Life in the USA

Life in the USA is quite a bit different from that in the Netherlands. Here are some thoughts on noticeable differences. Europeans, and paritcularly the Dutch might find some of these things interesting. Note that there is no structure to my ramblings, it's rather chaotic...


As with a lot of things, stuff in the USA is not built to last. You should get some new equipment every few years anyway, you know. Apart from that, let me start by complaining about....vacuum cleaners!

Man, these things are loud. They produce an amount of noise that would make your average jet engine jealous. These things would probably be illegal in most countries due to the hearing damage they cause. If you are using the things standing next to the phone, you will not hear the phone ring. And I'm not exaggerating. I'll post a sound file here sometime when I get around to it.
Anyway, I was told by someone that you can actually get a vacuum cleaner that is relatively silent. Problem is that they don't sell very well. The average American thinks that a vacuum cleaner that does not produce deafening sounds probably doesn't work very well.

Next: washing machines. These work quite differently from European models. First of all, your typical American washing machine does not have an electrical heating element to heat up the water. As an electrical engineer, I applaud this, sice I feel that using electricity to heat up stuff is wasteful. Usually heat was used to generate the electricity in the first place (in the power plant that produced the electricity). Converting the electricity to heat again is plain stupid, so I have a moral objection to that. Back to the subject.

The fact that American washers don't heat up the water they wash with does not mean they wash with cold water. They have two water inlets: one for hot water, one for cold water. In principle, this is a better idea than heating up the water with electricity. Unfortunately, controlling the water temperature becomes a bit of a challenge, since it depends on the temperature of the hot water supply. This wouldn't be so bad, if not for the fact that the laundry doesn't get cleaned all that well. Maybe this has to do with other things as well, such as the fact that American washing machines are unbelievably fast. It's a matter of tens of minutes for the cycle to complete, as opposed to several hours in the case of European equipment.
Then, the typical American washer uses this thing called agitator. It is a huge piece of plastic (what else?) that moves up and down to get the laundry moving. European washers typically utilize gravity to gently tumble the laundry to get it clean. The American agitator violently shakes everything, ripping your clothes in the process. No matter, you should buy new clothes every few weeks anyway.

Next on the list: dryers. They are not all that different from European dryers, they use a huge amount of electricity to get your clothes dry (ok, there's gas dryers too, much better idea). Nothing terribly wrong with the design, it's more that people think you're from the Stone Age if you suggest hanging your stuff on a clothing line to dry. The notion of using the sun to dry your clothes seems totally bizarre. Way too much work, you have to hang your clothes on the line and when they are dry you have to take them off again. Silly.

That brings me to my next complaint, which is the American approach to...

Energy Usage

Americans use (and waste) energy like it doesn't cost anything. Unfortunately, this is mostly true. Compared to Europe, energy is very cheap over here. Electricity and natural gas prices are very low. Gasoline prices are at an all-time high (around $2.30 per gallon) which has many people very concerned. This price corresponds to something like 45 eurocents per liter. Gasoline prices in Europe are typically 2.5 times as high, somewhere between $5.50 to $6.00 per gallon.

Americans waste energy like there is no tomorrow. An example: in my neighborhood there are several people who leave their outdoor lights on 24 hours a day. Totally unnecessary, all it takes is to flip a switch twice a day to save quite a bit of energy.

The problem is that people seem to think that the source of all this energy will never be exhausted. A quote from a newspaper article that looked into the motivations why people drive big, heavy, gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles: "Some people like to spend their money on fancy dining. I like to spend it on my car. As long as I can afford it, I have the right to spend money on gasoline."
No notion whatsoever that he is unnecessarily exhausting a finite resource, the only consideration seems to be money.

A telling story I read on the Web. A British guy who had lived most of his life in the Netherlands moved to Utah. Upon considering buying a house, he asked for the previous owners' utility bills (gas, electric, water). The bills seemed quite reasonable, so no problems with regard to the energy efficiency of the house. After moving in, he got his first utility bills. Water: one third of the previous owner's bill. Electricity: one quarter. Heating: less than half. Shows what a little common sense can do.


A good friend of mine (from the Netherlands) asked me if Americans have never heard of energy saving light bulbs. The answer to that is: yes, you can buy them over here, and I actually have quite a few in my house. The reason why they are not very popular is that the money savings are tied to the electricity prices. If electricity doesn't cost a lot, it it less attractive to buy the more expensive energy saving bulbs. Sigh.

Next: Part 2

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