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  1. #1
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    Quality of Life & Culture

    This is a half formed idea that I've been kicking around after a conversation the other day. I'd love to hear the Craftista $0.02 on it.

    A friend and I were talking about how much we both liked having friends who are French. Because they come from a society where people really know how to enjoy life: good food and meals (which usually include good conversation & wine), generous vacation benefits, 35 hour work weeks, appreciation of good culture, etc etc. At the same time, we'd also been talking about the co-option of the organic/natural movement by consumerism in American society. About how it's marketed more as a high mark of quality and lifestyle choice rather than all the health/ethical reasons for wanting to support organics. And how a lot of these products (my friend lives around the corner from an all natural aromatherapy products place) always seem to be marketed with these slogans like "Pamper yourself," "You Deserve It," or "Treat yourself well."

    Between the two conversations, I started thinking about what the differences were between what I see from my French friends in how they enjoy life (or what signifies a high quality of life) versus what we define it here in the US. Obviously consumerism is a bigger force here. But I'm wondering what it is specifically about our culture which makes us think that the act of purchasing (and spending a lot of money) is what makes something enjoyable. And therefore an enhancement of our quality of life? And when did this attitude get started?

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  3. #2
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    Just off the top of my head...I think so much of U.S. advertising/media/popular culture bases its message on taking for granted that "everyone already has this". We're told that in order to get by, we need things that, five minutes ago, we didn't even know existed.

    Example: How many times a day do you hear or read "What's on your iPod?" or some reference to how some unrelated product (like a car) is compatible with your iPod, or how it might be time to upgrade your old iPod to a newer model, or whatever? Now, how many people do you personally know who actually own an iPod? Some, probably - but do the non-iPod-owners really seem deprived or out of touch because of their lack of one? I know I'm getting by just fine.

    But when I open up a magazine or turn on the TV, it's easy to start to feel as if I'm the only one in the world without an iPod, a laptop, a brand-new car, premium cable, a house, a dog, children...what's wrong with me that I have failed at conforming? I'd better acquire these possessions so that I can be a real person! Never mind that I have good health, satisfying relationships, rewarding work and hobbies, and more stuff already than I know what to do with.

    I don't have an answer. Just an observation that turned out to be more long-winded than I intended. :)

  4. #3
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    i think alot of what katrin said makes sense.

    i think alot of it has to do with capitalism. companies want us to pay the highest price possible for their goods, so they have to convince us that they are worth the price. the best way to do that is to appeal to a sense of self-reward.

    i think also tied in with this is the american culture of disposability. we need (deserve!) the newest and the best and the older model - which is still perfectly functioning - goes out the window. my parents are from europe and so it really wasnt like that in our house. we had a wooden tv set until i was in high school.

    but anyway, back to my first paragraph (im sorta rambling, its such a huge topic, sorry), i think the things i notice this (idea that higher price = better = better life) most in is products marketed toward women - like beauty and bath products. they can be insanely expensive and its wholly based on the idea that "you deserve it!" it annoys me. that in order to pamper yourself and be happy and satisfied, you must spend xxx amount on lotion and bubble bath.

  5. #4
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    the reason capitalizism in the u.s. has flourished is because of advertising that makes people think they need the newest and greatest, and creating the 'keeping up with the Jones' syndrome, but to a crazy extreme.

    i admit, i like having a computer, and cable tv, not that i need it, but that i want it. maybe people (i am generalizing here), as an over all population of consumers, no longer see the distinction between need and want.

    perhaps being crafty people ourselves, we see these differences, and better know that what really brings happiness is having made that scarf or eating good food your friends made.

    mmm...good food the best type of consumer consumption...

  6. #5
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    check out this month's utne reader - there's an article on the european dream vs. the american dream. it talks about exactly what you've mentioned here. :)

    although every time i think of the european dream i think of eddie izzard - the person riding in the vespa saying "ciao!"

    jangrl

  7. #6
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    i think a big part of it is america's culture of fear. we are taught to be afraid. be afraid of cancer, of terrorism, of your SUV rolling over, of getting old, of dying, of our loved ones dying, and on and on. consumer culture really feeds on this by getting us to buy into these fears, literally, by consuming. getting old? try this face cream, these vitamins, this face lift, this hair dye. it is everywhere.

    don dellilo's white noise addresses this really well, i think. its a good read.

    i only know a few people from europe, but it seems like they have a more "live life to the fullest" attitude and culture.

  8. #7
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    Awesome - thanks for the Utne article tip jangrl. And you're cracking me up with the Eddie Izzard comment. I think Rifkin sums it up nicely:

    Europeans often remark that Americans "live to work," while Europeans "work to live." The average paid vacation time in Europe is now six weeks a year. By contrast, Americans, on average, receive only two weeks. Most Americans would also be shocked to learn that the average commute to work in Europe is less than 19 minutes. When one considers what makes a people great and what constitutes a better way of life, Europe is beginning to surpass America.

    That's what I noticed when I used to live with my friend who was French. She had a full course load in school and a job, but still found time for hanging out with her friends, cooking really good meals (which got fed to me!) and taking time to travel/enjoy life. I'm always envious of her lifestyle, except that I stop to think "What's stopping me from doing that to?" And it's not even an issue of making more money or buying the right things. It's more a matter of what you prioritize - your relationships with friends/family, pursuits that you enjoy, travel, et cetera.

  9. #8
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    I think the difference is capitalism. Don't forget, France is a socialist country, in which medicine, education, etc. is all socialized. A French person, when at home, never has to worry about a medical bill or a tution bill--well, they pay for college, but like, $500 a year. I think that changes things a lot. I think capitalism drives our system, feeds both the fear and the consummerism mentioned above....
    my $.02
    peanut


 

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