Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Well, we've been here for a couple of days now in lovely Leawood, Kansas. Here are some first impressions after two years outside the United States:

1. Everyone seems to be very prosperous. Not that people in Barcelona are poor, but it's clear that the standard of living here is much higher, and real estate has gone up in price a good deal though not as much as in BCN. I see virtually no real poverty. There isn't anyone who doesn't have the minimums except for the few local homeless. Working class folks ain't rich by any stretch of the imagination, and dad and mom both have to work at least part-time, but things aren't too bad for anybody and are pretty good for most people. This does not strike me as a temporary blip; it strikes me as a real gain.

2. Government services are not anywhere near as ungenerous as they are painted by the lefties in Europe. Just for example, if you are a family of four and you earn less than 170% of the poverty level income (170% is $34,000 or so), your kids qualify for reduced price school lunches. $34,000 is a hell of a lot more than Remei and I make, put together, in Barcelona.

3. The only big problem I see that people here have is health care. Now, I pay 8% of my income in Spain for social security (=health care plus pension) taxes. I don't think most people in the US pay 8% of their incomes for health insurance, but I don't have the facts, either. What I do see is people who would be in big trouble if they didn't have decent insurance, like my parents. This is what most people I know seem to be concerned about. I really don't know what I would do to fix the situation; I believe that strict controls on malpractice suits and jury awards would help a lot, I do not think insurance should cover bogus so-called alternative medicine (e.g. chiropractic, vitamin therapy, acupuncture, psychoanalysis--google the website Quackwatch for the real information on this), and I think that Americans have a silly fixation on the idea that "I want to choose my own doctor". No, if you're not paying for it out of your own pocket, you don't get to choose your own doctor. By the way, doctors in America make way too damn much money. But from these personal prejudices of mine to a coherent plan there is a long way.

4. People are nowhere near as dumb as the average bigoted European thinks. Most Americans are much better informed about domestic affairs than most Spaniards are about their domestic affairs, and most Americans are not ill-informed about significant international affairs. Yes, probably only about 2% of Americans can identify the prime minister of Spain, probably not much more than 5% have ever heard of the Catalan language, and I doubt more than 10% could accurately place (not find--any idiot who can read a map can do that) Barcelona on a blank world map. You did hear me say "significant", though.

As for what they call in Spain "general culture", everybody who's ever been to college has plenty. People who haven't been to college often don't. Is that a surprise? I think what bothers Spaniards is that in Spain, there's a connection between cultural level, class, and money. It is expected that someone with enough money to travel the world is of at least bourgeois, social class. In America there are a lot of working-class people with lots of money and no culture who have never been anywhere near a university except to supervise the installation of the air-conditioning and earn more for doing that than an assistant professor makes in six months.

5. People here are very polite. And they don't shout and scream and get angry all the time. Also, service in bars and restaurants and the like is good, and you generally tend to get what you pay for.

6. People have lost weight since about five years ago. There's a real move toward eating healthier and doing more exercise. It's not a "cult of the body" thing, it's people behaving more sensibly in general. Yes, there are fat slobs out there, but they're about 15-20% of the people. Then there is everybody else, many of whom are slightly or moderately overweight, but that's not incredibly unhealthy or unsightly. There sure are a lot of people around here who wear ugly clothes, though--except that one thing you see a lot more of in Spain than here is people wearing polyester. Americans tend to wear ugly natural fabrics.

7. It sure seems like there are a lot of people who want to be victims. Everybody can now identify himself as a victim of some kind who can demand special treatment. "Treat me with more respect! I have Asshole Personality Disorder and it interferes with my ability at social interaction in a way that unfairly influences my ability to..." You know what I mean. Gays are especially obnoxious about this.

8. New music sucks. So does new TV. And new movies. Good thing there are a lot of interesting books and plenty of old music out there to discover.

9. The mainstream American media is tremendously biased toward the left. This is also true in Spain, but at least they don't pretend to be neutral or unbiased over there.

10. The Chiefs' defense bites the big one. No way they'll get beyond the first round of the playoffs. Jed says we should go for it on fourth down every time, and onside kick after every score, since the other team will score whether or not the Chiefs punt or kick off deep.

8. People drive much more carefully than they do in Spain.

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