Friday afternoon, I was headed out of town and found myself in a cab headed to the bus station.
The cab driver, Seifu, was from Ethiopia and had been living in the United States for about six years. Before that, he was living in Switzerland where he’d met his wife.
“What’s the biggest difference between the Switzerland and the United States?” I asked curiously, wondering what this man who’d lived in Africa and two of the most advanced countries in the world would say.
“The people,” he answered flatly.
“People in Switzerland are weird.”
He then launched into this diatribe about the planned nature of everyone’s life in Swiss culture. The average house, he explained, had a daily calendar of events: 8:30 a.m. Breakfast, 9:15 Walk the Dog etc.
“Everyone is trying to be perfect, but not one can be perfect,” Seifu explained.
The people were nice enough and the cities were clean, and most people lived well off. Switzerland is one of the wealthiest nations on earth. My cabbie joked that every street was a bank, a watch shop and a chocolate shop and this cycle repeated down the block.
“There is no American Dream there.”
To my surprise, he’d touched on something that I was particularly curious about.
Switzerland is the archetype example of government control and statism because they seem to have found a way to make it work.
As it turns out, it works for people who are rich, or who are in a position to be rich. For everyone else, the system isn’t exactly working.
Seifu had applied for a license to sell sausages on the street. Basically, he wanted to open a food stand. The Swiss government told him he’d need to go back to school for two years in order to get a license.
Remember, he’s selling encased meats on the side of the road.
When his wife became pregnant, Seifu decided he needed to be somewhere with better options. He decided he needed to chase the American Dream.
Within five years, Seifu owned his own cab, had a mortgage and was saving for his oldest son to go to college.
At first, it was just $20 a day, but after the first year, he and his wife decided to both pitch in and save $50 a day for their son to go to college.
Seifu had already made enough to cover the $60,000 cost of starting his business. He owned his car, had paid for his license and was paying his mortgage on time.
This, he said, could never have been possible in Switzerland. It was his American Dream and he was living it before our eyes.
To hear him talk about America, it made me realize that Seifu appreciated the opportunities offered to him in this country more than I did my own.
The story goes that the American Dream is dying, upward mobility is a fantasy and the United States is falling behind.
But not to Seifu, his wife or his children. For him, the American Dream is alive and well, catapulting him to a place no socialist system could have ever brought him.
He wasn’t rich, but he was happy. Happy to be an American. Happy knowing that if he were anything other than an American, he wouldn’t be realizing his dream.