If you have ever wondered about blatant differences between the US and Britain, two books by A.N. Wilson are a good place to find some explanations: The Victorians and After The Victorians. Beyond satisfying a possible curiosity, they are interesting and well-written histories of a time when “Britannia ruled the waves”.
Often, habits and practices of people, government, or institutions seemed curious to me, when compared to the land of my birth. When placed in context of their evolution, they became understandable, if not respected or found agreeable. For example, people that float easily into and out of bankruptcy in the US can thank the opposite experience suffered in England.
Since someone asked what I thought about my trip to Florida...
What I liked
Price of gas
Fritos, Doritos, Triscuits
Sense of leisure
Right turn on red
Not suffering undo aggravation or indignity at an airport
What I did not like
Overabundance (pun?) of obese people
Tipping (service is included in Europe)
Paying for gas before you buy
Too much fried food
Sales tax (don’t know what you must pay until you get to the register)
Don’t give up in the face of intractability of words;
rather find words that express what needs to be expressed.
Although I like Danae, I must defend a portion of the advertising industry (the good part). Advertising is a necessary evil; it is needed to pay for entertainment and to communicate information (especially since no one wants to pay taxes for anything). It was not always easy to admit to working at an advertising agency: one joked that it would better to tell one's mother that you worked in a brothel than to admit the truth.
I worked many years in or around advertising all over the world. I have been involved in the making of some great advertising, and I have been associated with some bad advertising. All ads set out to communicate something (often crap, which anyone watching late-night television knows), but do so with varying degrees of creativity and success. Often it is a question of money, but more a question of creativity and boldness.
I like good advertising. I recall pouring over every ad in The New Yorker on cold winter nights in Vermont, trying to imagine different worlds. The good ones helped my imagination soar; bad or mediocre ones were quickly passed over.
I dislike mediocre advertisements. They result from shoddy thinking on the part of their creators and/or poor decisions by buyers (ie. companies commissioning the work). I often shake my head and wonder how people can be so foolish to waste resources; they could be so much better.
I loath bad advertising. It makes me angry. Because it is so easy to make advertising and buy space, people think that it is easy. It is not. Good advertising takes great thought, money for good production values, and a respect for the audience.
Advertising does not have to be mediocre or bad. But, since it is commissioned and created by people, it tends to be more average or bad than good…like people.
NB. After giving a speech of the same title at a symposium, I outlined and started to write a book: Why is there so much bad advertising in the world? I decided that no one would care. Everyone thinks that he or she is an expert on the subject, because everyone has an opinion about advertising. It is easier to live with my disappointment than to attempt to change the world…
Sometimes a lot…
Take the word crude, which came to mind this morning in the shower while thinking about a recently viewed movie. It has more than one definition, each being a world away form the other.
One definition, which applies to more-and-more to movies (and is often used by foreigners to describe Americans), is “offensively coarse or rude, especially in relation to sexual matters”. I prefer innuendo, which requires more thought and clever use of words. It does not take much talent to be crude, which explains why so many new films are such duds.
Another definition: “In a natural or raw state”. This applies to such things as crudités, a French word for an hors d’oeuvre of uncooked, sliced vegetables used to dip in a sauce. It is rather good. (Sorry for all the French word, but they understand food and subtlety.)
I recall learning in some MBA management course that money does not motivate; only large sums of money motivate. (That might explain some of the problems with the US economy: highly paid executives are motivated to make even more, while average workers remain locked in a downward spiral.) I guess that the point they were trying to instill was that workers could not be driven with pennies; fear of losing one’s job works better.
That maxim may or may not be true in business, but it is true in everyday life. In Florida, I could not help noticing huge billboards on bleak stretches of the interstate announcing incremental increases in the Powerball jackpot. Once the sum passed $80 million, I asked myself: “Why not?” The chance of winning might be slim, but it is non-existent if one does not try. And, $1 is a reasonable price to pay for so many millions.
I did not win…
…which might not be a bad result. First, because it would mean avoiding another trip to Florida—Tallahassee, of all places—to present the winning ticket. And, on top of that, I would not have to figure out what to do with the bloody money. I enjoy a comfortable, simple life and have learned to get by with what we have. At this stage, I am not good with decisions and do not need complications…which a vast sum of money would cause. Some might claim that money means freedom, but that is not always true.( Or, the preceding sentences are just one big rationalization to hide my disappointment!)
There is a saying in German: Glück in der Lieb,; Pech im Spiel. (Happiness in love, no luck in gambling). I’ll take the former over the latter any day of this life. Still, that does not mean that money motivates me, on occasion, to try something foolish…
I have never been on a diet to lose weight; but over the years I have accompanied my wife on her many diets. She has been a charter member of the Oprah roller coaster ride for decades. Calorie count or fat content of meals and fiction printed on packaging do not interest me. (I do check for corn syrup content, but that’s another story!) I have no idea what they mean, because I can eat whatever I want without gaining weight.
While in the US, my wife discovered a new diet being pushed by Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, or some other Oprah-touted doctor. (I can’t keep them apart.) It has something to do with 17 days, no carbohydrates, little sugar, and no alcohol…all of which she loves.
So far, I don’t mind the diet…because I can add on anything I want. The meals have been tasty, and I get enough to eat with the added carbs, sugar, and wine. Of course, it is tantalizing for my wife, because we eat together.
It’s totally unfair…but life is not fair.
Experience is stupidity hardened into practice.
Intelligent people have the ability to “unlearn”.
Having spent time in a different world, it is natural to compare the two, as well as think about other locations. Would I want to live someplace different?
For many, it’s what they are used to; they have no choice but to endure conditions fate has dealt them. If you have seen Slumdog Millionaire or the Shantaram, it is easy to understand what I mean (although one can easily find appalling conditions in the US, from which people cannot escape). Fortunate humans have some choice, even if they don’t take advantage of their luck. Perhaps, those with choice suffer in a different manner. Worst off are those that want a different life (what they dream is better), but cannot achieve it or fear taking the needed steps.
Few know or admit that there is no perfect place to live, no perfect job, and no perfect life. Each of these has its positive and negative aspects, as well as advantages and disadvantages. The key to happiness is to avoid or reduce the latter as much as possible. For example, stupid, lying, self-serving politicians are everywhere, so one must find a place where they can be mostly ignored. Also, weather cannot be influenced anywhere, so one must pick a climate that one finds suitable. Advertising is ubiquitous, even in the most out-of-the-way spots, but it can be ignored. And, most significantly, people are the same everywhere.
What’s my point? I could manage in many places, but I am satisfied with where I live. It is not perfect, but it has more advantages than disadvantages. More importantly, I’m used to life here. That sounds negative, but habit plays a big role in making choices. What you are used to—if it is satisfying, positive, and good—defines whether you are happy with your life.
I was satisfied with my vacation in Florida, but was even happier to return to my rut…
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.