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Universal medical care. I go to the doctor. Pay pocket change. The state reimburses me.

Ditto for dental. Don't have to tell you how huge this is do I? Especially If you've shelled out $650 plus for a gold crown lately.

Social Services that actually DO take care of the people who need it. Mom with three kids deserted by hubbie. Can't pay the rent. No problem. House burned down. Need temporary housing. No problem. Just off the boat. Political refugee. No problem.

Employment Assistance. Lost your job? Just want to change your profession? Need re-training? Need some cash while you do it? Gotcha covered.

Diverse and interesting cultures. At driveable distances. Live in France near Italy or Spain?

Then you can “cross the line” (without a passport) and buy everything cheaper. Particularly booze and groceries. (and pay no duty/taxes returning.)

Beautiful countrysides. As varied as the people within them. Which, not suprisingly, accounts for the respect and protection of nature, and an overall “green” consciousness. Example : Litter at a German roadside rest stop – get a 200 euro fine. (No, YOU do the math.)

Do we have crime and drugs? Absolutely. But not the extent of the land of the brave and the home of the free. Wackos with guns blowing people away? Ditto. But, with a few exceptions, every six months or so. Not every month. (or more.) Terrorist bomb plots? Yup. Happily, foiled, so far.

But most tellingly, despite police three abreast festooned with automatic weapons patrolling airports, the climate of fear that permeates everyday American life has, thankfully, not been exported.

OK – you're getting my drift. Although it's not, by anyone's definition, “paradise” (that would be another fairytale, right?) Western Europe , warts and all, is what America should be. But isn't.

My role here, as far as my European neighbours are concerned, is “the explainer.” Every time anything weird, wild, wacky, bizarre and/or devasting/unthinkable goes down “over there” -

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