Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Here's a piece from today's La Vanguardia by Eusebio Val on the Amurrican Peepul in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Active resignation 'made in USA'

Seasoned by furious nature, Americans are less prone to call for help from the State

The Americans are not a people prone to complain or to wait for the State to solve their problems. The heirs of pioneers who suffered many setbacks, of millions of immigrants who arrived with the clothes on their backs, seasoned by furious nature, they normally accept with active resignation situations like those created by Hurricane Katrina and the frequent disasters caused by floods, extreme cold, tornadoes, droughts, and forest fires. The American character is pragmatic and solidarious, in addition to carrying optimism in its genes. It demands that the authorities contribute to alleviating misfortune, but it knows well that in the long run it is one's own efforts and those of the community one lives in which make the difference. This is why volunteerism at all levels is a national institution, as is taking up collections. A foreign observer is surprised at the speed and effectiveness with which they get to work.

In American culture the idea of starting over from zero, of reinventing oneself, of moving thousands of kilometers to get a new job and overcome a crisis, does not frighten as much as in Europe. With this disposition, with the persistent idea that "we'll get out of this," it is easier to face the always painful loss of a home or destruction of a business.

Active resignation is expressed in several ways when faced with adversity or simple unexpected discomforts. In the sometimes chaotic American airports, passengers accept delays and cancellations with stoicism and patience. They are aware that dense air traffic and the weather cause things to go wrong. Instead of throwing useless tantrums, they prefer to find some other alternative in order to get home as soon as possible.

After the devastating hurricane Isabel, which leveled North Carolina in September 2003 and caused serious damage in the Washington area, the residents of the suburbs came out onto the streets as soon as the storm was over in order to assess the damage and begin clearing up themselves. Improvised brigades of residents with chainsaws cut up the fallen trees in the streets in order to reopen the way through. Hundreds of thousands of customers, including La Vanguardia's office, were without electricity for days or weeks.

Despite the discomfort of living without electricity in such a technical society, citizen reaction was very moderate. Everyone did whatever he could to make the best of the problem. Gasoline generators were sold out, as were batteries and butane stoves. Bars in areas with electricity were filled with people with portable computers. As occurred after other hurricanes, some people organized collective barbecues with the food they had stored in their freezers.

Mr. Val, that's more than fair enough. Iberian Notes pardons your past sins. Note that in order for the Americans to get any praise from the Europeans we have to suffer a disaster. Also note what Mr. Val stresses as American characteristics, because if he's pointing them out to Spanish readers, then they're much rarer over here.

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