I’m Happy

saatana

I’m not upset. I might feel upset, but I assure you I’m not.

Yes, sure it sucks that the friends I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with four years running have decided to spend this Thanksgiving with other friends. I knew this day was coming, so it wasn’t really surprising, just sad that I hadn’t adequately prepared for it. It’s also sad that I had to casually ask them if we were going to get together for Thanksgiving this year again and they had to let me down gently, assuring me that they had just received another invite “a few days ago” and accepted. I get the feeling that had I not asked they wouldn’t have told. Would that have been better? I probably would have figured it out eventually as the days ticked by.

I’m trying my best not to feel too hurt. We contacted other friends to see what they were doing for Thanksgiving. Those with family in the area are obviously going to spend it with them. Other friends who joined our little group last year for Thanksgiving told me they’re planning on a “low-key Thanksgiving” this year. I did not reply that that sounded perfect and how would they like to have a low-key Thanksgiving together? Because I know that they always say that whenever I’ve invited them to celebrate Thanksgiving together; they only go when my other friend invites them. The end result from all this, aside from looking a bit desperate, is that we are now chicken-sitting for some friends who are travelling to visit family for Thanksgiving.

So it’s a low key Thanksgiving for us this year. I’m not sure I see the point. My husband doesn’t really “get” Thanksgiving, not having celebrated it at all until he immigrated here. He points out that most Finns he knows in the US don’t celebrate it at all and it’s not that big of a deal. He doesn’t like turkey and, due to his low-carb diabetes management, doesn’t eat most of the food traditionally served at Thanksgiving.

In all honesty, the kids aren’t fans of it either. They like the turkey okay, they refuse to try the cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes and any of the pie. Beta has since declared that she will try pumpkin pie this year because she saw someone on a youtube video and they really liked it because they put frosting and sprinkles on it.

“I am not putting frosting and sprinkles on pumpkin pie,” I declared stoutly. What kind of heathen is she??

“Well, can I have it with whipped cream?”
“Yes, it’s fine to have it with whipped cream. I always do.”
“Okay, I’ll try that!” I’m not convinced she actually will, but we’ll try.

In order to have a proper Thanksgiving, I like to have three pies: an apple, a pecan and a pumpkin. Missing one of these would just be wrong. But I can’t eat all three by myself. Forgetting the whole holiday sounds more and more appealing.

But I would feel bad about that. I would feel like the kids wouldn’t make the same happy memories around Thanksgiving that I did. My family didn’t fight on Thanksgiving. My dad made the turkey and we pitched in with the pies. We played Risk the whole day, moving it to the card table when dinner was ready. We got out the good China, the family silver and a table cloth. Everything was beautiful, and special.

But I can’t force my memories onto my family. I can’t make Thanksgiving mean something to them just because it means something to me. And the whole appeal of spending time with them falls flat: we spend every single day together as it is since we work from home and they’re schooled at home. What we really need is time celebrating with other people.

Barring that, I guess we can always celebrate it the Finnish way. That is, not at all, but with copious amounts of liquor.

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If you give me another bag, I will stab you

This is such an American problem to have.

You go to the store and buy a few items, say a pound of ground beef, a pint of ice cream and a bunch of bananas because your 3 year old has decided that’s all he’s eating this week. You head on up to the register and have forgotten your reusable bags. Not to worry! Plastic bags are still free here, they’re not banned and you don’t have to pay a single cent for them.

And the bagger very happily puts your meat in one bag (it’s important to keep the plastic-wrapped raw meat from touching anything else), the ice cream in another (cold items should be separate least their icey coldness freeze everything else you buy), and the bananas in a third bag (fresh produce could be contaminated by all of the above, especially if not plastic wrapped).

Three fucking bags.

I used to not care about this, but in the past years I’ve become a bit more environmentally conscious. These bags are going to haunt me and the rest of humanity forever. The times I forget my reusable bags are like agony. I usually end up repeating “Oh, no thanks. I don’t need any bags” with a big smile, lest they think I’m being rude. “Oh, are you sure?” “Yes, I’m sure. I have a ton of them at home I’m trying to work through.”

This is fine at most stores, but one in particular *coughmarketbasketcough* is a tougher nut to crack. My husband always forgets the reusable bags and he always goes to this store to shop. He’s tried telling them he doesn’t want any bags. “Well, if you don’t get any bags, we’ll have to put stickers on every single item you buy.” Their way of preventing shrink is sticking an orange sticker on everything you buy that doesn’t go into a bag. So your watermelon (“Do you want your watermelon in a bag?” “What? No, I don’t particularly feel like re-enacting childbirth with a watermelon when I get home. Just put it in the damn cart already!”), your milk, your soda bottles, your 12 pack of soda cans…all get orange stickers on them.

So he usually comes home sheepishly clutching 10-15 flimsy bags that go into the drawer with the hundred other flimsy bags awaiting their turn to go into the bathroom trashcan.
A few times, however, he’s responded with “Fine. Put a sticker on every item!” And they have. And he’s stood there and watched while they pains-takingly sticker the parsley.

I consider myself to be a libertarian and as such, I agree that people should be able to have bags if they want. But I also know that TANSTASAFL. Someone, somewhere is paying for that bag. It’s not free. It’s also a huge tragedy of the commons since no one is bearing any of the costs of that damn bag. I also know that when countries have introduced a small fee for these bags, bag usage plummets. England now charges 5 pence for carrier bags and reportedly the denser among them mistook it for a second Battle of Hastings — but bag usage has dropped. And I bet no one tries to put three items in three separate bags, either.

So why can’t we? Why would it be so unlibertarian of me to suggest we should all pay 10cents for these shitty bags so that hopefully my grandkids aren’t still using my plastic bags to fill their wastebaskets?

And why for the love of god can’t we actually fit everything into one bag?

Love it or [try to] leave it

“If Trump wins the presidency, I’m moving to Nova Scotia,” one of my friends told me during the last presidential election.
“Oh, you have Canadian citizenship?”
“My grandfather was from Nova Scotia! And I’ll do a DNA test even to prove it to them!”
I didn’t see the point in explaining to her that that would do absolutely no good, unless the Maritimes are actually so inbred they’ve developed their own genetic markers. “Oh so you guys kept up the citizenship?”
They hadn’t. But she wasn’t going to let her stop her. If Trump was elected, she was leaving.

A few weeks later, Trump was elected. Almost a year later, my friend is still living here. She hasn’t made anymore comments about leaving the country, but she does occasionally make outraged Facebook posts.

It’s a weird thing how everyone seems to think that it is really just that easy to move to another country. Protesting against the government? You don’t respect the flag? Fine, if you don’t love it, leave it!

And go where exactly? Most people, like my friends, seem to think all they need to do is declare their intent to immigrate in order to so. Pick a country and go there!

As it turns out, it’s actually not all that easy to emigrate. First, there’s the whole issue about getting an immigrant visa, or a work visa if you qualify. If you happen to be really rich, you could always buy yourself a visa! But presumably you’re an Average American who doesn’t have $50,000 to blow investing in another country in order to move there.

Then there’s the whole issue of actually adjusting to a new culture. Most Americans assume they’ll immigrate to Canada. It’s like America, but not America. It’s all the advantages of being similar to America, but actually a different country. It’s like leaving the US, but still staying in America. But it’s those tiny little differences that will eat away with you as you try to adjust to living there. A wholly different country you would be prepared to experience differences, but Canada?

They use Celsius. They use metrics. They sell their milk in bags. Summer is that time of year when there is no snow on the ground.

Then there’s the bigger problem: networking. Or rather, rebuilding your entire social network from scratch once you’ve immigrated and left all your friends behind. If you’re like a lot of immigrants (expats, for the upwardly mobile), you’ll end up just hanging out with other Americans. Who else will understand what you’re going through? Who else will also feel angry at those stupid little things people in your new country do that don’t make sense? Honestly, if that’s what you’re going to do, you may as well just stay in your own country and save on all the moving costs.
But that’s okay because most people never get around to actually moving to another country after something happens they disagree with politically. They threaten it. They may even google moving to Canada. But they never actually go, which is probably fortunate because all they’d end up doing is exporting our problems to another country.

They’d probably also just come back.

Aside

What does it mean–rape?..It sounds like the absolute worst, the end of everything–but it’s not.

 I just read the book “A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City” and I keep turning around in my head. It’s an unbelievable account of mass rapes perpetrated by the Red Army at the end of World War 2. The anonymous author worked as a journalist before and after the war and spoke passable Russian. It’s unbelievable this book came to be at all, especially when one considers how well-written it is. Republished in 2004 after the author’s death, it’s disturbingly relevant today:

I look at the 16 year old girl, up to now the only person I know who lost her virginity to the Russians. She has the same dumb, self-satisfied look she always had. I try to imagine how it would have been if my first experience had come in this way. But I stop myself–it’s unimaginable. One thing is for sure: if this were peacetime and a girl had been raped by some vagrant, there’d be the whole peacetime hoopla of reporting the crime, taking the statement, questioning witnesses, arrest and confrontation, news reports and neighborhood gossip–and the girl would have reacted differently, would have suffered a different kind of shock. But here we’re dealing with a collective experience, something foreseen and feared many times in advance that happened to women right and left, all somehow part of the bargain. And this mass rape is something we are overcoming collectively as well. All the women help each other by speaking about it, airing their pain, and allowing others to air theirs and spit out what they’ve suffered. Which of course doesn’t mean that creatures more delicate than this cheeky little Berlin girl won’t fall apart or suffer for the rest of their lives.

The 16-year old girl was raped by 3 Russians and afterwards proudly declared that they all immediately went for her and didn’t even glance at her sister.

It’s strange to think of a situation where rape can be so normalized that it can be joked about and taken lightly or even seen as a matter of pride:

It seems he left [the widow] with a compliment. At first she didn’t want to reveal it, but finally she told us: “Ukrainian woman–like this. You–like this.” The first “like this” he illustrated with a circle formed by both his thumbs and forefingers, the second “like this” with a single thumb and forefinger.

The widow still hate nightmares about it later, but she felt free to discuss it with everyone. Usually, rape is dealt with silently. It’s simply not discussed. I was attacked and nearly raped two weeks shy of my 16 birthday. Afterwards, I emailed one friend and told her about it, but she was the only one and even today so few people know. How do you bring that up in conversation? And yet, among the friends I have told about it, a surprising number of them have similar experiences. One of my high school friends was raped at a party. She woke up feeling pain ‘down there.’ Another friend had something slipped in her drink at a bar. Another was molested by a family friend as a child. They say that one in three women will experience some sort of sexual abuse in her lifetime. Detractors say that these numbers are highly inflated and include women who regretted having sex and decided to ‘cry rape’ later. I have no difficulty believing they’re accurate.

The women in the book run the entire gauntlet of emotions after being raped, from disassociation:

I remember the strange vision I had this morning, something like a daydream, while I was trying in vain to fall asleep after Petka left. It was as if I were flat on my bed and seeing myself lying there when a luminous white being rose from my body, a kind of angel, but without wings, that floated high into there air…Of course it’s just a fantasy, a pipe dream, a means of escape–my true self simply leaving my body behind, my poor besmirched, abused body. Breaking away and floating off, unblemished, into a white beyond. It can’t be me that this is happening to, so I’m expelling it all from me.

To disgust:

I’m constantly repulsed by my own skin. I don’t want to touch myself, can barely look at my own body. I can’t help but think about the little child I was, once upon a time…

To despair:

 Judging from their speech the two women behind me were well-bred ladies. One said: “You know, I was completely numb. I’m very small there, my husband always took that into consideration.” Apparently she’d been raped repeatedly and attempted to poison herself. Then I hear her say, “I didn’t realize it at the time, but I later learned that your somach has to have enough acid inside for the stuff to work. I couldn’t keep it down.”

 “And now?” The other asked quietly.

“Well, life goes on. The best part was over anyway. I’m just glad my husband didn’t have to live through this.”

And then acceptance. The author realizes early on that it’s better to have “one wolf to keep the rest of the pack away” and works her “way up from supply train to major,” the major being wounded and surprisingly sensitive, for a rapist:

Please give me your hand.” I stare at [the major]…He takes my hand and clasps it firmly with both of his, then says, with pathetic eyes and trembling lips, “Forgive me. It’s been so long since I had a woman.” He shouldn’t have said that. Next thing I know I’m lying with my face in his lap sobbing and bawling and howling all the grief in my soul. I feel him stroking my hair…A little later in the dark I tell him how miserable and sore I am and ask him to be gentle. He is gentle and silently tender, is soon finished and lets me sleep.

This is perhaps the most important thing that most people miss in discussions about rape. It isn’t about the ability to say yes to sex. It’s about the ability to say no. If someone is passed out and they can’t say no, you can’t assume he/she is saying ‘yes’ because they aren’t capable of consenting, one way or another. Annonymous could not say “no.” She was going to be raped whether she wanted to or not. The only power remaining to her was the ability to choose who was going to do the raping.

In spite of what they’re gonig through,  the author and other women she encounters seem to concern themselves with their men’s feelings more than their own:

While Ilse and I discussed the subject, her husband stepped out to visit their neighbor, as he put it, to get the latest news for me off a crystal set. As he left, Ilse grimaced. “Yes, well, he can’t really bear to hear about that.” Her husband is tormenting himself with reproach for staying in the basement and not doing a thing while the Ivans took their pleasure with his wife. During the first rape, down in the basement, he was even within hearing range. It must have been a strange feeling for him.

I know a lot of people who are very passionate about guns and a woman’s right to bear arms–the great equalizer, and “when seconds count, cops are only minutes away.” But in this situation, any action by anyone to defend themselves with firearms would have been construed as a counterinsurgency under martial law. So the men did nothing because they were powerless to do anything:

These days I keep noticing how my feelings toward men–and the feelings of all other women–are changing. We feel sorry for them; they seem so miserable and powerless. The weaker sex. Deep down we women are experiencing a kind of collective disappointment. The Nazi world- ruled by men, glorifying the strong man– is beginning to crumble, and with it the myth of “Man.” In earlier wars men could claim that the privilege of killing for the father land was theirs and theirs alone. Today we women, too, have a share. That has transformed us, emboldened us. Among the many defeats at the end of this war is the defeat of the male sex.

When Alpha was 3 months old, we went to Finland for my husband’s grandfather’s funeral and rode in the entryway on a severely overcrowded train. With us was a really drunk Finnish guy, who wanted to talk to DH the entire time. At one point, he approached Alpha and me aggressively and I swear, I have never seen my husband move that fast–to protect me and his son. It crazy, but comforting to know that he would totally stand up for me. What reaction would you have knowing that your husband couldn’t?

The baker comes stumbling toward me down the hall, white as his flour, holding out his hands. “They have my wife…” His voice breaks. For a second I feel I’m acting in a play. A middle-class baker can’t possibly move like that, can’t speak with such emotion put so much feeling into his voice, bare his soul that way, his heart so torn.

An Ivan grabbed the bookseller’s wife as she was coming back with water…The woman shrieked and her husband came running out of the apartment, making straight for the Ivan and shouting, “You damned bastard! You prick!” As the saga has it, the Russian piped down, shriveled up and backed off. So it can be done after all…I’m convinced that this particular woman will never forget her husband’s fit of courage, or perhaps you could say it was love. And you can hear the respect in the way the men tell the story, too

The only other story the author recounts where a man tried to protect his wife, he ended up getting shot and dying. Even more tragic, his wife was Jewish and the author explains how he had such a hard time during the war because of it, but refused to divorce her or leave her because he knew what would happen to her. So much of what happens in this book is senseless, so easily avoidable. So many people who poison themselves, a woman who runs out of a building and dies trying to evade Russians, others who get blown up waiting for water:

Beauty hurts. We’re so full of death.

Then her fiancé returns home and it’s interesting that, although she mentions all women will have to pretend she in particular was spared or their men will never want to touch them again, she does precisely the opposite with Gerd:

If I was in a good mood and told stories about our experiences over the last few weeks, then he got really angry. “You’ve all turned into a bunch of shameless bitches, everyone one of you in the building. Don’t you realize?…It’s horrible being around you. You’ve lost all sense of measure…”

I gave Gerd my diaries (there are three notebooks full). He sat down with them for a while and then returned them to me, saying he couldn’t find his way through my scribbling and the notes stuck inside with all the shorthand and abbreviations. “For example, what’s that supposed to mean?” He asked, pointing to “Schdg.” I had to laugh: “Schändung” of course–rape. He looked at me as if I were out of my mind but said nothing more.

Gerd only echoes society’s opinion the first time this book was published in the 1950s, when it was roundly condemned as “shameful to German women.” In a scarier way, Gerd’s words echo those of many Americans today. Remember, if it’s “rape-rape,” you won’t get pregnant! Your body has a way of just shutting down! Or those who claim “she was asking for it” or get annoyed when women get raped and actually want the perpetrators brought to justice instead of keeping quiet and letting it all go away. At least here, that can happen. The bigger shame for Germany in the 1950s if you ask me isn’t the way the women behaved, but they had to shut up about it afterwards and pretend that nothing happened so as to spare the menfolk’s feeling.

The author confesses she herself doesn’t know how many times she was raped. I guess after a while, you lose count, but I make a rough estimate of at least 15 times. At least. It’s darkly amusing how after a while, her concern is less with the rape itself than with the fact the rapist just ripped her last pair of whole underwear.
I don’t think this book shames German women at all. If anything, it shows how amazingly badass they were to go through all that they did. They endured the carpet bombing (by Americans, hence the saying “Better a Russky on top than a Yank overhead”), the deprivations of the last few weeks before the Soviets invaded, the rapes of the last few weeks of the war, then got up, brushed themselves off and became the infamous Trümmerfrauen, moving mountains of rubble with buckets to clear streets and rebuild homes. They were tough as nails. A German guy I knew in college told me German women scared him. After reading this book, I can understand why.

“A Woman in Berlin”: A Review

Why are Americans so fat?

One of my friends just got back from a trip to Austria to visit her parents for Christmas. Her father, an aging Austrian, leaned over to her husband during the trip and said, “Look around! Do you see any fat women? NO! Because there aren’t any fat women in Austria!”

“And there aren’t!” My friend informed me, part despairing, part admiringly.

How does this work? Why are Americans (especially American women) so much fatter than other nations (excepting Mexico).

We didn’t used to be so fat. Seriously. Go back 50 years and Americans were a lot thinner. Go back 20 years at this point, to late ’80s and Americans were a lot thinner then, too, making “skinny jeans” the worst timed fashion comeback ever.

What happened? Cultural change.

Whenever I go to Europe, I lose weight simply because I only eat 3 times a day with my host family. We eat breakfast together. We eat lunch together. Then we have Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake, around 4pm. Think of English teatime?) and then eat dinner (Abendbrot) and that’s it. Snacking in Europe is uncommon.

Compare that to the US. When my husband moved here and got a job, he returned home from work one day and informed me that Americans only eat one meal a day, it just lasts all day. We have a tendency to perma-snack. All. Day. Long. According to this study, 90% of male’s and 112% of women’s increased calorie consumption is from snacking and calories consumed at meals time have gone down. Food is present pretty much everywhere. Workplaces have candy bowls everywhere. My gym set out cookies and Christmas Candy in the days leading up to Christmas (?????). Food is more convenient and transportable than it’s ever been before, making it easier to eat more.

In addition to our poor eating habits, we’ve also become very accepting of larger body types. Fat Shaming week made headlines actually and I thought it was really horrible and awful. Why would you want to make fun of someone just because he or she is fat. Maybe I should just say she–because it’s usually women. Men are just BEEFCAKE. But, again, if you look at other countries, they do not accept fat people–at all. Especially not fat women. When my Ukrainian host sister returned to Ukraine maybe 10-20lbs heavier than when she left it, the first words her father said to her when she was arrived, were “You need to lose weight!” She was still, as I call it, “American skinny.” But American skinny is Ukraine-chubby. I’m 5’6″ and 165 and consider myself “American skinny.” But it became quite apparent in Finland that I was definitely not Finland skinny. “You know,” my husband commented, “when we’re in the US, I think you’re pretty thin and healthy. But in Finland…” I just nodded in agreement. His mother was more direct. Commenting on Haakon’s pickiness, she told him in English “If only you had your mother’s appetite…”

In Finland, it’s okay for guys to be fat, but not for women. They’re expected to watch their weight. Looking around the Christmas dinner table, I realized that all the men were overweight (my youngest brother-in-law actually looks like someone stuck a bicycle pump in him and overinflated him)–except for my husband (a lean 175 at 6’2″, Americans keep telling him to gain weight).  But all the women were thin–except for me.  And it’s all cultural pressure.

My sisters-in-law are very careful not to eat too much. And I don’t see them snacking or eating sweets much when I’m there, either. Maybe an occasional piece of fruit or yogurt. They stay away from most things that have a lot of added sugar–and it helps that not everything has added sugar in it in Finland. Nearly everything in the US has added sugar in it and that shows when it comes to our obesity and diabetes rates. If you’re trying to eat healthy and order a salad in the US, get the dressing on the side. There could be enough sugar in it to spike your blood sugar if you’re diabetic. Even so, there might be some on the lettuce. Unless you make all your food yourself, you cannot get away from it. It is impossible.

So, we eat all the time, most of the food we eat has a lot of sugar in it and we have a culture that is very tolerant of being overweight. The final nail in the coffin is the fact that we don’t move very much. We walk an average of 5,117 steps a day while others walk 8,000-10,000. We drive a ton, mainly because the distances we have between us and the places we want to go are larger than in other countries. One of the biggest regrets I have about living in the countryside is that I can no longer walk anywhere except “around.” I have to drive 20 minutes to get anywhere. I drive to the gym to work out because if I walked to it, I would never get there. I’d probably die in a snowbank somewhere along the way.

The good news is that while we may be one of the fattest nations on earth at the moment, other nations are rapidly catching up with us! I was amazed at how many fat people I saw in Germany the last time I was there. It was strangely comforting. No country is immune to overeating. Once the cultural rules of eating start to relax and allow a lot more snacking, it’s like opening the floodgates.

And I should know. I was doing really well no-s-ing for a while there. Then I stopped right before New Years (yes, I did really well right until Christmas) and I haven’t quite managed to find the willpower to start up again. I’ve vowed to start again, reminding myself if not now, when? If not me, then who exactly is going to shed the extra 15 lbs I’ve been carrying around since having two kids?
But my mother-in-law was encouraging. She asked my husband how much both of us weighed and then did the math to figure out our BMIs. She concluded, “Well, for living in the US, you’re not too bad off!”

Uh, thanks?

My False Friend: The Eagle

My host family in Germany always throws the most amazing parties. They’re German affairs, featuring perfectly folded napkins, a nice array of food, alcohol and cake. Preparing for these parties is no small affair. If it was a Big Enough Deal, I guess they would have it catered–I never really paid much attention to that part, honestly. These parties were so far removed from how things happened in my family (pick your own box of cake mix!) that I had no frame of reference. But I didn’t mind helping with the preparations.

One party, they told me I could make the eagle. Huh? They showed me a bunch of gehacktes (raw ground pork) and some onions and told me to shape it into the form of the an eagle. This wouldn’t be cooked, either, in case you were wondering. Germans are among the nations of people who still think eating raw meat occasionally is good for you. I thought it was disgusting back then. Now I’m merely on the fence.

At any rate, I stared at the mound of ground pork, picturing an eagle in my mind.

Where the heck was I going to get that kind of wingspan out of ground pork?

Confused and seeing no easy solution, I got to work and shaped two kind-of wings a head and some kind of feet-like talons with onions. When I decided it was close enough, I announced I was finished.

The Germans looked over at my eagle and said with typical bluntness, “What kind of an Igel is that?” They quickly and expertly removed the onion and reshaped the gehacktes into a round mound, sticking the onions into its back like needles. I stared at it, totally confused.

At the nearest opportunity, I slipped down into the basement and pulled out my trusty German-English/English-German dictionary and looked up Igel. Hedgehog.

Oooooh.

What can I say? We don’t even have hedgehogs in the states, much less sculpt them out of ground pork.

Why Americans Have Baggers–and Europeans Don’t

One of the major differences between the US and Germany and Finland is the lack of baggers. Seriously. If you shop at any American grocery store, they will have the cashier (standing because physical pain shows dedication) and a person at the end of register to bag your groceries. You as the customer only have to swipe your card. In some places, they will still even push your grocery cart out to your car for you!

They will not do this in Europe. In Germany, cashiers will not get up from their cushy chairs unless there’s a fire. You are expected to not only bag your groceries, but pay for the bags to do so (or bring your own, which most people do) and to do it quickly enough to spare yourself from the wrath of the cashier and the customer behind you. If you’re not used to packing your groceries, I recommend just taking them all to the bagging shelf where you can take your sweet time to do things properly.

Why these differences? There are several reasons.

1) Culture. Germany and Finland don’t really have a huge service culture. If you want good service in Germany, you pay for it. Germans are che—thrifty, so they don’t want to pay for service. They’d rather pay for quality. Finland is only nice to foreigners who are shopping there. Now that my husband has been out of Finland for about 6 years, he gets the foreigner treatment when he goes home and is constantly amazed at how much better he’s treated. Actual Finns: you’re own your own.

2) Labor supply. In the US, baggers tend to be very young, very old or mentally retarded. Occasionally someone hire up will be filling in for them, but this is the general rule. It’s unskilled labor. In the US we have a lot more unskilled labor than they do in Finland and Germany. This is partially due to the fact we have a lot more unskilled (and illegal) immigration. It’s also due to tradition. It’s a lot more “traditional” in the US for teenagers to work. I got my first official job when I was 15 (babysitting in a church nursery. I got $27.70 after taxes every two weeks). By the time I graduated high school I was working two jobs: church nursery and telesurveyer at a university. My husband’s first job was when he was in college: tutoring other students. His first real REAL job was after he immigated to the US. The foreign exchange student my sister had from Berlin actually got some jobs when he was a teen: as an extra in some soap operas being filmed in town. It definitely wasn’t anything regular though.
Of course there is regional variation. I was discussing contractors with a friend and he said that was the biggest difference between living in California and the Northeast: in California, you hire people to work on your house and they show up at daybreak, banging down your door ready to get started. Hire someone in the Northeast and they’ll show up…eventually. You might have to call them a few times though. If you fire them, it’s useless. The replacement will be just as bad. They’re like this because they know there’s not a lot of competition. Any immigration in the Northeast tends to be skilled white collar labor and population trends are down, kind of like Germany and Finland.

3) Labor costs. Labor costs are a lot higher in Europe than in the US. The Federal minimum wage is $7.25. Finland and Germany don’t have federal minimum wages, but wages are negotiated via unions by sector. But the average for unskilled labor, like a cashier, in Finland and Germany is higher than in the US. Or maybe that’s the issue: in the US, cashiers are considered unskilled labor. You will be set ringing after maybe an hour of training. In Germany and Finland, you’re probably educated and as far as I know, probably have to have a degree from a vocational school in cash register technology. Labor regulations also increase the cost of hiring an extra cashier. So you usually encounter two or three cashiers in a store and long lines. In the US, both retail chains I worked at (large chains, you’ve definitely shopped there), had rules regarding how many customers could be waiting in line. At the large box store it was something like 2+1 (Two customers waiting, one ringing). At the pharmacy retail store, it was “I-see-3.” If he saw 3 customers in line, the cashier was supposed to call that code for back up. This will not happen in Europe because there IS no back up. And you will wait. But those cashiers are damned efficient. Their productivity has to be high in order to justify their employment. The amount you’re paid signifies how productive your employers expect (or think) you are. Cashiers in Finland in Germany have to be a heck of a lot more productive. Go to a McDonalds in Europe and compare it to a local one in the US. In Finland, I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than two cashiers at Hesburger (it’s like McDonalds) or McDonalds. They’re like octopuses. It takes longer to get your meals, you wait longer, and the employers are crazy busy, but it works. In the US, it depends what time it is, but generally three cashiers and people running the drive thru along with assorted other people running around doing things. Completely different.

Any other reasons?