An American traveler back in America

by Kim on June 20, 2014 · 112 comments

Maybe it’s not fair to write this post from New Jersey. Because NEW JERSEY. Really, guys, have you ever been here? I am not wildly in love.

New Jersey

The view from our hotel room in New Jersey.

In fact, my love affair with America has been on a sharp decline since I started traveling around the world two years ago. There are places in the U.S. that I love, cities and even whole states in the U.S. that I adore. Oregon, for example. The U.S. National Parks. I love most of the west with the exception of Los Angeles. The southeastern U.S. has grown on me in the past few months. There are many, many good things about this country so forgive me while I spend the next 1,000 words or so pointing out its flaws.

When Brian and I travel overseas we expect things to be inexplicable. We assume that a lot will be lost in translation. That’s because we’re in someone else’s country, speaking someone else’s language and following someone else’s rulebook. So even if we have to do the most ridiculous things we just roll with it and laugh because, well, that’s the way they do it here.

But here in the States I’m back in my culture. I understand when something doesn’t make sense. I understand power asserting and covering-our-ass policies. I intrinsically know when something is inefficient or illogical. And it is starting to drive me crazy.

For example. Here in America we make rules about everything. We have no parking zones, quiet hours, lines to stand in (I do appreciate this aspect of American culture. Please, Americans, don’t start boarding planes like the Italians), paperwork to fill out. We have speed limits, seatbelt requirements, kitchen sanitary grades, safety inspections, and leash laws. We have adult swim and minimum charges and crosswalks and assigned seats.

Don’t misunderstand. I think many of these rules are valid. But it does seem that so many of the rules we have created for ourselves are just to save our ass when our neighbor sues us because they tripped and fell in our driveway. I mean, how about instead of involving a lawyer we all just take a bit of responsibility for ourselves and loosen the grip we have on the balls of everyone around us?

In America we worship the holy paved road, the shotgun, and the almighty dollar. We throw ourselves into the rat race because we don’t know that there is anything other than the rat race. We love our shopping malls and our local Costco where we can buy 14 jumbo sized plastic tubs of tomato sauce to store in our 3,000 square foot basement so that we can eat as we wait out the zombie apocalypse. Because that is totally going to happen. Right after those thugs break into your house and steal your diamonds. Don’t you watch the news?

Here is what I want to know. Why? Why are we afraid of everything? Why do we put up with it? Why do we just accept having a massive mortgage and the newest smartphone and so many bills to pay that we have to go in to work over the weekend to earn overtime as the way? Why has money become our collective religion?

What about happiness? What about living an extraordinary life. What about love? What about adventure? What about joy? What about peace? What about laughter? What about soul?

I’m not saying you can’t have both shopping malls and soul. I’m not saying you can’t be over your head in bills and also be happy (though, show me who is) what I’m saying is why do shopping malls WIN? Why does the rat race WIN? And, why money above all else?

Maybe you don’t value money over everything else. In fact, I bet you don’t. There won’t be one American who will stand up and say “ME! I VALUE MONEY OVER EVERYTHING ELSE!” And yet that is the reality that we have created for ourselves in America. If you don’t believe me leave the country, travel in other places for a couple of years, and then come back. Tell me if you don’t feel the crush of our backwards ways.

People say to me, “It must be hard to see so much poverty around the world.” Yes, it is hard. But you know what else I see in addition to the poverty? I see community. I see joy. Do you think poor people around the world are sitting in front of the TV weeping about how poor they are? Do you think they’re in therapy saying, “If only my Dad hadn’t been a drunk I could have been a successful venture capitalist?” No. They get up each day and they love their children and they cook food and they eek out a living just like you.

But you know what else they do? They take care of each other. They hang out with each other in the evening when the work is done. They have deep connections to where they live. Sure, I’m simplifying it. And of course this isn’t true everywhere in all cases. But they have communities while we live in our $400,000 boxes avoiding each other. So in fact these “poor” people may actually be richer than you.

Why, in America, do we think that money is the only thing that makes us rich?

Maybe you have seen the most HORRIFIC commercial ever to play on American TV (click here to watch it)? I first saw this commercial when I landed back in the states in January. Brian and I were at a party. I thought it was a joke, sort of like a Saturday Night Live parody on American culture. But when I looked around the room no one was laughing because it wasn’t a joke. It was a real commercial. Brian and I made eye contact across the room. My eyes said, “Holy shit, can you believe this?” And his eyes said, “GET ME OUT OF HERE.”

But we didn’t say a word. I reached for a snack from the coffee table. Brian took a sip of beer. I wanted to scream, “CAN’T EVERYONE SEE HOW FUCKED UP THIS COMMERCIAL IS?” I wanted to take a baseball bat to the TV. I wanted to march out of the door and catch the next flight to India, or Brazil, or France where money is just money and not the one identifying factor of our existence. But this is my country and I intrinsically understand how things work here. So I sat by silently, horrified. Because that’s how we do it in America.

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{ 105 comments… read them below or add one }

Dalene June 20, 2014 at 6:20 am

WELL SAID. Pete is sitting right next to me and I as I played the commercial, he said the same thing as you (he didn’t know I was reading this article) – he thought it was a joke. So so sadly, it is not.
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Amber June 20, 2014 at 6:35 am

Yeah, Dalene, stunned here too. You only take 2 weeks off a year, to spend with your family, friends, and “enjoying” your time away from work, so that you can buy a Cadillac, and live in a McMansion where your kids are in one room in front of the TV, and you are off to another day at the office.
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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:13 am

That commercial was one of the first things I saw when I came back to the U.S. after being gone awhile. Hard to swallow. And I know it was very polarizing and pissed a lot of people off but STILL, the fact that it was even created is kind of horrifying.

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Amber June 20, 2014 at 6:32 am

Ah, Kim I agree with you 100%, especially after having just spent 3 weeks in the US, part of it in a 7000 square foot house where no one spent any time with anyone else in the house. I still don’t know what NJ did to you to make the rant come today, of all days. Take it easy on NJ. They are no more consumeristic than other states. Just look at NY, or California. But, if you want to rant about consumerism and the American ethos, I am all for it. Could not have said it better myself.
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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:15 am

Ok, so clearly I was in the worst part of NJ (three different cities…) as so many NJ residents have come to it’s defense. Sorry, NJ, I’m sure there are parts of you that are just lovely.

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Andrea June 20, 2014 at 6:40 am

Thank you!!!! Again as I mentioned on one of your posts, don’t get me started on NJ!! EVERY day I am trying to think how I can move out of this country. Like you I tasted what real living is like and to me the US overall is not it. Yes, there are some places I adore, but not enough to stay…I have never seen that commercial, horrific!!! I may not have alot and people may judge me every day for not wanting more, but I guarantee you I have more peace then any one.

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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:17 am

This is the point of my article: That collectively we value money over other things. I know most people will say that isn’t true but the fact is that just the amount of hours we work, or the fact that we regularly vote down school levies and defund our public libraries, etc. etc. those are our choices collectively.

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Sarah June 20, 2014 at 6:42 am

This is really insightful and I totally agree–it’s hard to both love your home and hate that it’s a place of constant fear and stress and competition. I love the US, but I’m loving living here a lot less. And I’m from Texas, so our representatives keep doing stupid, stupid things that negatively affect our citizens (especially women). It’s enough to make a girl want to pack up and head for greener pastures.

Also–that commercial is the worst! Is that man a Bond villian? That said, have you seen the response commercial? It’s freakin’ brilliant! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAN61QK0aUI

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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:18 am

I have seen the response commercial and I’m glad it was created.

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Kim D June 20, 2014 at 6:45 am

That is a distressing commercial! I, too, would have thought it was a parody. You really have to go against the grain if you don’t want to buy into that lifestyle.

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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:19 am

Yeah, that commercial is obviously taking that side of things to the extreme… but the fact that it is even playing on TV is pretty scary. It was created to piss a lot of people off and it did. Including me. Perhaps I shouldn’t have taken the bait?

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Marissa Carnahan | Tiny Pilgrim June 20, 2014 at 6:51 am

Wow – Kim. Perfect. I absolutely love this article. My favorite part: ….They have communities while we live in our $400,000 boxes avoiding each other. So in fact these “poor” people may actually be richer than you.

Absolutely correct.

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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:21 am

I grew up in that situation (granted my parents box/house wasn’t $400,000). I don’t think I realized how much it lacked community until I moved to Portland and found out how different things could be.

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Tracey June 20, 2014 at 6:53 am

Talk about culture shock. I cannot believe that commercial! I can totally relate to your feelings in this post Kim. We couldn’t raise our son in a culture with that mindset and people at home think we’re crazy?:) I truly believe travel is the only thing that makes you richer forget the Cadillac!
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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:21 am

It bothers me that the “rich” we value in this country is money. There are many ways to be rich but I feel like we have forgotten that somewhere.

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Jess June 20, 2014 at 7:05 am

I think Americans (generally speaking) have been taught to be terrified of vulnerability so we try not to connect at any cost. We watch TV, stare at cell phones, make laws, buy clothes, home and cars that draw boundary lines.
That being said, every day I see trying to change that mentality. I think there are a lot of people that value the connection, community and time with their family that you mentioned and are working hard to get back to a more simple life.
I can’t say I’ve seen those people in Jersey though. Love you.

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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:24 am

Jess, I think so too. I think there are MANY, MANY people (maybe even the majority) that value connection, community, etc. That’s why I’m so annoyed that the loudest voice wins. I mean, WHY does it have to be so hard? We move to places like Asheville or Portland or Austin where the motto is “keep Asheville/Portland/Austin weird” and it’s weird because it’s DIFFERENT than most of the country. But I think so many of us want what those communities have.

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Ross June 20, 2014 at 7:08 am

Absolutely love this post Kim. What you discuss here, the overwhelming societal pressure to join the “rat race”, to follow the same path as everyone as our parents or grandparents, to become slaves to the things and then the banks, is absolutely fucked up beyond all recognition. The idea, to put your company and making money first above all else, as exemplified by that horrendous commercial has simply gotten out of control, not just in the US, but in Canada as well. This of course is not coming from the people, at least originally. This brainwashing has been happening over decades by corporations making you believe you need things you don’t. That things, especially the newest thing will make you happy, popular and cool. And now they are so confident that enough people are brainwashed to believe that we value the almighty dollar above all is, that they can put out this commercial to sell you your next car. INSANE.
I actually just got into a bit of a heated disagreement yesterday with a 65+ year old house cleaner of the place we are housesitting for currently in Australia. He actually scolded us for quitting our jobs and selling our assets so that we could travel and experience more of the world. He called us foolish and irresponsible. The irony of him slaving away, nearly 70, for more money so that he could buy more things he doesn’t need while I’m happy and free from any handcuffs, living our dream at 30 was wasted on him. Anyways, I’m ranting now! Great post, agree with everything you had to say.

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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:27 am

Maybe I’m simplifying it but I think this is the biggest difference between the millennial generation (of which I am a part of, barely) and the older generations. I watched my parents slave away for years in jobs they hated. Today they are in their 60′s and still working and retirement is not on the radar. What did all of those years get them? I’m not saying NOT to work. We all need to work. We all need money. But what about balance? Why is money more important than other things? Should those other things at least be accepted and given as much value as money?

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Karyn @ Not Done Travelling June 22, 2014 at 10:36 pm

Hey guys! I just wanted to weigh in as an Australian. I’ve had similiar issues with people of your cleaner’s generation who think I’m being stupid and are very afraid for me regarding how I’m going to support myself. I think it’s partially the fact that they don’t understand how easy it is to make money whilst on the road (thank you internet!), as well as the fact that they are projecting their own fears onto us. Generally the status quo in Australia has been similiar to America – get a job, get married, buy a house, have 2.3 kids, retire, die. Australian baby boomers followed this path faithfully, but now the government is making a lot of changes to things like superannuation and the old age pension. (There has recently even been a proposal to raise the age of retirement to 70, for all professions, including physical professions like cleaning. Uh-oh!) So yeah, a lot of people aged between 50 and 65 who worked hard their whole life trying to set up a decent retirement are now watching it being stolen away from them, and they are shitting themselves. In their eyes, the only solution is to work as hard – it doesn’t occur to them to work smart. :)

The other week I interviewed my 91-year-old grandmother who travels all over the place (the woman went to Vietnam and Cambodia when she was 89. No jokes). I thought, wow, she’s such an inspiration, this is going to be such awesome material for a blog post about how you shouldn’t let anything stop you from travel, bla bla bla. Instead, what I got was, “Karyn, you are being foolish by spending all your money! You need to save for a house! You need to have somewhere that you can come back to and THEN you can go and travel!” I was so hurt by her criticism that I went off and cried, and was angry at her for a long time. But then I realised that firstly, all of those points she’s raised are non-issues because we have plans related to those things that she just doesn’t understand. Secondly, she is viewing my life through the lens of her own experience. I think there are an awful lot of older people out there doing the same thing (which is why I get so excited when I meet an older person that understands and supports the idea of people stepping outside of the norm).

Phew…sorry, didn’t mean to go on so much there, just wanted to input my 2c. :D Have liked you guys on FB and Twitter btw.
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Ann Woodward June 24, 2014 at 12:45 pm

@Karyn, it’s amazing that your grandmother has/had the health & stamina to travel to fairly adventurous places at a mature age. It is dangerous to assume that you’ll be able to do everything you want til you’re 90 (though so many people do). My dad played by ‘the rules’ of working hard & saving, waiting for life to start after retirement. However, he died of a heart attack at 52 with many of his personal travel dreams unrealized. Because this personal experience, I chose to start travelling full-time in my late 30s. Although society at large views me a little strangely because I’m technically homeless and jobless, I’m glad I’m doing this… not only for the life experiences, but I’m also glad I’m doing this NOW. The sheer physicality of travel including climbing temples in the heat, taking chicken buses/overnight buses etc. has been plenty to cope with, even at my age. If I’m still around in my 70s, I seriously doubt I’ll want to be doing this kind of travel. By all means, carve out the life you want and live it today on your terms.
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Amanda @amandaelsewhere June 20, 2014 at 7:23 am

I have so many thoughts but first let me start with: you’re right, ugh New Jersey.

That said, I actually have to comment as an American who doesn’t go to malls, who doesn’t have cable, who doesn’t drive a car. I have been thinking a lot about these concepts of “being an American” but I realize I live a completely different life than that of the stereotypical American. I work in an office (typical) where everyone truly cares about what they do (atypical), I walk to and from work every day and encounter lots of “hellos” and “good mornings” along my way. I stop in coffee shops where I am a regular and have conversations with baristas. I volunteer working with immigrants to improve their reading comprehension, and in talking with my student I realize the value in the life that I take for granted sometimes. Here’s what I think is different: I live in a city. Not a big, ambitious city. But a modest, quiet one. Going to a mall feels not natural (and actually impossible as the closest one is 20mins driving away) when there are so many local business owners creating so many unique products and environments. Shoot, I just went to buy a plant for my house and stopped in a local nursery called Urban Jungle (and how cool is that name!?). I spent an hour with the owner, who was the most passionate about plants and her passion rubbed off and gave me happy feelings. I told her what I was looking for and she gave me an education on almost every plant in the store and then made a recommendation to me. I’ve been thinking about these experiences, and reflecting on what it is to be “America” and maybe the most frustrating thing about here is that there really isn’t an answer. We aren’t all just one thing. I know my experience of living in my city is completely different than living in maybe a bigger or more famous city, or one on the ocean, or one in the middle of America. I don’t even know if this comment has a point, and I don’t want you to think I’m feeling defensive about my choices because I do not take offense at your post. When I came back from America after my RTW, I remember being so frustrated at air conditioning of all things. I would think WHY ARE PEOPLE HERE SO AFRAID TO FEEL! Do they even realize how comfortable their lives are? WHY DO WE ROLL UP OUR WINDOWS TO EXPERIENCES!? Why do we shut any kind of discomfort out? But then I realize, it’s because they just don’t know. And you can’t make an ignorant person want to know. But you can be the support, the guidance, the kindness to those who are looking for a different way, but are maybe a little bit timid to go beyond what they know.

Another thought I had while reading is kind of a question. You remark upon the poverty and community of some of these places you visited, but I wonder if they ever get the opportunity or have the desire to travel around the world, to get beyond the places where they were raised and grew up and got married and raise their own kids. I’d have to think generally, they do not (have the means [but maybe the desire]). Would your desire to travel be as strong if you grew up in an America that experienced the joy of community that you described? I mean it was a certain kind of …dissatisfaction… that propelled you in the first place, and your life has become all the richer for it. Would you give it up (or even feel it) if you found a place here that gave you those same kinds of feelings? You’ve had the opportunity to be a guest in those environments, but they may never have the opportunity to be a guest in another’s culture. It’s a tough thought, isn’t it? For whatever the culture of this crazy place is, one of the messages is also: You can pursuit whatever you want.
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Amber June 21, 2014 at 7:04 am

I love this statement Amanda “you can’t make an ignorant person want to know.”
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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:33 am

Amanda, that is a good question and I don’t know the answer. I grew up in Ohio, in the suburbs, and it felt suffocating and gray. I moved to Oregon, Portland, where I lived for almost a decade. I loved Portland so much. It was everything my life in Ohio wasn’t, and very much like you describe your community. Still, I left it to travel. And I am very, very blessed that I had the opportunity to do that. Like I said in my post, there are many wonderful things about the US and one of those is that we do have opportunity.

My point in bringing up other cultures wasn’t to say- other people have it right or to even make any kind of statement on poverty. It was to point out the hypocrisy of people who say how “poor” other places are without understanding what makes them rich. Yes, money poor. But maybe there is goodness in their life too? And maybe that goodness is something that we have lost over the years in the U.S.?

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Karyn @ Not Done Travelling June 22, 2014 at 10:42 pm

I just wanted to agree with something else you said Amanda – about being frustrated by air conditioning and wondering why people are afraid to feel? And about how it’s because they just don’t know better.

I don’t have a car but I’m lucky that my workplace used to be close to my house, so I would walk to work. It took between 30 and 45 minutes to get there, and I live in Melbourne Australia, so we get pretty variable weather. In summer it ranges from like 110 fahrenheit down to I think about 45. And I was having to walk to and from work any time between 4:30 am and 9:00pm. So there was a lot of hot and cold that I had to deal with, a lot of rain and wind, etc. But I still did it.

Basically every person I knew went, “Oh my god! I can’t believe you walk that far in the rain!” I was like, so what? I have an umbrella. And 30 minutes is SO NOT EVEN A LONG WALK. wtf. And then I realised these people all drove to and from work (even people that lived closer to work than me). They ran from a big box (their house) to a little box (their car) to another big box (work) and the only time they had to feel the weather on their skin was when they were running between boxes. Whereas I was just like, “It’s hailing! I’M ALIVE!” lol
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Liz June 20, 2014 at 7:25 am

You hit the nail on the head with this one. I’ve been pushing and pushing for my husband and me to purge a lot of our possessions, not only in preparation for our (eventual) RTW trip but also because I think the more simply you live, the more you appreciate the intangible things in life that really matter. And it’s really hard because he gets unreasonably connected to the most ridiculous things. But maybe I’ll show him this post, and it might change his perspective a little… =)

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Lindsay Manzella June 20, 2014 at 7:26 am

Gods, that commercial! I don’t even have to click through and I know exactly which one you are talking about. Horrifying.

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Kellie June 20, 2014 at 7:30 am

It is hard to see poverty around the world, no one wants to see someone else suffer. It is also hard to see poverty in our own countries, in fact in some ways I find it harder. The UK and the US are rich countries, we have everything we need for poverty not to be an issue but it still exists.

Wow that advert really does seem like a joke, seriously that is supposed to make people want to buy that car?
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Caitlin June 20, 2014 at 7:39 am

I have to say while I do agree with some of what you say, I have to defend America in some ways. There are communities all over this country that have soul, and depth, and love, and all the things you find in other parts of the world. People just trying to survive, however they can, surrounded by friends and family they love. I take a lot of walks, and on my walks I see people out and about and talking to each other and celebrating with each other, and not just sitting in their $400,000 boxes. I see people helping neighbors, and bringing dinners to sick friends, and cutting grass for elderly folks.
While, yes, there are parts of our society that value money, and yes, that commercial is awful, but, you can’t discount entire swaths of people out there that are doing good things, and fighting for good things, and helping to make communities better. I see it every day, and I refuse to believe that it will ever disappear from my life.

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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:38 am

Yes, I see that too. Of course there are communities like this all over the U.S. My point is, collectively, that seems to be the minority. I think many of us (most of us?) want everything you describe. We are building those things that you describe all over. Maybe it is because the part of the U.S. represented in the commercial is dying that I feel that it is yelling so loud right now. I hope it is dying. But I think it is hard to argue that, collectively, this country doesn’t value (or at least can’t agree to value) things that have more of an intrinsic and less of a monetary value.

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Carmel June 20, 2014 at 8:10 am

Wow, that really is the worst commercial ever. Not only does it value working tons of hours over spending time with one’s family and community, but it also basically says everyone else is lazy because they don’t want to do that and that innovation only happens with tons of overtime…which is totally untrue. Sigh. However, I don’t think that fear and those kind of values speak for all of America. There are pockets, which grow by the year, where people and communities are taking back their lives. Look at our hometown of Portland – we’re innovative and creative, a lot of people work hard and still manage to enjoy life. It’s not perfect, of course, but we try. I think the US is at a breaking point. More people like us who have openly said we’re not going to stand for it anymore need to keep speaking out and standing up for our values. You can be productive. You can be happy. You can value life and relationships over material things and still live in the US. In fact, I think it’s important that we do or else the fear mongers will take over for good. People forget…we have the power.
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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:48 am

Yes. And in Portland it is really easy to think that everywhere is just like Portland. It’s THE BUBBLE after all! No, I agree. Of course the entire U.S. isn’t living in 3,000 square foot houses and working overtime on the weekends. And there is also nothing particularly wrong with owning a 3,000 square foot house and working overtime. My point (I guess I should have put a whole lot of asterisks and disclaimers in this post) is that why is THAT considered an acceptable way to live while living in a less conventional way takes a lot of effort? I mean, how do I explain this? Am I the only one who feels the weight and pressure of our materialist culture? I’m not saying everyone in the U.S. is materialistic but overall- all of the messages we are bombarded with- (I don’t even watch TV, mind you) promote that lifestyle.

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Rachel June 20, 2014 at 8:17 am

Whoa, whoa, NJ isn’t any better or worse than other states in America. Have you seen our beautiful beaches? <3 The shore is AWESOME in the summer and very different than the crap MTV show. Google Cape May; tons of history and beauty! :D Sorry, I feel like I always have to defend my state against outsiders, haha. But anyway, I agree 110% about the money-obsessed, consumer culture that we have in the United States. The more I travel, the more I turn away from the rat race. I'd rather have time to explore our lovely planet than work myself to death to pay off an overpriced house in the middle of the suburbs. I think my new attitude toward life has made me an outsider in my group of friends, but I'm cool with it.

I honestly thought that commercial was a joke too. Just …. wow. Wow.

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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:50 am

Okay, I have NOT seen the beautiful beaches. Sorry for talking shit about your state. Trust me, I would very much have rather seen the beautiful beaches!!

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Sarah Somewhere June 20, 2014 at 8:20 am

Preach it Kim! I hear you, I do, and good on you for speaking your mind. I feel similarly in the west, including Australia. People are so far up to their eyeballs in debt I just don’t know how they do it. On a positive note, I really do think, no wait, I know, that change is coming. It’s already here actually and more is on the way. People are waking ip, we are remembering who we truly are and we are discovering our truth from the inside, not the outside.
It’s happening, I can feel it, so keep seeking and sharing what you find xxx
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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:52 am

Okay, I am glad you feel it! I usually feel it too… but have lost that feeling in the past few months. There is both good and bad going on all the time and I suppose I’ve just let that bad get the best of me lately. Dammit!

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Kaitie June 20, 2014 at 8:23 am

Um. I don’t have cable (more money for travel!), so I’ve never seen that commercial. Wow. Just wow. Sorry this comment isn’t more profound; I just can’t believe that was real.

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Christina C June 20, 2014 at 8:27 am

Great post and something I’ve been struggling with quite a bit. I remember telling a recent college graduate to just wait before joining the rat race. I told them don’t buy stuff because you think it will make you happy. Stuff is to fill a hole that is caused b/c you are lacking truly living and community, and just life. It’s a neverending cycle, you are sad, you buy things, you have to work to buy things, you feel happy for a minute, but then empty again, so you buy things, have to work, etc. I remember I told someone once we were going on another vacation and their comment was, “it must be nice”. My reply was yes it is really nice, but you have the same amount of pto, you can go too. I work to live, I definitely, do not live to work. That commercial was disgusting, I can’t even believe it’s real.

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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:55 am

I think what you describe is the cycle that I am railing against in the post. Why is THAT the cycle we are lead to? The cycle that we can just so easily fall in to? I know it is our choice to choose it or not, but especially right out of college, when you are, for the first time in life, not following a set path… it’s very easy to just fall into that pattern you describe. And once you’re in it is hard to get out.

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greg June 20, 2014 at 8:28 am

A few comments:
1. While I have never been there I understand that the more rural parts of NJ are actually pretty nice and contain a lot of farmland, woodlands, wetlands, etc.
2. The media is in part responsible for our fear of everything including each other. Couple that with an unwillingness to take responsibility for our own actions and you have a fearful nation. There used to acceptable risk involved with anything. Today we need to be protected from womb to grave from everything we encounter. I think about toys that we had as kids that could easily have killed us. If we were injured by a lawn dart for example, our parents didn’t immediately think the problem was the dart, they yelled at us for not paying attention and being dumbasses. We intuitively knew that this heavy pointed metal projectile was dangerous. Lord knows that if the first Americans were like us we would all be living crammed between the Atlantic and the Mississippi R.
3. We have also been fed a steady diet of what we need to own, have, do, if we are to be considered successful. It has been going on for decades but has gotten worse in the last few years because of reality tv. We also have a phenomenon in the USA in which many poor people just see themselves as down on their luck millionaires. So many people can see reality “stars” and think they can be just like them. Sad really. Unfortunately we are exporting this to other countries and I think it is becoming very common for people around the World to want more stuff. Sadder.
4. From my experience the more people have the more they want.

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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:57 am

Hi Greg,

Yes, I think the media has a HUGE part in it. And that lawn dart story made me laugh. I remember when I started volunteering with kids in Ecuador I was SHOCKED at what they were allowed to do. I was like, “they’re going to get themselves killed!” But you know what, no one died on my watch. They weren’t playing with lawn darts but the equivalent thereof and their parents and teachers trusted them to have enough sense to use them responsibly. Which they did.

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Adena Harford June 20, 2014 at 9:02 am

This is really grant, a productive rant! I’m really finding myself caught up in this lately, and it makes me sick. It’s a constant challenge to live in awareness, and to release that fear. There is so much FEAR around, and it’s the most contagious emotion there is. We’ve had health insurance for 6 months now, and I just can’t help feeling like we’ve been duped…but I’m too scared to let it go again. %&$*! See you next week at EMS in Burlington!
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Kim June 22, 2014 at 10:59 am

Agreed. It is a constant challenge to live in awareness and release the fear. And I have found it much harder to do so since returning to the U.S. Hence the rant.

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Coral June 20, 2014 at 9:12 am

That commercial is shocking. I have long thought that the work treadmill is a form of social control, and now, an ad for a greener car is turned into a smug work hard for ‘stuff’ while people starve. It is a 9 to 5 trap. I am so glad I jumped out of the trap, travelled and now do work I love that helps those in crisis for a lot less money than I used to earn. I earn enough, I wear clothes from thrift shops and walk to the shops. I don’t need more stuff.
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Kristin June 20, 2014 at 9:16 am

Thank’s so much for this post – I really identify with a lot you’ve written. After traveling so much, I realize how much I love being from America, but it’s hard to live here with the constant busy-ness, fear, and disconnection after seeing the world.
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Kim June 22, 2014 at 11:04 am

I, too, love being from America but I agree, the fear and disconnection are hard pills to swallow.

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Linda June 20, 2014 at 9:18 am

You make some very fair points but I think what always surprises me about travelers is this – you would never go to another country and make sweeping generalizations about them – because they are untrue and totally unfair – yet for some reason people think they can come to one of the biggest countries and most diverse country in the world and make these sweeping generalizations and play them off as truth. I have lived and worked in multiple countries – and I find the people in these places just like people in other places kind, friendly, interesting and curious and also materialistic, fearful, ignorant and racist etc etc. Now they are fearful, ignorant, materialistic in different ways – but I would never say “better” ways and I think the story – especially from people who are so well traveled – should be how can we learn from each other instead of who is right and who is wrong.

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Kim June 22, 2014 at 11:09 am

Linda, I agree with much of what you are saying. I’m not trying to imply that any country is “better” or has it figured out while the U.S. struggles to get it right. In fact, I say that the reason I can laugh so much of the worst of it off in other countries is because I know that there are things lost in translation and things I just won’t understand. But I DO understand the U.S. because it is my country and coming back after a few years gone has really been an eye opening thing. Obviously, not every American or community in America is like the dude in the commercial, but I really do feel the crush of status and money being back here in the states. I think we’ve got our priorities wrong. I wasn’t trying to frame it as right and wrong, more questioning why one set of values seems to be accepted in the U.S. while the other continues to live on the fringe.

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Bryony June 20, 2014 at 9:42 am

I’ve just watched the commercial. I don’t know whether to laugh my a*se off or cry! Yes mate, you’ll get all your ‘stuff’ for just taking two weeks off, but you won’t ever get time to enjoy it. When they talk about people stopping by the cafe (in the first part of the commercial), I wistfully thought of little cafes in Europe.

Lastly, agree 100% with your comments. The world is shifting and waking up to the Western Illusion that’s blinded people for so long though. I promise you that.

Keep up the amazing writing. I love your posts. Thank you.

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Kim June 22, 2014 at 11:12 am

Yes, yes, I think you are right Bryony. We (in the west) I think are waking up to that Western Illusion but it’s getting passed to the east and to countries that are growing quickly in GDP and population. So I suppose we might need to brace for the next wave.

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Mary June 20, 2014 at 9:45 am

Well, I failed in embedding this post from Humans of New York, which seemed entirely on point with this article (please decline to let it post haha). Try this: http://tinyurl.com/mhn3dme
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Kim June 22, 2014 at 11:10 am

I’ve seen it and, you’re right, that was sort of my whole entire point.

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Jenn June 20, 2014 at 9:57 am

As much as I love my country, I totally agree with you about money being the “most important thing”. If that were true, I’d have been dead a long time ago lol. It makes me so sad that companies put asshole customers before their employees over money. And that people take commercials like that seriously.
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Kim June 22, 2014 at 11:13 am

To be a fair, a lot of people hated that commercial. But a lot of people loved it too. I mean, I’m still kind of shocked that it was ever even created as anything other than a joke.

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steve burkett June 20, 2014 at 11:23 am

this commercial describe 1 of the 2 Americas we have today: right wing, carry guns in Target, greed driven focused, flag waving, pave over the forests, “go shopping” side. The other half, the “Euro-America”, is social minded, enjoys time off, conserves, cares about the disadvantaged and the environment. The America i want to live in is the later.

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Kim June 22, 2014 at 11:14 am

We are a divided country and I wonder how we’ll do anything until we can figure out how to close that divide.

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Laura June 20, 2014 at 11:29 am

I had to read this because of NJ. I completely agree with you. Hence why I decided to pick up and leave NJ and travel the world. I don’t understand why people in our country believe so much BS, we are constantly being fed fear to do anything.

The news scares us to not travel anywhere and that everyone in the world hates us, the health industry assures us we all are unhealthy to some degree, we are overmedicated and ignorant (some of us). Which allows us to be molded into anything the govt/ whomever wants us to be or do.

Once we break that mold its hard to go back. I’ve only been abroad for about 3 months and I can’t see myself going back. Some parts of the states I do love, Oregon for me too. We’ll see where I end up. Right now I’m in Switzerland and I’m just going where the wind takes me.
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Kim June 22, 2014 at 11:18 am

Totally. I don’t own a TV and STILL it is hard to escape the fear.

On another note, you know what is kind of bullshit? This is probably the most controversial post I have ever written. It has pissed off a lot of people. You know what sucks? I’ve gotten SO MUCH TRAFFIC. The loudest, bitchiest voice wins. I’ve written for almost four years on this blog and I have written about so many positive things around the U.S. and the world and which one gets the most attention? This one. It’s like my own personal example of what is wrong with things in the first place. Negativity gets attention :(

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Josh June 20, 2014 at 11:48 am

Agreed. I am at a loss for words to improve what has been said.

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Anthony Nolan June 20, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Kim, forget New Jersey… Come to The Emerald Isle.. Ireland.

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Kim June 22, 2014 at 11:21 am

Ha! I definitely need to see Ireland. I can’t believe I haven’t been yet.

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Janine June 20, 2014 at 1:46 pm

I completely agree with you about that commercial, and sadly that’s not the only one. Remember the AT&T wireless commercial series with a man in a suit sitting at a table with children discussing “bigger is better?” I was completely horrified when I saw it for the first time! Sometimes I also wonder what is wrong with this country!

Now – New Jersey… Sigh… I know there are some parts of the state, and unfortunately some people, that make us fit the stereotype. However, I have lived here all my life, and trust me, we are not all bad! There are some beautiful places here, you just have to know where to look. Sorry your hotel is overlooking one of our never ending highways! No wonder your not loving it!

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Kim June 22, 2014 at 11:24 am

I believe you. I shouldn’t have knocked New Jersey. I was having a run of very bad events in New Jersey including being yelled at multiple times for the way I drive (not aggressively enough) and seeing a fist fight on the side of the road, plus other stuff too boring to mention. So, yeah, I took it out on New Jersey but that wasn’t fair.

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Janine June 23, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Ok, even I can’t defend NJ drivers. You’re right , they’re a total nightmare. That’s why my work commute is now less than a mile! Haha

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Renee June 20, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Gotta say, I agree with the rant, apart from the NJ thing because my brother is from NJ and he’s a pretty darned cool human being. :-)

That Cadillac commercial was appalling, to put it mildly. There’s nothing wrong with having a strong work ethic, as long as that is in balance with every other area of your life. That car may be cool to ride in, but it’s not going to look after you when things go to pot the way your HUMAN family and friends will. I personally think the rest of the world may be on to something with shorter work weeks and more vacation time. I’ve heard/read several travel bloggers before comment on how messed up they perceive that things are in the US, after having been abroad for any length of time and experienced other cultures.

I love America, but I think we have a lot to learn about the world beyond our borders. I’m not sure if you are familiar with Rick Steves, but he’s a travel professional out of Washington state who also has a travel show on PBS. He’s fantastic! He is forever encouraging Americans to get out and explore the world and meet people from all over. Get to know them and see how much you really have in common and not just take the government’s word for it that they are the enemy. He has several lecture videos on YouTube on “Travel As A Political Act” that you may find interesting.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

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Kim June 22, 2014 at 11:28 am

Hi Renee, I do know Rick Steves but haven’t watched his videos so I will check them out. I love that idea of “travel as a political act.”

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Jaime Taylor June 20, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Having quit cable a few years ago I hadn’t seen this commercial. I’d say it sums up American culture quite nicely. I once worked for a company where the CEO would occaisonally send out rants about how lazy and unproductive other countries are because workers take 4-6 weeks off each year. Seriously.

Luckily it’s not all like that of course. The “I must have a nice car and a big house” attitude was alive and well in Atlanta but in our adopted home of Portland it’s, thankfully, not (as you know, of course). I guess Portland is about as close to leaving the US without actually leaving the US as you can get. Twelve more months and we’re off to see the world for God knows how long as well…cannot wait.

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Sam June 20, 2014 at 4:22 pm

YES. I hear ya Kim! I can completely relate to this as a traveler living in the States. The consumerism (and packaging waste) drives me crazy! Can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to catch the next flight to somewhere else. And here in San Francisco where the tech boom is hot (it’s all about the newest app!), where income inequality has gotten pretty extreme, and where I’m surrounded by a workaholic culture, I’m feeling ever more antsy to get out (again!). Working on it! Thanks for sharing what’s on your mind!
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Darcy June 20, 2014 at 5:12 pm

This blog post reminds me of the story that changed my life: http://theworldismygym.wordpress.com/the-story-that-changed-my-life/
So happy I learned at an early age to avoid the rat race, live simply, and avoid “stuff”. I haven’t traveled much out of the country, but I do travel within…and what always amazes me is the difference btwn the people at in campers campgrounds vs the ones in the mansions. I’ll give you one guess which seem happier :-)

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Alyse June 20, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Oh Kim! Great post, I completely relate and oh my god is that commercial ever horrific?! Values are much the same in Canada and maybe that’s part of the reason I don’t feel an overwhelming urge to get back. How come no one back home ever talks about the value of freedom, like the peacce and ease of mind you get from true financial freedom of not having monstrous credit card and mortgage debt and the freedom to do whatever you want with your day? The beauty of having time to play. If there’s one thing travel has taught me it’s that if you spend less money (all that crap we buy to make us feel better about having to work weekends), you don’t have to work as much and then you have more time for creativity, for family and for fun!

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Emily June 20, 2014 at 6:03 pm

I hear you Kim…we were sucked up into the money and keeping up with the Jones’ culture until we realized that we were spending so much time, our precious life, working for stuff that didn’t make us happy. We are 6 months into our trip and I always get reminded when we meet other Canadians who are astounded we had the balls to quit our jobs and do this, but at the same time they say they would love to do something like it too. If anything I hope just like you, to be able to inspire someone to find their true calling and not the ;program of the nation’!
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Jill June 20, 2014 at 6:21 pm

Hi Kim
Wow, that commercial is bullshit

Well ranted.
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Amber June 20, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Kim, once again, you have inspired me. After reading this, I went to a yoga class, where my teacher and good friend talked about the Disease of More. It started to put things in perspective, with a phrase I have been using over the last few weeks based on what we saw in the US: A Consumption Tipping Point. I just wrote a post about it. It has brought some clarity to how I felt about our time in the US. Thank you Kim. Keep inspiring!
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Don June 20, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Holy cow! This comment section is blowing up! You hit a nerve! This commercial is the essence of why we Americans are so beloved in the world. Our arrogance is so charming. On the flip side I still love this country! With all our flaws, we still get to choose how we live. Kim, you made a choice and look at you now. You go girl!!! For the most part we create our way of living. Yes some people have a harder path than others but ultimately we all have a chance to forge our own way. In some other nations, unfortunately that’s not the case. After reading this post I feel blessed because I can choose and inspired because you give me hope that I too can live the life of my dreams.

Kim…..do you hear it?….that subliminal whisper…..Sounders!……. Sooounders!……Soooooounders!
Come Kim, come to the dark side.

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Karyn @ Not Done Travelling June 20, 2014 at 10:59 pm

I have just viewed that commercial, and I actually said, “…the FUCK did I just watch????”

Personally, I think that Cadillac made that ad in response to all the Americans, like you, who are sitting up and going, “Hang on. Why do we live this way?” Because if everybody wakes up then those manufacturers of gas-guzzling planet-destroying machines don’t earn so much money anymore. They want you to stay in the dark. To use an Aussie saying: they want you to be mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed shit. And oh, by the way, nobody gives a crap that the US was the first country to send somebody to the moon. Don’t hang your hat on it, Cadillac.

Australia is by no means perfect (imho people work too hard to keep their McMansions, and in the big cities we are losing our sense of community also). But we take a lot of time off work. The idea of taking August off is like nothing here. (We automatically get 4 weeks off per year anyway). In Thailand we met a couple who had taken 8 days off to have a holiday. 1 day to fly there, 2 days in Bangkok, 2 days in Phuket, 2 days in Chiang Mai, 1 day to fly home. We couldn’t imagine why they would only come to Thailand for 8 days (I mean, they would have been so rushed that it’s almost not worth going, right?) They explained that 8 days was all the time they were allowed off work for the whole entire year. I was like, where do you work, in a sweat shop? Nope. She was a nurse and he was a cop.

It’s like, “Thank you for your year of service, man and woman that keep everybody alive. Have 9 sleeps to yourself”. Why can people not see how wrong this is???
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Ali June 21, 2014 at 9:31 am

YES!! OMG that commercial. I was reading this, and I warned Andy that I was about to watch a commercial you had linked in your post, didn’t tell him anything else about it. He didn’t watch (he’s across the room) but he heard it, and the first thing he said was “is that a joke?” And then I told him about your post and what the commercial was for. Ridiculous. I can’t believe the main focus of the commercial was to point out that other countries have too much vacation time, and that that’s somehow bad. That it’s worth it to have less free time because it means having more money to own more stuff. Why is that a good thing? I’m not an extreme minimalist, I like having a home (though ours, as you’ve seen, is a small apartment) and I don’t think I could do the nomad thing like you and Brian, but I value my free time and flexibility so much more than money and possessions. I haven’t been back to the US in over 2 years, and I’m really not sure how I’ll deal with it whenever we go back for a visit. The longer I live in Germany, the more I think I could never live in the US again. Yes, there are wonderful parts of the country and amazing communities spread around, but the overall vibe and culture is what you’ve described here and what the awful commercial shows.

And the fear…OMG that drives me nuts. I have friends who post things on FB about being in favor of stronger gun control, and then their friends go on and on about how they need their guns for protection against break-ins or in case the US gets attacked by another country. It’s crazy. Break-ins are unfortunate, but they don’t occur as often as the media likes to portray, and most seem to happen when the residents aren’t even home. As for the US getting attacked? Come on. If another country or terrorist organization decides to attack, they are not going to go door-to-door. They’re going to fly into/over the country, and those guns won’t do any good. All those guns are doing is increasing the number of mass shootings. I feel so much safer here knowing that almost no one owns a gun besides police. But yes, America, please make Kinder Eggs illegal.

Now, about NJ. It’s a much better place than that picture you posted! I lived in a small town in NJ until I was 15, and my brother had a part time job working on a nearby farm. He still lives in NJ on a dirt road surrounded by woods. No, it wouldn’t be my first (or 5th) choice if I ever moved back to the US, but I promise it’s not as bad as what you’re seeing.
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galen June 21, 2014 at 10:13 am

It’s fine to rant sometimes.
“Challenging, open discussion (or perhaps ranting) holds unusual potential. It can call us to presence as few other things do, and it can lead in unpredictable ways to relationships and actions that would otherwise seem possible” as I was reading just this morning. Stir the pot sometimes. Offer food for thought. You’re not alone… just look at the second creative commercial!

I’m in my 60′s, a retired school teacher (thus not much money). I (1) “Live simply so others can simply live” and (2) look forward to traveling out of this sweet country of mine to see how others live.

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Amanda June 21, 2014 at 10:19 am

I know EXACTLY what you mean. It drives me crazy, too, how obsessed with money this country has become. I mean, I understand how it developed – the whole “American dream” and everything. But now it’s actually part of our culture. How scary and screwed up is that? We are actually supposed to teach our kids that having money will make you happy, and that being rich should be your goal in life. AHHHHH. I hate it so much.
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Jennifer Steck June 22, 2014 at 7:04 am

While we have things we need to work on, we also have incredible places and people that make up America. Guess what? Other countries have their own issues. Just ask people in Greece or France or Iran and Egypt. Your generalizations about me and your fellow countrymen and women are insulting.
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Kim June 22, 2014 at 11:35 am

Hi Jennifer, as I said in the first paragraph, there are many, many wonderful things about our country. I agree that there are many wonderful places and people that make up our country. I’m sorry that you are insulted by my observations. My point is that, collectively, I think we’re putting our pennies in the wrong cup. We’re pursuing things that aren’t filling us up. That isn’t true of everyone, of course, but I think we’ve kind of collectively bought into a lie that money and stuff rules and it’s hurting us.

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gigi June 22, 2014 at 11:01 am

Ugh. I so agree.

Also, with the video: I worry about this we-worked-harder-and-that-is-why-we-have-shit mindset that I see more and more in the US (is it because I’m away or because it’s getting worse)? In addition to promoting the wrong values (as you pointed out), it just seems like another way to belittle the poor people who do live in the US and work their asses off at frickin McDonalds for half of nothing just to support their families. When I see stuff like this, I feel like it’s some sort of conspiracy to stomp out empathy in the US.
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Rhonda June 22, 2014 at 8:40 pm

OMG.. Jim & I are sitting her, mouth agape, not even sure what to say. We have never seen that commercial, perhaps because we’re out camping or hiking or living life, NOT striving for a ridiculous life based on more, more, more. I absolutely agree with you that most of the truly happy people we’ve met in our life do NOT live in the US, and they live in conditions we would consider deplorable and unacceptable. Would they like their life to be easier, of course they would, but they are a community and their values are in their children and the people around them rather than never seeing their children so they can give them all the things they don’t really need. Right now, we’re still those people, not striving for more, but having to do the work to pay off the bills we acquired on stuff we no longer want. The difference is we don’t want this life…. we’re getting this debt paid off, selling all of our shit, and going off to explore the world again. After an amazing weekend camping on the coast with friends, this was just such a depressing insight on our “culture”, or dramatic lack of it. I sure hope Sarah is correct and it will change but, gotta say I’m dubious. That 1% spend a lot of money making the rest of us think that we need to waste our lives being overworked to strive to be a “success” like them. I think I’ll just keep defining success as living the life you want, in whatever form that takes on.
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Kim June 25, 2014 at 6:31 am

You know, I’m not sure that commercial ever played in Oregon but believe me it was ALL OVER Ohio. I guess they know where to target their marketing ;)

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Aurora June 23, 2014 at 3:43 am

Yes – I love the fired-up-Kim!
First off, that commercial is…. well, shite, naturally, but also appealing to one side of America – our fear-driven can’t-take-time-off-gotta-get-ahead side. And like you have said, lots of people desire connection, lots of people in this vaaaasst country want something different. I hadn’t seen that commercial because I am not the target audience.

I remember talking to an Australian, while I was traveling, and he spoke about the medical advances that came out of the US, but not Australia – and his point was that out of our (American) drive, comes innovation and creativity. This was an upside to the drive that I had not considered. Being back in the US after traveling (and leaving part of my soul in SA and SEA) – it has been helpful to remember that with each culture comes with strengths and challenges.
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Aurora June 24, 2014 at 7:27 am

And…. to be clear — I know you know that.
But, the hunger is real. The disconnect is real.
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Kim June 25, 2014 at 6:33 am

Agreed. But don’t you think that innovation and creativity also come from having the space to THINK? But yes, absolutely, all cultures have their strengths and challenges.

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Aurora June 27, 2014 at 5:11 am

Yes…. I do think having space to think is important – for me. and you. But, the US is a funny place….
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Dalia June 23, 2014 at 11:10 am

I hadn’t seen that video! Interesting marketing tactics. I suppose it’s meant to be controversial to gain more coverage.

I’ve had the same thoughts about “rich” and “poor” while traveling to Timor-Leste. In some ways people there seem far richer than in more developed countries.

I agree we need to define wealth as more than just money in order to be happy. The thing is money is so easy to measure – it’s quantifiable and that’s why we so often let it be our measure of success.
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Kim June 25, 2014 at 6:36 am

I agree. And I know that everyone has probably already heard about how Bhutan measures their Gross National Happiness instead of GDP. What an innovative way to think- it doesn’t put money in the center of the circle but instead makes it one part of the larger goal of happiness.

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Victoria June 23, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Did you see Ford’s response to this ad? :)
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Kim June 25, 2014 at 6:34 am

I did. I didn’t love it! I mean, I’m glad they made the response but… I don’t know. It felt just as stereotypical as the Cadillac ad, just in the other direction. Maybe it was supposed to be that way?

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Martin June 24, 2014 at 7:58 am

I remember my flight back to the USA from Poland after a trip of 6 weeks or so. It was my first trip abroad without my family. I vividly remember these people standing in the aisle conversing with some seated people. They were so loud just chatting like they were all alone. I was horrified by their disregard for the others on the plane. I recently read the book The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen, I think you would like it a lot.
Martin recently posted..My Odyssey – Embarking on a Life-Changing Adventure

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Kim June 25, 2014 at 6:40 am

Ha, that is why I love traveling in other countries- I can never understand what anyone is saying!!! I remember being back in the U.S. after a year away and I was horrified when I could hear the conversations going on around me and all of the bitching (we were in an airport with a delay so lots of bitching). Ha, I’m sure it happens everywhere but in most places I just couldn’t understand the bitching. I like it that way :)

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Deb and Johnny June 24, 2014 at 7:49 pm

So funny that you mention negativity. There is so much controversy and negativity in the world today it sickens me. That is why I have loved your blog for so long. You write in a way that is entertaining, real, funny and not so get on the high horse. Stay away from the ranting. It is so not you. We can listen to talk radio for that or fox news for gods sakes. Stick to what you do best and who cares about the likes and comments. You crazy American, remember more is not always better :)

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Kim June 25, 2014 at 6:51 am

You are right, it isn’t me. But I had to get that out and I’m sure glad I did.

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Sally June 25, 2014 at 7:03 am

I know I’m kind of late to the party. I actually read this post last week, and, well, to be honest, it kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Which I have trouble saying because I usually love everything you write, but, uh, just not this one… sorries!
I guess I come at all of this from a very different perspective. I suspect this is because I spent most of my years overseas working and most of those years were spent working in countries like Japan and China. And, while, yes, I will agree Americans could use more of a work-life balance, we are definitely not alone. In Japan, you’re not only expected to work ridiculously long hours, you’re also expected to spend a great deal of your free time socializing with your coworkers and colleagues as a means to build rapport. It’s also not uncommon in both Japan and China to take a job in a city (or even country) far away from your family. I’ve worked with many students, especially Chinese students, who were raised by grandparents because both of their parents worked in a different city from their family. These students told me they would usually only see their parents once or twice a year. While I’m sure this kind of thing happens in the States, I’d say it’s probably a lot less common. Not many Americans I know would choose to live far away from their spouses and/or children for a job. (Not that I’m saying this is a bad thing… okay, I’m kind of saying this is a bad thing. But, whatever, it’s a decision people make, and I can understand why they would make it.)
Another reason I guess I found this post a bit, well, I’mgoingtobehonestandjustsayit, annoying, is because, well, I work hard. REALLY hard. I work a lot of weekends and nights when I’d really rather not. I spend a lot of my free time agonizing over lesson plans or mistakes I made in class or problems my students are having when, honestly, I’d much rather be drinking and watching reality television and not worrying about other people or how I explained the present perfect tense TOTALLY WRONG in class today. I don’t do it for the money. I mean, sure, I would LOVE more money, but, uh, that’s probably not going to happen because, unfortunately, teaching in America is not exactly one of those lucrative jackpot kind of jobs. I work hard because, well, that’s the person I am. I’m a good teacher and I want to be a better teacher and I have students depending on me to help them learn. Sometimes I feel like a sucker for working as hard as I do for the little amount of money I make, but I still keep doing it. And the thing is I work with a whole bunch of people who work even harder than me for just as little money. They don’t do it because they’re greedy and they want money and big houses (because, if they are, they have totally picked the wrong career). They do it because, well, that’s who they are. They are suckers. Great big suckers. Just like me. And, honestly, it’s not the worst way to be.
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Steph June 25, 2014 at 9:51 am

Hey Kim, great post. It really made me think, and I might write a response post. I’ve actually grown fonder of the US the more I travel and live abroad. I still feel deeply critical of a lot of the US policies and beliefs, but I’ve also come to appreciate certain other aspects: the multiculturalism, the convenience of being able to order authentic pho a mile from my house, the ambition and positive thinking. The rose-colored glasses disappeared a long time ago, it’s more like an old friend that you love in spite of their faults.

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Jimmy Dau June 25, 2014 at 11:37 am

Travel definitely has a way of pulling the covers off people’s eyes. I have grown to be fonder of Americans more and more. Yes there’s extreme ignorance but you get that in every country. To me, the culprit is the wheels of capitalism and corporations feeding our excessive need to consume, luring them into a false sense of happiness as a result.
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Hannah Wasielewski June 25, 2014 at 12:55 pm

First of all, I agree that that commercial is disgusting. I’m also American, but I feel like I must defend my country a little bit. I’ve been living in Brazil the past year and I can tell you that living for money is NOT unique to the US. The people here wake up early, go to work, get home, sometimes eat together, then go to their own bedrooms. I feel like people here actually spend less time with their families because they don’t want to spend any money, yet they have enough money to buy a brand new car. It’s a common problem here in Brazil that people want to “show off” their money, yet their house will be falling apart. I know in the states, a person would opt for a less expensive car if that meant living more comfortably at home, but here the new car is most important. My friend who spent 6 months in South Africa experienced the same thing there, but designer clothes seemed to be the way to show off your money there. I personally appreciate the US even more now, ridiculous rules and all!
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Beau June 28, 2014 at 12:06 am

That comercial scared me! I use to think in Australia we were a little different than you guys in the US. For example it was commonplace that if anyone showed conspicuous wealth they would be “cut down” so to speak, in local language it is called Tall Poppy Syndrome. Sadly though it seems that in order to be considered successful now you must have what is considered a good job in order to buy a good car,have the latest phone, have a massive house, all of which you will never pay off!

Having just quit my job and selling some of my possessions to go travelling I have felt the entire weight of the world fall off my shoulders! Maybe that would be a good add? But I suppose no one would make any money out of it?

Thankfully no longer running on the treadmill to try and keep up with all the other rats in the rat race!
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cantaloupe June 29, 2014 at 12:54 am

Wow, that commercial….

I don’t know if I agree with all of your points. (Poor people do not have more joy, that’s a ridiculous idea, no offense. And the sense of community is need-based, which isn’t necessarily always a good thing and leads to complicated power struggles of its own…) But I do definitely feel adverse to the rat race that America’s set up for itself. I left the country because I couldn’t afford anything. Or perhaps I wasn’t tough enough to do what was necessary to afford the things. It’s rather sick how overworked people are willing to be. And I definitely don’t know if I will ever be able to stomach going back into that hamster wheel of a life…
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LB June 29, 2014 at 2:23 am

Although I get what you’re trying to say I think it came off negatively and appeared a sweeping generalisation of America.
I’m originally from NY so of course I know there are many who rag on NJ but really? To single out a state to go on your rant didn’t sit well with me.
I not only grew up in the wonderful diversity of NY but my entire family is European and I’ve been living for the last 5+ years overseas. The same type of people you’ve described exist in every country I’ve lived in and most of those I’ve visited so this is not unique.
These type of rants normally come from those who have lived a secluded life and at the first taste of travel now think they’ve got it all figured out. I hope you don’t go back to your friends and family and get on your soapbox.
And by he way I didn’t see this commercial as I don’t currently live in the states however I heard on the news that this was actually meant as a parody AND marketing 101 you advertise to your audience.
The work culture for many places is work hard to have nice things so that’s where this car is being targeted to.

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Lisa | LLworldtour July 15, 2014 at 8:12 am

Good post Kim. Like it should be…I agree with some and disagree with some (especially about New Jersey which has a lot of really beautiful parts with mountains, forests, lakes, colonial towns, etc!). :)
After traveling around the world for 3 or so years and returning to the U.S. again, I see so many things differently and continue to try to think outside of the ‘norm’. Although ‘the way’ here (and in other countries too!) does make it harder at times to be non-conventional and more thoughtful about what I consume/ waste. Your post made me feel all kinds of stuff and it inspired me to write a response post (something I’ve never done!). So take a look and tell me what you think. Thank you! http://www.llworldtour.com/i-am-american/
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Lance | Trips By Lance July 22, 2014 at 10:53 am

Too many comments here for me to read them all and make sure I don’t repeat them. I do have a few thoughts. The commercial: I was sad about the actor. He played one of my favorite characters in “Band of Brothers.” Unfortunately the message of that commercial speaks to many Americans. But I think it’s narrow to say it’s just Americans. Western culture, to a degree, believes versions of this. Yes, Brits have many more weeks of vacation than Americans. But my wife’s family is British. They all live a version of that commercial. Americans, I think, are just proud of that life. It’s easy to say life is greener on the other side, but there are aspects of the consumerism lie many countries live. I will say on a recent visit to Mexico that I observed people who lived in some pretty shoddy homes. But they were just sitting outside, talking and smiling. Just enjoying life. I like to complain when I’m in a room that has AC set her than 75.
Great points.
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Dinh Nguyen July 24, 2014 at 6:58 pm

well said. Interesting article.

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