Crunching Numbers to find the Right Words
a typcial Sicilian workshop

Crunching Numbers to find the Right Words

Part One of the question: Why here? A Comparative Cost Analysis of Living in Sicily vs. the US


I feel at a loss for words. Those that do come feel extravagant, overwrought, as if I’m trying too hard to sell a thing for which I believe no words are unnecessary.

Which is why when people ask why we moved to Sicily, I say nothing and instead point with a sweep of my hand: the island’s blue skies, the climate, cruel and captivating, sacked between a lazy, lush paradise and the inferno of brutal scarcity.

view of Etna and the low hills of the Catania plains

Look at these arid plains, I say, the rugged mountain ranges, the crystal blue waters of this captive, clear sea. Sicily was forged in fire and ash, an island of stubborn, extraordinary substance, where everywhere you turn you’re graced with the beauty of ancient, earthly wonder.

When still they appear unconvinced—perhaps willing, but slow to be fully swayed by nature’s fierce splendor alone—I search for more common ground and so mention the food and wine, the terroir, the source of homegrown quality captured month after month in an abundance of unsurpassed flavor, reminding everyone here of the culture, tradition and history of 3,000 years of tenacious human existence.

Temple Segesta

They nod and say, Well, sure, there’s all that. This can be found anywhere in Sicilia. But why here? Why Troina?

I start again. The sweep of the hand: the summits, the forests, the picture perfect meadows, a fertility that feeds the soul with the same volcanic heat and proficiency as shaped each and every rock, every seed, every speck of soil that covers this bountiful island.

How is this any different, they say, than America?

How is it different? How is it different?

The question stumps me. In a moment of clarity I realize the land alone will not serve this argument as anyone who’s stood looking out over the Grand Canyon would know. Or visited Yosemite, Denali, Niagara Falls, the Navajo Nation’s Monument Valley or Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano (so many others). Nature’s greatness is as abundant all over the world and can tell only so much of the true human climate. To know, for instance, American food, or rather the failure of the American industrial food machine that has permeated every town in the US, one must have been there, seen it, tasted it for themselves and after felt often their stomachs and bowels revolt in response.

Where else to consider? The rise in gun violence? The colossal cost of health care? The declining life expectancy? Politics? —okay, that they will probably understand, as well as the tragic mishandling of public policy. What of the decline of the most basic of human needs, or the widening wealth gap…?

Then it came to me then: Money. Everyone understands money. And in order to have the same quality of life of a person living in Sicily, you have to make a lot of it in America.

How much more, you might ask?

A lot it turns out.

Before I go into more detail I feel the need to explain what I mean by same quality of life. We’re speaking in terms of the basics, here, i.e. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: food, shelter, security, health, physiological things that nature, certainly. But also the culture, the history, the community, and the privilege of having all that in such close proximity to both the mountains and sea.

This is Sicily

Those are some narrow parameters, I know, and so I needed some sort of baseline from which to work. I choose Greenville, SC. It worked primarily because it’s a good sized town where you can find many, if not most, of the items I wanted to compare. Also, our daughter lives there who could help me price-check.

However, Greenville is a bit of a drive to reach the coast—here, in Sicily, you can be basking seaside within two hours or less from any point on the island—so I took my task to the west coast community of Santa Barbara, CA, which shares somewhat of a similar geography to Sicily (okay, not really, but you take what you can take). Finally, just to keep it super clean and tidy I selected the only island in the U.S., Hawaii, to tie it all together in one nice, neat cost-of-living comparison.

There are other places I could’ve gone, sure, but as you’ll see, my calculations are rudimentary at best (truly, from the seat of my pants) but I feel they’re close enough to a thoughtful and evidence-based answer to How is America different.

The Results

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