Which side of the pond should I live on?
July 11, 2006 1:04 AM   Subscribe

Where-to-live filter: specifically, which side of the pond. Help me figure out where I should settle after grad school. If you have lived in both the U.S. and the UK/Europe, which did you prefer, and why?

I've got EU citizenship and a U.S. green card (and will probably apply for U.S. citizenship soon), so I can live wherever. But I am having a hell of a time figuring out what I should do.

Some factors I'm thinking about:

- Quality of life: in the U.S., it seems more live-to-work than the EU's work-to-live ethos. (Well, maybe the UK is somewhere in the middle between the U.S. and the rest of the EU.) I've worked for two years in the U.S. but only been a student in the UK. For those of you who have worked on both continents, thoughts on this in practice?

- Political/intellectual climate: I'm a secular, liberal person, so the UK has been a nice change from the States, which have been so Republican-dominated since 2000. But it seems like the conservative tide in the U.S. is finally receding. Thoughts on this, or your perceptions in general of the political/intellectual climate of the U.S. and EU?

- Fun travel options. In the U.S., it's a long plane ride to get anywhere very exotic; in the EU, you can hop on an easyJet flight and be on the Dalmatian coast in a couple of hours.

- Social welfare system. I am all about the free health care in the EU, but what is the quality like?

Any comments on these factors, or suggestions for other factors I should be considering, would be much appreciated.

(A few more, possibly pertinent details about me: I grew up in D.C., which doesn't really do it for me, so if I move back to the U.S. it'll probably be to San Francisco, Seattle, or NYC. As for job stuff, I'll be doing general social science grad/research-type work, which at this early point in my career I can do anywhere. Distance from my D.C. friends/family will be roughly equivalent if I live in the pacific Northwest or the UK/western EU. Finally, if it matters, I'm female and will turn 25 in two weeks).

Thanks in advance for the advice!
posted by hazelshade to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It seems like you're edging towards Europe, in which case I'd say go for it—you'll regret not doing it.

But I'm planning on going the other way as I don't think the UK is a very good place for the under thirties right now. House prices are bigger than the moon, the job market is looking shaky and most of my generation are sick to death of Blair.

I guess it depends on whether you want to build your life here or come for the experience and then return. I'd recommend the second option, strongly.

All IMO, of course.
posted by randomination at 2:09 AM on July 11, 2006

In general, the cost of living in Europe seems to be higher for every-day things. Strangely, the extra things - travel, entertainment, etc - seem to be cheaper in Europe than in the states.

It depends how you feel about it as well, but consumer goods/electronics in general seem to be much more available & 'modern' in the US. You'll also have less trouble getting ahold of releases, since almost everyone releases in the US first (or at the very least, simultaneously).

You also should decide how you feel about living in socialist(-ish, comparatively) countries, & having a large portion of your income go to the government. Depending on where you are in Europe, tax laws can be bizzare and very, very particular (or maybe just significantly different from the US).

Personally, I'd go for SF or Boston, and vacation in Europe if I ever get enough money. The US still has enough advantages to make it appealing to me... ymmv.
posted by devilsbrigade at 2:40 AM on July 11, 2006

It really depends where in Europe you want to live. The UK and Ireland (specifically, London and Dublin, I can't vouch for elsewhere) are ATROCIOUSLY EXPENSIVE places to live. It's ridiculous. Many places in the states (LA is one, if I recall) are pretty bad too, but I think it's much less common. A nice thing about Europe, though, is vacation time. 2 weeks is pretty common for vacation time in the states, whereas here in Dublin the minimum is 21 days (not including statutory holidays).

And don't say there are no exotic places to go from the states! Mexico and the whole Caribbean are a short enough flight away, and if you want to do an extended flight you've always got South America. That's nothing to sneeze at!
posted by antifuse at 3:01 AM on July 11, 2006

Will you be self-employed? The difference really comes in your statutory holiday entitlement. Like to work the day after Christmas or prefer to drift to New Year?
posted by A189Nut at 4:22 AM on July 11, 2006

I'm an American who did grad school in the UK. The UK is much cheaper and shorter for going to grad school. That wins out...

It is only 2 years of your life and jobs in all countries will respect a MA from either country.
posted by k8t at 4:27 AM on July 11, 2006

You mentioned that you'll be doing grad work, which to me implies that its something you'll be doing for the next four to seven years?

I agree with the others that it seems like you're leaning more towards Europe than the good ol' USA, so my advice would be to go to the eastern side of the Atlantic. You've grown up in D.C. (sounds like the child of a diplomat?), so I'd suggest go do the European thing. Unless this is a move about spending 10 to 20 years in one place, take it for what it is, an opportunity to go and experience living in a place different from that which you grew up in.
posted by Atreides at 4:28 AM on July 11, 2006

I moved from the US to the UK (Edinburgh, specifically), and love it. Here's my favourite points about living in the UK:

* A ridiculous amount of holidays (in my first university job, I had 6 weeks a year plus public holidays, now i'm cut down to 5 in the private sector), and somewhere to go during them, thanks to low-cost airlines.

*The NHS takes a bit of getting used to, but has always been beautiful for me (and i've used it a lot). I've also got private healthcare with my employer (which is at no cost to me, not even a co-pay)

*Blair may be evil, but at least he's forced to appear before everyone else and state his case -- i love a political system where everyone can openly grill the PM, and generally where people can actually discuss politics (and don't get me started on the difference between the news media in the two countries)

As mentioned before, cost of living is pretty high in the big cities, but you can always get the basics cheap -- I lived on £700/mo for years in Edinburgh, with £400 going to rent alone.

I'm your same age and gender, and thought the same thing about going to one of the "cool" U.S. cities as well. In the end, I thought why live in America when there are so many other places to see?
posted by ukdanae at 4:30 AM on July 11, 2006

As someone who has lived in both and has a daughter who has lived in both, let me comment.

Advantages of US (most already mentioned):
It's cheaper (a huge plus, particularly for housing);
Better and more readily available stuff;
On the whole, the natives are more friendly;
Health care is better, at least in the major urban areas. With a very sick S.O., this is important to me but might not be to you.
They believe that you can have a game where only 2 of the 47 players can touch the ball with their feet can be called football.
If you are religious, it's better. If you are not, it's shoved down your throat too much.

Advantages of UK:
Longer holidays;
Money isn't the god (though that is changing);
There are more things to life than work;
People seem to be less uptight;
Despite what you say, the conservative tide is alive and well if not in Massachusetts, certainly everywhere else.
They understand football.
Religion is less important (though that might be a disadvantage for you.)

My daughter tried both and chose Sweden.
posted by TheRaven at 5:04 AM on July 11, 2006

If we are talking about the NHS the quality of emergency care is excellent. If its a matter of a long term or serious illness I know a lot of people who would prefer to be in the States. Of course these people are all assuming that they would have quality, private, non-HMO care in the US.

I would think pretty seriously about the cultural issues more than the big ticket items. I find the ease of everyday life in middle class America very enticing but in the end the culture of the UK wins hands down. From the corner pub, to the British reluctance to talk about oneself, to the relatively informed understanding Brits have of the world, to dozens of other small things...its the minor but constant dimensions that make all the difference to where I want to be right now.
posted by anglophiliated at 5:17 AM on July 11, 2006

Lived, but didn't work, in the US (Berkeley, CA) for a year and a half. Now back in the UK (London).

I can't believe no one's mentioned climate. As in the weather! Big plus in the US column if you're thinking of San Francisco.

Workwise, as people have mentioned, you'll get more breaks in the UK. And although London is horrendously expensive, it's not actually that far ahead of San Francisco or New York in my experience.

One more thing for the UK column is that the car is not quite so much King. You don't have to drive to get milk.

Good luck with whatever you decide.
posted by MrMustard at 5:34 AM on July 11, 2006

Much of the advice you'll receive on this topic -- not here, but generally -- is a confusing mix of grass-is-greener and patriotism. I'd want to know more about what you plan to do career-wise. For example, some jobs benefit from establishing networks of similarly-situated people, which might cut either way here (given grad school and U.S. base); others benefit from an exotic advantage (American abroad); others look to the longer term influence of those you cultivate (academia).

Putting all that aside, my own advice would be to estimate where you are most likely to settle down in the long term, then go live elsewhere for variety's sake. And think outside England, Scotland, and Ireland . . . e.g., Belgium, the Nordics, etc. You have a great predicament!
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:43 AM on July 11, 2006

Everyone is saying London is ridiculously expensive, and they're right (I live in the south of England - probably the most expensive area outside London and every time I go to London I still think "fuck, this place is expensive!"), but the rest of the country is not so bad. Generally the further north you go, the cheaper everything is (and the worse the weather, heh).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:12 AM on July 11, 2006

Response by poster: Really great, thoughtful responses so far... thanks everyone.
posted by hazelshade at 7:26 AM on July 11, 2006

a confusing mix of grass-is-greener and patriotism

Repeated the above for emphasis. I used to live in London, now live in a small town in the US. I grew tired of the urban hustle, cynicism and hostility of the big city and now view London as a great place to visit and a horrible place to live. The difference, for me, is much more about living somewhere more rural than a change of country. I get asked about the differences between the US and UK and have decided that in terms of everyday life and culture they're actually much more similar than different. People are generally decent and concerned about the things that concern us all. There's obnoxious and good folk everywhere.

In material terms, comparisons are difficult. For me, the US is much cheaper, but if I were living in New York or San Francisco, I might not think so. For travel, there are parts of the US that are still exotic to me. For health care, I've nothing but praise for the little I've needed, but I have a middle class income and insurance. Politically, I live in a conservative town, but I've had no problem meeting and making friends with people of widely varied politics. As for vacation time, if you do a job you hate, the difference between two and three weeks a year doesn't matter. The weather here is infinitely preferable to London grey.

All biased personal experience. You're young and it's not a lifelong commitment. Go wherever you're least familiar with or will be the most exciting and challenging.
posted by normy at 10:42 AM on July 11, 2006

Non-english speaking countries within the EU have their positives and negatives too. It can be interesting to venture outside of the realm of your native tongue.
If you're staying for a few years you'll be able to really learn the language.
The older university cities in the EU can be wonderful in atmosphere. Let's say Bologna Italy. Or Grenada Spain for instance (beautiful city, vibrant student night life). etc. etc.
Southern countries have more sun if you're into that.
posted by jouke at 11:51 AM on July 11, 2006

As far as the fun travel options, I think you have the US all wrong. It's a short plane flight to all kinds of cool places in Europe, but there's tons of geographic diversity in the US too. For example, if you lived in SF, you'd be within driving distance of Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, the Santa Cruz Mountains, Napa Valley wine country, Mt. Shasta, Death Valley, and plenty more. You'd also be a short plane flight from Mexico, Seattle, Vancouver, Las Vegas, and about a billion national parks in the Arizona/Utah/New Mexico area.
posted by TunnelArmr at 2:42 PM on July 11, 2006

If you've no significant longterm health care problems the NHS is excellent; although having said that I've not used it for about 3 years as I haven't needed to. London is expensive, although it is also possible to live cheaply there. I lived on about £800 pounds a month there, inc rent, sharing a house. Once you get out of the tourist areas you can generally find cheaper shops/resturants. Wages in London also tend to be better than in the rest of the UK to account for this, dependant on the type of work you do. Universities pay shit for research in UK/Europe if thats the field you are interested in, but I've got a similar background and have worked for consultancy firms which pay much better when I've been in the UK. In terms of other places, depends what languages you speak. If you speak English only I'd say that Brussels (pretty boring) and Geneva are the only really possibilities outside of the UK/Eire to work
posted by MrC at 9:19 PM on July 11, 2006

The question seems a bit misguided to me as both the US and Europe, or even the UK, are big, diverse places, and there are probably more differences within either than there are between them. You will be able to find a community that meets your needs in the US or UK, and you'd find other communities that would be loathsome to you in both as well.

Example: quality of life. You can find employers or areas that go either way on both continents.

If you're planning to do academic work, or closely related research work, you should think hard about doing your graduate work on the same continent you'd like to work. Doing so gets you networking earlier, avoids problems with transferring degrees between different educational systems, and allows for greater reputational effects of your school. There are, no doubt, many people in the US who would not know that a particular degree is prestigious in the UK, apart from Oxbridge, and there are, no doubt, people in the UK who would not know that a degree from, say, the University of Wisconsin is a damn fine degree to have.

Health care will be a wash, realistically. Assuming you do normal postgraduate stuff and get a normal postgraduate job, your health care will be provided for you no matter where you are. You will either pay for it out of taxes if you live in the UK, or you will pay for it out of direct or indirect foregone income if you receive it as a benefit.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:50 PM on July 11, 2006

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