America vs. Europe: some personal observations

I’ve spent a lot of time in the US in recent years, and will spend much more time there next year. I get asked a lot about the differences between living in America and in Europe, which caused me to compile a list of the differences that I found most striking. Some of them may be clichés, others may be more surprising. All of them are true, I believe, but my confidence in their truth is not uniform. I have discussed many them with friends and colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic, and found them controversial to varying degrees. Some of these differences have an obvious explanation, others seem hard to understand or even puzzling. I’m looking for economic explanations of these differences and might blog about that in the future. Comments are highly welcome!

An obvious caveat: My observations are biased due to the fact that I’ve only seen parts of America (California, part of the Northwest, part of the Midwest, and New England), and only parts of Europe (Central Europe, part of Scandinavia, part of France and England). One should realize that large cultural, political and economic differences exist both within the US and Europe, so all the statements below refer to averages with wide confidence bands around them.

Economic life:

  1. Prices are normally stated net of sales taxes. (high confidence, uncontroversial)
  2. Tips are higher and more common. (high confidence, uncontroversial)
  3. Tap water is much more heavily chlorinated. (high confidence, uncontroversial)
  4. Air-conditioning is vastly more common both in private homes and offices. (high confidence, uncontroversial)
  5. The average quality of houses is much lower. (high confidence, somewhat controversial)
  6. The proportion of people living in single-family houses as opposed to apartment buildings is much higher. (medium confidence, uncontroversial)
  7. The price of gasoline is about 50% lower. (high confidence, uncontroversial)
  8. There are both more cars per person and cars are much bigger on average. (medium confidence, uncontroversial)
  9. Automatic cars are vastly more common. (high confidence, uncontroversial)
  10. The price of necessities (food, clothing, personal hygiene) is lower, but not much, and the quality is generally lower. (low confidence, highly controversial)
  11. Food is bought and sold in much larger quantities. For instance, the smallest available bottle size for milk is usually half a gallon (about 1.9 liters). (high confidence, uncontroversial)
  12. Extreme obesity is vastly more common. (high confidence, uncontroversial)
  13. The quality of infrastructure (roads, railways, electricity grid) is lower. (medium confidence, somewhat controversial)
  14. Roads are more often built in strictly rectangular patterns, both in cities and on the countryside. (high confidence, uncontroversial)

Social life:

  1. Racial diversity is immensely higher, especially in urban areas, but also in rural areas. (high confidence, uncontroversial)
  2. So is religious diversity. (high confidence, uncontroversial)
  3. Religion plays a more central part of public life, including in politics (high confidence, uncontroversial)
  4. Interest in family history and genealogy is much higher. (high confidence, uncontroversial)
  5. Bodily contact between people in everyday interactions is much less frequent and more often regarded as inappropriate. (medium confidence, somewhat controversial)
  6. Conversations are much less formal both in professional and private contexts. (medium confidence, uncontroversial)
  7. Small talk is a much more important part of everyday life both in professional and private contexts. (high confidence, uncontroversial)
  8. Adolescents and young adults seem to be more mature both in terms of physical appearance and character development. (low confidence, highly controversial)
  9. Elderly people seem to be more familiar with, and more adept at, using new technology as well as social media. (high confidence, somewhat controversial)
  10. Knowledge about foreign countries (geography, history, politics) is generally much poorer. (high confidence, highly controversial)
  11. Patriotism is more wide-spread, more frequently expressed and more strongly felt. (high confidence, somewhat controversial)

Political life:

  1. There are more elected (as opposed to appointed) public officials and elections occur at higher frequencies. (high confidence, uncontroversial)
  2. Personal political opinions are more frequently expressed in public. For instance, pumper stickers with political messages are a much more common sight. (medium confidence, somewhat controversial)
  3. Political polarization is more profound. (medium confidence, somewhat controversial)
  4. There are more prohibition and warning signs on the streets as well as in public and private buildings and facilities. (low confidence, highly controversial)
  5. There are more local political initiatives  such as petitions, awareness campaigns, fund raising events etc. (medium confidence, somewhat controversial)
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