As I’ve mentioned before, trivialities like the weather have been known to set me off on deep, spiraling rampages of self-pity. I’ve tried to combat this failing with inspirational words and ideas, but I still frequently fail.
I was thinking about my propensity for whining again the other day, as I was reading a long post and discussion thread on the subject of traditionalism in American culture over on Rod Dreher’s excellent CrunchyCon blog. In the comments, ‘Chuck’ mentions the following:
Our culture is based on comfort. No one is going to give up the comfort of driving unless under extreme economic duress. No one is going live in a smaller house if they can afford a bigger one. No one is going to sacrifice their happiness for someone else's idea of a greater good and that cuts across liberal and conservative ideas.
I agreed quite completely. At the risk of sounding positively un-American (something I am most assuredly not), I have to admit that comfort, and the seeking thereof, has been planted deep down in my own psyche, and has grown long, tenacious roots.
Let’s just put together a little laundry list of some Things That Make Us Americans Comfy:
My point here is neither to bash my homeland (it’s a great country) nor to rehash all the idiotic stereotypes so many people – many of whom have never actually set foot in the USA but still think they know all about it and hence are entitled to hate it – seem to hold.
But I do want to get at one of the weaknesses of the American character, or culture, of which I’m of course a prime exhibit. It’s this insistence that comfort come so very high on one’s list of priorities: simply put, why not indulge yourself with the highest level of comfort you can afford?
Well, for one reason, luxuries and personal preferences fully indulged soon become necessities. You hear lines like these: ‘Oh, I just must have a big room of my own in my house to spread out in and be myself.’ Or ‘I just cannot deal with heat and humidity without air conditioning. That’s just who I am.’ Or 'My children simply must grow up with a big yard to play in. I'd be cheating them if I provided anything less.'
These consumerist assumptions are widespread in the US, and of course elsewhere, too, including here in Hong Kong. People everywhere like to be comfortable.
But comfort levels can differ substantially: what's actually considered to be comfortable is heavily conditioned by culture. Let's take some of these differences on -- briefly, I promise! -- one by one. I'll restrain myself to writing strictly about what I know about comfort in the USA and in Hong Kong.
Now, if you're an expat in Hong Kong, or are thinking of becoming one, stop and think for a minute: how much is it going to cost you to 'make yourself comfortable' in Hong Kong? Is it really going to be worth it to re-constitute the living conditions you enjoyed back in the USA (or UK or wherever)? And if you do manage to 'find your comfort zone', will it only turn out to be a trap?
It's taken me many years to learn this simple lesson: comfort isn't as important as I thought it was. And it's certainly not worth it, financially or psychically, for me to try to make myself comfortable in an American way when I'm living somewhere else.
Readers, any stories of your own adjustments to expat comfort levels?