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Why I Don't Want to Live in Silicon Valley

  • Moscow, Russia
  • comments

mood

Silicon Valley is a great place to be … or maybe not. I’ve spent five years there, from 2011 till 2016. I did enjoy some parts of it, but others were not enjoyable at all. Here is a quick summary of what’s wrong with this territory. I can’t speak about the rest of the United States since, even though I’ve seen some other places, I’ve never lived there for more than a month. Long story short, the territory between San Francisco and San Jose, also known as Silicon Valley, is not the thing you see in the famous TV Series. It is absolutely different…

American Beauty (1999) by Sam Mendes
American Beauty (1999) by Sam Mendes

It is Distasteful

The way people dress up, the cars they buy, the way they decorate their houses, the food they eat, the women they marry, the web sites (e.g. eBay and craigslist) they design—have no taste, at all. And I’m not only speaking about ordinary middle class. I’ve seen rich and poor, they all find Chinese take-away paper boxes of something smelly pretty tasty, and think that a Chevrolet is really a car.

While being richer than people I’ve met in, say, Amsterdam or Moscow, inhabitants of the Valley don’t know how to enjoy their money. And the longer you stay there, the less eager you become to find beauty in life. You turn into a zombie focused on making money, to buy a one-million-dollar three-bedroom half-a-house, which will smell of the cheap Indian food you will buy at the corner, because home cooking is not cost-efficient.

Maybe this is how it should be, if a country wants its people to work instead of having fun and carelessly enjoying life. Americans do work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good. This is what I love in the Valley—it’s very focused on results. But the price you pay—the ugliness of everything around you—seems too high for me.

It is Insanely Correct … Not

You have to expect Social Justice Warriors to be everywhere: among your co-workers, gym buddies, close friends, employers, and employees. You have to be constantly on the alert. You can’t say “blacks” or “chicks,” you have to remember that they are “Afro-Americans” and “ladies.” You can’t joke about gays, immigrants, homeless, women, Mexicans, and many other “categories.” Well, you can, but be prepared to get into trouble, which you may never resolve.

What’s funny is that almost every single white male I’ve met there was a racist, but not publicly of course. They all claimed to be tolerant but in a private conversation were often whispering the n-word into my ear, while speaking about the race problem. They always had a handful of racist jokes when talking about their house keepers, who were all Mexicans.

Intolerance, bigotry, xenophobia, and racism exist wherever I happen to live, including Moscow and Amsterdam, but over there people are not afraid to say what they have in mind. In California there are so many taboo subjects that it reminds me of the good old Soviet Union, where (I can still remember it) my parents would be whispering in the kitchen about something political but would shut their mouths when I entered.

It is Unappetizing

CNN thinks that the USA “cuisine” is the 10th best in the world (while Russia’s is not even in the list). You know, I remember when I was in one office in Mountain View and we were going to have lunch. Every day they would pick a different cuisine, like Korean, Japanese, Italian, and so on. I asked them, why can’t we try American cuisine for a change? They were surprised and Mike said: “We don’t have one,” and then added, “Do you want hamburgers?”

As Ashley Lutz and Mallory Schlossberg perfectly noted in their ranked list of the best American dishes (check it out to get the idea of what they eat): “When it comes to cuisine, America lives up to the adage ‘bigger is better.’” That’s definitely true. Every dish you get in a restaurant will be big. Huge. You know why? Not because they eat that much (not the case in California), but mostly because they take what’s left home. In order to warm it up in the morning and have a free breakfast.

Aside from that, the way the food is served and presented can’t even be compared with what you can experience in Paris, Milan, Munich, or Moscow. I once saw a road-side ad saying something like “Food! $5.00 per pound!” Was it a joke? I don’t think so.

It is Insane

Do you know that “approximately 1 in 5 adults in the US experiences mental illness in a given year,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and it gets worse every year. They are on top of the world in the insanity competition. California is not the most insane state though, it’s somewhere in the middle of the ranking.

The statistical figures I can also confirm empirically: Almost every single family I’ve met there has their kid diagnosed with some “disorder.” Why is this happening? I don’t really know, but my best guess is that they enjoy it.

There are no more good old-fashioned “idiots.” There are only people with OCD, ODD, ADHD, and many other D-s. Those complicated diagnoses give them immunity against all sorts of bullying, harassment, discrimination, and so on. Is it good? Maybe. But the price you pay is a constant feeling that you are not in the office but in an insane asylum.

It is Positive

“Are you OK? Yes, I’m fine!” is a dialog you hear when someone hits a finger nail with a hammer. No matter what happens, they remain positive. I believe this is what they are trained to do, from childhood. And what for? Well, Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America said that “A good ‘team player’ is by definition a ‘positive person.’ He or she smiles frequently, does not complain, is not overly critical, and gracefully submits to whatever the boss demands.” Enough said.

It is Shallow

You will be surprised how cheerful, friendly and willing to communicate Americans are, when you meet them as a stranger. In a grocery store, a gym, a cafe, on the street, they will smile and look very open. However, very soon you will realize that it’s mostly fake. It’s just part of their routine—be nice and walk away. You may even become friends with them, but you will hardly ever know what they really think. There will always be a fairly formal style of communication. Even between you and your partner.

Why is this? Are they hiding something? Is it because I’m a foreigner? Are they afraid of me? I asked myself this for years. The answer I found is that they don’t have too much inside, in the way we Russians understand “inside.” They are much less complicated people, which, on the bright side, makes them stronger. Because they worry about more practical things and don’t think too much.

I once asked an American girlfriend what the meaning of life is. She said that it was only the second time in her life that she had heard the phrase “the meaning of life.” She was thirty-two.

It is Dangerous

Have you ever seen a junkie shooting up right on a sidewalk next to your office? Did you ever hear gunshots while sitting at home watching TV? Have you seen a homeless couple fighting right in front of a grocery store? Have you been offered “coca” while walking with a girlfriend to a restaurant? All of that happened to me in San Francisco, which is not the most criminal city in not the most criminal state.

There is a permanent feel of danger, and the police, who look and sound very aggressive, don’t really help. They are armed and seem to be constantly on the alert, which is most probably what they need in order to fight crime, but a law-abiding citizen doesn’t feel safe at all. When you hear their sirens you immediately want to raise your hands. I guess this is how they want us to feel.

It is Expensive

I was once renting a room in Palo Alto, with a shared bathroom, no kitchen, a no-guests policy, and a small closet, which I had to share with a son of the house owner, who was temporarily on vacation. I was paying $2,400 per month. To rent a decent apartment in downtown, you have to 1) prove that you have a stable job, 2) sign an unbreakable lease for a year (you pay for the entire year even if you leave earlier), 3) bring your own furniture, and 4) pay something like $4K per month. The quality of it will be way below your expectations (see the “distasteful” point above). If you want something really good and modern, get yourself ready for $8K+ numbers. You can verify the numbers at Zillow.

On top of that, the food is expensive, unless you don’t care what you eat. If you do, Whole Foods is your grocery store, which has the reputation of a whole paycheck place, where you basically are supposed to leave your entire monthly salary. Check their prices.

Going out to a decent restaurant will cost you around $100, for two. For example, see the menu at Tamarine and JOYA. A cup of coffee or tea at Starbucks or Peet’s will go for $4-5.

It is Boring

You basically have nothing to do there, aside from work. “Staying home with your family” is probably what most Americans are trained to do in their spare time. If you don’t have a family, you will be bored to death. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe not.

It is Conservative

In many aspects. For example, they still prefer phone calls over emails, and emails over messengers. I can’t really remember the last time I called someone, except taxi drivers and delivery guys. Everybody else I text in WhatsApp or Telegram. Also, the majority of my emails are notifications, spam, … or from American clients, partners, and friends.

On top of that they prefer to schedule their calls. You can’t just pick up the phone and call. First they send an email, “How about a phone call next Wednesday at 11am?” Then you confirm and put that call into your calendar. When they eventually call you they introduce themselves for five minutes, and ask how you like the weather at the moment. And then finally, they tell you that they will send you the contract draft by email. I sometimes feel like a sociopath, but I just really can’t understand what the call was for.

I can’t understand how in such a conservative environment new technologies and business ideas are able to show up and grow, like Airbnb, Uber, Tesla, or … WhatsApp. Do you have an answer?

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