it)

abalashov said 2 months ago:

Your critique is appreciated and taken constructively! I also readily concede this wasn’t a quantitatively rigourous research study. I would say that some small amount of exaggeration—as long as it doesn’t amount to material misrepresentation or outright counterfactual statements—is highly necessary for engaging writing, and both that and entertainment in general are key rhetorical devices. Slight exaggeration can put the contours of something in sharper relief when illustrating a broad idea. It’s hard to do good human interest writing while spending half one’s time qualifying statements or labouriously reminding the reader of the empirical proportions of things to other things. A portrait is not a photograph.

As the author, it’s not for me to say whether I hit the spot on “entertaining and informative, but a bit of an exaggerator” for everyone, but I can tell you that’s what I was going for in both articles you read. So, thank you — I think? :)

In view of the foregoing:

1. I agree that overall US tax burden is lower than Western European tax burden; my intended point wasn’t at all that it’s equal or higher, merely that a) it’s not _so_ much lower, an order of magnitude lower, or anything like that, and more importantly, that b) given what difference does exist, the much larger difference in government services and social safety net does not correspond.

I think this point could have been easily lost had I spent time on a more comprehensive of tax rates, or belaboured tirelessly that US tax rates are, in the end, somewhat lower.

2. I don’t think I lavished excessive attention on the living cost structure of major cities. The point was instead to explain to hypothetical immigrants where a lot of Americans’ money goes, no matter where they live, including in most tracts of “Middle America”, “flyover country”, “Omaha”, whatever you want to call it.

I live in Augusta, GA myself nowadays (which, for all intents and purposes, approximates a kind of “Omaha”), having lived in Atlanta for ten years and in Athens, GA for a good chunk of my adolescence and adulthood. Much of what I said in the article still applies, I think—the criticism of vacuous suburban layout more so.

I don’t know quantitatively whether “most Americans live in a suburb”, but I would readily and decisively say, on the strength of extensive experience living in and travelling around the US my whole life, that “most places in America conform to suburban layout”. They really do. Some Americans seem to want to quibble with the idea that Irving, TX, or Alpharetta, GA, or Bethesda or whatever are “suburban”, but in terms of the critical lens here, they absolutely all are. The places I have been to in the US that don’t conform to the Standard Suburban Layout are exceptionally few—so few that they can be individually enumerated—and the overwhelming preponderance of US “municipalities” and “communities” do.

3. The procedural emphasis of American jurisprudence definitely corrects for a lot of deficits in the venal systems that preceded it, and there are certainly two sides to this argument.

hash872 said 2 months ago:

Thanks for the response! 2 is my personal hobbyhorse right now, so I was probably overeager to tie something only kinda related back to it (I'm strongly against this idea that all of our technical/financial/cultural elites should live in like 5 cities, and view it as a disastrous national policy).

As it relates to the suburbs, honestly, you've probably seen more of the US than I have so you're likely correct. I personally grew up in a rural setting here, so I spent the afternoon thinking about how that relates or doesn't relate to what I guess suburban living is like (we were more isolated but I don't recall feeling lonely, parents would take us over to a friend's house for the day to hang out, etc.) But I was considering the sociology of rural, suburban or urban living, not sure I have any grand proclamations yet

DubiousPusher said 2 months ago:

> Even so, the quotas on H1B visas are highly restrictive. In the tech sector, at least, there is widespread agreement that the part of the US immigration system that deals with legal immigration of high-skill professionals is in badly in need of reform.

Is this widely considered the case? I work for a big ol tech company and I've been on teams where I am literally the only natural born U.S. citizen. I know I'm working in a somewhat unique case but is it so different elsewhere?

throwaway713 said 2 months ago:

> where I am literally the only natural born U.S. citizen

It's definitely an interesting phenomenon. I work at a large tech company, and within my team of ~70 people, I think there is maybe one other person beside myself who was born in the U.S.

My suspicion is that this is mainly due to the fact that U.S. culture no longer prioritizes STEM the way it does pop culture and entertainment, and so I don't really have any sympathy for the apparent inability of people born in the U.S. to compete with those from other countries who (at least from my perspective) appear to study and work much harder.

umvi said 2 months ago:

That's the case for me as well in a medium sized tech company. I'm the only non-H1B on my team.

robert_foss said 2 months ago:

Big companies have a large competitive edge when it comes to receiving H1B visas.

umanwizard said 2 months ago:

Half or fewer of the people qualified for an H1B get one in the lottery.

tonyedgecombe said 2 months ago:

That might be considered an appropriate feature of the system.

umanwizard said 2 months ago:

Why? If you only want so many people to be able to come, why not make the qualification process more stringent, as opposed to assigning seats via lottery?

tonyedgecombe said 2 months ago:

It would give you the illusion of meritocracy but the reality is it would be almost impossible to administer effectively. You just need to look at the problems businesses have interviewing candidates to see how difficult assessing candidates is.

umanwizard said 2 months ago:

Somehow most other countries manage without a lottery-based immigration system.

freeone3000 said 2 months ago:

Ontario uses a sliding-point system. You're given points for things like language skills, having a job offer, having previously lived in Canada, your educational degree (once verified), being healthy, and sometimes, just random points based on when you applied if they want more immigrants at the time. Then, you're on hold until your points pass the threshold - which adjusts based on how many people they want in. It's not really any less arbitrary, and doesn't reflect the real needs of the labor market: obviously a PhD earns more points than a bachelor's degree, but you need significantly fewer, which is the opposite of what happens under a sliding point system. And notably, while a job offer gets you points, it's not a guaranteed entry, so businesses can't actually reliably sponsor anyone.

Other systems have their cons too, and a lottery is really quite reasonable.

papeda said 2 months ago:

It's interesting to take the featured article's bit about the Bill of Rights and think of the procedural emphasis of the USA criminal justice system as a flawed attempt at reconciling the USA's many different constituent cultures. Like, we have no bedrock agreed cultural principles, so we're just going to settle for codifying how the process works rather than the abstract ends ("justice") it should achieve. That's disquieting.

Scoundreller said 2 months ago:

> In the large public university that I attended, easily 80% of my courses were taught by graduate students not much older than I was.

How typical is this? It doesn't match my Canadian large public university experience, but maybe that's because I took clinical/tech programs? Or that our class sizes can be bigger? What would one prefer, classes of 300 with a full professor, or 30 with a grad student?

asdff said 2 months ago:

Very typical in the U.S. for the professor to do the 300 person lecture twice a week, and have a TA go over homework, proctor quizzes, or run labs in smaller sections of ~30 people. At my undergrad, smaller classes that are lower division would be taught by a grad student to like 30 people, upper division seminars are usually faculty though.

bobthepanda said 2 months ago:

Some institutions definitely have this problem much worse than others in the US, and in certain subjects; while my CS courses were generally taught by professors, the CS labs were definitely run by grad students, grad students did all the grading, etc. For niche elective courses that I took to complete my humanities requirements, those were definitely more likely to be taught by a grad student. But YMMV; talking to peers from secondary school, it seemed like certain institutions (Harvard, Berkeley) were more likely to have this problem. Can't really verify that hearsay though.

On the topic of large class sizes, there is definitely room for improvement in the US system; being at a poorly-funded mid-tier public university, we had several courses that were so large that there were overflow rooms with a camera pointing to the main lecturer in the main room, and these were lecture halls that could easily hold 400.

joey_bob said 2 months ago:

Not typical in the US afaik. In my undergraduate, I had one course taught by a graduate student, and he was somewhere around twice my age. Recitation is typically taught by a graduate student, but taught is a loose word. Seems like recitation is really group office hours with one of the professors graduate students.

evgen said 2 months ago:

I guess it depends. If you were at a large state-funded research university it would not surprise me for low-level and intro classes. When I attended a mid-sized elite university I only had this sort of experience with a few math and sciences courses that everyone in several different degree tracks had to take. My upper-level humanities courses, OTOH, were usually 8-20 students and always taught by a prof (and by the later years it was more likely for grad students to be taking the course than to be teaching it.)

I guess that given the breadth of possible options when it comes to American universities this is one area where YMMV.

plandis said 2 months ago:

My university was a mixture.

For example, the introductory engineering classes you typically take in your first year are large 300+ classes taught by professors with lectures 2-3 times a week. Additionally, TAs (typically grad students) would hold smaller sessions for those classes with maybe 30 students each.

Once you move into more specialized classes the size goes down significantly and are all taught by professors.

burlesona said 2 months ago:

I feel like this article should be retitled, “What every American should know about life in America.”

(Saying this as an American)

StavrosK said 2 months ago:

The thing with culture is that it's invisible when you're in it. You literally don't know how houses could be built any other way, or human relationships be formed any other way. You might as well be questioning whether gravity should always pull and not sometimes push.

Articles like these are great for giving you a taste of what things are like in other countries, and making you see that your way isn't the only way things can be. Travel does that too, and in a much more hands-on manner.

One of the things that made an impression on me on a work trip to the US was that I was talking to a colleague and she said something about her not being well in her mental health the previous year, and then immediately apologized to me for "burdening me with her problems".

I was speechless at (and still don't fully understand) the cultural factors that lead people to apologize for mentioning a detail of their personal life to a coworker, but it seems to me that life must be much more lonely like that.

scottLobster said 2 months ago:

For example, as an American what struck me most about the article was this line: "I’m just saying that if you are found to have signs of a meningioma and go in for an MRI scan, you might expect eight to ten friends and relatives to take time off work to show up with you and weep in anticipation in the waiting room. You will not find that here, and you’ll feel a sharp crash and withdrawal."

Is the author exaggerating, or is this actually a thing in other countries? I'd expect my immediate family and close friends to know I was going in for a scan and to care about the outcome, maybe even wait by the phone for results if they have the time. But to take off work and physically show up in the waiting room just for moral support? What planet is that? I mean sure even Americans can do that for major surgeries/births/etc, at least for those there's some amount of physical care required during the recovery that people can help with. But moral support for an MRI?

I actually would feel bad being the center of that much attention. I guess Americans moralize "being useful" more than other countries, or just have a different conception of what "useful" means. Just because I might have cancer doesn't mean anyone else's time is less valuable than it was yesterday, or that I'm some charity case (Is being a "charity case" an Americanism I'm unaware of?). Immediate family and very close friends have some obligation of moral support, but beyond that it's like how a cat grooming another cat is the dominant cat. It's generally seen as less genuine, and even if it is genuine it's seen as putting unnecessary burdens on people who don't have a pre-existing social obligation to said burdens.

abalashov said 2 months ago:

In terms of the “eight to ten” people, it was a bit hyperbolic, but it wasn’t so far from the truth as to be implausible, and the essential aspect is definitely real. I’ve directly experienced this many times during my time in Yerevan, where I have extended family.

In the US, social and institutional priorities are such that nobody can time off for that kind of thing anyway, and everybody’s too spread out to be much within the blast radius or overall locus of an event like that. It’s just different in an intangible way that’s hard to describe—I tried my best in the article.

titanomachy said 2 months ago:

In America, compared to other places I've lived, people's sense of responsibility to their jobs often seems to override responsibility to their friends and families. Especially people in lower-earning jobs seem to have very rigid expectations of attendance and can even be punished for talking on the phone during work hours. Although they care about other people, they need to be careful to protect their jobs. In some poorer European countries, low-paid employment seems like a much more casual relationship.

None of this is true in the highly-paid and highly-privileged world of elite tech workers in America, where the better employers emphasise flexibility, well-being, and taking care of your loved ones.

LeoTinnitus said 2 months ago:

I think a lot of it stems from American culture simply being centered around money. It's all about how much you make and what you can afford. We all live in our houses 20 miles away from family if not farther and don't value community at all.

It's like the US was devised in a way completely contrary to the way in which we evolved.

kyuudou said 2 months ago:

Well that and you don't get health care unless you are employed, independently wealthy or someone else's dependent that does work.

LeoTinnitus said 2 months ago:

Thats a different issue altogether. I'm saying we don't have a community. I'm not saying those small farming villages were great and all like fiddler on the roof kinds, but much like the amish, it has a standard set of community. People work for eachother, give of themselves, and acknowledge life is a challenge.

In the US, if you don't figure it out on your own and get rich, people just view you as scum and don't care whatsoever. This is why we have psychopaths shooting up concerts, a receding youthful male population, increased suicide rates in general, and people just tuning out of society. There is no defined purpose. You just have to make it. Which is incredibly hard in an economy devised full of choices, every which way preys upon your financial naivety.

The US is a system of the lucky being raised right.

legolas2412 said 2 months ago:

I'd expect my friends and family to accompany me in India.

Infact, even in USA, my Indian friends showed up to the hospital when I dislocated my pinky finger.

atlasunshrugged said 2 months ago:

I'm pretty sure it's actually a thing. About 2 months ago I was in Yerevan and went to a doctors office to re-up a prescription (I'm one of those medicating Americans) and basically everyone there was with several family members, and this wasn't even a surgery facility, just a large doctors office

lentil_soup said 2 months ago:

No idea about Armenia, but that wouldn't be that strange in latin america. Of course not everyone would take the day off but many would offer to go to the hospital with you.

atlasunshrugged said 2 months ago:

Yeah, I second that opinion that culture is invisible when you're in it. I'm an American but have been an expat living in Berlin, Tallinn, and then a few months in Armenia actually and have been gone for ~3yrs. I'm not sure I would have really understood this article as well as I do now unless I'd been gone for a while

abalashov said 2 months ago:

Intriguing overlap! I spent ~2 years total living in Armenia and bounced in and out of Berlin as well, and once lived in the latter for about 3 months.

abalashov said 2 months ago:

That’s very kind! But, joking aside, I’m sure you can appreciate that this would be thought more than a little presumptuous had I actually titled it that way.

burlesona said 2 months ago:

No no, it's perfect just as written. I probably should have said, "This article _could_ be titled..."

I've lived abroad, and then I have a large number of friends from abroad, so I understand most of these things to some degree. But reading your article just made me realize, these are the very things that I am so frustrated by in my own country, and yet when I talk to my family and friends they mostly just look at me like I'm weird and shrug me off.

I think it's because (as another reply pointed out), they have never seen anything different and can't imagine that it doesn't have to be this way.

There are many great and wonderful things about America and Americans, but I think our biggest single downfall is that our national pride has somehow mutated into what I would call a national narcissism. So many Americans deeply believe that we are the absolute best at everything. I've listened to family members crushed by medical bills say, "Well, at least we're in America where doctors can treat things like this, we're so fortunate here." I point out that people in other countries pay a fraction what we do for the same care, and they just... space out and cannot process what I'm saying.

So, anyway, it was just a really cathartic read for me. You expressed these ideas so cogently and concisely, I wish I could have done the same.

Last thing, one the note of the built environment, if you're interested in that sort of thing, I help run an organization called Strong Towns (strongtowns.org) which is largely aimed at helping Americans understand the flaws in the suburban model (namely that over the long-term it is an unproductive money pit that is eroding our national wealth). You might find you fit in well with the Strong Towns movement :)

Thanks for writing and sharing this piece!

plandis said 2 months ago:

Really? I think it should be retitled: “Ignorant take on America from a foreigner who didn’t bother to actually understand life in America outside a small bubble.”

zzzcpan said 2 months ago:

Could you give a few examples of what he misunderstood so much to warrant labeling it "a small bubble" perspective?

plandis said 2 months ago:

Like others have commented, parts of this sound like the author extrapolated their experience in a select few places in California to the rest of the country.

vsskanth said 2 months ago:

The author seems to be well travelled and barring a few exceptions (close knit small towns, urban areas) his depiction of suburban life seems pretty accurate and matches what I've seen so far travelling to many parts of the US.

abalashov said 2 months ago:

(Author here) I’ve barely set foot in California. :-) But I’ve been in the US since I was 6, and I’m in my mid thirties, so for all intents and purposes I’ve always lived here.

I have lived in Indiana, Texas and Georgia (three different cities and towns in GA), and have visited a lot of other places in the country, of course, some of them extensively.

michaelbuckbee said 2 months ago:

This was great - it's something I wish every American could read.

fallingfrog said 2 months ago:

There is a school of thought that says, with some justification, that the American suburb was designed specifically to destroy community ties, for the reason that without community ties it is hard to form the kinds of labor organizations that can oppose capital, and also owning your own home, even if it’s really the bank that owns it, makes you more sympathetic to the interests of the property owning class. It certainly is true that the advent of the suburb happened at the same time as the decline of the socialist movement. After all if you’re living cheek to jowl in dickensian conditions you might be inclined to see the boss as your enemy, but if you leave the workplace everyday and head back to your own property in a suburb, where the boss has a house nearby, with your 401k being your retirement plan, then perhaps less so.

papeda said 2 months ago:

re: "designed specifically", I can see how suburban living might be an obstacle to labor organization, but who is doing the designing here?

oefrha said 2 months ago:

> The point is that almost all Americans pay rent or a mortgage in order to have a roof.

Well that’s just false. About ~40% of U.S. homes are mortgage-free.[1] And it is my understanding that outside of select states, properties are generally fairly cheap compared to income, so even if someone’s paying a 30-year mortgage chances are good it’s not a “large proportion of income”.

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-17/close-to-...

Retric said 2 months ago:

That 40% does not mean 40% of the US population is mortgage or rent free. Few people care if their renting from someone that has a mortgage or not.

Currently ~67% of the population owns or lives with someone that owns their home, and 30% of those homes are mortgage free. So, ~80% of the population has a mortgage or pays rent, which IMO fit’s almost all just fine.

PS: Many people are paying rent or have a mortgage while owning a home, but that’s less of a problem.

phaemon said 2 months ago:

Remember this is written from an Armenian perspective, so over 60% renting or mortgage is going to seem very high compared to 4% in Armenia.

duffmancd said 2 months ago:

Note that that 40% is of owner-occupiers (which is not clearly stated in the article). Which make up roughly half of all households. Renters (whether or not they own another house) are excluded from the analysis.

beezle said 2 months ago:

Even a home for which the mortgage is paid must still pay property taxes, order 1.5% give or take. There are maintenance costs as well, assuming they wish the home to not decay.

gramakri said 2 months ago:

You may be right but this article was written in 2014

oefrha said 2 months ago:

Oh didn’t check; (2014) should be added to the title. That said, the Bloomberg article I linked to has stats going back to 2006; the percentage of mortgage-free homes in 2014 is hardly different from today, and I bet some properties were cheaper (inflation adjusted) back then.

prophesi said 2 months ago:

Regardless, 40% of mortgage-free home-owners are not a majority. The actual majority of Americans _are_ paying a mortgage or rent. The author should replace "almost everyone" with "mostly everyone."

That said, the stats are likely inflated due to the fact that people aren't able to buy a house post-education like with the previous generation. They're stuck paying high rent prices with dead-end jobs.

oefrha said 2 months ago:

TFA: almost all Americans...

Me: That’s just false.

abalashov said 2 months ago:

It’s a human interest article, not a research study; I did not wish to die on the hill of “almost all” vs. “mostly all” vs. “a great many” vs. “a sizeably major proportion of” ... they all look approximately the same from Low Earth Orbit, and “approximately the same” was sufficient for the argument being made — namely, that housing payments for the housing itself are something one has to factor into a conception of Life In America, whereas this is far less to be taken for granted in the fUSSR.

prophesi said 2 months ago:

It's an absurd nitpick and still upholds the article's original point that you need to learn about one's living situation before making comparisons due to America's decentralized governance.

oefrha said 2 months ago:

It’s not absurd to point out that the picture painted by TFA that almost all Americans spend a large proportion of income on rent or mortgage is not true for a significant chunk of the population, especially considering investment/skilled worker immigrants typically earn above average.

If you earn 10x while having to pay 20% of that as rent or mortgage, you do still end up with 8x. Not to mention non-home owners are also prevalent in most of the developing world.

prophesi said 2 months ago:

And this "significant chunk" of the population assuredly would not include one's Armenian relative who immigrated to America. As stated in the article, most Armenians are likely home-owners due to the collapse of the USSR, so it's irrelevant that renting is prevalent globally.

Again, I agree the author shouldn't have said "almost all" Americans, but it's still a silly nitpick in context to the rest of the article. Rent/Mortgage is just a slice of the pie of costs that one may have to pay in decentralized America.

oefrha said 2 months ago:

> And this "significant chunk" of the population assuredly would not include one's Armenian relative who immigrated to America.

Where does that "assuredly" come from? If you just immigrated (non-investment), probably not. If you're like my immigrant relatives who immigrated 20 years ago -- just run-of-mill Silicon Valley electrical engineers, they have been mortgage-free for a long time, and they live right next to 1 Infinite Loop where cost of living is pretty damn high.

This article is overall fairly objective but the hardships described in the housing section seem quite exaggerated, from "Armenians are sometimes under the impression that lots of Americans own houses, too. This is a misapprehension; ..." onward. (For one thing, unless I'm terribly mistaken, those who do own houses generally own better houses than Armenian apartments; same for those who financed houses.)

To be fair, I can understand the exaggeration, as this article targets those who are "righteously indignant about stingy relatives in the US". (Which btw I don't understand -- why are rich relatives obligated to help the poor? I guess it's a cultural thing.)

prophesi said 2 months ago:

> just run-of-mill Silicon Valley electrical engineers, they have been mortgage-free for a long time, and they live right next to 1 Infinite Loop

Is this sarcasm, or do you genuinely not see how exceptional that is?

oefrha said 2 months ago:

No, this is not sarcasm, and genuinely ordinary among skilled immigrants. There are just too many examples around me to count, and if they’re not there yet, they are on the same path. That’s the point: you don’t need to be filthy rich to be a home-owner in the U.S, just relatively well-off (and not even that if you’re willing to choose a less desirable destination).

FabHK said 2 months ago:

> non-home owners are also prevalent in most of the developing world.

Yes, but not ex-USSR states. For them, three quarters of households having to pay for their housing is an extremely high proportion. You could argue that “most” would be a better description than “almost all”, but it doesn’t make the article grossly misleading.

said 2 months ago:
[deleted]
seibelj said 2 months ago:

Also many people have subsidized rent... my tenant is on disability and doesn’t pay for rent, food, electricity, gas, or subway pass, and gets $600 per month spending money, which is all provided by the government. She has asthma

foldr said 2 months ago:

>She has asthma

Not cool to make these judgments about people. You're not her physician and don't have access to her medical records.

seibelj said 2 months ago:

Ok well that’s what her disability is - asthma.

foldr said 2 months ago:

I mean that you don't have access to all the information that factored into the decision regarding her eligibility for benefits. You've said that she's "lucked out", implying that she would in fact be able to work, but you don't really know that.

Also, you should not be revealing such private information about your tennant, given that your HN account is linked to your real identity.

seibelj said 2 months ago:

It would take a true psychopath triggered into spittling rage by my comments to figure out who my tenant is based upon what I have written.

I think the real issue here is some find the fact inconvenient that someone with asthma can be on full, never-working-again disability in the USA. This is a truth, and I haven't passed any judgement on whether it's good or bad. It simply is a fact that people such as this exist and live off society's tax dollars. You can pass your own judgement, I have no comment on whether it's positive or negative.

foldr said 2 months ago:

>someone with asthma can be on full, never-working-again disability in the USA.

This depends on the severity of the asthma and other factors. As I said, you don't know this person's medical history or the details of all the conditions they may have. I think it's tasteless to suggest that someone who most likely has quite a serious medical condition has "lucked out".

>I haven't passed any judgement on whether it's good or bad.

Ha!

said 2 months ago:
[deleted]
amiga_500 said 2 months ago:

You are the one who is subsidized.

dang said 2 months ago:

You started a flamewar here and then kept feeding it. We ban accounts that do that. Please read https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and don't do that again. Note how they include, among other thing:

"Eschew flamebait. Don't introduce flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say."

seibelj said 2 months ago:

No the one who doesn’t pay rent is subsidized

amiga_500 said 2 months ago:

The entire system is set up to funnel economic activity into land then onto usurers.

seibelj said 2 months ago:

Well my tenant is one person who beat the system! Never has to work, period.

distances said 2 months ago:

What the parent is saying though is that your tenant is only the middle man transferring wealth from the society to you; you are the one who ends up with the money in this scenario.

jessaustin said 2 months ago:

The tenant ends up with a roof overhead.

amiga_500 said 2 months ago:

He's the hand sanitizer guy. Taking land off the market then "solving" the supply issue.

jessaustin said 2 months ago:

You're confusing real estate with dwellings. Renting land is an issue for farmers. Adam Smith had a lot more sympathy for sharecroppers than for apartment dwellers. Even the most basic apartment represents tens of thousands of dollars in investment. No one is going to make that investment without hope of charging "rent". Modern standards don't allow for hovels to be built of local materials on vacant land in a few weeks, as was possible in Smith's time.

seibelj said 2 months ago:

And I transfer my wealth to everyone else I pay money to! Welcome to economics.

dang said 2 months ago:

Please don't feed flamewars regardless of who started it or how wrong someone else is or you feel they are. We've had to ask you this before.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

distances said 2 months ago:

Sure, but your comment about the tenant beating the system can sound quite hypocritical when it's also you who found a way to receive other taxpayers' money. There could be many ways to do the same thing, and we should acknowledge we built a system that ultimately benefits the capitalist class.

I'm not criticizing you being a landlord here, just pointing out you're both using the system to your benefit and not only your tenant.

seibelj said 2 months ago:

I rent to whoever pays and my tenant has a section 8 voucher and passed all the checks. They aren’t a bad tenant, but I rent to people who can pay - the government pays me because the tenant selected my unit and applied.

amiga_500 said 2 months ago:

Trickle down then? Nope. Let's ask Adam Smith...

https://i.redd.it/0vz5zevo2rq41.png

amiga_500 said 2 months ago:

And their income goes to you, who does hardly anything as a landlord.

seibelj said 2 months ago:

Other than all the upkeep, legal risk, risk of loss in value, having to deal with harassment from know-nothing internet commenters...

pertymcpert said 2 months ago:

You're more of a parasite than her.

dang said 2 months ago:

Flamebait and personal attacks will get you banned here. No more of this please.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

GuiA said 2 months ago:

> California state income tax is deductible from the federal taxable income

Not anymore ;_;

> I don’t know who seeded this meme that Americans pay low taxes.

Great question! It comes up all the time in conversations with my friends/family back home (France). They all have it in their head that I must pay 10% in taxes or something, but it’s really roughly the same when you scale for income differences etc. In fact depending on how you model it, I could argue that I proportionally pay more taxes than I would in France at a similar career level.

axlee said 2 months ago:

It is very often Americans themselves who seed the "low tax meme" in order to criticize European social democracies. Those profiles tend to be right-wing. They have drunk their own kool-aid.

umanwizard said 2 months ago:

Left-leaning Americans do the same thing. “Why don’t we just tax the rich, like they do in Europe, so that the government can provide services!” which doesn’t recognize that the problem is actually different and more complicated.

“The US wastes massive amounts of resources for very poor levels of service, and nobody has any idea how to fix it” isn’t as nice of a sound byte.

thebooktocome said 2 months ago:

Not being able to recover revenue from wealthy people who can afford to bend or break the tax code is a problem. The IRS can effectively make money for the federal government simply by auditing the rich (I seem to remember that the marginal dollar spent on enforcement returned six dollars in revenue), but they don't because politics.

leetcrew said 2 months ago:

there's some truth to it. in general, european countries have less progressive tax regimes than the US, both directly through income tax (the middle class in particular pays a lot less in the US) and stuff like high VAT, which is very regressive. the average tax burden is similar, but the distribution is very different. people with high income are taxed aggressively in the US, although there are lots of ways for wealthy people to avoid taxes on capital. it's hard to compare apples-to-apples though because the middle and lower classes in europe receive much better public services.

AndrewUnmuted said 2 months ago:

Well, if you’re referring to places like Denmark, it is true that most Americans pay nowhere near those income tax rates.

I can’t see a lot of right wingers in the US suggesting we have low taxes. Conservative talking points frequently address the desire to lower tax rates in the US because they claim they’re too high as it is.

FabHK said 2 months ago:

In some countries, top income tax rates are low (for example HK 16%, Russia 13%), and you get a decent level of public services (cheap universal healthcare, good public transport).

In some countries, taxes are high, and you get good public services and a comprehensive social safety net (most of Europe).

The US is exceptional in having high taxes and mediocre (at best) public services (plus a huge army and health care for the elderly - at least something).

orthoxerox said 2 months ago:

The employer pays a lot of "non-taxes" on top of your gross salary in Russia: social security, healthcare and retirement funds are not funded from your 13% income tax.

oddx said 2 months ago:

Just want to add to @orthoxerox comment that Russia 13% tax often isn't understanded correctly, effective tax rate for wages closer to 45% (while many it components not called taxes).

FabHK said 2 months ago:

Thanks for the correction. Then put Russia in the middle category or the last (with the USA), depending on how extensive public services are…

refurb said 2 months ago:

It's pretty easy to see the difference in taxation by just looking at taxes versus GDP.

The US floats around the mid 20% range, while Europe is mid-30% up to 50% (Sweden).[1]

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_tax_reven...

said 2 months ago:
[deleted]
annoyingnoob said 2 months ago:

In the US taxes are complicated. How much income you have matters, also the source(s) of that income make a difference, and finally investment losses make a difference. So if you are Donald Trump, and you've had massive losses, you can pay virtually no taxes on your investment income based on your investment losses. If you have very low income you probably pay no taxes and might be eligible for subsidies. If you are single and making very high wages from labor but not from investments then you will pay the highest tax rate. If you can flip your income from labor to investments you can really save a lot in taxes. Your effective tax rate completely depends on your situation.

https://taxfoundation.org/how-much-do-people-pay-taxes

dibujaron said 2 months ago:

I found this very well written and an interesting perspective. I guess I'd have to spend some time in Yerevan to really understand the perspective of the author.

FabHK said 2 months ago:

I think it is sufficient to spend some (considerable) time nearly anywhere outside the USA.

EDIT to add: Though to understand some points (eg that despite widespread poverty, nearly every household owns an apartment or house), living in a CIS (ex USSR) state would help.

said 2 months ago:
[deleted]
lynguist said 2 months ago:

A question to the Armenians: Would I as a Turk with a Turkish name but a European passport face any difficulties or danger when visiting Armenia?

abalashov said 2 months ago:

Hi — author here. The answer is no. At least, I’ve never heard of such a case.

tehwebguy said 2 months ago:

No, people of the world know that modern day Turks have nothing to do with the Armenian Genocide.

Erdogan, however, should steer clear of Armenians IMO.

orthoxerox said 2 months ago:

As long as you agree that Armenian genocide was a terrible atrocity you will be fine.

lynguist said 2 months ago:

I was the first one in history class to speak up naming and condemning the Armenian genocide. I find that both the treatment of the Armenians and the Greeks during the time of the fall of the Empire and rise of the Republic was an enormous mistake on all possible accounts and by not allowing that plurality to happen in Turkish society they lost out on innovation.

keiferski said 2 months ago:

As an American that has spent years living in various ex-Communist countries: perhaps the single ‘greatest’ aspect of living in the US is that your income has virtually no upper limit. A software engineer, a lawyer, and most other professional occupations can easily earn $200,000 a year a decade or two into their career. This is absolutely impossible anywhere in an ex-Communist country and rare even in Western Europe.

While you do have to pay for healthcare, education, etc. I’m not sure it actually ends up costing more when considering the increased amount of income. Theoretically the best plan would be to work in the US then retire/send your kids to school in Europe.

For better or worse, the reality is that many of the problems listed in the link become manageable if you have money. As I often tell taxi drivers, America is great if you can and want to make a lot of money. For an average person, the quality of life is likely better in Europe.

ryandrake said 2 months ago:

Not sure where you get this impression. That $N00,000K is still an upper limit.

For the vast majority of jobs, while there is no "upper limit" etched into law, incomes above a certain point probabilistic impossibilities. Most jobs' incomes are distributed within some band with tight standard deviations. A retail worker will statistically never make $200K. A typical vanilla office worker won't make $1M. Anyone who does is a 5-10 standard deviation outlier. The bands are wider maybe for lawyers, doctors, software engineers, but their salaries are not unlimited. I've never heard of a software engineer that makes $10M/yr. Maybe there are one or two in the world?

For people who own their own businesses, their income is still limited by how many sales they can make, how many employees they can hire to grow, and how much time in the day they can put into the job. Still not "no upper limit".

There are vanishingly few classes of jobs with virtually no upward limit, like CEOs of mega-corporation and Wall Street traders.

StavrosK said 2 months ago:

Life is good anywhere if you're rich, yep. That having been said, I'd probably prefer doing okay in Europe than being rich in the US, just because of the way of life.

Then again, I'm Greek. I don't think I know a single person who emigrated (and I know a lot of those) who doesn't dream of coming back at some point. I guess you can never really stop wanting the things you grew up with.

atlasunshrugged said 2 months ago:

Definitely echo StavrosK's point - I think the key thing is that if you want to try to be superrich and build the next Facebook or something, the best place to have a shot at it is in the U.S. (and really only in a few places there). If you want to have a nice life and are like 99% of people and won't end up the CEO of a major company, then you're better off in Western Europe

betaby said 2 months ago:

Really tiny proportion of the population make 200k in the US. And if the do, those are in in the expensive cities like NYC or SF and similar.

gok said 2 months ago:

To be precise, about 8% of households earn $200k or more.

karatestomp said 2 months ago:

I bet a good chunk of those are breaking the $200k line with two incomes, too, not with one.

cheese4242 said 2 months ago:

>and most other professional occupations can easily earn $200,000 a year a decade

"Most professional occupations"? I don't buy this at all.

cpursley said 2 months ago:

Yep, also living in former soviet block. This is also what I tell people with illusions about America (don't get me wrong, America can be great).

harrydehal said 2 months ago:

For those interested in a bit more about the Armenian diaspora in Los Angeles which is particularly unique, through a food/cooking lens, Chef Marcus Samuelsson just did an episode on his PBS show last week, "No Passport Required: Los Angeles."

It was full of history, stories about the Armenian immigrant experience, and a look at the older and younger generation in LA:

https://www.pbs.org/video/los-angeles-gzlrby/

https://la.eater.com/maps/los-angeles-armenian-restaurants-f...

RickJWagner said 2 months ago:

Thanks to the author for writing this. As an American, I found it very interesting.

jancsika said 2 months ago:

> McDonald’s Corporation really can be held liable if you spill hot coffee on yourself, and maybe that’s good, but if you employ a mechanic and he spills hot coffee on himself while on the job, you might be held liable.

There's no easy or accidental way for an independent garage owner to be regularly keeping communally-drinkable liquids at > 82-degrees Celsius.

Apparently, the real lesson for Armenians is that American corporations and industry tend to diversify corruption at a level invisible to those used only to corruption at the direct human-to-human level.

joey_bob said 2 months ago:

You could change the title to be "What Americans should know about life in California" and the conclusions would still be largely accurate, with the exception of Healthcare and Jobs.

gidam said 2 months ago:

With the lack of empathy another very sad thing of living in USA is to discover how almost all the people measures success in life with the size of the paycheck/bank account.

threatofrain said 2 months ago:

How many people can find success in life in the absence of money, such as with mathematical glory on the secret of the primes?

Without money I think unto the future of one’s children. In the opposite direction, the degree to which you have money is the degree to which you can be morally effective in your community. The very poor and the very rich, IMO, have a different slew of interesting moral choices.

burntoutfire said 2 months ago:

> How many people can find success in life in the absence of money, such as with mathematical glory on the secret of the primes?

This question itself is quintesentially American. Here in Poland, I don't hear ANYONE EVER talking about wanting success. I think people here just want contentment and some sort of balance.

LeoTinnitus said 2 months ago:

If you said that to a stereotypical conservative here, they'd call that liberal garbage. The thought is that if you aren't working to an absurd degree, you aren't useful.

davidgh said 2 months ago:

> How many people can find success in life in the absence of money, such as with mathematical glory on the secret of the primes?

Yes, a certain measure of wealth is required to find happiness. Without basic needs being met, it is hard to find much more than misery.

Of course, most people want more money than they have, but different cultures place a higher emphasis on the acquisition of money than others. And studies have shown that beyond a certain point, additional money adds very little incremental happiness.

On the other hand, living in a culture that places high worth on money has significant side effects, such as people who have sufficient means spending much of their time, energy and worry on things that really don’t give them the happiness they are looking for, to the detriment of things that do (relationships, hobbies, etc.).

said 2 months ago:
[deleted]
rollpapier said 2 months ago:

Does anyone know of such an article written for immigrants in Western Europe? I’d find it interesting to have an “outsider’s” view on the culture I live in.

seem_2211 said 2 months ago:

This is a great piece.

I immigrated from New Zealand to America. It's interesting being in the US and hearing people exalt New Zealand. Same thing, some pros, some cons.

refurb said 2 months ago:

I'm an immigrant to the US as well.

I chuckle a bit when I hear people say how great my home country is and how they wish they could move there from the US.

Xcelerate said 2 months ago:

I mean, as an American, it's really hard to argue against the views and scenery in New Zealand...

atlasunshrugged said 2 months ago:

Would you go back? What do you view as the pros vs. cons of being in the US versus NZ?

seem_2211 said 2 months ago:

Probably - I think raising a family will probably be a catalyst.

Pros: pretty, relatively relaxed lifestyle, much lower pressure than the US, minimal gun violence, healthier attitudes towards childrearing, good public healthcare, relatively good education systems, (mostly) competent government.

Cons: low wage economy, distant from everywhere, overall ambition of people is low, high taxes (top tax rate isn't crazy high, but kicks in very early)

Note, when I talk about 'the US' I'm talking about SF / LA / NYC type cities. I don't have any intention of living in small town USA.

gridlockd said 2 months ago:

Of all the things that might contribute to an epidemic to suicides, architecture is high on my list of suspects.

The link between long commutes and depression has already been shown[1].

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221414051...

said 2 months ago:
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sparrc said 2 months ago:

I grew up in suburban America and 100% agree with the author's take. It was certainly comfy but I found it unbearably bland, boring and suffocating.

leetcrew said 2 months ago:

interesting read. I wish the author had gone into a bit more detail with the cost of living differences between armenia and the example family in fresno. I could certainly look up the the price of flour in both places, but it seemed like the author was on the verge of explaining something more subtle.

selimthegrim said 2 months ago:

His point is things just you might not think indispensable in Armenia (car etc because you have marshrutka) will be indispensable and cost way more

purplezooey said 2 months ago:

"...payments are direct from patient to medical provider, and so prices are constrained by what the market will directly bear. "

This nice gross oversimplification is how, maybe, it was envisioned in the 1960s when we should have fixed it, but bears no resemblance to how it actually works today.

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acjohnson55 said 2 months ago:

My favorite part of this already great article is where the Armenian guy referred to the US tax system as Byzantine. Bravo!

K2L8M11N2 said 2 months ago:

(2014)

kyuudou said 2 months ago:

That the Turks probably won't genocide them over here

plandis said 2 months ago:

The author treats the European way of life as the gold standard that shouldn’t be questioned and then chastises the US for not being a part of the same group think.

Typically one tries to understand before critiquing but the author has clearly not bothered to do so. Their description of American life in their short amount of time here is so vastly different than my lifetime of experience here.

vsskanth said 2 months ago:

There is absolutely no implication that the author's views shouldn't be questioned.

Would be great if you could also share some detailed thoughts on why you think the American way of life is better.

mercer said 2 months ago:

Well then go write or link to a blog post to provide us with an actual counter-point maybe?

nine_zeros said 2 months ago:

Wow! As an American with extensive knowledge of other countries, what a read!

I cannot add much to it but the one thing that separates America from the rest of the world is that American legal system is truly a "legal system" and not a "justice system". There is just no concept of humanity or spirit of the law.

Which leads to interesting corner cases in everything and pretty much every person I know is trapped in some or the other legal trap. It's just stifling. Even our property is always at risk of being taken away.

Sometimes it is just so refreshing to go to recently developed countries or even developing countries and just smell the freedom in the air. The freedom comes from a backing of some form of justice.

cheese4242 said 2 months ago:

I'm really having difficulty understanding this comment. It seems completely delusional. I very much doubt you have "extensive knowledge" of other countries if you are not aware that the legal system of many countries do not even give the pretext of having fair trials.

Can you give an example of the American "legal system" vs this "justice system" in another country?

nine_zeros said 2 months ago:

Great question.

"Legal system" is about the letter of the law. Which means that written law has to be precise in dictating exact steps. Failure to adhere to those steps is automatically non-abiding.

"Justice system" is about the spirit of the law. Which means that written law is a guideline for judges to use, often strictly. However, judges have room and freedom to make decisions based on individual cases and circumstances.

A simple example is alimony. In most states in the US, the spouse making more income the last year is supposed to maintain alimony payments to the spouse with lesser income, often for an unduly long duration. This is letter of the law.

In this letter of the law, it missed circumstances that led to one spouse having higher income. An example is, maybe one spouse was a student with paltry income last year. If they get divorced now, letter of law dictates that the current spouse making higher income pays alimony. But maybe in 2 years from the divorce the student graduates and earns $300k a year because they were studying neuroscience. This is not entertained in letter of the law (unless the law is changed with specific handling of all such cases, which is infinite)

No exceptions and circumstances are entertained and following letter of the law yields just one kind of result. This often leads to patchwork laws where amendments are appended constantly trying to cover every corner case as an after thought.

In a justice system, the judge takes circumstances into account. For instance, in the above example, the judge could allow only 2 years of alimony payment. An example of this is in Singapore. Try to read it with not a letter-of-the-law eyes and you'll see that the Judge has the ability to make independent decisions: https://blog.moneysmart.sg/family/divorce-ex-wife-money/

No country has a perfect justice system but the difference in approach defines how the society will ultimately be like to live in.

jessaustin said 2 months ago:

Nearly every part of Europe would be such an example. Even Britain, which is no shining example on the Continent, has extensive extradition hearings to determine whether it would be humane to subject the accused to the barbarity of USA judicial system. The death penalty is popular here. Death by police is common. (although it's difficult to say how common because DoJ doesn't track this! Some sources say it's about 1000/yr.) USA has more people incarcerated than any other nation in the world, in the history of the world.