Saturday, November 2, 2013
Snippets from Serbia
Some musings from Miss Em on stuff and money, here and in Serbia. And, in the doting Mama department, here are more charming snippets from her life there.
Second musing has to do with the ways in which money and cultural value systems collide. I was thinking about the things that are expensive in the States versus what is expensive here: in the States, services and experiences are expensive while objects are cheap. Here, many objects are expensive, but services and experiences are cheap. In Serbia, clothes, makeup, furniture: all expensive. But transportation, food, beauty salons, barber shops: all cheap. That is basically an inverse situation from the States, where (good) food is expensive, a visit to the hair salon costs $50, but you can buy clothes and objects in abundance. Here: cafes on every corner. In the States: Dollar Stores and Targets. The monetary differences indicate deeper ideological cultural differences: here, the cultural norm elevates enjoying life, the dailyness of it, the coffees and getting a good shave and eating food and the like. In the States, luxury experiences are exorbitantly expensive: the salon, Disney World, coffee. But the things are cheap, and people base experiences around accumulation of things. And then, what do you do? You sit amidst your things and develop desires for more things. You know I’m a great lover of things—and people here are too; just look at the care they take getting dressed!—but I’m talking here on a broad cultural scale. Our economy and culture and absorbed value system promotes the one-dollar section at Target, so much “fast fashion,” but meanwhile $5 Starbucks lattes are grabbed to-go, not meant to be lingered over. Here, a $1 espresso gets you five hours in a café, or more, if you want it. I don’t know, I probably didn’t express that well. But looking at the things the economy encourages its citizens to buy—in the States, lots of trinkets and material things; here, services and experiences—must inform values on a deep level. Right? Or did the value systems inform the economy? I’m a bit more pessimistic than that, and tend to think the economy/money controls us and not vice versa.
I think this is also linked to an American cultural fear of death and transience. An unwillingness to engage with it. Things last, at least in concept. Experiences, like life, are transient. We hate to consider our own transience. Funeral culture: in the States, it’s all about buying the expensive coffin and having the right things at the funeral, but cemeteries are largely unvisited. Here, the gravestone is important, sure, but people also spend lots of time visiting cemeteries, honoring the dead with time rather than materials. It would take a bit longer to focus this theory that our cultural fixation with material goods is linked to our cultural fear of engaging with mortality, but honestly, I think there’s something to it!