Friday, July 8, 2011
Trapped In My Head
I have written before about the frustrations here when there is absolutely, clearly, easily a better way to do things. Though "you'd think..." still escapes our lips, we are at least only now bemused, rather than frustrated. But just because I can accept these things doesn't mean I can stop thinking about how it could possibly be that better ways are there, everyone knows about them, but nobody does them. I know, its culture, but why? Whyyyyyy!?
I was talking to gringa lady about the paradoxical tendency of people here to be wonderful, generous, kind, warm, etc. and still pick your pocket. It seems to we gringos that Ecuadorians take advantage of every opportunity presented to them with no moral consideration. I insist that there is just something that, we new to the culture, simply can't yet understand and that we should at least withhold judgement. She disagreed. Morals are morals. Right is right; wrong is wrong.
Then she gave a contrasting example of how we are familiar with doing business: We Americans will charge as much as we think we can for something or get as much out of a business arrangement within reason (italics mine, since people don't generally talk in italics). Here, she says, the within reason brakes are off. But that's the thing, isn't it? Within reason. Who's reason? What reason? And wouldn't any Ecuadorian agree that's exactly what they are doing? They're not killing the other guy to get all his money, just what they can out of the business transaction at the moment.
"What the market will bear"; "buyer beware"; "it's only business" (it's nothing personal that I'm getting as much as I can out of you)...all phrases most Americans know and accept as legitimate. And in Ecuador subsistence is the goal (not a new flat screen TV or $200 sneakers), so is it much of a stretch to see where a culture of "I take care of me; you take care of you" could develop?
So, fair enough, we continue to recognize our cultural bias and not judge Ecuadorians by our standards. But it still bugs me as to why, when better solutions are apparent, those solutions aren't quickly and eagerly embraced. But I've had an epiphany, an understanding of my own cultural bias that might explain why I have so much trouble understanding their cultural bias.
The United States is unique in that our system of governance, social mores and norms, even our land use practices, evolved along with our culture, rather than being the latest installment of governance laid over an old and stubborn culture.
Take Europe, for example, or even just France. What is called France is really a foundation of a culture that existed well before the current democratic government. The surviving customs and mores and whatnot even predate the political entity called France. Trying to change much in France and Europe is like trying to put the stone chips back on the statute and starting over again.
In the States, however, our cultural origins don't predate written language. Change, strange though it may seem to say, was the foundation of our existence. The capacity for change was built into our system. A vast continent ripe for settling and exploitation, rapid technological advancement (yes, even in 1780), and the vast new global marketplace all contributed to a nation and culture that not only embraced change but was defined by it.
Just about anywhere else in the world, change has historically meant more challenge than opportunity and cultures were defined by that reality. And whether or not it remains true, the force of cultural influences prevents rapid change, rational or not.
Good god, is this really what happens to our heads when we're not worried about work and soccer practice? I don't get many comments on this blog, but all that I just said above is some pretty far-flung speculation. If I don't get any input on this one I'm gonna think I'm the only nutcase out here not just relaxing over a beer at the Inca Lounge.
Oh, all right…Pilsner Grande, por favor. No glass.