This week, I am in the fabulous Mexican city of Merida, in the state of Yucatan. It’s a focal point of Mayan culture, within a short distance of the ruins at Chichen Itza and Uxmal. There are, naturally, certain “culture shock” differences that strike your attention when coming here after spending a long time in the United States. But two in particular seem worthy of mention.
First, things here tend to be rather old. Not just the buildings and the traditions, but the infrastructure. City buses often are rattletraps with loose fenders, dented and scratched sides, and even missing headlights. While this gets to be undesirable and even unsafe after a certain level of decrepitude, it also reflects the admirable Mexican propensity for getting the maximum use out of things.
While Americans, conditioned by a consumerist media, tend to use items a few times and then discard them to buy newer things, Mexicans repair and refurbish and repurpose as many times as they can. An expatriated American friend who lives here commented that whenever she has leftover plastic drink bottles, she sets them outside her door, and someone comes along and takes them. For what purpose? Who knows? But somebody here can find some use to make of just about anything that most of us Gringos would just send to the landfill.
Granted, this conservation and resourcefulness may be largely the result of economic necessity. But still, the fact is that Mexicans are, for whatever reason, less wasteful than Norteamericanos.
The other thing is that people everywhere are wearing their masks. Even outside. And places of business require not only masks but temperature checks; and they dispense hand sanitizer to everyone upon entry. There’s even a city ordinance requiring masks to be worn in public. In short, people here take the pandemic very seriously. And they seem willing to cooperate with official measures to stop its spread.
This is, of course, vastly different from many parts of the U.S., where folks interpret “muh freedumb” to mean that they have the right to endanger the lives of other people. Many such folks, of course, claim that they don’t even believe that preventative protocols work — and/ or don’t even believe the virus exists at all. Whether or not this is what they actually believe/ don’t believe, or they’re just indulging in groupthink bravado, this posture definitely stems from a very common phenomenon in American society: the presumption of unlimited privilege.
Many Americans have the attitude that they have the unquestionable, inviolable right to do whatever they want, whenever they want, no matter how much damage it causes, no matter how much it harms other people. Oh, and this extends, of course, to their belief in their absolute right to control government (which they claim to hate or distrust), no matter how small a minority they are.
Oh yes, and one more thing I observed, while walking down the street wearing my mask like (nearly) everyone else. A man passed me who had American MAGA redneck written all over him — and he, needless to say, was not wearing a mask. And when he saw me, he did an eyeroll with his entire body and blurted, “fucking masks”, as if he believed the whole world deserves to be aware of his contempt for them. So yes, another all too common component of the American character is assholery for the sheer sake of assholery.
Sure, you also might find these traits among certain citizens of Mexico, or any other country. But in the U.S., this mind(less) set has the reach of a pandemic. And it has become, in recent years, the default character of the nation.