My phone dinged. I looked at the screen—a text message from a friend I grew up with: “I carry pepper spray in my pocket now. I’m thinking of getting a pepper-ball gun. Sh** is just crazy out in the streets now.”
It was the second such conversation I’d had in 10 days from friends in the U.S.—one in Louisiana, one in California—lamenting the level of crime they’re now dealing with. I thought it sounded like so much verbal handwringing. I know American cities can be unsafe, but this sounded a bit melodramatic.
So, I did some research.
These are the headlines I found, all within the last month:
- U.S. crime rise draws fears of “bloody summer”
- With homicides rising, cities brace for a violent summer
- Are rising crime rates a blip or a longer-term concern?
There are more. Many, many more. But you get the gist.
I’ve lived in some of America’s biggest cities, including New York, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, and Los Angeles. I never felt particularly unsafe in any of those cities. Then again, I always knew where not to go, and I wasn’t wandering the streets late at night.
If my friends’ experiences and worries speak to the larger crowd, America is devolving toward some kind of Mad Max crime-scape. The news headlines certainly lend credence to my friends’ commentary.
Nearly three years ago, I left America for my new home in Prague.
The humor is that so many people have asked me, “Don’t you feel unsafe? Like, that used to be part of the Soviet Union, right? That can’t be safe for an American.”
I walk around everywhere in Prague. At all hours of the day and night. I never—and I mean the never-est of nevers—feel even remotely worried that maybe this isn’t safe.
I did 12 seconds of digging on Google and found this: The level of crime in Prague is 16.75 on a scale to 100, a reading classified as “very low.” By comparison, the last two cities I lived in—Long Beach, CA, and Baton Rouge, LA—rate 62.12 (high) and 77.68 (high), respectively. (That data comes from Numbeo, a site that hosts crowd-sourced data on cities.)
In recent years, my travel schedule took me to Moscow and Sevastopol (in Crimea), both of which friends thought I was crazy for visiting. The level of crime: 37.67 (low) and 28.85 (low), respectively.
And I was in Beirut, Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley—a former war zone; the Middle East; the American embassy bombing; terrorists; yada yada yada. Again, friends insisted I was a lunatic for setting foot there. I loved Beirut! Loved Lebanon. Such a beautiful country; such warm and friendly people. The level of crime: 46.12 (moderate).
Here’s my point: Too many Americans—often driven by journalists who’ve never traveled abroad—have this perception that as unsafe as America is, the rest of the world is far worse. And the reality is diametrically opposite of that.
Even places you think are unsafe are often much safer than America. And very often they are dramatically safer than America.
You don’t realize this until you’re away from the U.S. for a few years and you see America from a distance and through the lens of non-U.S. media and non-U.S. perceptions. The rose-colored veneer of “homeland” washes away, and you’re able to see, think, and process reality more objectively.
Understand, this isn’t a knock against America. As I always say, I love my country. I love what America stands for. But, frankly, I don’t really miss my life there. I don’t feel a tug calling me to return.
It’s one more reason I tell anyone who asks, “Maybe think about living abroad…”
It’s safer, less expensive, far more peaceful and calmer, and every day is an adventure in learning or seeing something new.
After three years here, I still walk around this gorgeous city and I find something I’ve never seen before.
Better yet, never once have I ever thought to keep a can of mace at the ready, just in case.