I got into a brief discussion yesterday with people from my hometown of Gloucester, Virginia. One of my high school classmates posted a picture of what she’d spent at the gas pump. If I recall correctly, it was about $125 or so… and that certainly is a mind blowing figure. While I didn’t expressly state it, I was initially sympathetic. I left the first comment on her photo, which was that [gas prices] have been like that in Europe for years. In fact, they’re even higher here than they are in the United States. I had originally meant the comment to be matter-of-fact, but it kind of blew up a bit.
Last time I checked, which I will admit wasn’t super recently, gas in Germany was about 2 euros per liter. There are 3.785 liters in a gallon. A quick Googling tells me that gas prices near where I live are still at about 2 euros per liter, thereabouts. My trusty calculator tells me that a gallon of gas near me would cost about 7.57 euros. One euro is currently equivalent to $1.05, so that means a gallon of gas is about $7.96. If you’re driving a honkin’ big truck that holds 20 gallons of gas, it’s going to cost you about $160 to fill up in Germany. But that’s not unusual here. I remember it being very expensive here when we lived here years ago, although it wasn’t that expensive. I think it was the dollar equivalent of about $2.65 per gallon back around 2007 or so, which was still expensive for us spoiled Americans.
A few hours later, a woman from Gloucester whom I’ve never met, left me kind of a snarky comment about how everybody in Europe lives in houses that are the size of a U.S. house’s kitchen. Then she went on a rant about how much Europeans pay in taxes (she claimed 58%) and compared them to socialists. She finished her comment with an orange angry emoji… to which I laugh reacted, because her comment was so full of misconceptions and falsehoods that I was kind of flabbergasted.
I added another comment. I wrote “I live in Germany, and I assure you that my house is bigger than your kitchen.” Indeed, the home we live in now is on three levels, has three bathrooms, three bedrooms, a large, finished basement with a granny apartment, and a fenced in backyard. There are also two large balconies. The one thing this house doesn’t have, that I wish it did have, is closet space. Most German houses don’t have closets. Our first German house was an exception to that trend. It was built by a man who had worked for IBM and was familiar with US houses.
At that point, another person from Gloucester, but living in Arkansas, left a lengthy, but basically polite comment, explaining that she knew Germans had nice homes, but they don’t have to drive much, because of the public transportation available here. She wrote me a tale of woe about life in rural America, and how the high gas prices are a real hardship. She wrote her comment as if she thought I was from Germany, which struck me as funny.
While it’s true that there’s a lot of public transportation here, not everyone uses it, nor is it necessarily convenient for everyone to use in every area. If the usual traffic on Autobahn 3, which is very near my house, is any indication of how many Europeans are driving, I’d say that lady is a little out of touch with how things are over here in Germany.
I do understand what life in rural America is like. I lived there myself for many years. So I commented, “I’m an American, so I know how it works,” adding a winky smiley. I know… that’s a little snarky, but I have to admit I was a little irritated that this person felt she needed to explain life in the United States to me. Especially since I never indicated that I didn’t have any empathy for Americans having to pay a lot for gas. My initial comment was simply that gas prices have been high in Europe for years, not that my friend needed to “get over it”. But after reading a couple of comments from obvious conservatives who blame Joe Biden for the price of gas, I was starting to feel like my countrymen were whining a bit and could use a perspective adjustment.
Then the first lady came back, still seemingly a little pissy, writing that she doesn’t want to spend $10 a gallon on gas, and she thinks taxes are too high in Europe. I was still left with the impression that she had no idea about what she was writing. So I responded with something along the lines of, “Okay, but you’ve made some comments about life in Europe that are not grounded in reality. Germans do pay a lot of taxes, but they get a lot for the money they pay. Most of the Germans I’ve known live perfectly nice lifestyles. Yes, gas is expensive here, but other things are much less expensive, like healthcare, education, and food. And Germany also isn’t a socialist country.”
I also added that here, one doesn’t have to go to college to have a hope of getting a “good” job. In fairness, people don’t necessarily have to go to college in the United States to get a good job, either, as long as they have a useful talent or skill. However, here, the emphasis is on people being able to find work so they can pay their bills. Young people don’t get saddled with humongous loans that will take the rest of their lives to pay off, and workers have rights. In the USA, it can be very difficult to find work that pays enough, even if one went to college, or even graduate school. And vacation leave is pretty stingy in a lot of jobs. You’re lucky if you get two weeks, unpaid.
I didn’t add that in Germany, new parents get generous paid leave. In fact, they also get generous guaranteed vacation time every year, which allows people the chance to rest, and to recover when they get sick or injured. We pay for energy by the year, and it’s less than we’d spend in the United States. We pay for heating oil every year, so we don’t have to worry about getting an unexpectedly high bill every month. Bill and I don’t pay German taxes for most things, because we have SOFA status. We pay US taxes, which are admittedly lower than German taxes are. But the United States makes every citizen file a tax return and pay taxes, no matter where in the world they are living. Most other countries don’t do that. Granted, if one makes under a certain salary threshold, there is a US tax exemption. Whatever one makes over that figure is taxed.
Then the second woman wrote that she didn’t check my passport before assuming I was German, and apologized. It seemed like a snarky comment, but I chose not to respond in a snarky way. I wrote that I grew up in Gloucester, so I know the pain of commuting long distances in the United States. I also know that a lot of people, some of whom have never lived anywhere but Gloucester, and many of whom have never so much as visited another country, assume that the United States is the best country on Earth. I’m here to tell them that it ain’t necessarily so. Even if they did think Gloucester was the best place ever to live, after having experienced living in many other places, that wouldn’t be every person’s opinion. As my Italian friend Vittorio would say, “Tastes differ.”
At this point in my life, I’ve now lived in several countries. No place was ever perfect, but the other countries I lived in had their pluses and minuses. Even Armenia, which was really developing when I lived there in the 90s, had some aspects of life that I later missed. The beautiful produce at the shukas comes to mind… as well as the fascinating churches, amazing art and music, and interesting cultural traditions. It was also a very CHEAP place to live… much cheaper than the USA or Germany is. I was definitely ready to leave Armenia at the end of my Peace Corps service, but that was mostly because of a situation I was dealing with at the time that could have happened anywhere. I also missed Armenia when I got back to good old Gloucester, where I was stuck living for two years post Peace Corps.
Anyway, when I left my original comment about how expensive gas is, it was to the original poster. It was neither a positive nor a negative comment. I just wrote that gas prices have been high in Europe for years. The other people were the ones who made it negative, and then added a bunch of hooey about life in Germany… something about which they clearly know very little, or next to nothing. I probably should have just rolled my eyes and moved on… people are going to complain, and some will continue to blame the president for something he can’t, and doesn’t, control.
Personally, I would rather pay higher gas costs and know that if I get sick and need to go to a hospital, I won’t go bankrupt. Of course, we could probably use the military hospital in Germany, but I wouldn’t conclude that’s ideal, except that we would be more likely to get decent pain relief. One of Bill’s co-workers, who is American and a retiree, sought care at Landstuhl for his wife, who had colon cancer. The military hospital couldn’t accommodate them in a timely manner, so they called up the local hospital. They got a same day appointment. She went in, and over about a year’s time, they treated her for the cancer. She’s now in remission. When all was said and done, the whole thing cost about $13,000, which was entirely paid for by her health insurance. Try doing that in a US hospital, even with insurance.
The United States truly does have some great things going for it. I do love my country, and I even miss it sometimes. But there’s PLENTY of room for improvement in the United States. And to be honest, high gas prices are not what I would be focusing on right now, when children can’t even go to school without being afraid for their lives. Yes, it sucks to pay a lot for gas, but I’m afraid the days of cheap gas are coming to an end for many people. It’s not just because of the political situation in the United States; this is a global issue. Maybe instead of whining about high gas prices, American people might invest in more fuel efficient vehicles… or push for better and more extensive modes of public transportation. There’s a high price to be paid for living out in bum fucked Egypt, where there is no bus or train system.
But most of all, I wish ignorant, all-knowing people in the United States would stop trying to tell me how life is where I am actually living. This isn’t the first time it’s happened, and it really drives home why so many non-Americans think so many Americans are so insufferable and arrogant. As an American, I didn’t see it so clearly when I lived in the US, but I can see it plain as day now… and folks, as the “orange hero”, Donald Trump, would say– it’s not a good look.