Social Ponderings


Can people with money have love & happiness? Is it harder to be happy when everything comes easily? Is it easier to be happy when you appreciate everything you have? Does having less make you appreciate things more? Is it easier to be happy when you have less to worry about … like less property, less money, less “things” to care for and protect?

 

Rich & Lonely Mexico City

Just some questions that have popped into my head lately. Well, to be fair, these thoughts were sparked from an interview I did with a hard-working Mexican woman in the lower Socioeconomic levels in Mexico City. A mother of two and wife, this woman has to get up at 5:30am everyday to get her kids to school on a packed public bus 2 hours away, get to her job where she cookes lunches for 12-15 executive businesspeople (and earns the equivalent of US$10.00 a day), wash all the clothes because in her house they dont have water (in the city!!!), then pick up her kids, return home 2 hours, exercise, make dinner, do all the house chores and make some other crafts she sells around Christmastime, until she can finally sleep at about 1am. Perhaps this life does not seem that abnormal, aside from the very little sleep she gets, even for upper-middle class people in the US. But the difficult part is that in Mexico, she is one of the millions of “informal economy workers”  who are out of the system – they have no healthcare, get no government aid, and if they have any kind of crisis, they are easily out on the street – or more likely, living with 15 other people in a 1-bedroom apartment.

 

From one point of view, you can hear this story and think, wow, this woman has a really tough life. She must be struggling. She must want to have more. But from another point of view, her point of view, in fact, she is “happier than the rich people” – she has more love, has a closer family, laughs more, has more feelings, and shows more expressions on her face than many people who have all the money to buy nice clothes when they feel like it. In her words, “you cannot have money and love at the same time.”

After my interview with this woman, I got to thinking. Is she right? Are people with money less likely to appreciate it and therefor less likely to enjoy their life everyday? Does being able to get 8 hours of sleep every night make me less lighthearted and loving? I´ve come to the conclusion that this is a gross generalization, and there are probably just as many depressed people who dont have money as there are who do have money. However, I think it´s an interesting point about appreciating what you have. And more specifically, who you have.

 

Not rich, but in love - BikeLove Mexico City

What this woman doesnt have in economic wealth, she more than makes up for with the people around her. She has 6 siblings who she sees everyday, they work together and hang out together, in a social, warm, caring environment. She has her father and grandmother, who she also spends time with, not to mention her 2 children and husband. In other words, she has a life rich in loved ones, not money.

 

All together now!

It´s this richness of close-knit extended families that I often have longed for – it´s what I first fell in love with when I lived in Bolivia. (Each of my host parents had 10 brothers and sisters who they saw regularly – imagine the social agenda!) I think it is one of the most beautiful characteristics of “Latin” culture. And in many ways it makes Mexico seem richer than the US, though it has much less economic wealth. And it´s what, in my opinion, the US is lacking today, leading to all kinds of emotional and mental problems because people, surrounded by their plasma TVs, their iPods, their laptops, their fancy kitchen appliances, their shoes and clothes in their big solo apartments, deep-down feel a bit lonely. A bit lost. While people with less economic wealth cannot afford to live alone, and perhaps feel the need for “alone-time” sometimes, they also have a much stronger network of people constantly around them. Which is a beautiful thing, in my opinion!

I think it is possible to have both economic wealth and emotional wealth, but I would venture to say that it is the people around you that make the emotional wealth possible. And unfortunately, working long and hard to get the economic wealth has a tendency to drive away your loved ones offering you emotional wealth. Maybe we need to learn to value and guard our emotional wealth in “Happy Banks.” Thoughts??

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In my Senior year Honors English class our teacher advised us on the importance of being “an intellectual.” Not just a run-of-the-mill, TV-consuming, romance-novel reading, boring, uninformed and uneducated person. I was 17 years old. And I decided, then and there, that I would strive to be An Intellectual. Perhaps I just liked the sound of it; I doubt if I really understood what it meant. So, here I am, a number of years later, wondering if I am really an intellectual or not. My conclusion is that I am an intellectual thinker, in the sense that I think about things, analyze them, observe, question and contemplate the world around me. But I don´t know if I am an intellectual person, as I am not that well read, dont seem to have the motivation to get a masters degree, and have a tendency to not read the news.

An Intellectual Fountain??

An Intellectual Fountain??

I started thinking a bit about this when I read some comments to my last blog entry. And realized that perhaps, just perhaps, I went a little over my head with my own personal ideas and theories. I like pondering these things and discussing them, but to be honest I am not well read on the subject of Mexican history and culture. Nor do I really intend to be. (Perhaps that is why I work in Marketing and not in Anthropology!) Though I do maintain that Mexico lacks a unified vision for the future. And if there is a unified cultural belief, it is a self-reinforced feeling that “we´re not good enough, we´re not worthy, and we´ll never get ahead” … probably reinforced through many years of being told what to do and not learning to think for themselves. In my personal opinion, based solely on my experience here, the thing Mexico most lacks is a huge dose of self-confidence! And an education system that encourages creative, independent thinking. But I digress …

So, I am left with a bit of a question about where to take my blog, what to do with it, what to write … I started the blog as a tool to force myself to create, to think critically, and improve my writing skills. I wanted a forum through which I could explore the world around me, ponder things, and discuss my cultural experience in Mexico. I also was not working at the time. Now I am. And I´m working a lot. So, here are my thoughts and options with the blog:

Orchids or Mushrooms?

Orchids or Mushrooms?

  • I am fortunate to have a job that lets me think, or requires me to think and be creative. So, through my work I´m fulfilling my need to create, analyze and write. I dont need the blog for that.
  • I´m over the “wow, let me tell you about my crazy experience in Mexico!” blog (already did that my first 6 months here). I no longer have a desire to talk about Mexico as a “crazy foreign land.”
  • Since I am spending so much time at work, I am out and about less, observing and thinking about cultural stuff less … which leaves me with a lack of material to blog about if I continue on the Cultural Observation theme.
  • I dont really have a desire to share my private personal life with the world. (sorry!) And I am sure there are plenty of girls blogging about relationships and feminine issues. So no blog material there.

So, I am left wondering what should be the point of CulturVista?? Should I let it die a quiet, peaceful death? Or should I make some necessary changes and keep going? And what sort of change should I make? I have thought and thought about different things to blog about, different angles, different stories … but am stuck. I need something interesting – for me and my readers! – something I can write in shorter entries – easier to read and faster to write – and a unique topic that will let me keep my “Cultural / Mexico” perspective  …. hmmm. Wish me luck, or send ideas!, as I problem-solve.

Closed Doors? Not for late-comers!

Closed Doors? Not for late-comers!

One thing I love about Mexican culture is that it is totally accepted, and often expected, that you will show up late. To a party, to a meeting, to work, to a gathering or get-together … it really doesn’t matter. Everyone shows up late. Late can mean 10 minutes, which is a standard minimum, or it can stretch to more than an hour, which is often the case for social gatherings.

I have selectively adapted to this practice, and I love it. Well, maybe it´s not adaptation so much as acceptance of a trait I already possess. I have always been a late person. (I believe people are born with internal clocks set to arrive early, be there on time, or show up late – I fall into the latter group.) So now that I live in a culture that accepts my lateness, I feel more free to be who I truly am. Late.

In the US, many people are also late. (My dad, for instance, is a habitually late person – I am sure I inherited this trait from him.) But in a land that takes many cultural traits from the strict and timely Germans, it is just not socially accepted. And often people actually get annoyed and angry with those who arrive late. (Imagine!) I like to refer to these people as late-haters. (You know who you are … perhaps you should take up Sudoku so you can keep yourself occupied while waiting.)

Luckily, in Mexico, even among gringos, it is totally cool to arrive after the specified time. In fact, I have observed that foreigners are actually some of the worst culprits of the late phenomenon. Are we all just reveling in the newfound social acceptance for a characteristic that we secretly love? Does Latin America specifically attract people whose internal clocks are set to slow time? Or do people adopt the practice once they arrive and get frustrated when they have to wait forever for others to show up, or find themselves in awkward situations as the first guests to a party with a host they barely know? In my case, I finally feel free to be the late person I always was. So there you have it — a good thing about living in Mexico! (After my last post I feel the need to proactively seek out positive aspects of Mexico, as I am here for at least another year or so … )

I´m a bit sad. I think my honeymoon period has ended. (Not with my boyfriend, thank god!) I mean my cultural honeymoon in Mexico has ended. I look around and get annoyed. I have started cussing at Mexicans in my head. They just piss me off all the time now. The country frustrates me. Daily.

I hate the stupid valet parkers. I hate the cleaning people who spend endless hours talking when they should be working. I hate the stupid Telcel dudes in their cheap blue suits who smirk at me when we pass on the sidewalk. I hate the honking horns and drivers who dont let me walk past. I also hate the smarmy men who purposefully let me walk past their cars so they can whistle at me.  I hate rich Mexican men that think they are god´s gift to the world. And I hate rich Mexican women who look at me like they want to smash me with their platform heels and swat me over the head with their humongous LV bags. I hate all the people trying to sell me crap in the street. I dont want your cell phone case nor your gum nor your plants nor your tarot card reading!

Pretty Mexican Street? No, I hate cobblestones.

Pretty Mexican Street? No, I hate cobblestones.

Maybe, just maybe, I hate my neighborhood. How is it possible to live in what most consider to be the “nicest neighborhood” in the city and just feel spite inside? Would I still enjoy Mexico if I lived in a more humilde, more relaxed and quiet neighborhood? Would I like Mexico more if I had to commute to a different neighborhood?

Or, perhaps it is not the neighborhood. Perhaps it is just the country. Am I just ending the blinded-by-joy feeling of first arriving somewhere and discovering all the new, different and lovely secrets of a new culture? Is this normal? Is it possible to find the love again? Or should Mexico and I break up? I cant decide. Please help.

Maybe I should start going to church?

Maybe I should start going to church?

Evidence of love

Evidence of love

There are some sights that literally tickle me inside. Make me laugh to myself, smile girlishly, turn a slight shade of pink in the cheeks. One of them is a frequently occurring sight in Mexico.

Couples Kissing. Legs intertwined, making out, unashamed, in front of the world. Physically lip-locked and emotionally tied-up in each other as if they were the last two people left on earth. Oblivious to others walking by, and as most grew up in this environment here, most passersby also seem to be oblivious to them.

But not me. No, I didn’t grow up in a society of public making-out. I am not accustomed to seeing it on literally every park bench in the city. It still shocks me, even after more than two years of turning my head twice, I have not become accustomed to the habit. I might just be one of the only people in Mexico who feels a hint of shyness when I see two people swapping spit.  But I have to secretly admit that I really don’t mind.  I actually like looking twice and giggling to myself. And hearing that old familiar phrase in my head, “Get a room!” But perhaps it is nice that they DON’T get a room. Perhaps it is wonderful that here in Mexico people are unashamed of showing the physical manifestation of their love. The very visible sign of pure, honest lust for another. I suppose that is a beautiful thing.

 

(Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press)

(Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press)

On my walk to a meeting this morning I passed the Canadian Embassy. It´s a rather ugly building with way too much security fencing around it for such a friendly country. I have walked passed it many times and never noticed it, to be honest. (Security fencing is rather common in Mexico.) But today I had to stop my walk and gawk. There was a line spreading three blocks long of people with yellow manila envelopes in hand. They are Mexicans applying for visas. Turns out Canada, the ever-welcoming, open-to-all-immigrants land to the far North has just changed their laws and now requires visas for all Mexicans entering their cold country. Crazy.

I wonder, is it a matter of national security? Are Mexicans flying to Canada and then sneaking south across the border to the US? (Hey, not a bad idea … in the summer.) I suppose I should read some articles on the matter … Apparently it´s in response to a rising number of false refugee status claims. 

So this got me thinking about how so many people want to go somewhere else. In Mexico, most want to go to the US. It is seen as “the promised land” for so many. Where you can work your butt off and make lots of money and buy lots of things and live in a house with a yard. and drive a nice car. and be in debt. and pay a lot in taxes. and live in a crappy neighborhood. and face possibly even more crime than in Mexico. But hey, it´s the American Dream! 

 

The American Dream

The American Dream

 

 

And then I thought about how I am sort-of doing the opposite. Trying to live the Mexican Dream. You know it … on a beach, margarita in hand, not a care in the world, getting a tan. Only my Mexican Dream reality is a little different, a little more concrete and a little less sand, a little more work and a definite dearth of siestas, and my Margarita is a short chubby Mexican lady who cleans my house … hey, at least one part of the dream is pretty fabulous! (gotta love the maid) But I still keep dreaming and hoping that my Latin Utopia will appear before my eyes someday. 

 

The Mexican Dream

The Mexican Dream

I guess we all have our Personal Utopia. I somehow got lost in a Gabriel García Marquez novel, searching for a lost romantic life on a beach in Latin America with soft salsa music playing in the background. My parents are obsessed with Alaska … the land of big open spaces, few people and great fishing. A significant other is eternally fascinated with Switzerland – the mountains with all that snow for skiing, the way everything just works on time, the perfectness of it all. And you? Where is your personal utopia??

Island Sunset in Thailand

Island Sunset in Thailand

I don’t consider myself to be a very nostalgic person. I generally don’t miss anyone or anything. I know it sounds strange, but I attribute it to the fact that with divorced parents I grew up living apart from one or another family member since a very young age. I must have learned that missing doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t make the distance shorter or the time between visits go by any faster. It just sort of hurts. So why think about those things when you can live and be in the here and now. Someday you will see the people you love again, someday you will return to the place you loved.

This sentiment has generally been good for someone living far from family. It helps to not miss family and my home country. But I think as I get older I am learning how to miss. And I admit, sometimes I actually like feeling a bit nostalgic … feeling the dull ache of missing people or places. Or remembering times in my life when I was so incredibly happy. It´s a good exercise to remember really happy times. It can help to understand yourself better, I believe. I just happened upon a camera card with photos from just over a year ago when I was traveling alone in China, Hong Kong and Thailand. It was so cool to see the photos and think about that time and my feelings and see the places again. I had such an incredible trip. Yet even on the trip I had the sense that it might be more amazing when remembered afterward. Strange. Perhaps when we are living and in the moment it is hard to really comprehend all that we are experiencing and feeling and living. Maybe remembering and missing and feeling nostalgia are necessary for our complete mental and emotional registration of the events we experience?? 

The other night I learned a fabulous word in Portuguese from some Brazilian friends: Saudade (pronounced with a beautiful Brazilian accent it sounds sort of like “saoudagey” – which roughly translates to “a feeling of nostalgic longing for something or someone that one was fond of and which is gone” or a yearning toward the past or the future. It is one of those words that so nicely captures this complex mix of feelings of happy sadness, an aching of the heart that somehow feels sort of good, like itching a mosquito bite. I suppose I am feeling this right now — a saudade for life and memories and plans for the unknown future. All wrapped into one. Saudade.

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