Sunday, May 22, 2011

New Views of Society

As we get closer to our trip home, I can help but think about certain differences between European and US living.  These aren't necessarily bad things but things that stand out to me. Please keep in mind that this entry is solely my opinion and yes, I know I live in a bubble both here and probably in the US to, but these are my views of how I see the differences. 

A few months ago Aidan asked me a question.  Quite a simple question but it made me reflect on certain standards we have at home and even expections and perceptions of people.  His question "Mommy, will we use our granny cart (that's our grocery cart) when we go home home?".  Seems like a simple question, doesn't it?  After all, why would we use our granny cart in the US when we have a car?  Right?  Except for the fact that my grocery store is maybe 1/4 mile from my house.  When you are used to walking miles per day, what is 1/4 mile?  So how do you answer that in our society in the US, if you were to walk to the grcoery store you would be considered less than or that people might think that perhaps you don't have the money for a car.  No one walks to the grocery store unless they live in the city, doesn't matter how close you live to it.  Does this mean we have an over reliance on our cars?  Is this one of the reasons for obesity in the US because we can't get off our butts to walk to the grocery store (or other stores for that matter) when it's that close?  Or could it be we need our cars because we purchase for longer term rather than for a day or two like they do here?  It's a tough answer and it was equally tough to phrase it just right for a young mind like Aidan's who is going to absorb every word I say.  In the end I basically told him that we were purchasing for more than just a day or two and therefore it was necessary to use our car.  However, that perhaps some days we would walk just to get some exercise.  The question did make me think though and for that I appreciate his innocent insight...

And the grocery store led me to think of yet another thing that is perceived as low income or lower class in our society but shouldn't be.  Hanging laundry outside.  I have to tell you, I can't do it all year - I just don't have the patience for it to take 2 days to dry in the winter time.  However, in spring, summer and fall, especially summer - I love hanging my clothes out to dry.  Not only do they smell good, but I tend to fold them immediately as I take them off the rack (using the traditional dryer they may sit there for 2 or 3 days before I fold) AND it saves energy and is good for the environment.  Not a lot of people have dryers here.  We're very lucky that our landlord installed one at our request, albeit, it is outside (there was no room inside our apartment for it).  However, everyone hangs there clothes here and no one seems to think less of someone who does. 

I was talking to my dad a few weeks ago about this and he mentioned something to me that I had heard about briefly a long time ago but hadn't made much of at the time.  Did you know that there are some towns in MA and other states that have BANNED drying your clothes outside because it gives the perception that the person hanging the clothes cannot afford to dry them by "traditional" means, aka a dryer?  And that it brings down the value of a home in a neighborhood if they see cloths drying outside?  Really? 

Finally, one other thing that has stood out to me here that has changed my perspective at home is our tolerance (or I should say lack thereof) of others.  I always found it interesting that we are (as in the USA) a country that is founded on immigration and yet there is very little tolerance of people immigrating to the US.  There are new laws making it more difficult for people to enter the country and with the border control well, out of control, we are making it more difficult for people get a chance at the opportunities our forefathers had before them.  But aside from that, and this could be my suburban view rather than my city view, my opinion is that we often think of these people as 2nd class citizens.  And I'll be honest, I thought a bit like that before we moved here.  People who have jobs as a taxi driver or a doorman to a hotel - those would be jobs that someone who doesn't have a lot of education might have... but in reality, these people likely speak several languages and have so been completely misjudged.  That doesn't mean that speaking several languages is a sign of intelligence, but I guess I just never thought of the fact that there is more to certain occupations than meets the eye - and those things that we take for granted.

I never believed in the whole, "you're in America, speak English" philosophy... but at the same time, I will admit, I judged if people couldn't speak it well and would avoid conversations with those people.  And I'm embarrassed by that behavior now.  And can tell you I've made friends with people from various backgrounds and English capabilities.  So back to my suburban view - in the burbs, there is not as much language diversity as in a city... so that could explain my differing view here.  But I believe that at least here, the people are much more open to those who don't speak the language well and will go out of their way to help.  I'm sorry, I don't see that at home and it's a shame.  It's the whole speak English if you are going to live here philosophy.  Aidan has both tennis and jiu jitsu instructors that will speak in English to him and in Spanish to the other students.  I guarantee you, if Aidan were in his tennis lessons at home and there was a Spanish kid there, the instructors would be speaking in English to that kid, not trying to find someone who could translate Spanish.  I just think that the people here are much more open minded about people being "different" than we are at home.

I hope no one sees this as a criticism on the US - believe me... I miss home.  And there are lots of things about home I miss terribly.  However, this experience overseas has opened my eyes so much about the differences between cultures and how some things really just stand out more than others.  There are most definitely things here that I will miss when the day comes for us to move back home.  But then, no place is perfect and there are things that I definitely won't miss here either.  If only I could have the best of both worlds... oh well, maybe someday I can have my cake and eat it too!


1 comment:

  1. Well-said, Julie! And, it's a lot of what I have been thinking about lately. I knew living here would be a great learning experience for the girls, and a great opportunity for all of us, but I guess I didn't think it would be such a great learning experience for me, too! If I was still in the US, the chances that I would be trying to learn to speak Spanish would be very low, even though we lived in a city close to the Mexican border.

    And, I agree with you that it's hard for people to enter the country, but in our part of Arizona, illegal immigration is a huge problem, with people sneaking over the border all the time. So, while I agree that it should not be extremely difficult to enter the US, or any country, legally (particularly with my new-found experience with trying to get our Spain resident cards renewed), I also believe that the Border Patrol officers have their hands full and are doing the best they can to help keep the illegal immigrants out of the US.

    There are many things that I miss about the US, too, and am really looking forward to our trip home in a few weeks. But, we are definitely getting more fresh air and exercise here than we would back in the US!