I believe one of the most commonly misconceived notions of life in the United States is that Americans are rich.  Yes, rich, so rich that we don’t have to worry about money.  Nope, none at all.  Money grows on trees in the US.

Where does this misconception come from?  The United States is proud of its beliefs of freedom and opportunities.  “America, the land of the free…” as the song goes.  And because we are given opportunities, the American Dream is born: to go from rags to riches.  But just because these opportunities are available, it doesn’t mean that everyone is rich.

My mom went to visit family in Thailand and Laos.  My mom’s family asked for everything from her, even the underwear that she was wearing.  To them, it was as if my mom could replace whatever she gave away when she got home because she was “rich.”

I visited a forum where people were discussing about Ardi Rizal, the Indonesian toddler who smoked 40 cigarettes a day.  People from foreign countries, especially Europe, commented that Americans would never understand why a father could give his 2-yr-old a cigarette because we have never seen the “poor.”  Americans don’t know anything about poverty. Oh yes, because in America, poverty doesn’t exist.  It isn’t even in our English dictionary.

America, like everywhere else, is not immune to poverty.  Those who do not live here do not know what a struggle it is to strive for the American Dream.  And those of us, who have established ourselves a decent life here in America, still stress about money.  Why?  Because there are bills, bills, and more bills.

A Hmong couple came to the United States on temporary working visas.  After a mere 6 months, they flew back to Laos.  The American life wasn’t what they thought it would be.  Despite better living conditions, the couple didn’t like the idea of bills.  Rent/mortgage, electricity bill, gas bill, water/garbage bill, car payments, car insurance, groceries, etc.  Back in their homeland, they owned their own house (because they built it).  They farmed and raised their own livestock (no need to go grocery shopping).  They fetched water from a nearby stream or river.  Their life was so much simpler, even though they didn’t have a lot.  And best of all, there were no bills to stress them out.

It’s amazing that so many people can be ignorant.  We are not all fat, White, rich Americans, lined up in the dozens at McDonald’s during every meal.  Not everyone is rich.  Not everyone is lazy.  Not everyone own a home in the suburbs with their perfect spouse, perfect children, and perfect dog.  Not everyone live in big cities and wear designer clothing.  The majority of us are just regular people, working hard to achieve the American Dream… or a bit of it.

6 thoughts on “The misconception of life in America

  1. i think the problem is the frame of references don’t match. The image of America is garnered by our media and entertainment industry. Look at all the tv programs that depict wealth in a way that is uncommon to many of us Americans: Gossip girls, The OC, Sex and the City, the Hills, The Housewives series, just to name a few. They all depict a lifestyle I don’t even recognize. Then there are some places where we can’t even fathom the poverty.
    I don’t like the idea of going to the motherland and everyone expecting you to be some big money machine. Its unfair.

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  2. I love your blog!! I just started to read it yesterday and am addicted 🙂

    My mom told me that when my dad went to Laos/Thailand a few years ago, he came back with an empty suitcase. They took everything he got!

    But it is true. Many foreigners think that just because you live in the USA that you are rich. Haven’t they seen the homeless people here?

    The other problem is that the American dollar has more value (or it used to) than other countries.

    The American Dream is really a “dream.” The main advantage about America is giving opportunities which isn’t offered in many other countries

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  3. Dear Mai, I just discovered your blog now and sympathize with your bicultural situation.

    Regarding this post: It is true that money does not grow on trees here in North America, neither is it easy to obtain. And it is true that there are opportunities here. What seems paradoxical is, for all the talk of independence, opportunity, and freedom here, I wonder if the couple in your example realized that they had more freedom and money back home?

    Here we strive and strive to have a bit of that American dream, as you noted. In the process, we reward ourselves with bits of that dream through the speed and convenience by which we obtain materials (buy now-pay later, pay sooo much more later) en route to our wealth-laden fantasies. In return, we enslave ourselves by working and working and working… deluding ourselves that we do so because our “work ethic” is strong and our productivity determines our value. In THIS world. [this is a simplistic deduction, of course]

    The difference here is we have money called credit, which is not our money but is available when needed. Other places may not have the ability to borrow but at least they own what they have, already. Both systems have their pros and cons and its worthwhile to look. Those who call elsewhere home may have the benefit of knowing another way of doing things from which we can learn.

    I support your exploration of your cultures and commend your attempt at fusing the best in both. In so doing, may you discover the true wealth that lie beyond fancy cultural-marketing techniques which serve only to foster self-deception and increase credit balances. I urge you to look critically at values and observe their manifestation in our lives.

    Good luck.

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  4. That’s the truth about America, the only thing that people crave for American lifestyle is that the life in America for them is beyond a dream come true…

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  5. I’ve just found your blog and I’m finding it very interesting. About the family that went back to Laos, I’ve seen the same thing here in New Zealand (another so-called “fantasy” country). I was working with a lot of people from Samoa and they told me of their frustration about working just to pay bills in NZ, when back in Samoa you build your house for free on whatever land you find and you grow your own food. In fact, it seems the only bills they have are if they want to send their kids to school, which is why many come here for opportunities to earn that schooling money. Dreams are definitely relative and there is always another side to the coin.

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