Editors Note: They traveled 1,230 miles to come to Washington, D.C. -- Christine Amdam flew all the way from Norway and Alina Braun from Germany. This fall, they studyied journalism at American University and worked as interns for WTOP. They quickly discovered that Washington and the American culture are very different from their hometowns Oslo and Mannheim and decided to document their experiences. This is the last post by Christine and Alina, who finished their internship this week.
The unattainable American Dream
Alina Braun, special to wtop.com
Here in the United States, it's important to work hard in order to be successful and earn a lot of money. Of course, people in Germany want to be successful too. However, in Germany, we like to share our success through what we call a social system. About half of our salary goes to health insurance and a fund to help support unemployed people. We share our success by paying high taxes for a social security net. It's called a "net" because it ensures no one will "fall through" the cracks.
In Germany many people, including myself, are proud of providing health care for everyone this way. Unemployed people receive money for an apartment and around 350 Euro per months, which is about $450. Many of them try hard to find a job but can't because there are no available positions. Others are physically and mentally sick and unable to work. We don't want people to end up on the streets or die just because of an inability to make money.
In the U.S., individual states pay unemployment benefits for 26 weeks. After that time passes, the federal government can take responsibility for up to 47 weeks depending on the number of unemployed people in the country. In Germany, the monthly payments for unemployed people don't have an expiration date.
In America you can start a career here more easily because of less bureaucratic restrictions, lower taxes and more possibilities. Many Germans start businesses here for these reasons. However, you can also fall all the way down if you fail. In Germany, the social security net would catch you.
I have talked to many Americans who would not be willing to share their money with others who don't work. These are two different cultures and ways of thinking regarding social welfare. One taxi driver I talked to said, "It is my money I worked for. If others want that, too, they have to get up and earn it themselves. Everybody can make a living."
I totally understood where he is coming from with this, but his thoughts sound unfair. It is not so easy to find a job and make a decent living nowadays. It is not so easy paying for doctors' fees when you simply can't afford health insurance. Not everybody, in America or Germany, has the same possibilities. The idea of the "American dream," from a dishwasher to a millionaire, can only be attained by some individuals and not a whole society. Many Americans probably don't agree with me on that, but it is my European perspective.
I would rather have a mediocre income instead of a high income and see 50 sick and/or unemployed people in apartments with health insurance paid by my tax money. If others agreed with me, the gap between poor and rich people, which is wide open in the U.S., would close a little, and money would be more fairly spread throughout society. I don't see what's wrong about that?
Alina Braun is an intern at WTOP this fall. She is studying journalism and foreign policy at American University for two semesters. In Germany, she is obtaining her master's degree and studying, in which she is majoring in linguistics and minoring in psychology. She works as a freelance journalist for the German public radio station SWR.
Divulging details on celebrities
Christine Amdam, special to wtop.com
I'm standing in the line at a grocery store, and the front pages of the magazines and newspapers catch my attention. Pictures of celebrities on the beach, walking their dog or shopping dominate the pages. This is not far from what I see when I look at the gossip magazines in Norway, but there are differences. You will, for example, never see a front page with manipulated images of a top leader posed with models around him — like the New York Post did for its cover story about Gen. David Petraeus the weekend the story broke.