Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Something to talk about...

I think I'm nice to have around, and I think I can hold conversations with almost anyone because I have many things to talk about, and I am also (sometimes, and kinda) a good listener. So, if someone wants to talk about food, I can do that. I am no expert, no chef and no studied connoseur, but I can keep the conversation going on for a while. Same thing goes for politics and science. I love to talk about literature, because I feel that in that particular topic, most of the time I know what I'm talking about.

I can talk to people who are less educated on certain subjects than I am, making me the "main" speaker, so to say; but I just love talking to people who are way smarter than I am, because I feel like I learn from them.

However, I am not one to talk just for the sake of talking. I remember I went to a party once, and was shocked to see people smoking marihuana. I was shocked because I am a prude when it comes to drugs; cigarrette and alcohol, I can handle. But marihuana and everything worse makes me want to leave the place. Anyway, I found myself talking to this guy who, though drunk, seemed to have some good points with respect to politcs; you see, he went to a public school, and public schools in Colombia are completely different from Private schools. So I figured he knew what he was talking about. Until he said we had to legalize marihuana because (get ready for his only argument) "it makes people happy, man!". Personally, I agree with some arguments pro-legalization, but the happiness factor is not one of them. I figured it was pointless to continue this conversation.

It was pointless because we were going to get into an argument, and arguing with drunk/high people is not fun; also, I don't really like confrontation. If you say marihuana should be legalized and your only argument is "because it makes people happy", I have nothing to argue there. I don't agree, period. If I were to argue with someone about whether or not God exists, there is nothing to argue: I believe He/She does exist, and I am not interested in being proven otherwise. I am also not interested in being "saved". So I have nothing to discuss.

I think we were all taught that Religion and Politics are two issues better left untouched.

This weekend I figured I would leave those two subjects undiscussed, and talk about something more "standard", something that I and my interlocutor could both agree upon, or at least have somewhat similar views. You see, we don't particularly get along well, but it is in my very, VERY best interest to get along well with, um, "him". Let's pretend it's a "him".

I figured we could talk about our homeland (we both share the same country) and our current land of residence (we both share the same country of residence, though not the same city). I am well aware of "his" feelings towards both countries (homeland = paradise, land of residence = hell), so I figured that as long as I could stay on subjects over which we could agree (even if I had to keep a little quiet and bite my tounge sometimes) all would be nice and pleasant.

Oh, no.

It turns out that--damn you, Murphy, and your stupid laws--whatever I try to please "him", it just won't work out.

I tried to argue (because I believe it) that although Land of Residence is awesome and has many good things, Homeland is the best and we should all go back to Homeland and live and die happily there. Earlier, I must add, a few weeks earlier, this very same argument got me the most awesome 2 hours drinking coffee and conversing with the very same person.

Not this time.

"He" argued that I was wrong. That in order to live well (and by "well" we were both referring specificially and only to "wealth") one must work hard, have dreams and want to succeed, regardless of where one lives. That all sounds very nice and very pretty, but one must also take into account that the "will" to be better alone does not suffice, I said. One must also take into account what salary one has, what salary one can expect from one's job, and what the economy is like in one's Land of Residence. For example, a janitor will not earn more money than an engineer, no matter how much effort the janitor puts into his job. Also, an engineer in a developing nation (so as to not say "third world country") will not earn as much as an engineer in a developed nation, just because the economies are not the same. So I said.

The counter argument? "Well, those engineers that earn less just don't work hard enough, or don't want it bad enough. I bet that janitor could have a better life than those engineers."

WTF? We were talking about wealth. Maybe the janitor is happier because he gets to spend more time with his kids than does the engineer, but we are talking exclusively about wealth. And he who earns more has more wealth. Period.

I tried to explain the whole matter of economy with The Big Mac Index. Now, after venting about this with my sister, I realize that my explanation was not exactly and entirely accurate; but for the sake of my point, I was close enough.

This is what I said:

In Europe, being "poor" is easier than being poor in South America because (a) the government helps out everyone (btw, when I say Europe, I am referring to one specific country, but for the sake of covering my ass, I won't specify which) and (b) the cost of living, though more expensive, is more affordable. Let me explain further.

In South America (again, I am referring to one specific country...), our society is divided into the wealthy, the high middle class, the middle class, the lower middle class, and the poor. If you were raised in the middle class, you either want to stay there or move up to high middle. That means you need to get a job that will allow you to earn enough money to pay a rent in this zone. And to pay for utilities in this zone. And to afford transportation. And eat. And live.

Let me put is this way: in this South American nation, the minimum salary (like the one a student in an internship would earn) is a little over $500,000 (pesos, common currency name...). The currency conversion of this is about 190 EUR, or USD 260. The thing is, a student in an internship in this European nation would earn around 500 EUR. We can thus "equate" $500,000 to 500 EUR in cost of living.

(I know, I know, I know that this is not exactly how this works, but humor me a little, ok?)

I continued to prove my argument by quoting The Big Mac Index: this index tries to give a more "down to earth" understanding of cost of living. A Big Mac in Europe costs 3.59 EUR; a Big Mac in South America costs $3,500. Again, we can "equate" 1 EUR to $1,000. Also because a bottle of water in Europe costs 1 EUR and in South America $1,000. My explanation makes sense.

My point was, that in Europe you can pay rent, utilities, transportation and food with these 500 EUR (you can't fly to Mallorca every two months, but you can go the movies once a month). In South America, $500,000 are barely enough to cover a decent rent.

Conclusion, it is easier to be "poor" in Europe than in Colombia.

My interlocutor took only ONE thing from my long dissertation: "You're comparing the economy to a hamburger?" I said, "Well, I am, actually, but I am not crazy. Some economist people came up with this idea, I learned about this in economy class..." Now I know it was The Economist people--anyway.

"You cannot really expect me to continue this conversation comparing my job to hamburgers."

Well, I was not comparing your job, but, uh, ok.

"It's stupid that you pretent to use such a stupid example."

Stupid. Twice.

"I'm not making it up," I said.

"Well, it's stupid and I don't like it."

Excuse me?

How do you argue with that? How do you argue against "it's stupid" and "I don't like it"? I guess my counterargument should have been "you're ugly" or "yo mamma is fat".

I would have loved to have this conversation with someone with a better argument than "stupid". I would have loved to be told where and why I was wrong, or mistaken, or how I am right and they agree.

I need to be around SMART people. I need to be around people who like to continue conversations with good arguments, or who end conversations with a decent "I'd just like to change the subject because I don't agree with you" sentences.

Just in case YOU're reading this, I think YOU're stupid, and I don't like YOU.

PS: I would really like to read your thoughts on this issue. Do you think it is easier to be "poor" in a developed nation than in a developing nation? And please note that I am talking exclusively about wealth, about $$, about money. I'd especially like to read your comments if you were born in a 3rd World Nation and are now living in a 1st World Nation, or the other way around.


  1. Nattie,

    Estoy definitivamente de acuerdo contigo (y ya no tengo que poner a Nini a sufrir explicándome el asunto). Yo no conocía este Big Mac Index, sin embargo, en los 3 meses que viví en Alemania, me pasaba todo el día haciendo las mismas comparaciones (solía usar un litro de leche, o cualquier otro elemento de la canasta familiar). Nunca usé el salario comparativo que tu usaste, pero SIEMPRE llegué a la misma conclusión que tú: ser pobre en Alemania es, por lo menos, fácil. Fácil en comparación con ser pobre en Colombia.

    Sí, la vida es TÉCNICAMENTE bastante más cara. Sin embargo sus ingresos superan, comparativamente, por mucho los ingresos de un colombiano par cubrir los mismos gastos (por ejemplo, de los víveres que hacen parte de la canasta familiar).

    Un ejemplo muy sencillo: mi hermana se quedó en esta familia que tenía 3 hijas. El padre era pintor de brocha gorda. Sí, esos que pintan las paredes de las casas de otras personas. La madre era asistente de odontología. Tenían una casa ENORME, 5 carros (uno para cada hijo, todos de concesionario), y llevaron a mi hermana a Luxemburgo, Suiza y Francia en un paseo de dos semanas para que "la calentana conozca la buena vida".

    Y en este punto quiero hacer referencia a ese tema pero con otro enfoque; la razón por la cuál siempre llegabamos a estas comparaciones (inventamos nuestro propio Big Mac Index, we rock!) era debido a mi percepción, que insisto es precisa, respecto a la ambición de estas personas a quienes se les facilita tanto ser pobres. O, para ser más precisos, a la falta de ambición. Conocí innumerable cantidad de gente que, por haber nacido en cuna de oro (sí, allá ser hijo de pintor de paredes y asistente de odontología pueden significar "nacer en cuna de oro"), nunca desarrollaron eso que acá es tan común, eso d ela ambición. ¿Sueños? none whatsoever. Donde yo me quedé, mi querido amigo Steffen iba a un Gymnasium, era muy inteligente, tenía todas las oportunidades de la vida para ser lo que quisiera. ¿Qué eligió? Mecánica automotriz. De ninguna manera demerito esa labor, pero, me pregunto, ¿eso es querer llegar a ser "alguien" en la vida?

    Siempre he pensado que los paises desarrollados viven la crisis social inherente a su condición de "no tienes que hacer nada en la vida, no te preocupes, yo te lo doy todo". ¿Tú que crees, en el tiempo que llevas? I would love your take on the matter. Si le dedicaras un post entero, I would love you forever more.


    You know who :P

  2. Well Naty. First of all I AGREE, no point in discussing ANYTHING with this person. Just not worth the time. On the issue of wealth I agree with you on the subject that being poor in europe is easier to bear than in our countries. The reason I see is that the state is better organized to help those in need. I mean, you are unemployed and you still get some money to help you eat. Healthcare and education are covered by taxes. And no matter how poor you are, as long as you comply with certain rules, the state will always help you find a place to live.

    On matters of salary, the difference is huge, however, and as you have said before, the cost of life is also very high. And, you have to add there the almost 40% taxes that get taken out of your paycheck (which in our countries is never ever so high).

    I have a question for you (and here I don't want to sound like an insensitive person) why do you keep talking to that person? I have learned that I don't want to meat everyone that comes from our country because, sadly said, some people are just not worth the time, they hate where they come from and where they live and all they can do is be negative all the time...I don't know, maybe I'm weird.