10 Reasons I Can’t Live in America again

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged here. I’ve been writing and developing games and running an RPG here in Seoul which claimed much of my free time. Plus I think all bloggers go through a point where they wonder if the hours spent blogging might be better used on … almost anything else. But this is a subject that has been percolating in my mind for a while now.

Before I go any further, I’ll clarify by saying that the reasons I do have to go back–family and friends (and burritos)–outweigh these. Okay, Mom?


Consumerism: buy buy buy

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This has been covered before just about everyone, but the longer I live out of the US, the harder it is to come back to the bombardment of “buy X=happiness” messages that make up so much of day-to-day life. (The part of the world I live now is arguably just as consumerist, but not speaking the language or belonging to the culture makes it feel far less so.)

Buying into the culture gets harder too–“new” things like uber and Spotify and smart phones and well who knows what gaining popularity since I lived in the US lead to a disenfranchising feeling. (For me at least.) On the flip side, going back is often a process of discovering a new culture, which I do appreciate.

Over-Regulation and Bureaucracy


Renting an apartment requires background checks and credit checks and promises of first-borns. My mom moved for the first time in years and was shocked at all the hoops she had to jump through. From checking into a hotel to registering for school, everything is so needlessly complex.

This might be more an Oregon thing, but it insane to me that a thirty year old person cannot necessarily buy a beer if they don’t have their ID. A non-ending series of permits are required for far too many things, from opening restaurants to painting your house. Everything is needlessly more complicated than it should be, and that’s no way to live.

Gun Culture



See the guest post from 2015 by liberal anarchist and gun enthusiast Bob Swan to demonstrate that even educated people can hold very bad ideas. Selling guns in stores and online is, if the rest of the world is any sort of system to judge, a bad idea and a key ingredient of a toxic culture.



“I Deserve” Entitlement


This one is harder to articulate–it’s a more a “I know it when I see it.” But it permeates everything; the decadent “I deserve” mentality and the counterpart, the prevalent “you should sue” mindset. This is a refection of rampant consumerism and while there’s nothing objectively wrong with those attitudes, they are pretty much 180 degrees from how I live my life.

Undereducated Populace


Socialism is still a bad word. People don’t know it’s not the same as facism. I should note this does seem to be changing now, but there are still plenty of people who think that socialism=lazy people asking for free stuff. This goes far beyond the political. It’s a society that glorifies money and fame for their own sake.


Driving Culture


The ultimate symbol of freedom in America? A machine that kills or injures over 2 million people a year, and includes costs for insurance, gas, repairs, and registration. Even Portland, famous for bikes and public transportation, requires a car to get anywhere out of it. Intercity options like Greyhound are stigmatized and inefficient for anything other than big cities.



They suck everywhere but in the US they are a special flavor of suckiness. (And I wrote this sentence a year ago, well before this year’s singular madness of an election process.) I haven’t commented much on the election this year, but I’ll say this. For me, the candidates rank like this. Bernie Sanders (he’s not actually as liberal as I’d like but still the best by far candidate), and then Green Party candidate Jill Stein (better than Sanders but with even less of a chance), then a tie between Trump and Hillary (both of which are disasters) and then Cruz (the worst case scenario).

But part of me wants to see Trump in the White House. He is the president that “Honey-BooBoo”-watching, mass produced pop listening America deserves. The mirror image of the culture. And it would make for way better comedy shows. (Inherent in this opinion is that he wouldn’t be any worse for the people of the world than Clinton.)

Anyway, one of the problems in my opinion is that the US is too big and too diverse and the solution of splitting into separate countries  still seems too radical.



I actually defended our wonky system for years, but I can’t do it anymore. It would be hard to go back to funny old Fahrenheit and miles after the nice conciseness of the metric (almost) everywhere else in the world. It’s the 21st century and a system based some English King’s foot probably isn’t the best system imaginable.

Fear culture


The USA is good at big portions, and that includes the buffet of fear-mongering options that citizens chomp down on with glee. Fear of other countries. Fear of germs. Fear of immigrants. Fear of the other. Fear of the Other. Fear of Republicans and cyber-predators and flying and terrorism and so many other ungrounded fears.

Even in relatively safe places like Portland, people knocking on doors is a cause of fear. And yes, a fearful populace is a more easy to control but is that all there is to it? It would be exhausting to be afraid all that time and, quite frankly, I’m afraid to be that afraid.

Portland is a Hard Place to Live


Most of the reasons on the list are philosophical. This is purely practical though. It’s so hard for me to find a job in Portland. I have applied in my life for several hundred jobs in Portland (over a period of almost 20 years now) and heard back from fewer than 20. I’ve been rejected from Powells 3 times. And I only apply to jobs where I fit all the criteria. I always thought it was just hard to get a job in Portland but my sister has no problem doing it so maybe it’s just a me thing. It’s definitely discouraging to come back and be *lucky* to get a job temping or in a grocery store.

So that’s my thinking. From afar all of those things seem kind of terrible. But as I said, with so many good friends and family there, I probably will come back.



7 responses to “10 Reasons I Can’t Live in America again

  1. Branching off from car culture – the unit of urban measurement in Korea (and probably a good bit of the rest of the world) seems to be an elderly person traveling on foot alone, and so much of transport and urban design takes that into account. Even in a small city every neighborhood has a number of shops, a park (even if it’s dingy, it’s still a place to sit), and cheap local short-distance transportation (taxis and buses). That’s the hardest thing for me to handle when back in the states.

    • Yeah, it’s the one thing I’m really *not* looking forward to when we visit Saskatoon this summer. There’s tons of reasons I couldn’t live in Saskatoon again, but the broken transport system sucks if you don’t have a car. And we won’t have one in Canada, aside from maybe renting occasionally.

      (We only broke down and got one because life with a baby and no car, outside a city with a working subway system, is basically a prison sentence.)

      As for the consumerism, I’d argue Seoul’s much more consumerist that Portland: middle class people saying, “I can’t go to church in that car! It’s three years old!” is something I’ve only heard here. But I know what you mean about insulating effects: when I moved to Montreal, I think I saw just as much advertising, but I understood much less of it, and it was wonderful to the point that it felt like torture hearing English-language ads during visits to other parts of Canada.)

      • Ads in a language I either can’t read or can’t reflexively read makes a huge difference for me re: consumerism. It’s nice being outside that.

  2. I guess you can’t really qualify consumerism. But I will say that the pressure to buy bikes and canoes and name brand rain jackets and environmentally friendly water bottles definitely exists.
    But as Justin and you both say, it’s more using the linguistic barrier in non-English speaking countries that makes me feel my life here is less defined by what I choose to purchase.

  3. I agree with most of what you rail against…I’ve found that in the US, consumerism is fairly easy to avoid if you just don’t use TV or cable services (aside from Wi-fi, we have no real TV or Cable TV service). it is pretty easy, actually…especially since a monthly TV cable bill can top $100 month and is non-stop commercials. It is sort of like living in a foreign environment in the sense that no one in this house has any sense of what the latest advertising is all about. When we need something for a specific reason (e.g., hiking gear), we have to go online and research it…so, in a sense, we are “free-riding” on the advertising pain of others in order to find the stuff we need.

    The other issue that got my attention was the underlying theme of “risk management” (an emerging cultural artifact largely based on our fearful populace and budget-minded bureaucrats) that seems to undergird everything we do these days….It has certainly driven me from the more formal, risk-managed areas of our culture and society (there is a reason I don’t live in Portland and prefer the boondocks now). Informal opportunities to live, grow and thrive are becoming scarce everywhere in the world (Europe and large US metro areas especially) but in Oregon, I’m finding that there are still places you can live without the risk managers determining your worth as a human being…and charging fees or placing barriers in front of you based on that assessment. While some (e.g., PDX-ers) may complain that everything and everyone outside of Portland are “too provincial,” I’m here to tell you that folks who have though about these things are leaving PDX in droves…if they can…to live in a more informal culture of trust (as opposed to the intense culture of conformity and control we find in PDX now). In any case, when (if?) you come back, keep your mind open to the possibilities outside of PDX.

    • It’s a good point. If I came back, the region I’d like to go to is central oregon. Somewhere close to the river and mountains. But at the same time, I’d want to live close my friends and family or why else come back?

  4. Hi….A few thoughts re your feelings…..I think the biggest problem here is over-population. No one need to have 5 kids. A lot of the problems are since I rem

    Date: Sun, 17 Apr 2016 10:28:55 +0000 To: cleoneta@hotmail.com

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