I remember being in my early teens and complaining to my father about something I had learned about the American political process (if I remember my 13-year-old self correctly, it was probably the electoral college). His response? Your typical American one – that there’s no where better in the world to live. One friend of mine will appreciate my reply: “Denmark!” (Admittedly, all I knew at the time, aside from Hamlet, was that it consistently rated high for quality-of-life).
Since that young age, both my father and I have discovered that our home country, the U.S., really isn’t the center of the universe. Although I knew at the time that life somewhere else might be more interesting, I doubt I knew the subtle (and not-so-subtle) difference between American and European health care, for example, or in which countries women had the most rights. As I grew older, I developed an “anywhere but here” mentality, complaining loudly to whomever would listen that life in the U.S. was just “the worst,” particularly after 2000, when George W. Bush was elected.
Now that I’ve lived abroad, however, everything has become much more complex. Our health care is of great quality, but we pay so much for it, whereas in Britain, for example, it’s mainly free but getting what you need taken care of is chaotic. Or in Morocco, where you can get anything done easily and for free, but if you want care up to “Western” standards, you have to pay out-of-pocket (although my insurance there covered 80% of everything, which is wonderful and more than I can say for my insurance in the States).
Of course, health care is just a simple example, but one that’s easy to articulate. Where it gets more difficult is trying to put into words quality of life. When I lived in Morocco, I found many things frustrating – the catcalls, the amusement with my appearance, inner-city public transportation. There were also so many things that I simply took for granted – lingering in my neighborhood cafe, the ease of just dropping by someone’s home for lunch, lunch itself (a pb&j scarfed down in 20 minutes doesn’t hold a candle to my mother-in-law’s tajines and 3-hour
languorous lunches that I used to despise but now would give anything to have again). I miss the freshness of the vegetables (and the price!), I miss my joyful students, and I miss my family.
But there were also so many things here that I missed and that I now struggle not to take for granted – a hot mocha at Starbucks, soy milk (it exists in Morocco, but at over $7 a liter), cheesy pasta dishes, sipping a beer in public without being stared at (that actually took some getting used to, believe it or not), my own family here.
I can’t even put into words which life is better. Sure, I enjoy the chaos that comes with American urban life, but Moroccan cafe society is such a joy. I know that I was less stressed there. I also know that here, I have more opportunity for career growth.
There is no simple answer, and a full life cannot be quantified, nor can quality of life be judged by simple standards.