Annoyed by the Poor Quality of (Almost) Everything in America

Annoyed by the Poor Quality of (Almost) Everything in America

When buying anything in the United States, I’d recommend subscribing to repair and maintenance plans. Even if you buy new stuff, these plans will save you money in the long run. Welcome to America, the country who conquered the moon but accepts poor quality in daily life.

Two years ago, we decided to change our home furnace. With a new furnace, we expected to improve the house’s warmth during the winter and to stop sweating upstairs during the summer. In short, the new furnace runs as expected, making our house warmer in the winter and not as hot in the summer.

When the installation was completed, I decided to subscribe to a “Platinum Preferred Partner Plan” for $268 per year. With this plan, I get priority service plus parts and labor coverage on the new equipment (we also updated our A/C unit and water heater).

Honestly, I would never subscribe to such a plan in Germany after buying the equivalent of a new car, but here in the States, I learned the hard way that I have to.

Annoyed by the Poor Quality of (Almost) Everything in America

When we remodeled the kitchen, I changed all our appliances. When choosing them, I did it the German way. Who would have guessed that my 20+ years in Germany had such a big impact on my behavior? In true German style, I checked and compared reviews from verified sources like Consumer Reports. I researched their results for fridges, ovens, and cooktops for hours. Then, I spent a couple more hours looking for the best value. In the end, my kitchen got the best new appliances.

But, only one year later, the new $3,000+ LG freezer stopped cooling. At the time, I hadn’t subscribed to any protection plan, so changing the defective parts cost $306. Since then, we’ve always subscribed to offered service plans once my husband and I realized that we can’t expect German quality in the States.

Where does this poor quality come from?

I was (and still am) surprised that America with its 50 million inhabitants with German roots doesn’t care more about quality. Have I been spoiled by German quality while the rest of the world is happy with less? Perhaps I’m biased and shouldn’t expect German standards outside of Germany.

Having lived in Germany for more than 20 years, I am used to top-line engineering and handcrafted quality. Compared to France, German house walls are thicker, switches are more solid, and plumbing fixtures last forever. Nevertheless, French people also complain about thin walls and poor insulation in American houses.

For me, a French-German citizen, a house built in 1963 is not really old. I wouldn’t say it’s new, but I would describe it as a modern house for the 60s. In the States, though, my house is considered old. In my neighborhood, many similar constructions are torn down to make room for fancier, more expensive structures.

Perhaps houses are not the best example for this topic. European house are built with masonry, while North American houses are usually made of wood. This comes from a centuries-old tradition. Forests were cut in Europe a long time ago and never grew back to their original state. In contrast, vast forests are still available in the States, even centuries after the landing of the Mayflower.

Furthermore, compared to Americans, many more Europeans stay near their birthplace. As a result, many people expect their homes to last for more than 50 years.

Equally important is the idea of inheritance. Passing property to their heirs is highly valued in both France and Germany.

Appliances or wooden houses are not the best examples of American quality

Granted, made-in-China appliances or wooden houses are not the best examples of American quality. So, let’s talk about clothes. I have a theory that explains why clothing is cheaper in the US than in Europe.

According to my theory, American washing machines and dryers intentionally damage clothing items so they have to be replaced constantly. Retail business runs around the clock, keeping poorly paid employees busy. These employees have to eat, just like their customers, which leads shopping malls to build extensive food courts.

If clothing items were more expensive, this entire business model would collapse: customers would buy better washing machines and dryers that don’t damage clothing (I wrote extensively about this in another post: “Nightmare Washing Machines in the US”), clothes would last longer, cheap off-brand clothing would disappear, and businesses would close. Then, the unemployment rate would rise, leading to other issues.

I believe that America can do better!

Of course, there are counterexamples, and I believe that America can do better! The Federal Drug Administration is known all over the world for its approval procedures. NASA spaceships are admired while museums fight over their retired space shuttles. Apple has impacted three industries with its innovative, top-quality products. What about Amazon, Facebook, and Google?

This is not the first time that I’ve pointed out how America is a country of paradoxes. On one hand, it sends people to the moon; on the other hand, it’s not uncommon to drive down an interstate full of potholes. I think that America has a market for high-quality products at low prices. The German discount chain Aldi is a perfect example of this.

When Aldi came in the US in 1976, discount stores were unorganized supermarkets with expired products. Aldi is the opposite: The Times praised Aldi for its “exceptional cleanliness and organization.“ German people know that Aldi offers top-quality items at low prices. In fact, “top quality at low prices“ is Aldi’s American slogan.

To read more about Aldi in the US, check out my earlier post!

I will leave the final words to Cecile, a reader who left a perceptive comment:

“Americans don’t make household appliances that are built to last, just like they don’t make houses or cars that are meant to withstand the test of time. It’s a different mentality. Americans like variety and “newness,” so the fact that you are forced to buy something new to replace the old, broken-down one is actually a good thing here! It’s strange, annoying, and frustrating, but it’s a fact of life one has to deal with when living in the US!”

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  • Believe it or not, but exactly this used to be said of the former Soviet Union: a nation that launched the first satellite and the first man in space, used old newspapers as toiled tissue until the mid-1990’s. 🙂

    My late dad used to say, ‘As long as they can afford taxis, they can afford ignoring geography. As long as they can afford anything, they can afford ignoring everything’. 🙂

  • Immer wieder dasselbe! I was married for 32 years to a German and have spent much time in Germany (school, business, visits to family in Berlin), and can recall first meeting my wife here in Maine in ’83 and hearing from her and her German hosts (who had moved here) how bad so many things in the US were… the curtains, the bread, the windows, the streets… on and on! Peter S. above made a good point: blanket statements don’t usually hold up under scrutiny. Things are rarely black and white. There are many social and economic factors that led to an American culture of buying cheap. The decline of unions; a society that communicates that a college education is necessary and success is more money and climbing the social ladder, to the detriment of a robust trade school system and society that honors and respects the trades and the middle class. Quality can be had here; one has to seek it out, and be willing to pay more. My wife treasured how “locker” Amis are vs Germans, though!

    (Previously posted on LinkedIn)

    • I heard once from a Romanian woman in her 50’s: we are too poor to buy cheap. She meant that quality last longer.

  • Sadly I have to agree. I have returned to Germany and brought along my colleagues for a number of reasons and on top of the list is exactly what you mentioned. This degradation is not that old, it started the dumming down process of the public to level to allow the Chinese get caught up (Walmart) at that time. We despised the Japanese for flooding our market at one time, instead we accept Walmart quality. It was not by choice but by design put forth by our leaders in Washington DC about 25 years ago. The Chinese has caught up and continue to improve but majority of us have continued sliding. This can stop and take America back to its glory but it require a visionary leader strong enough to do so. Unfortunately, we have the opposite today

    Previously posted on LinkedIn

    • I completely agree with you! But do you think people are ready to pay more for made in America (or made in Germany; made in France, etc)?

      When my son was born (2009), I realized that many produces in Germany are imported. Since then, I try to buy local and according to the seasons. It doesn’t always work as I love pineapples and they don’t grow in Germany!

  • Yes, it has in the last 40 years become a dump with bad roads, no decent health insurance, street violence, and full of gun and religious crazies. Now that it has an unhinged loudmouth madman at the helm, I wish I could get back to Berlin.

    Previously posted on LinkedIn

    • America is still a beautiful, modern country with a strong democracy. I’m with you that the political development is quite scary, and not only in the US.
      Thank you for reading my blog and for your comment!

  • Hallo und danke für den Kommentar, gebe dir wie immer recht. Amerika kommt mir immer öfter vor wie ein drittes-welt-land, die Qualität ist tendenziell schlechter als in Europa und eher für eine Wegwerfgesellschaft konzipiert, egal, ob Kleidung, Hausbau oder eben Geräte. Wo American Standard draufsteht, das ist immer fast wie eine Drohung. 😉

    • In Zeiten, wo viele sich “Make America great again” wünschen, wäre ein Mentalitätswechsel sicher wünschenswert. Der Verbraucher konsumiert was er angeboten bekommt. Dass er nicht längst rebelliert hat, zeigt doch, dass er mit der Qualität einverstanden ist.
      Übrigens, die deutsche Kettensäge Marke Stihl wirbt hoch und laut “Made in America”… weil sie ein Werk in Virginia haben!

    • Previously posted on LinkedIn:

      These blanket statements are usually difficult. After 20 years in Asia and the US, I moved to Germany in 2015 and based on my experience you could complain about the exact same issues over here. We found great handymen in the US and had terrible experiences in Germany. You have to go shopping and find these people. The same goes for products. Yes, German cars are still more reliable than U.S. made cars but it depends on the brand and the old adage applies: you get what you pay for. As for work life balance, you make your choice. Remote work, tele-work, shared work is still far more easy to accomplish in the US than in Germany. They may have more worker protection in Germany but the inflexibility and sticking to rules can have a bigger impact than no rules but more flexibility.

  • also – what would the price for your freezer be in Germany with all the features – is it this one? as far as I saw the “”french door freezers” were an exceptional item in Germany and most places, e.g. apartments still had tiny half size fridges – since your average German cannot afford to buy a home but is in a rental apartment. see the Spigel story on wages in Germany – even doctors earn about 60K per year….

    • I have a freezer like this in Germany. You can buy it from Gaggenau or Poggenpohl and pay about 10.000E or you can buy the same freezer from Neff and pay 1240E (believe it, the exact same model) (although mine is prettier it has pannels on the front. I feel I am an average German with a good free high school education and a great free MBA degree from a German University and even as a woman I make a 6 digit salary. I have doctor friends who make way more than 60k a year and still chose to rent. The fact that a lot of Germans live with smaller fridges is not because they cannot afford it , but because they choose to buy their food fresh every other day and they don’t need so much storage. And our milk (tetrapack) stays fresh for months in the pantry and doesn’t go bad within 3 days in the -oh so big- fridge.

  • Catherine, I dont know why you keep trolling the old stereotypes for your discussions – LG is not an American brand – Americans tend to choose the cheaper alternative and expect to repair or live with it until built in obsolescense – I remember looking for a gas stove in Germany and finding the same German maker selling the same stove in France for 100 Euro less, when I asked, the explanation was it was due to “sicherheits fragen” – so was the French version less secure? I was also told not to try and import a US Weber grill for half the price as the same one sold in Germany since the propane gas PSI was different in Germany.

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