One of the best reasons to travel, read and investigate other cultures is to get a different look at life. If you happen to live in North America either Canada or the U.S.A. your views on life while politically different have similar values perhaps.
We have had the good fortune to work and live in several countries. The U.S.A. is the new big dog on the globe and it is natural that most Americans have reason to be proud of the quality of life they enjoy. History has shown however that all successful societies have tended to collapse under the weight of their own excesses. The old world countries have all had their time in the sun. The U.S.A. is almost universally regarded as a spoiled child with more money than brains.
I used to think that the old world disdain for the new world power was simple jealousy. We have the money and the good life and countries like Greece, Italy, France, Great Britain are just has beens. I am not so sure anymore. Like George Carlin once asked, “what the Hell do we need all this ‘stuff’ for anyways?”
My Greek pilot interpreter, Kostas, was asking about our work schedule. He was curious to know if most people worked 3 weeks on and 3 weeks off in the United States and Canada as we did here in Greece. “No, not hardly” I said, explaining that most married couples are both working. The average length of work week has increased and while personal wealth has increased we have become a nation of consumers. What did I mean by a Nation of Consumers he asked?
We have learned that buying “stuff” and accumulating toys and belongings will make us at least temporarily happy while appearing successful to our neighbors.
The problem is the average North American has a credit card debt of something in excess of $6,000. per person. Most families spend less than 40 minutes per day together. That same family gets one short two week vacation (sometimes three weeks) a year, the cost of which is amortized over the next years credit card payments along with the excess Christmas spending and the boat and RV that’s hardly used. By the time we retire or are able to, we hit the road traveling the world and realize our life has been consumed with consumerism. We find that most people in other countries are unusually content even though they lack the same material wealth we have become obsessed with obtaining. The shock of this revelation makes us bitter and we return to our home and buy an even bigger RV and travel North America showing everybody how well we have done financially.
Kostas knew my story was an exaggeration. He said “we have a saying that asks the question, ‘what are you going to do with your money? Stuff it in the pants of your funeral suit?'” I agreed, we have a similar saying, “you can’t take it with you”.
“Yes” he said. “The difference is that we have had about 4,000 years more than you to understand what makes it a life worth living.”
Yeah, we are a young spoiled society. We will learn. I hope.