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November 6, 2012 |

Pros and cons of different countries I've been to so far

I've found a lot of differences between the US, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and England in my travels, and I'd like to espouse on those here. Every place has its advantages and disadvantages, some more obvious than the others:

England

England walk

Pros

Good food selection: There's a huge selection of food here, much like in the US, and especially when you go to Sainsbury's.

Fair number of places to find cheap things: England has a lot of different shops, but even though they can be quite expensive, you can usually find another shop with a cheaper version of exactly what you were looking for.

The default grocery stores in England are Sainsbury's and Tesco.

Neutral

Left-sided driving: England drives on the left side, which I knew for a long time but forgot the day I came here, likely due to exhaustion. I went around to the wrong car door before being reminded of this.

School uniforms: Unlike in the US, having a school uniform for school is extremely common in England. It's kind of cool to see students walking around in their uniforms.

Catch-all stores similar to Dillard's: There are many H&M's and John Lewises and other places that have a bit of a lot of different stuff, much like Dillard's or J.C. Penney in the US. Their stuff is not worth the extra money, in my opinion, but it's interesting that they have them here.

Cons

Atmosphere: Maybe it's just me, but I'm not a big fan of the "feel" of England so far.

United States

Walmart doughnuts

Pros

Cheap everything, including food and electronics: The US is one of the kings of everything cheap. If you want to buy just about anything, you can hop on Amazon or eBay, which often ship to anywhere in the US. Another good example is of course the infamous Walmart: terrible for the economy, fantastic for people's wallets. You'd be hard-pressed to find cheaper food in the Netherlands or Norway than you can find in the US. For example, a box of doughnuts at Walmart will set you back $2.50, but in Norway, that same box would be 50-60 NOK, which is the equivalent of $10. Also, three words: the dollar store!

Huge food and item selection: This realization hit me especially hard after coming to Norway, and that is that the US has an incredible amount of one thing: choice. Granted, much of the food has too much fat, sugar, and/or salt, but it also tends to be really delicious. If you don't like one kind, you have tons of different types of food to choose from, and among those, you have so many different brands and flavors. This goes for non-food items like toiletries, electronics, furniture, etc. as well. I feel like I can find anything in the US, and the existence of Amazon and eBay multiplies that feeling by about a hundred. If you can't find it in stores, it's probably on Amazon or eBay! This is often the biggest thing I miss when away from the US.

Large, spacious areas: Whether it be the kitchen in your home or the aisles in the store, the US specializes in making everything large. This isn't always a good thing, as it can be very wasteful, but you do have more room to do what you need to and more, like dancing in the open space in your room. :P

Cons

Healthcare is a disaster: US healthcare is outrageously overpriced, and all the industry seems to care about is making money. While this is common in every industry, it's most noticeable in the healthcare system, because, unlike in other countries I've been in, people can literally be refused treatment in the US if they cannot pay. People from other countries, especially those countries who implemented universal healthcare a long time ago, look at the US and are baffled at how backward its healthcare system is, with so many uninsured and who would be in massive debt if anything were to happen to them.

Look out for the fine print: The US is one of the countries in the world that loves fine print; in fact, I'd wager this is one of the biggest industries of all in the US: mass misdirection via marketing. Here are some personal examples: You have health insurance? Sorry, we can't touch your teeth because "health" doesn't include dental; pay for it yourself (What?). And Geico can save you "up to 15% or more on car insurance", which doesn't make any logical sense, since they could save you nothing at all and still fulfill that promise, and using a concrete number like 15% in their slogan just sounds good without requiring them to actually save you that much. This is everywhere. I have never had to look through such a thick smog of misleading words anywhere else like I have in the US. It is a nation obsessed with working too much (US workers have hardly any vacation days at all compared to other countries) to "make more money" (often not the case) to buy more unnecessary things (which often don't even contribute to a higher level of happiness), and is massively delusioned to believe that these things are true wealth. Extreme attention to detail is required to avoid getting jipped. Americans have probably gotten used to this, but if you're traveling to the country, this can be very difficult to avoid. And the government? Don't bother complaining to them; they're okay with it. Which brings me to:

Politics: Such a mess. The two-party system should have been abandoned a long time ago. I'm not sure why such a new country uses such a backward system. It's difficult to have a presidential race in the US that is anything more than an apologetic lapdog versus a religious extremist seemingly every time nowadays. And the electoral college still exists, for some reason. So here we continuously have terrible and unqualified candidates making uneducated decisions in unrelated departments on a massive scale, which helps make the rest of the cons on this list come true.

Hey, Big Brother: You're able to be watched, always. The government has a lot of rights (that keep getting bolstered more and more over the years, it seems) to spy on you in all different kinds of ways. A large portion of funding goes to exactly this, so the government can try to sell you more, track you more, and I'm sure also to entertain themselves with the mundane activities of citizens. Almost everything involving getting any information at all in the country seems to be a massive invasion of privacy. This and the previous bullets are the main reasons I'd like to move away from the US.

Building horizontally: The US builds its cities horizontally, not vertically; that is, instead of having a set of apartment complexes, the country generally prefers to build everything on one story, wasting a massive amount of space (also known as urban sprawl).

Having a car is required: This is largely due to the previous bullet. I can't speak for the states up north, but down by Florida, the public transportation is terrible. I cannot emphasize this enough. The buses are underfunded and spread thinly, and I've only ever heard of one train. The first time I used a train was in California, and my first experience on a non-schoolbus bus was in Europe. If you're international and plan to go to the US, renting a car is your best option, if you're able to. Sadly, you must be 25 in order to do this, but on the upside, most European countries' driver's licenses do count as valid in the United States. That is, if you have a driver's license from the Netherlands or Norway, for example, you can legally drive in the US with it. This does not work backwards, however, as the process for acquiring your license and a car in Europe is leagues costlier, more difficult, and more time-consuming than it is in the US. As for Americans, when in Europe, public transportation is your safest bet, unless you have an international friend with a car who's willing to drive you.

Architecture: I have to say that US buildings are generally terrible-looking, especially compared to the ones I've seen across the Netherlands. Expensive homes can look nice, but in general the commercial and residential buildings are not too attractive. They are sometimes slightly more attractive than the average bare-bones building I see in Norway, though, though the Norwegian ones usually have a bit more charm.

The default grocery stores in the United States are Target and Walmart.

The Netherlands

Netherlands traffic

Pros

Live and let live; a nation of tolerance: The Dutch are extremely tolerant. You'll always find some people who don't like others based on race, religion, and other such things, but the Dutch are pretty good about keeping their opinions to themselves and not bothering you about them.

Incredible public transportation: The public transportation in the Netherlands is extremely well-developed. You can find a bus or a train or a tram line nearly anywhere you go, and Amsterdam itself is a shining example of what public transportation should be.

Good food and item selection: While not as extreme as in the US, the Netherlands has a pretty decent variety of food and non-food items to choose from when shopping, and while anything you buy in the Netherlands is likely to be more expensive than in the US, it's still absolutely affordable and is nowhere near as expensive as it would be in Norway (the capital of importing everything)!

Excellent for biking: The Netherlands is almost entirely flat, so biking everywhere is what most Dutch people do, and bike lanes and racks are absolutely everywhere so as to facilitate this. Unlike in the US, cars are not necessary; if it's too far away, just take the bus.

Wide, green pastures: The Netherlands is a very farmland-oriented country, and its main export is food, so you'll often see wide, open pastures full of crops and cattle and sheep, which is lovely.

Architecture: The architecture in the Netherlands is gorgeous, so much so that almost every single building seems like it went through extensive, very detail-oriented revision. I've never seen anything quite like it in the US, where a building made me want to stop and stare at it in awe - let alone multiple of them!

The default grocery store in the Netherlands is Albert Heijn.

Cons

Low driving visibility: It can be hard to see other cars past the greenery planted everywhere, but at least there's greenery planted everywhere!

Norway

Norway view

Pros

Nature: Norway is beautiful. If you've ever found elevation or fjords or mountains or waterfalls captivating, Norway is the place for you. You'll also get plenty of physical activity just walking around this country, because it's very common to have to walk uphill to get to wherever you're going. Trekking up Stoltzekleiven in Bergen is also a fantastic workout and gives you a wonderful view of the entire city. I also can't believe how green the grass is despite how cold it can get.

Education: In the US, there are a ton of unnecessary classes that are prerequisites for getting a degree, and you have to pay for these as well as the required books in order to even progress to relevant classes. The education system in Norway is a lot more focused and centered on what's important in one's field. In my experience, this also leads to certain Norwegians like healthcare professionals, and especially dentists, being far more knowledgeable about their field.

There are no sudden, bank-breaking surprises: Norway is expensive, but everything costs about level. That is, things are expensive, but there is no single thing that would absolutely destroy your economy (compare to getting in a car accident without health insurance in the US). Going to the doctor is not a huge expense at all. A root canal and crown in the US can cost $2400; in Norway, it's about $1500. In the US, many are literally afraid of going to the hospital or even calling an ambulance solely based on its expense, as one ambulance ride, even if it takes you only 1-2 miles, can cost $500. Norwegians don't pay directly for this; it's taken care of in their taxes.

Awesome benefits: One of the most amazing benefits Norwegians get regards parenthood. Both mother AND father can get many months off of work when pregnant and/or taking care of a newborn child. This kind of time allotment for family purposes, especially for fathers, is next to unheard of in the US! The whole country is very family-and-friend-oriented, which is absolutely incredible.

No bug infestations: I come from Florida, a very hot, wet state. Ants and cockroaches and flies are extremely common, and it can be a challenge to live in one place for long without getting some sort of infestation, seemingly no matter your cleaning habits. Norway is similar to the northern areas of the US in that, due to the climate, you don't really have to worry about ants or cockroaches coming to infest your kitchen if you leave something out for an hour or don't rinse down your counters every week. Coming from an almost-tropical climate, I am very appreciative of this fact.

Amazing people: Though your average, natural-born Norwegian tends to be blonde and blue-eyed, foreigners are a common sight in Bergen as they are in any large, international city. Stripped of the false countenance many Americans give off, Norwegians are pretty direct in comparison, and this honest bunch is a welcome change.

Animals roam freely: I have to list this as a pro because it's so rare to see nowadays. The sheep in Norway roam almost completely free with huge fields of space on which to graze and walk and frolic. One of the coolest things I've seen relating to animals in Norway is how sheep, goats, and cows casually climb up and down the mountainous terrain as if it's their home. They seem truly happy, and have a lot of interesting environment surrounding them. The same can be said for a lot of chickens: It's easy to find cage-free eggs in Norway!

Safe haven: This a country you simply don't hear about on pretty much any side at all when a war comes around. You likely won't ever suffer any kind of (non-ginormous-and-actually-aimed-at-another-country) nuclear attack here, and after seeing countless Norwegian children playing during my stay, I can tell it is a very safe and engaging place to raise children.

Sparsely populated: Adds to the previous bullet, as well as to the nature factor. Norway has a population of about 5 million, despite having a great amount of land. Compare this to the humongous US's 300 million and the tiny Netherlands' 17 million, and you can start to get an idea of the population density in the country. This makes viewing nature and the starry night sky heaps easier.

The default grocery store in Norway is REMA 1000.

Neutral

Norwegians are taller and larger: The body frame of your average Norwegian is taller than the average American, as well as thicker and more muscular (not fatter), largely due to the cold, fewer fatty foods being readily available, and having to go uphill all the time. Not everyone is built like a viking, of course, but they're a lot healthier on average than most Americans, for instance.

Tons of blondes: The amount of blonde people seems to decrease in concentric circles around the Baltic Sea; that is, countries like Sweden and Finland have tons of blondes, and Norway has a lot as well (I'd say about 7 out of every 10 Norwegians I've seen has been blonde); this number decreases as you get farther and farther away from these countries.

Seafood is very popular: The majority of the population is clustered around the sea and thus, coming as no surprise, seafood is a big industry in Norway. I'm not a huge fan of seafood, and luckily, the Norwegian I'm currently staying with isn't, either!

Architecture: The buildings aren't very much to my liking; they don't seem like they're built of anything more than what it necessary to hold the structure up, which is admirable in one way, but makes places look haphazard and very undecorative in another.

Hardwood floors everywhere: This might please some people (after all, the Norwegians do have fairly good house insulation), but I long for the sweet, comforting feel of carpet beneath my feet when I go to Norway, as there is a conspicuous lack of carpet in the country. Having carpet in a bedroom feels very homey, and having it replaced by hard floors is...well, not.

Norway goes on vacation in July: Pretty much the whole country goes on vacation in July. People often take this month off of work and do most of their traveling during this time, and not too many stores are open.

Tunnels!: Since Norway is so mountainous, there are many tunnels going beneath them, sometimes ones that last for many miles.

Cons

Welcome to the second most expensive country in the world: Norway is regularly listed as the first or second most expensive place to live in the world, switching places back and forth with Switzerland in the rankings pretty often. Norway's currency is the Norwegian krone (NOK), and 6 NOK = $1 USD. However, everything in Norway is on average 3-4 times more expensive than it is in the US. Yes, that's right; using the previous example, a box of doughnuts at Walmart in the US will set you back $2.50, but in Norway, that same box would be the equivalent of 50-60 NOK, or about $10. Why is it so expensive? A few reasons; one of the biggest will be obvious as soon as you locate Norway on a map: it has to import the majority of its goods from other countries. I think of how many people there are in the US who can't afford food when McDonald's or Burger King will sell you a burger for 99 cents, and it really helps me put into perspective how expensive food for the Norwegians is. They do also get paid far better than your average American and because of this - on an American budget - Norwegian prices are murder. Fast food places are few and far in between in Norway, and definitely don't charge just a measly $0.99 USD for an equivalent fast food burger. One of the worst feelings I get in the country is feeling "trapped"; my amount of money is worth hardly anything, and any "small" purchase would greatly affect my economy. This often means I settle for bread and butter for several meals a day, and eating out is often completely out of the question, as the cheapest place to eat out in Norway is Subway (Update: I've found that Big Bite is a slightly cheaper alternative, though not by much). As for public transportation, I don't use the train much in Norway, but a ride on a bus line will cost you $4.50 (Update: This has since changed to about $5 if you get a ticket directly from the bus driver and less if you use a transportation card). That's not too bad, at least, but it's still not chump change.

Taxes: The Norwegians are taxed immensely. By immensely, I mean 20-30% (compare to Florida's 7%). You are paying a huge amount of tax no matter what, but on the upside, this money goes to worthwhile areas like universal healthcare.

Less than ideal food and item selection: In contrast to the US and the Netherlands, Norway doesn't have a whole lot of choice in terms of shopping. The food and item selection seems to be pretty much the same everywhere in Norway that I've been to so far (the southwestern area), and while it hardly causes starvation, it does make a native Floridian like myself pine for more choice in what I eat every day (many American favorites aren't even available in Norway). Also opposed to the US and the Netherlands, there aren't many grab-and-go snacks in Norway; you really have to either cook a meal or, at the very least, wait for a pizza to cook in the oven. Neither of these are hours-long events, but they're by no means instantaneous, either. This is my single biggest issue with living in Norway so far, even larger than the expense. I'll just have to continue trying things out and cooking more.

The midnight sun and polar nights: Norway, especially Bergen (the city in which I'm currently staying), is on about the same latitude as Alaska. This means the winters are long, cold, and rainy, and the amount of sunlight is very low. The sun often shines for only a few hours a day in winter! Summers, on the other hand, have tons of sunlight. In May, for example, the sun sets around 11 PM and rises around 5 AM; later in late June and early July, however, the sun doesn't set at all! Yeesh! The midnight sun in summer and polar nights in winter are definitely a con if you're used to normal amounts of sun, and also if you don't like listening to birds chirping loudly at 3 in the morning! For comparison, where I'm from in the US (Florida), the sunlight in winter rather seems to just shift earlier; instead of the sun rising at 7:30 AM like it does in the summer, for example, it'll come up at 6 AM during winter and will set sooner. In Bergen during wintertime, the sun comes up at about the same time, but also sets sooner, staying up for fewer hours out of the day, and vice-versa in the summer until the midnight sun sets in and the days stop getting very dark at all.

Sparsely populated: A good trait if you like exploring humanless places, a bad trait if you like getting around the country cheaply. As mentioned above, this country is expensive, and the fact that not many people move around very often doesn't help lower the price of transportation, either. The low population also means there is "less to do" anywhere you go. You won't find huge hubs of entertainment anywhere, at least not like you would in the US or the Netherlands.

Endlessly curvy roads lead to carsickness: Part of having such a wonderful, mountainous landscape is that it's equally rough to traverse, causing many of the roads to be built entirely around the mountains often instead of through them (though there are quite a few tunnels as well, such as a 260-meter-below-sea-level one I go through to get to Trovåg). I had never really been to an area with such rough terrain, and thus got carsick the first few weeks of getting on the bus. Thankfully, I'm a lot more used to the sharp turns and low visibility now.

Sweden

Swedish Gay Pride Parade

Pros

A mix between Norway and the Netherlands: Sweden - especially Stockholm - is very Nordic in how its atmosphere feels, but there's a distinct feeling of the Netherlands in Sweden. This is mainly a comparison between Amsterdam and Stockholm: both have amazing nightlife, even if you're not into drinking. There's always something going on, and even if it's just people talking on the street and being friendly, it puts me in a good mood to see it. There are a lot of eccentric people in both big cities, and I thrive in that kind of atmosphere! Sweden has most of the advantages of Norway, with few of the disadvantages.

Good public transportation:
Widely used buses and trains are a highlight of Sweden, and the fairly affordable travel is a delight, especially given the modern buses present in Stockholm. Something I found quite odd, though, was how you can sometimes only buy your bus ticket outside of the bus from machines before you even get on. Better not arrive too late to the bus stop to haggle with the ticket dispenser!

Good food and item selection:
On par with (or perhaps even more diverse than?) the Netherlands, Sweden has a broad range of good groceries to select from. You will find many foods of all sorts here, with much of it being healthy - though there's a delicious not-so-healthy section, too!

Fantastic music in stores: I love Sweden's music selection. Being such a modern country makes it pretty up-to-date with its music selection, and some of the tracks blew me away in how sweet the electronic sound was. I fell in love with this.

Nature: Similar to Norway in biome, but different in its number and relative height of mountains, Sweden is gorgeous despite being fairly flat in comparison to its western neighbor.

Education: Just like Norway.

There are no sudden, bank-breaking surprises: Similar to Norway.

Awesome benefits: Once again like Norway.

No bug infestations: Norway. As you can see, these two countries have a lot in common.

Amazing people: Sweden, and very much so its capital, is very ethnically diverse. Like Norway, native Swedes tend to be blonde and blue-eyed, but foreigners are common in cities like Stockholm.

Architecture: In my opinion, the architecture in Sweden is a bit more attractive than that of Norway. The buildings are more up-to-date and, while Norway's cities have a classic charm (sometimes forcibly, like in Bergen where you can't change old buildings very much), Sweden's have a modern feel.

The default grocery stores in Sweden are Coop and Lidl.

Neutral

Tons of blondes: The area around the Baltic Sea, including both Norway and Sweden, has a huge percentage of blondes.

Cons

Taxes: As is also true in Norway, the taxes in Sweden are pretty high, but the benefits each Swede receives are also pretty good, evening this out.




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