I’m an American sasquatch and I’ve been in Europe since the beginning of September 2012. My girlfriend Cynthia and I spent a few months travelling and then getting certified to teach English before landing in České Budějovice, which is in the southwestern corner of the Czech Republic. We’ve been living and teaching here for almost eleven months now. We love our flat, our jobs, and are making more friends all the time. After initially being strapped for cash upon arriving here in CB, we now make enough from our teaching jobs to pay for trips without needing any of our (her) savings for funding. Everything is great and every day feels like we’re living the dream. Except for one thing, one huge problem.
We don’t know what to do next.
At first glance, it seems like one of them good problems. We’re living in Europe, regularly travel and can afford to do so and live comfortably while only working part time. But we don’t feel that CB is our permanent home. We have aspirations to make a real home somewhere, you know, the kind of home you renovate and buy furniture for. We’ve accumulated very little in the way of personal effects in order to keep ourselves light and streamlined for more travel in the future. The biggest thing either of us have bought so far are an acoustic guitar and a typewriter, but both are so cheap that they could be easily jettisoned when we go to move again.
If CB isn’t our permanent home, then what is? She’s from the state of Washington, specifically an island town near the San Juans and I’m from the thumb knuckle of Michigan. Seattle perhaps? Detroit maybe? How about other cities? We share a former boss who would hire us in a heartbeat in San Diego but it would require making coffee again. What about Colorado? Montana? Alaska? A lot of European countries bear consideration based on availability of work; Croatia, Germany, Austria and a few others included. Hell, even though it’s America’s attic Canada is on our radar.
I think this is the Prime Minister of Canada.
That last part may have sounded a little silly, but it’s quite simple to me. Why is Canada even an option if we decide we’re going to go back to North America? Why not just go back to America? Well, even though I sometimes consider myself a proud American I can say that Canada seems so damn attractive to me because they seem to care more about their own people.
There’s the whole universal health care thing. Yeah, we kinda sorta maybe got some health care in the United States now, but it’s a lot of half measures because Republicans are obsessed with low taxes and protecting big businesses. I’m skipping the political debate here, but I could go a lot further. And anyway, since the Democrats don’t have a solid majority in the Senate and are in the minority in the House, we got a camel for healthcare reform. Just so you know, a camel is what you get when you design a horse by committee. In first world countries, free healthcare is damn common and America doesn’t have it. Countries we tend to look down our noses at have a better record of taking care of their sick and elderly than we do.
Anyhoo, what’s another thing that is important for young people to consider who may want to settle down and have a family?
Paid maternity leave, another thing that America doesn’t have. Canada has fifty weeks of it and here in the Czech Republic you can choose to have up to four years of paid parenting leave. That’s right, four years. Granted you only get a percentage of your salary, but being on leave for that long right up until your kid starts school means no babysitters or daycare if you don’t want any. To make it sound even a little crazier, the parents can switch off during parenting leave. Yeah, it almost sounds like magic. Next thing you know I’ll be telling you that every kid here goes to Hogwarts and that you can find herds of unicorns in the forests of South Bohemia.
Biggest drawback of living in the Czech Republic? Nothing gets done unless Jaromir Jagr wills it so.
To be absolutely clear, the Czech Republic does have a lot of problems. We aren’t planning on starting a family here or anything. People are not always very kind to visitors or humans in general, there are ongoing issues with the Romani, the roads here are Michigan-level bad and the government is Chicago-level corrupt. And yet, every one has healthcare and paid parenting leave. So, yeah, you gotta take the good with the bad, but at least the people are being looked out for.
Is it silly to have considerations like these affect your choice of where to raise a family? I don’t know, to me it seems pragmatic, maybe too much so I’m willing to concede. Maybe to others it seems too opportunistic, but I’m from the motherfucking land of opportunity so yeah, I like a sale. What’s that? You’re giving away free healthcare and paid parenting leave? Gimme gimme gimme.
But there’s also the point I’m trying to make. And that is, “Hey America, what gives?”
One issue that I find really agonizing and that affects my view of America greatly is gun control. I.e., the lack of it. It breaks my heart that I would rather not live in America because of the gun problem than live there and have to stomach it. I can’t change the way I feel about it, plain and simple. I’m not afraid of guns, I don’t want everyone’s guns to be taken away and melted down, and I don’t think I’m in great risk of being shot. I just frankly am quite depressed when whacko birds with guns mow down a bunch of kids and nothing changes because a bunch of other whacko birds with guns think that the solution is more guns.
If I’m being honest, I do really like Seattle quite a bit and I lived there for three years. I just don’t have the same feelings about it that Cynthia does. I’d rather live up in the islands near where she grew up.
I love America, but I don’t always miss it. Okay, I’ll be honest, I rarely miss it. But I am a misanthrope with little to no feelings so this isn’t news to those who know me best. I don’t miss things often, I don’t do whatever “homesick” is, and even though I love my family, I don’t choose where to live based on where they are. It has nothing to do with them, and as cold as that may sound, I was raised thinking I could do whatever I wanted if I worked hard because that’s part of the American identity and that’s exactly what I’m doing now. I don’t exactly know how it sounds for me to say that, but as an American I can expect to be welcome in a lot of countries and even anticipate less stringent VISA requirements than other non-European Union citizens. With those and other advantages available to me it seems silly to not make use of them.
Cynthia and I have differing views of what being American means and whether or not we should live in America permanently. At the present, I’m thinking that there are countries and situations that people are born into where they’ll never get to leave their country even though they want to. Whether it’s because they’re poor or oppressed, they will die having never crossed the border. I hate to get all heavy handed here, but am I wrong? No, I’m not. So I think being American means making the most of the chances we get and using our freedom that way. Cynthia’s opinion on the matter is that America is a part of her, it’s where she’s from, it’s where her closest friends are, and the Northwest specifically is where the people who she relates to the best live. She’s not wrong to feel those feelings, you might never have friends who get you like the people you grew up with or met in college. And she is much more sentimental than I, but not to a fault. I mean, come on, she quit a job that she liked quite a bit and moved out of the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard that she loved to go on an adventure like this. So I don’t think she suffers from an abundance of sentimentality and I also don’t think she’s incorrect to feel the way that she does.
So, does that mean I’m a bad guy? Am I too hard, too distant and callous to consider living anywhere but America? Does it mean I hate America now?
Detroit’s got a certain Berlin post-wall thing happening at the moment. If it continues, it could become an entirely different kind of city than what is the norm in America.
No, if anything it just proves that I’m feeling conflicted and that our predicament is a complex one. Detroit is atop the list of places in the States where I’d want to settle, so I don’t think I’m completely anti-America nowadays. Actually, I have several places I’d be willing to live. However, when it comes to Detroit I want that city to be great again and I want to be a part of it. I also love the idea of cheap ass real estate. However, if we don’t settle the issue of which country to live in will we always be looking? Will we ever really settle in a single spot?
Having kids would probably do that. We know a Czech family here and we’ve both taught their daughters. I’ve never been entirely clear on what the father does but I know he commutes to and from Prague regularly these days. His work used to have the family living in New Zealand and I think both of the girls or at least one was born there. The older one is seven and the younger one is five. They both are fluent in Czech of course as their parents are Czech born and raised. But because of growing up in New Zealand for a little bit, the seven year old is fluent in English with no accent and the little one for her age is about a decade ahead of any other five year olds when it comes to English. At some point they either decided to live in Czech Republic again or his work required him to, but whatever the impetus for their return was the experience was incredible for their daughters. Parents are shelling out money here to teach their kids English and these two girls are light years ahead of their peers because their parents lived abroad. I could have bilingual kids solely because I raised them abroad and the doors that could leave open for them are a great many if they keep up their second language.
I’m getting way ahead of myself here. We don’t even know if we’re staying here in CB past this school year yet but we’re looking into finding work elsewhere before we decide. The likeliest course of action is that we stay in Central Europe. If not here, Germany, maybe Austria if there are jobs anywhere other than the bigger cities.
In Berlin there are lots of cool things things to see and do and lots of cool people to meet and party with and lots of free time to do all these things because no one has a job in Berlin.
An aside, Germany and Austria would be slam dunk propositions to move to if we felt that the salary/cost of living ratio was doable and met our travel expectations. Vienna (Austria) or Hamburg (Germany) would be a dream if we could do better than break even but we’re not confident that we could. There is no work to be found in Berlin so that’s right out, so maybe the small to medium sized cities have a better ratio of pay to cost of living. Par exemple, CB compared to Prague is a dream. I don’t envy friends who live in Prague and the rents they pay or the commutes they have to deal with.
This is literally a can of worms. And so is the VISA process in most countries.
In a nutshell, moving to Germany is a whole other can of wax or ball of worms when you start thinking it out. Finding work, a flat, getting VISAs in another country, it all shaves years off your life. After all that we’ve been through here thinking about going through it again leaves us both a little short of breath. There’s also where I started this whole post: we are really loving where we live now. We have a massive ass place at a fraction of the cost of the smaller Seattle apartment we used to share and we’re right by Germany and Austria and countless other places that are easily enough reached by bus or rail. We both really like our bosses and our landlords are the greatest people on the planet. They bring us more furnishings whenever we need them as well as the occasional cake and just yesterday one of them invited us on a cheapo day trip to Vienna. So if we take the leap to another country, are we falling prey to the “Grass is always greener on the other side” trap? Because let me tell you, the grass here is pretty fucking green.
So yeah, it’s totally a bunch of pansy ass first world problems, I can admit that. But they are problems for us none the less. Do we move back to North America? If so, where to and when? Do we stay in Europe? If so, where and for how long? If we leave Europe we will regret it forever? If we leave CB for somewhere else in Europe will we have it as good?
At some point we will make a tough decision and cross our fingers and toes that it doesn’t lead to a long, regret filled life where each day we cook alive in a personal hell with the crushing realization that we ruined ourselves by making the wrong choice and that no matter what we do, each morning the brimstone oven fueled by our self inflicted misery will fire up anew and the hot suffering will bear down on our minds and hearts even fiercer than the day before.
In the meantime, Happy Holidays!
And now, an old favorite from Kids in the Hall to take us out:
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