Friday, June 06, 2008

Would You Like Some Whine With That?

Before you read this and think I'm a totally out-of-touch snob, let me clarify: I spent the first several years of adulthood as a young single mother struggling to put myself through college with no help from family or government agencies. I know what hard times feel like. I also am lucky enough to have family in several other countries, spread over several continents, so I have a better-than-average handle on what daily life in other places is like. And that's why I can say that the average American is a whiny brat.

Everywhere I go, people are whining about prices. It's the great American hobby, and it seems to have been this way for decades. Whine, whine, whine, oh this is SO expensive, any worse and we won't be able to make ends meet... you know. And yet when you offer advice, the whiner comes up with excuses. Consider this conversation:

Whiner: "My electric bill is CRAZY. I cannot believe this, it went up like $150 this month just from air conditioning."

Sagemommy: "It is a little chilly in here... (holds out arm covered with goosebumps). Maybe you could turn the thermostat up. What is yours set at, anyway?"

Whiner: "68. I hate sweating."

Sagemommy: "We keep ours at 80 or even 82. Wait, 68? Don't you keep it at 72 in the winter?"

Whiner: "Yeah, I don't like being cold either." Obviously, since she is wearing a cardigan in her frigid house.

Sagemommy: "Maybe you could keep it at 72 in the summer. I mean, that's cold enough in the winter, right?"

Whiner: "I forgot that you think you're the carbon police. (gives me pointed look) But anyway, the government should do something about the cost of electric, it's really getting insane."

I love this person, but she honestly thinks that the government should subsidize the cost of keeping her home frigid in the summer and toasty warm in the winter. Yes, people like me who don't even use their freaking air conditioning unless it's over 100 should be paying extra taxes so she can freeze her tukhes off in the middle of July. In a way we do, because she's filed bankruptcy twice already and she's my age.

In most countries, homes aren't even set up for the drastic kind of temperature control Americans take for granted. Humans CAN live at 80-something in the summer and 50-something in the winter.

Consider this conversation at the grocery store a few years ago. It's one of those bag-your-own places, so I was bagging my brown rice, black beans, and in season fruit while another family a few feet away was bagging their fritos, Pepsi, and steak.

Cashier: "That'll be $426, sir."

Whiny man, to me: "Oh, man, groceries just keep getting more and more expensive. I don't know how much longer we can afford this."

Sagemommy: "Mmm." I was literally biting my own tongue as he loaded his plastic bags with TV dinners.

Whiny man: "I mean, this is crazy. almost half a G for one week's groceries. Just wait til you have kids. Ours eat us out of house and home. The government is going to have to do something."

Sagemommy: Thinks, so would mine if house and home were loaded with Poptarts and Oreos. Says: "How many kids?" 12? 24?

Whiny man: "3. Do you have any?"

Cashier, to me: "That'll be $54, ma'am."

Sagemommy: "Just 6 at home right now."

Man: stares blankly.

What I should have said: Give up the Cheetos and the soda. Your butt will thank you. You'll probably spend less on children's plus size clothes, too.

Reality: people in other countries, including most European countries, pay a far higher percentage of their income for food, and are eating smaller portions and simpler foods. Americans are like farm animals that will eat themselves to death, every day choosing the joy of a rich meal over their own health. We pay dearly for that rich food... and the government should do something? We're already paying for the treatment of weight related illnesses (through Medicare and Medicaid) and for disability benefits when people literally disable themselves with gluttony. We should further subsidize the means of destruction?

How about this:

Whiners: "Oh my gosh, it is up to $4.19 a gallon... the government has to do something."

Sagemommy: What? What should they do? Subsidize it... they aren't a magic fairy, you pay for those subsidies, plus what it costs to administer them. Ask a European how that government subsidy works for them... they're paying $9 a gallon in London, and about 50% of their income in taxes. Real efficient, and if you think we'll do better, consider that something like 95% of our education dollars go to administration before they even reach the school districts. Should we drill in Alaska? Invest in ultra-inefficient ethanol, which couldn't run our countries' cars for a week if we planted the entire nation in corn for it? Or, umm, drive less and drive smaller vehicles.

Or, we could just whine about it, and continue to do nothing. That's the easiest way.


A said...

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!!! I love reading your blog...just when I lose hope in humanity you post something like this and give me hope again! At least there is one other person out there that thinks!

Shannon said...

I love your blog Emily! While it's true that prices are rising and incomes aren't necessarily keeping up - Government subsidizing is NOT the answer. Thanks for another reality check written in such a humorous way!

Unknown said...

I hear ya!

Maybe the government should do something about all the whineries.(:

Unknown said...

Emily--I so wish we could syndicate you!! I love your blog and you are soo right on.