The World Is Doomed, They Say
You know those quotes that go viral on Facebook and are usually attributed to Morgan Freeman? A similar one is making rounds in Slovakia. My friends are reposting an essay that is (falsely) linked to the Slovak actor, humorist and author Milan Lasica (whose talents possibly exceed the ones of Mr. Freeman, no offense. He is that good.)
The essay talks about the gloomy state of the world we live in. It talks about ignorant neighbors, idiotic TV shows, outrageous rules and laws, new fancy overpriced products that pushed out good old traditional ones. It talks about the irrelevancy of the democracy as it currently stands and suggests that while communistic times were bad, today is not much better. It basically complains about everything. This world is doomed. People don't care. They are selfish, arrogant and egoistic. Love, dignity and humility don't exist anymore.
It does not surprise me that people believe Mr. Lasica wrote it - I was a victim of similar hoaxes more than once. What surprises me is the number of people who identify with this essay and applaud the so-called-truth it exposes. It's the general public approval that raises my eyebrow.
"It does not matter if he wrote it, what matters is that it is true!" That's the most common response. "Life hasn't improved at all after '89, it has only gotten worse." I click on those commentators profiles. Half of them weren't even born in 1989. Many of them own private businesses, travel around the world, go on ski vacations to Switzerland, attend concerts of performers whose songs they couldn't even dream about hearing before '89. They read books from authors from around the world, watch movies from around the world, attend protests and freely bitch about the government on social media without having to fear for their (and their families') freedom or life. Really? Life has not improved after '89?
I visit Slovakia once a year. I have been gone for over a decade. I admit - I am an outsider. When I run into people in Slovakia, they all have the same question:
"So HOW ARE YOU doing?"
And they care to know. Unlike those people described in the essay, they actually care to know. I smile at them genuinely and answer them truthfully:
"I am doing REALLY WELL, thank you. Life is good."
And I mean it. I mean it to the dot. I have a fantastic husband and two healthy kids. We are happy. We laugh a lot and we do silly little stuff like a dance party before dinner in our dining room. We go to the beach and have sand in our ears for another week. We sip wine in the evenings, exhausted after another long day of work and taking care of kids and meltdowns-over-the-wrong-sippy-cup type of things. We pay the bills, and then we pay more bills.
"So HOW ARE YOU doing?" they ask and I say with a grateful sparkle in my eye: "I am doing really well, thank you. Life is good."
And they look at me, genuinely surprised, caught off guard. Maybe it's a cultural thing. Because when I ask: "So HOW ARE YOU doing?" in Slovakia, almost never do I receive a smile and a positive response back. "It could be worse, I guess," is the best I ever got.
And then THE conversation starts. It's almost as if every person had the same script handed out to them.
"Well of course, you don't live HERE anymore. Smart decision. There is nothing for young people here. All the young ones are running away and a good thing, too!"
I smile politely. I get it. We all have our own battles and small talk is not a place to discuss those battles. But they go on.
"So are you on a maternity leave?" they point to my little ones.
"Well," I say, "I am at home with them. It's not a maternity leave. It doesn't exist in the United States. The best you get is 12 weeks of non-paid time off. If you're lucky enough."
"Oh, well it's not like the money you get here is enough to live on."
It's ON! The eternal contest of who has it harder in life. And I am confused and amused at the same time. I know the money you get is not enough to live off of. However, how would you feel if there was none at all?
I took my son to the emergency room in Slovakia. He was complaining about a tummy ache and I thought it could be appendicitis. The nurse was grumpy and defensive. She expected me to fight. She told me I would need to pay the bill first, and my travel insurance would refund me later. Then she charged me a total of $40. I considered adding a tip, but didn't want to offend anyone.
I can tell people in Slovakia that I pay thousands of dollars for health insurance and still get billed hundreds and thousands for treatment. My Mom complained that her insurance didn't pay her ENOUGH for her broken leg (yes, they pay you if you break something). I complain my son's broken arm is going to cost us around $5,000 - on top of the insurance we pay.
I can tell people I don't get any child support and have to cover my son's daycare out of pocket. My Uncle says: "We pay too! We pay 12 Euro a month!" I pay over $400, and the kid only goes there three days a week.
I can tell people about "two-weeks notice", as opposed to two-moths or more that is a standard in Europe. I can tell them that Americans get 10 paid days of vacation per year, or less. I can tell them I have to pay for my kids education. We all live one paycheck away from homelessness here.
It doesn't matter what I say. I think a part of it is that they can't quite understand it's true. I had lived in the US for about 10 years when I got pregnant and was throwing up every day, going to work. "Why don't you just get a paper from a doctor and stay home?" my Mom inquired. After 10 years, she still didn't get it. They think that salaries make up for it, or that basic living expenses are much cheaper. They think that grass is greener. Grass is always greener. It doesn't matter if you are comparing the lawn next to you, or the lawn from the past. It's just greener.
"Thank goodness you left!"
I understand that there is corruption and fraud and unemployment and disillusion. I understand that people hope for more.
"Is it so hard to understand us? Is it so hard to understand that we work hard and in good faith and only make enough to pay bills and mortgage and food? Even though we are educated and qualified?" Maybe I have been Americanized, but being able to pay bills and mortgage and food sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Maybe I have been reading too many non-fiction books and articles lately about the social injustice and (lack of) schools in Uganda and child brides and minefields and Boko Haram, to feel pity for people who have an actual job and a roof over their heads.
"But it's 21st century. We should be better than this by now."
We should. But we are not. Take a map of the world, and take a good look at each continent and each country on it. Which one has achieved that blissful state of plenitude we keep referring to? How many of those can you count, comparing to the rest of the world?
I am not saying those complaints are not valid. I am not saying we should be happy with the state of this world - whether it's our own little world or the whole big mess of it. We should be pointing fingers and calling out problems and doing our hardest to fix them. But we should be specific. And we should not forget how lucky we are to live in a time and a place we live in. Look at the history of the world and tell me which period would suit you better, if you are so awfully bothered by today's society?
The only thing that infamous essay was right about was this: "We have two or three phones, internet, television, home theater, DVD, PC, and we still miss something." I think what we miss is a perspective. A little perspective can add a whole lot of gratitude. But that means that we would have to stop playing our favorite game of self-pity and instead appreciate those things we take OH SO FOR GRANTED now.