Tuesday, May 4, 2010

You Know You Live in a Rich Country #2

I devised the “You Know You Live in a Rich Country When…” series to illuminate other people’s faulty logic when they rail about the unfairness of it all in the United States. (To pick an easy example - the single largest health problem for young poor people in the US is obesity). Sometimes, though, the theme comes up in respect of my own personal foibles. It is perhaps an understatement to say that I am not a perfect human being (no need to go further with that one, thank you), but sometimes it is important to consider these small inconsistencies, ponder how they are prompted by our human-ness, and think about whether one can overcome them and thus be a better person for it.

The occasion for my thinking such things was while taking a shower in a Hyatt Regency the other day (ironically, in Mendoza, Argentina, which does not quite qualify as a prototypical Rich Country…). After luxuriating in the hot, cascading flow for a good ten minutes, I was pleased to find that the tiny bottle of hotel shampoo had a cap with a snap top on it. Often, these little bottles have screw off caps which require two hands – one hand to hold the bottle, and the other to hold the top as you screw it back onto the tiny little bottle. The problem, of course, is that one’s hand is often full of shampoo when the screwing-back-on is supposed to happen. When you turn your hand to screw the cap back, you must contort your hand a bit to keep from pouring that dollop of shampoo onto the shower floor. A snap top clips back shut with one hand – no contortion required! A small victory, but a victory indeed.

It occurred to me as I reveled in this packaging delight that my pleasure could qualify as a variant of the “You Know You Live in a Rich Country When…” theme. In this case, the theme was more like “You Know You’re Doing OK When Your Main Concern Relates to Keeping a Dollop of Shampoo on Your Hand…” The fact that such a victory even occurred to me probably meant that I wasn’t going hungry at that particular moment. Nor was I in need of clothing or housing. Probably, most of my other bodily needs were being met as well, maybe even amply. No personal crisis was overwhelming my brain, and no heavy world events were weighing on me. If the Greek debt crisis hadn’t been solved yet, it had no bearing on me at that particular moment, etc. etc.

OK, so such small victories are probably sweeter when all other concerns are satisfied, but what is the problem there? Where’s the inconsistency?

Well, for one thing, I hate packaging. I find extravagant packaging to be one of the worst sins of a consumerist economy. Though small, that snap top probably doubled the amount of plastic in the cap, and, millions of times over, added considerably to the hydrocarbons that needed to be sucked out of the ground, bubbled through a refinery, separated into resin, injected into a mold and distributed to all the showers of the Hyatt Regencies of the world and wherever else they may have gone.

And yet I took great pleasure in that tiny snap top.

I thought about it for a moment, thought about my dislike for packaging, and was confused for a moment. I couldn’t reconcile the two. They’re just incompatible.

Try as I might, I couldn’t make myself feel better for taking satisfaction from the snap top.

I am on the airplane now, coming back from Argentina several days later, and still haven’t made sense of it. The only thing I can conclude is that life is messy and filled with instances where one must make choices between inconsistent ideals and desires. I guess you just have to do the best you can, and when the issue is not a big one (like a shampoo bottle), don’t make a big deal out of it. Life’s too short.

I am still going to hate packaging, and I’m still going to choose products partially based on the efficiency of their packaging. But the next time I see a snap top on a bottle of hotel shampoo, I’m going to let myself enjoy it.

Part II

I am several weeks late finishing this post, having let it sit unedited on my computer’s hard drive instead of cleaning it up and putting it on my blog. In the meantime, I have travelled to various new ports of call, each, ironically, with a snap-top cap in the hotel room. I happen to be sitting in the Minneapolis airport right now, victim of a delayed plane.

I started to complain to myself about my travel misfortunes when I simultaneously realized that 1) I hadn’t finished this post, and 2) complaining about travel difficulties itself qualifies as a symptom of the “You Know You Live in a Rich Country When…” theme.

So - I guess I’ll shut up and get on with it.