Is the grass really greener across the Atlantic?
American blogger Diana Goodwin debunks the myth that the grass is greener across the Atlantic by highlighting the benefits of life in Belgium compared to the United States.
Whenever I meet someone new here in Flanders and they find out where I'm from, they inevitably ask me if I'm planning to stay in Belgium. And they're surprised when I say, "Yes." With few exceptions, most Belgians seem puzzled that an American would choose to live here.
Instead, I've had many people in Belgium tell me that they would love to emigrate to the United States and their dream is to live in New York or Los Angeles. I look at them like they're crazy... of course, I suspect they're not crazy – they're just missing some key information. Maybe all they know about life in America is what they see on TV or in the movies. Maybe they've travelled a bit in the States and had a great time – at Disneyland or on the beach in Florida or gambling in Las Vegas.
While I'll readily admit that the US has some advantages over Belgium – especially in the areas of entrepreneurship, customer service, friendliness and cultural diversity, not to mention the incredible landscapes and natural resources – there are many aspects of life in the States that are not so wonderful, and that Belgian acquaintances are usually surprised to hear about.
Belgians are always complaining about taxes, and it's true that the tax rate is very high here. They have this idea that people in the US are wealthier because they get to keep more of their income. Well, that may be true for the very wealthy, who pay a lot less in taxes than their counterparts in Belgium, but it doesn't really work out that way for the average worker.
Sure, maybe Americans get to keep more of their paychecks but they also have to pay for more things themselves – things that are provided free or at a low cost by the Belgian government, such as education, childcare and healthcare. It comes as a surprise, then, when I tell Belgians that a lot of Americans can't afford health insurance, or that even with health insurance they might still have to pay thousands, or tens of thousands, for medical care.
Belgians are surprised to learn that Americans don't enjoy the same government-provided services and benefits because they're used to having these things. Like most Europeans, they assume the government will take care of its citizens and that everyone has the same basic rights to education, healthcare, decent housing, etc. In the United States, these rights are open to debate.
For instance, Europeans take it for granted that a mother is entitled to paid maternity leave even though the length of time may vary. Here in Belgium, a mother can take 15 weeks at 75–82 percent pay, and the father can take 2 weeks. While individual American companies may provide paid parental leave, there is no legal requirement for them to do so, and most do not. California is the exception, requiring companies to offer six months at half pay.
I could go on and on, but I'll spare you the boring figures and statistics. I guess what I'm trying to say is: Don't believe everything you see on TV.
Not everyone in America has a perfect life, a fabulous wardrobe, a fast car and a natural tan. Those attractive 20-somethings in the latest Hollywood blockbuster couldn't possibly afford their spacious renovated lofts in Brooklyn, or San Francisco. The friendly waiter who served your hamburger and fries doesn't have health insurance and can't afford to go to the doctor.
Maybe the reason I love living in Belgium so much is that I know the 'American Dream' isn't all it's cracked up to be. Belgians have no such illusions about their own country, and yet they don't realise how good they've got it, in so many ways.
Diana Goodwin is an UK-born, half-Asian, American expat who came to Belgium after working in the Hollywood movie industry for far too long. She now lives in Hasselt with her Flemish husband, a yellow Lab and a black cat. As a medievalist and art historian by training, she finds Belgium is the perfect place to indulge her fascination with medieval history, art and architecture. Diana writes writes cultural observations about her new home on Things You Didn't Know About Belgium, and gives tours in Flanders to English-speaking travellers. You can reach her via email or find her on Twitter.
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.