The USA and the media


Are Americans dumb?

Glad you asked. I grew up in the States, and have lived here in Europe for the past 14 years, so I think I might be able to answer your question.

First of all, we must talk about GDP: the US clearly does not hold first place. That honor goes to Luxembourg, where I live. The US ranks 10th in the world. Furthermore, it’s not too hard to have the highest GDP in the world when you print the world’s reserve currency. This has more to do with winning WWII than it does with the average IQ of the nation.

Now, here are some reasons:

– In the US, more than half the population (depending on the poll) rejects evolutionary theory in favor of the explanation offered by whatever religious group they happen to belong to. This number is higher by far than in any other industrialized nation. Likewise, climate change is still discussed as if the reality of it is an open question.

– Most high school students can barely be called that, as they spend most of their energies socializing, attending pep rallies and sporting events, selecting the most qualified candidates for student government, and hanging out of their phones. Every college-bound European student, by contrast, must necessarily complete a BAC, which a rigorous program that is equivalent to about two years of college in the US. School has no other function than to educate.

– In Europe, it is acceptable to have a conversation about some aspect of philosophy, art, or history at a keg party. In the US, raising such a topic is more likely to elicit blank stares and derision.

– Americans seem obsessed with making money. This might go some way to explaining the “highest GDP” claim, and it also explains the general lack of sophistication among Americans regarding non-lucrative subjects such as math, history, arts, culture… etc. In the US, the question of how this or that education will lead to more money is raised constantly. I suspect it won’t be long before the subjects above are simply cut from high school curricula.

– Every European nation (save a few such as Luxembourg) is embarrassed to consider itself to be the worst at languages. By this they mean that they have difficulty expressing complex ideas in a foreign language. In the US, speaking only English (and just barely even that) is considered a point of pride.

– The US seems like a cultural wasteland to Europeans, who are used to thousand-year-old cities, museums of art and history, and cultural events in the streets. When Europeans visit the US, they tend to ignore the cities (save New York) in favor of that natural splendor of Yosemite or the Grand Canyon.

– The images projected by American brands overseas are generally devoid of any intellectual aspiration. Disney, Coke, McDonald’s, most Hollywood movies, much of pop music… all of them seem to cater to the lowest common denominator.

– Europeans value careful deliberation and subtlety in thinking. Americans are perceived as being slow to think and quick to act.

– Americans are seen as loud and proud. They can be obnoxious, and have a bizarre tendency to claim to be “the best country in the world” (viz. this question). Also, they tend to dress like slobs.

– A vast majority of Americans (about 80%) have never traveled beyond their borders, and many don’t seem to care to.

– The virulent religosity that is pervasive in society. Europeans think it’s weird the way we write “In God we Trust” on our money… and now, on police vehicles.

– The flagrant nationalism and frequent assertions of being “the best”, which strikes Europeans as conceited and undignified.

– The food, which is perceived as utterly unsophisticated, if not total junk. This may largely be due to the fact that international brands like McDonalds and Pizza Hut are the only exposure many Europeans have to American dining habits, but I think there is some truth to it.

– Guns. While I will reserve my opinion on this topic, I can say that most Europeans unequivocally see no purpose in allowing citizens to carry guns. They see the US as a gun-crazed, violent place where gangs and deranged highschoolers shoot at random people for fun. Huh, blame Hollywood, I suppose.

Yes, I’ve been tremendously unfair, and I know it. Stupidity is about evenly distributed in the world, and to be sure, we have our share here, too. To be fair, one could easily make an equally long list of American perceptions of European stupidity.
But Americans have their own special brand of it.


Why is healthy food so expensive?

You’re saying food in India is less expensive than in US ? And how is it if you compare it to average salary ? Generally markets follow similar % cost of GDP or Avg Salary when it comes to non-tradable goods – it is easy to export wheat but not as cost effective to move vegetables across the world. You can look at any service, i.e. hairdresser – it will vary between markets, it will vary even between cities, but if you compare this cost to avg salary earned in given location, it will look similar as % ratio.

Food is a product as any other. To produce it you need :
1) land
2) time
3) labor OR capital.

Land, time and labor cost more in US (in absolute terms) which means food should be more expensive (again, in absolute terms). Capital cost is always the same as you can export it easily, thus food production in US has moved from labor-intensive toward capital-intensive, utilizing advancements offered by technology, which helps to produce food cheaper:

1) higher intensity due to GMO/fertilizers etc – less land but also less space used i.e. when “producing” chickens
2) faster (again, GMO, fertilizers – but also hormones and antibiotics in animal feeding)
3) using less labor (cheaper) – machinery, production lines, technology, scale economy

All of the above are making food production cheaper AND less healthy. So why healthy food in US is more expensive ? Because US is a rich country and all non-tradable goods will be more expensive than in poor countries – in absolute terms. Because healthy means fresh and you can’t have fresh moved across the world without adding significant cost – or you need to produce it locally which means all the cost drivers mentioned above.


Is it a must to pay at least 15% tips in the USA?

The things people are saying are not universal. Only some US states have lower minimum wages for tipped employees, and in all states, the employer is legally required to pay them the regular minimum wage if their “tips plus tipped minimum” are lower. In practice, this does not always happen, just like how some people under-report their cash tips to avoid paying tax on them.

Tips should reflect the quality of service and response – if your food is bad or cold, it may not be your server’s fault and you should approach management immediately. (Some states forbid the sharing of tips between severs and kitchen staff, though where it isn’t forbidden, bussers and kitchen staff and host staff may share tips with the servers, but this won’t be known to the customer.)

People should always speak up when their food or service is atrocious. Nothing has less credibility than saying “that was the worst meal I ever ate” while sitting in front of an empty plate. If it was so bad, why did you eat it?

Be wary of restaurants where the menu reads “Automatic service charge of XX% for parties of Z or more.” In some states, this is a service charge which goes directly into the profits of the restaurant – it is not a tip or a bonus paid to the servers, and the restaurant is under no obligation to do so. Be sure to clarify this when one is with a large party.

I have personally eaten hundreds of restaurant meals as a business traveler. I have left a tip of zero only three times – both times because of horrible service and attitude bordering on hostile and deceptive. Once was a server who lied about the contents of the meal (my guest had a genuine allergy and the server said “oh I didn’t take that seriously – everyone says they’re allergic to things they don’t like), another would disappear and come back reeking of smoke, and the third served a sandwich with meat still wrapped in waxed paper, then attempted to deny it. That’s a pretty good record.

Tipping is optional, but it is understood to be part of the culture. I personally don’t agree with bumper stickers which say “Tip 18% or stay home”, but if you are so poor, then avoid full table service restaurants. It is not customary to tip for “counter-service” – fast food restaurants, and a tip of 10% is generally considered generous at a limitless buffet, where the servers/bussers only clear away used plates and refill water glasses.


What do Americans have for breakfast, lunch or dinner?

American diets vary dramatically based on region, economics, dietary requirements, and personal taste. I suspect we have more choices than most people in the world.

Breakfast – cereal consumption used to be huge, but is slowing down. Most working people, being rushed, choose fruit and yogurt smoothies or a breakfast sandwich (with egg, sometimes ham and/or cheese), toast or a bagel, or some kind of commercially packaged cereal bar, granola bar, energy bar, or protein bar or supplement. A “full American breakfast” is usually defined as eggs, some kind of fried potatoes, cereal or toast or pancakes, fruit juice, and coffee. This meal can often be found for around $3.00.

Lunch is eaten away from home by school children and working adults, so it’s either packed at home or purchased at lunchtime. A traditional packed lunch involved a sandwich (turkey, ham, tuna, peanut butter & jam, etc.), some fresh fruit, a beverage (usually milk for kids), and something extra (potato chips, a cookie, etc.). Physical laborers require a lot more food, of course, but it may be along the same lines. Those who indulge in fast food at lunchtime get a hamburger or cheeseburger about 75% of the time.

Dinner, in an ideal world, is made at home. It used to be, about 50 years ago, planned around a protein main dish, accompanied by a starch dish and a cooked vegetable. Larger meals might include a salad and bread course first, and a dessert afterward. It’s more common now to make a one-dish meal in the evening, combining protein, vegetables, and starch in one pot, often making double batches so we don’t have to cook every evening. Pasta dishes are popular, we eat a lot of chicken, and just about everybody knows how to toss together an Asian-style stir-fry. It seems like about 25% of the population does not cook regularly, but opts for a restaurant meal, a quick take-out meal like pizza, or a frozen entree from the market that can be microwaved quickly and eaten, many times, straight from the box.

Our eating habits reflect a severe decline in our standard and quality of life, in my opinion.


Shower in the USA by a Chinese

Among everyday habits and, the shower-in-the-morning vs. shower-in-the-evening is one of the real lines of demarcation between Chinese and westerners, and neither my Chinese-born parents (who never lost the evening shower habit even after 40 years in the US) nor my wife, who’s from Beijing, ever get tired of asserting the supremacy of the PM shower. And I’ve never kicked the AM ablutions habit.

I shower in the morning because it really wakes me up, and provides me with this nice mindless routine during which I can think about my day. It also keeps my hair from looking strange. On warmer days where I’ve conspicuously sweated during the day I’ll take a quick shower and not wash my hair in the evening, but I find that taking a shower right before bed makes it more difficult for me to fall asleep, possibly because I associate showering with wakefulness.

I fully understand the Chinese preference for the evening shower. You’re clean and comfy, bedding probably doesn’t need to be washed as frequently and so forth. But I just need that morning shower to feel fully awake—kind of like that morning coffee!


Every US president is related

Yes, every President is related, except one, and it is not who most people guess.

How the Work of a 12-Year-Old Girl Uncovered a Historical Oddity

It started with an American 12-year-old girl’s desire to trace her own heritage back to France. Along the way, she discovered that every single US President (except Martin Van Buren) are relatively closely related to just one man.

Meet BridgeAnne d’Avignon a gifted seventh grade student at Monte Vista School in Watsonville California. Prior to her work, genealogists only marginally associated about 19 US presidents as “distantly” related. She has created an amazing poster available at her website:

Her work started when she was just 10 years old when she discovered her Grandfather’s genealogy software and challenged herself with a simple question: “How many US Presidents are related?” The answer was an astounding coincidence.

Academic genealogists were more than shocked to discover that this association was in the historical record and overlooked by thousands of researchers. One of the secrets to BridgeAnne’s work was to trace the genealogy of both parents. She was not sure where the journey would lead her to, but pushed on for over two years of research.

Every US President Is Part of One Bloodline

The distant grandfather to all US presidents (except Van Buren) is King John “Lackland” Plantagenet. The very same King John that was the antagonist to the Robin Hood story.

Not Part of Robin Hood’s Family

Born in December 24, 1166, King John has indirectly supplied all US presidents (again, except Van Buren). King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215, however, he never complied with its conditions and was known for his pettiness, spitefulness, and cruelty that helped give rise to the Robin Hood legends.

Beyond the work of now expert genealogy researcher BridgeAnne, dig just a little deeper and we find that Emperor Charlemagne is the root of just about all the leaders in Europe and the Middle East.

Data Is Useless Without Wisdom

The age of the Internet yields a great deal of information democratically to everyone connected. Data is useless without insights. Clearly we are awash with endless data and profoundly less empirical insights. It takes the work of great researchers, doing amazing work drawing perhaps unexpected insights to make sense of data.

This is the basis of wisdom and sometimes wisdom comes from unexpected places and can be found in a 12-year-old girl.