The Paradox of Choice

I read an insightful book a while back, called The Paradox of Choice, which has a lot of relevance to people in our situation: we could basically move anywhere in the US or Europe – we’re lucky enough to be able to live anywhere in a relatively large portion of our world.

Along with that freedom though, comes a lot of responsibility: since we can pick amongst many places, we feel that’s imperative that we select the right place, especially now that we have a daughter to think of. Sometimes we envy those people who are born and raised somewhere, and that’s where they’ll stay. It makes a lot of things easier in life to have some certainties like that. You might not know this or that, but you’re pretty sure that you’re always going to be in Padova, Italy or Hayward, California or Innsbruck, Austria, or wherever. This lets you focus on other things in life, rather than wondering whether the grass is greener over there. We, on the other hand, have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to have lived in all those places, and can firmly state that the grass is greenest in Innsbruck, because it rains so damn much in the summer.

Joking aside, though, once you get used to a place, and learn its ins and outs, the annoying and the great things about it, there are bits and pieces you wish you could take along. For instance, in Padova, the central piazzas with their multiplicity of uses, from markets in the mornings, to outdoor bars in the evenings, are something that would be part of my perfect city. Italian drivers, on the other hand, I would happily do without. Here in Austria, the drivers always stop at the crosswalks and let you by, and people are generally kind, courteous and helpful, despite the stereotype of being a bit cold. On the other hand, it’s true that Innsbruck lacks that happy, fizzy energy that runs through even smaller Italian towns, and makes them so much fun. And summer doesn’t feel like summer with so much rain and clouds, even for an Oregonian. Most cities in the western US don’t compare that favorably either (with some exceptions here and there), but the work and business environment is far easier to deal with in many ways, compared to Europe. Despite this and that and the other thing being screwed up by politicians, for many, many people, the US really is a land of opportunity. And of course, there is still a lot of really open, empty land in the west, which has a “rugged beauty”, if you’ll pardon the cliche, that is just different from what you get in Europe.

Culturally, we really like how social people are in Italy. Even the nerdiest of my programmer friends there is pretty well adjusted in terms of being able to relate to other people, and having friends and interests outside of their field. In the California bay area, I recall it being quite difficult to meet people not involved with computers in some way, with many people being quite accepting of that situation. I hesitate to comment too much on Austrian culture, because without speaking the language and being fully integrated, I don’t feel that it’s fair to say too much, but I do get the impression that social bonding here is more driven by alcohol, and not quite so easy and graceful as in Italy. Something I do appreciate very much about the US is the independent mentality, and the willingness to strike out and try new things. One of the problems in modern Italy is the attitude of security above all else, which is ultimately self-defeating, as people pick jobs that don’t fulfill them, live in towns that don’t excite them, and “settle” in ways that I don’t think are healthy.

These questions and thoughts are quite prominent in our minds right now, as we try and decide if we want to leave Innsbruck, and if so, where we might wish to go.

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