I went back to the US for the first time in 3 years a few weeks ago and all I can say is wow, that country is awesome! It did however leave me confused because it seems there is not a day goes by that someone from the US, visiting Mahahual on a cruise ship, tells me how things are so bad in the US and the country is falling apart. Well from what I saw, that country is very far from falling apart. As a matter of fact, from what I saw, most Americans should get on their knees and kiss the ground of that wonderful country and thank God, Buddha, Allah or whomever or whatever they believe blessed them enough to be so fortunate to live in such a wonderful country. A couple things in particular struck me as I was leaving though and began to reflect on my time back in the US. The first was how much I had taken for granted when I lived in there. Shame on me! The other was that the reality I saw, seemed to contradict the so called “suffering” I so often hear about from Americans and in their media these days. I guess what I mean to say is, “Oh pleeeeeeeeze!! That’s not suffering.” Come live in a second world country where prosperity, and all the good that flows from that, are in very short supply and you’ll feel pretty good about your “hard times”. Walk a mile in my flip flops and you’ll have a whole new appreciation for your country. I know I sure do.
Okay, I know life in the entire US is not as nice as the slice I stayed in a few weeks ago, which was the suburbs of north Dallas and the country side north of that. I do know not all Americans live in such an affluent way. One would have to bury their head pretty far in the sand to not see that there are areas not nearly as nice or safe as where I stayed, and people who struggle in those areas. It is the US, not Shangri La! But I was not staying at the Kennedy or Bush family compounds either. I was staying in very middle class areas and I think I can say, the overwhelming majority of Americans live at a similar level. Some live rural, some suburban and some in the cities, but most, generally speaking, live at a nice level. It is not Kennedy or Bush-like and not dirt poor either. Somewhere in between and that is a giant class. It is what makes the US unique. It is the largest and most prosperous middle class in the history of the planet. A remarkable accomplishment by a remarkable government and also something most Americans absolutely take for granted.
From my flip flops though, what I saw was that these same Americans might be perhaps “struggling”, but only to maintain their very high quality of life. You are not struggling to eat, only to eat out several nights a week. You’re not struggling to pay the electric bill, your struggling to pay for all the stuff to plug into the electricity. You’re not struggling to stay warm, only to pay for the really cool clothes to look good doing it for crying out loud. Hey, it is not cheap to live like an American, that is for sure. I know, I did it for a week! Sorry, but feeling bad for someone whose idea of struggling is not being able to do things like afford the green fees, upgrade to the next size giant TV or even worse, has to drive a car that has a few years on it, is a bit hard for me. In fact, all I can muster up for you guys is a big booo hooo for you.
You really have no idea of how good you have it in the US so let me give you a few of those “you are taking this for granted” slaps in the face that have little to do with gadgets and play-toys. For starters, it was so nice being in a country where most workers are paid well. I know, not well enough and again boo hoo for you. But I live in a country, like so much of the rest of the world, where wages fall way below what is needed to maintain even a decent quality of life. Most of the people here make $10-$20 US dollars a day. Electronics, cars and luxury items in general cost 30-40% more here, and yes, Mexicans like and want those things just like anyone else. But do the math and ask yourself, how hard would you work for $15 a day and knowing it will take every bit of that to just eat that day. Might be a while on the I-Pad. The result is the workers here really could care less if you get what you need or leave satisfied. The only person who seems to care less than a Mexican government bureaucrat, is a Mexican store clerk or restaurant employee. They make your US postal worker look like the Wal-Mart employee of the month. When I was in the US, I saw a workforce that was paid well enough to actually care about doing a good job. All my waiters were friendly and attentive, as were everyone from store clerks right up to the lady at the driver’s license place. Deal with don’t give a crap $10 a day workers for a while and you will appreciate what you have there.
They call the US the “Land of Plenty”, which is the understatement of the year when you view it from the “Land That Ain’t Got Crap”. Your economy might be sputtering but from what I saw, the cash registers were still ringing. American capitalism is a very dynamic thing and can produce great amounts of wealth in very short periods of time when it is running correct. No doubt the economy is a bit out of kilter and some adjustments are needed. But it is far from dead too. Those crowded malls, restaurants and business center parking lots were not full of poor hurting people. Trust me, I know poor and hurting people when I see them and those were not them!
The entire time I was in the US this past week, I did not encounter a single person who treated me anything but very nice and cordial. I know I was lucky but again, I think most agree that almost all Americans are generally nice and cordial, with a few exceptions of course every so often. There are many reasons for that but not the least of which are that people in the US are generally educated, happy, and somewhat cultured and socialized with the general ways of the modern world. It was so very nice spending the week talking to smart and educated people, another thing you take for granted when you live there. The part of Mexico that I live in is the youngest of all the states and did not become an official state until 1974, with the result being that the indigenous population has only had modern schools and socialization for a couple generations. So many of the people I deal with on a day to day basis have such a primitive perception of the world, it makes understanding one another culturally even harder and frustrating than understanding the language differences.
Former dishwasher Juan: “But why did you give someone my job?”
Me: “Because you did not show up for 10 days.”
Juan: “But I did not need to work.”
Me: “But I was open and needed a dishwasher, Juan. So I hired a new one.”
Juan: “But I did not need to work. Why did you give my job to someone else?”
You can see where these sorts of conversations generally go, which is in circles. He really did not understand even the basic concepts of work. Of course not everyone here is that primitive but you do encounter “cavemen with cell phones” as I call them, so often here that when I did not have a single frustrating circular conversation in the US for an entire week, it was very noticeable.
Come live in a country where the government can’t afford to clean the streets, it is trashy. Come live in a country where the schools aren’t wealthy enough to provide driver’s education. The drivers are dangerous. Come live in a country that can’t afford to oversee an orderly society. It produces corruption that cripples growth, prosperity and happiness of its people. I could go on and on but suffice to say, you are very lucky to live in the US and still enjoy, perhaps not as nice of life as you might like, but it is still a far cry from much of the rest of the world. And it is that way because you are a wealthy country and just like the TV’s, cars and country club memberships; order, stability, education, prosperity and yes even happiness, cost money and there is still enough prosperity in the US to afford all of the above.
I consider myself very lucky to have two wonderful countries to call home. Both give me some things the other cannot. In Mexico I very much enjoy living in a world without Republicans and Democrats, where people do not care what church you go to or do not go to, who’s bed you sleep in or what jeans you wear. I like living in a country where violence is not the norm and life is kept simple and basic. The US could learn a lot from Mexico in these areas. But the US’s unique prosperity and all that flows from that prosperity, truly is amazing. That prosperity buys so much, like a literate, orderly society of people who respect law and order and has the mechanisms to deal with those few who don’t. It buys clean streets and drinking water, schools, public parks and libraries, modern infrastructure, a healthy business climate and on and on and on. I can’t help but think it might be a good time for Americans to push themselves away from the TV “news” that continually tells them how bad things are, and count their blessings for a change, instead of their problems. I think what they will see is that their country is still a pretty wonderful place and they are very lucky to live there. At least that is the way it looks from my flip flops.