100K

I think if your earning potential is over 100,000 US dollars, you're better off in the United States than in Europe because the social safety net isn't required. By the time you have a job that pays 100K a year, it probably also has all the numerous benefits that European countries already provide: 401K matching for retirement, health, dental, and vision insurance, more generous paid vacations, etc. If anything, since you can buy all the social services or they are included in employment, you want lower taxes so you don't have to pay for everyone else (disregarding the philosophical/political implications of said taxes). 

On the flip side, if you make less than 100K a year, European life is probably better. You're probably a person who wants a life and doesn't want to work 24/7. You get basic health care needs, the K-12 education and university systems are already paid for by your taxes. Since your earnings are relativley low to the top 1%, you are on the receiving end of the social safety net and the taxes directly help you. 

An Element of Trust

In America, when you go out to a restaurant with a group of people and ask for seperate checks, you can see the waiter / waitress sigh out of irration. It's annoying for her to go back to her computer, print out 10 seperate checks, swipe 10 different credit cards, and collect a stack of bill envelopes. 

Vienna has a very nice system that works because they use cash. The waitress goes to each person, asks them what they had, and calculates the total with paper and pen on the spot. The customer then pays their amount with tip included via cash. The waitress goes around the table and everyone individually pays their share. It's refreshing that you can just ask people what they ordered and assume they won't lie. 

Prague is Europe's Vegas

Prague is an interesting place that sits between the wealthy western Europe and the poor eastern Europe. I was really expecting things to be pretty cheap and dilapidated. I was wrong, money has been flowing into Prague like no other.

Just coming off the airplane, you can tell that Prague's airport is brand new. It felt more modern than Paris' CDG. As you go from the airport to the main train station, you can see a ferrari and mazerrati car dealership. The main station is well annointed with modern upscale stores and glass walls. You can still see some reminance of poverty such as homelessness and begging, but the police are out in force to make sure nothing really happens.

In Prague itself, all you see are tourists with umbrellas representing some tour guide in a specific language. I met more Americans in Prague than in any other city I've been in. Everyone in the central part of town speak three or four languages and I felt safer in Prague than in Paris. Since it was easter, the whole city was bustling from dusk till dawn. It felt like Las Vegas during spring break - lots of kids who can't drink in the states being drunk, cheap beer so everyone starts drinking all day everyday, and casinos aplenty with drugs not too far away. The only difference is that the city itself is gorgeous.

Who Gets To Present Papers

I'm starting to realize how many small things are different at not only different places but different fields in academia. One of the hostel mates is studying nano technology in Spain. When he publishes a paper, especially if it is an important conference, he doesn't get to present his work. Instead, his advisor gives the talk. Not only that, the student doesn't even get to go to the conference if it is expensive and far away. He's limited to travel only for poster presentations at small workshops located in the vicinity around Spain. Anything more substantial and only the professor goes. Maybe computer science is one of the few fields that expect students to give talks at conferences instead of professors... 

Being American

I don't think I've really ever understood what it meant to be "American". Or the idea of a national identity never really dawned upon me as an important aspect or property that ever mattered as an individual. Someone being Chinese, German, or Peruvian never really registered in me mentally, as a nationality versus just an ethnicity. You spoke Russian, looked Russian, but you were just another person.

The idea of national pride always seemed antiquated, until I went outside. Yesterday I had an eye-opening experience discussing international politics with an Iranian. I should have known it was going to be a heated discussion when his first question was "Do you Americans hate us"? He was aggressive in telling me how terrible the United States is and how Americans have destroyed the world. For sure, the US Government is not a saint. I will be the first to disparage the actions of both the Obama and Bush administration. Guantanamo bay is horrific, Iraq unjustified, we've meddled with Iranian affairs, and we love oil and want to influence the middle east. Either I'm too brainwashed, or he was, or probably both to some degree, but asserting opinions like 9/11 was an inside job, no jews died on 9/11, or Iran will never use nuclear bombs because it is against Islamic law has very little basis. It was the first time, where I actually felt really compelled to defend the American government. The first time I actually thought being American and having that label meant something more than an overused political talking point.

I know it's really cliché, but I felt proud to be an American.