Head over Heart. And its reasons.

I am sitting in a waiting room, waiting for Willem’s speech therapy to end and just looking outside is depressing. The sun hasn’t even come out at all today. In this – what I consider- most depressing time of the year, it is good to make plans for the future, something to look forward to. And so, Frederik and I started planning our summer vacation: Seattle, here we come! All four of us this time around. And we are all super excited, but for different reasons. 

Frederik and I can’t wait to see all our friends again, just to hang out as if it was yesterday. We consider a lot of them our American family. They took us in, in their homes and hearts, they helped us out. We celebrated holidays and life events together. How is that not family?! I get teary every time I think about it!
We definitely want to go camping with the kids and even got an offer to go on a little sailing trip this summer, which I really hope will work out! Because nature is another thing we really miss. Before we left, I wasn’t aware of what a big part nature played in our life overseas. Even though our surroundings in this wine village are quite picturesque and lovely, they miss the dramatic effect of volcanoes, the Olympics and water. I cried last May standing on the ferry to Kingston: the wind in my face, the smell of the water, the sound of the waves and the seagulls, the overwhelming beauty of it all. All my daily petty thoughts and worries are just blown away. 

Last but not least, the food and the variety of restaurants in Seattle. German food is of good quality and cheap, but after four years of pretzels and sausages, I am looking forward to Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, fusion, Kidd Valley, decent pizza, American burgers and pancakes, Julie’s and Lyle’s home cooking and salmon of all kinds. Not to mention all the new microbrews. Whoever claims that American food is horrible, has never been in Seattle (or any other major city in the States). 

The kids are excited for different reasons. Janne wants to see all her friends again and check out all the places she has vague memories of. I think she wants to check if her memories were actually right. For Willem, it is a different story. For him, Seattle is this mythical place where he was born, a fact that he likes to share with everyone willing to listen, but he has no memories of it at all. So now, he wants to see this amusement park – which it is in his head – for himself. 

Indeed, as you can read, our heart still belongs to Washington State. Which causes the only downside of our trips to Seattle (next to major jet lag). It was true for Frederik two years ago and for me last year: We come back heartbroken and we consider emigrating. But after a couple of weeks of dreaming and weighing it all up, the head always wins. Why? Well, in two words: our risk aversion. Even if Frederik and I both don’t make a fortune, we are financially better off in Europe. I have to rephrase that. Frederik could probably make a lot more money in the States if he would go corporate, but all that extra money (which for most people doesn’t come at all) comes at a high price: a lot of extra risks and worries. Let me explain.

In Germany, about 22 % of our wages goes to social security, about 17 % to taxes, but as a result, I have never worried about how much a visit to the doctor will set me back. In fact, in Germany, I have never paid anything at the doctor when I am sick, or when I needed an MRI for my back, or when I went to see a psychiater for a year when I was depressed. I have never paid anything for Janne’s music therapy – to teach her how to relax – or Willem’s speech therapy – both ongoing for two years now. Frederik’s sinus surgery last year did not cost us a dime. With the rest of our paycheck, we can pay off our – moderate sized – house, still put decent food on the table and plan family vacations. Schools are save, free and of good quality and public transport can take them there. I can enroll the kids in summer camps without spending my whole budget and I don’t have to worry about how I will put them through college. And what is more and what I consider an enormous plus is that a lot of people around us have similar standards of living and almost none have to worry about going bankrupt when they get sick. 

So, what in America is considered a dirty word, ‘socialism’, is actually nothing more than risk management, sharing the burden of risks like health and unemployment among other risks. In the States, you are much more individually responsible for your success but also for your failure and even for your health. Which is often inexplicable to Europeans. Because who is personally responsible for having breast cancer? Or even being unemployed during economic crises? One can even argue that personal success is never completely due to one individual. Does it not always come with talents you are born with and luck? Where should individual responsibility stop and solidarity begin? 

As a result, we follow our heads for now, but we are looking forward to having our hearts filled and then broken again this summer!  

One Reply to “Head over Heart. And its reasons.”

  1. Yesterday a Belgian liberal economist was telling on the radio about the book “Succes and Luck. Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy” of Robert Frank, where he states that next to talent and hard work, luck is also an important factor in the way up the career and social ladder; much more important than rich, powerful people would admit. And also, the way around, that misfortune is a very important factor in explaining poverty.

    If 10 people start at the same time with a company and work hard, there is probably only one who can make it to the top and let it grow into a multinational (and eat up the ones that had some misfortunes along the way). The “lucky” one will take by far the largest share of profit out of the market; the winner takes it all..

    Starting from that fact, the liberal stated that we are lucky to have a good social system in Europe, and that progressive tax ratios are the logical consequence since they mainly tax the lucky ones, but also that we are still not doing enough to help children and youngsters to climb out of poverty. They have bad luck from the start and the community should give them all the chances to develop their talent and stimulate them to reach as high as possible. In that way, he promoted a tax shift from less effective social expenses to this support of our youth (being a liberal he couldn’t promote a tax rise :).

    Anyway, Annelies, your post made me think of these risk aspects in life. And I guess you’re right; it’s not only social fairness and more equality that are important aspects but also the easy of mind that comes along with it !

Leave a Reply