Argentina, Paraguay, Thailand


Characteristics of the Inhabitants of Argentina, Paraguay and Thailand

In the United States, a fast food manager is a team leader, working faster and harder than the less experienced employees. The managers at Argentine McDonalds act like supervisors in the Argentine government. They assiduously avoid work, and instead gaze with dispassionate amusement at the long lines of clients waiting for service. Their attitude conveys “I have a job and you have a problem.”

If two managers meet, they make great displays of kissing each other and if it were still permitted, they would light each other’s cigarettes and sip little cups of espresso. They positively glow with satisfaction in groups of two, for then they can do even a better job of ignoring the customers.

Argentines worship dogs. An argentine without a dog is nobody at all, and he proudly walks the dog as if the dog were walking him. The sidewalks are littered with dog poop, but the citizenry feel this is a small price to pay for hosting such royal creatures.

In Thailand, there are hundreds of very dirty stray dogs, some of which are suffering from accidents with cars or fights with other dogs.  In Vietnam there are no dogs on the streets. They eat them.

In Paraguay, people are relatively soft spoken.  Argentines, on the other hand, often seem to be screaming so that someone far away or deaf can hear them. Sometimes you will hear someone down the block shouting and then when he walks past, you’ll see he’s merely talking into a cell phone.

Paraguayan men shake hands with any men they meet, even if the group is large. They also kiss all women on both cheeks.  In Argentina, people make a symbolic cheek peck upon being introduced. Compared to Paraguayans, Argentines all have loads of personality, and often seem to be auditioning for a role in a television commercial.

In Thailand, being soft-spoken is a sign of high rank. The most educated people almost whisper when speaking. You’ll almost never hear a horn honked even though the traffic is horrible, because to do so would indicate that you were not in control of your emotions, and hence low-class.

When Thais get drunk, they change completely, some becoming aggressive and mean.  The “land of smiles” act vanishes completely. I once had a drunk Thai policeman ask me to drink with him.  When I declined, he became furious and showed me his pistol, threatening to kill me.  I told him I was a Mormon and could not drink, and that satisfied him, for he had heard of the Mormons.

For some reason, no matter what country I’m in, local people ask me for directions.  Not a day goes by when I’m not stopped on the street two or three times and asked where something might be found. Since I am only ever half able to communicate, I point to myself and say  “tourist!”

When I was younger and used to travel in Mexico, rural people would assume I was a priest.  In cities, I’ve been mistaken for a psychiatrist. Now, I probably just look like a retired college professor.  At any rate, people still assume I have answers to their travel queries, even though I rarely understand the questions.Image

 

here is a link to the author reading this piece

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Western style democracies aren’t for everybody


And western concepts such as free speech and individual liberty aren’t prized by other cultures. We shouldn’t be surprised by this, but our news media loudly and consistently cluck their tongues whenever a foreign government doesn’t behave like the United States or Western Europe. 

 

Thailand, for example, seems incapable of democracy. They don’t want it, but in order to seem modern and progressive and attract foreign investment, they play the game, usually half-heartedly and often badly. What can you expect from a country where the King is revered and anyone who says anything non-worshipful about him or his family is thrown into prison or life, where political parties hate each other, where the military steps in every few years and changes the government, where they draw up a new constitution every couple of years which nobody even bothers to read much less follow?

 

Thais value loyalty above all else. Venezuela and Nicaragua elect Presidents for Life. That’s the way they like it. 

 

 

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PLEASANT PLACES UNDER THE RADAR


Contrary to popular belief, there is real advantage to having only a few entertainment and shopping options. Unless you’ve just inherited a bunch of money and are in a hurry to spend it all before you die, most of us would be better off shopping less, and spending fewer hours being “entertained,” whatever that means. The very fact that so much money and effort is spent to convince us otherwise should be a clue to who stands to benefit from the transaction.

Likewise, most dietary problems could be solved by following a simple rule: never eat anything that you see advertised. Products that have their own television commercials are bound to be vastly over-priced and lacking in substance. If you took the contents of a typical supermarket and distilled them down to their essences, you’d end up with a lake of corn sweeteners, various piles of chemical additives, a mound of wheat, soy and cornstarch, and an enormous pile of colorfully printed cardboard.

Just as good foods often lack glossy packaging, there are plenty of places on this planet that do not show up as tourist destinations, and yet offer a quality of life that exceeds most that do. The people who live in such places are happier than the norm. These content and reasonably satisfied people are not newsworthy enough to attract the attention of real estate speculators, developers, tourism agencies or Internet travel sites. In many of these places it’s possible to live on much less than it would take to live in the “developed” world.

How can you tell if a people are happy? They laugh a lot. They are affectionate with children. They enjoy each other’s company.

I spent twelve years living in San Francisco, a lovely though terribly expensive place. The Zodiac killer had just ended his reign of terror, though there was a guy named Charles Ng who was kidnapping, torturing and killing people in the nearby Sierras. Within a year or two another guy would be stalking and killing hikers on Mount Tamalpais. I took many hikes there at that time, and found I was the only person on the path.

One day, while reading the San Francisco Chronicle, as was my daily habit, I read of a man who like me had recently gotten divorced, and had custody of his thirteen year old son. The two of them lived in a grand house on a big spread somewhere in the exclusive hills of Marin County. What got my attention was the fact that the son had murdered his father. So even though he had alarms on the doors, and video cameras monitoring the front gate, what did him in was his own offspring. Crazy. That got my attention. I thought to myself “whatever this guy had, I don’t want it. In fact, get me outta here!”

I have just spent a few days in Mendoza, a medium-sized city in the foothills of the Andes. Mendoza doesn’t get a lot of press. You can’t find it mentioned much on TripAdvisor, or Lonely Planet, nor do the hucksters at International Living hype its charms. After hanging out in cafes and parks, and generally wandering around without purpose, I have come to conclusion that it would be a nice place to call home. My only concern is the stability of the government and economy.

Why isn’t Argentina one of the richest countries in the world? It certainly has the resources. For the last week I’ve been riding busses covering only about half the nation’s land area, and can vouch both for the quality of their highways and the existence of millions of acres of golden soybeans ready for harvest and plenty of tall corn. Compared to neighbors Bolivia and Paraguay, Argentina boasts a relatively educated populace. It’s certainly not over-crowded. You’d think they would enjoy security and liberty, but they seem to lack the ability to govern themselves.  They elect fools and scoundrels, lie to themselves and others and then believe those lies right up to the point that everything collapses and they have to pick up the pieces and start over again from scratch.

There’s a joke: Argentinians are people who speak Spanish, live in French houses, eat Italian food, and think they’re English.

A few days ago, I passed through the Plaza San Martin in Cordoba, the main square in the nation’s second largest city. The National Bank occupies one side of the square. There were lines of people stretching around the corner in both directions streaming from the front door, waiting patiently for hours for the chance to collect their pension or withdraw some portion of their savings. An armored vehicle was parked in front, and soldiers with weapons stood guarding the entrance. It looked like everyone’s idea of a fiscal emergency, but this economic nightmare was just business as usual here in Argentina, where people have little confidence in their economy or rulers, and plenty of historical justification for feeling that way. One night about ten years ago, the government decided to devalue the currency, and within a few weeks everyone had lost two-thirds of their wealth. Of course, the politicians knew in advance that this was coming, and had already squirreled their cash away to offshore banks.

At that time, the country defaulted on its loans and some creditors who declined to accept ten cents on the dollar are still demanding their money back.

Fortunately, Argentina has had good luck rebuilding their economy without outside help, but one gets the impression they learned nothing from their collapse, and that the next one will arise from the same mixture of arrogance and deceit that caused the first. In 2002, I saw a blonde, blue-eyed woman holding her infant child and begging in front of a Buenos Aires subway station. For most of this white boy’s experience, poor people were dark-skinned, but it was then that I realized when white people have the rug pulled out from under them, they get hungry, too. It gave me pause.

Here, in the southern part of South America, they’re still working at getting over the horrible abuse of power they suffered during the Military Dictatorships of the seventies. Then, Argentine military aircraft routinely dumped bodies into the delta region just north of the capital. Twenty to thirty thousand people simply disappeared. Even schoolchildren who had been protesting an increase in the price of their school lunch were rounded up, tortured and executed. As the Phillipines and even Thailand found out at roughly the same time Argentina and Chile did, once you let the military start killing communists, pretty soon everybody looks like a communist.

Hopefully that sort of thing is permanently behind Argentina, but as poor people all over the world know, when you’ve got nothing to lose, it’s not that big a leap to resort to drastic measures. The social fabric could tear again. And if the military ever takes power, it’s time to head to the airport.