I’m about to say something my younger self would kill me for: work is essential to making a human capable of living in any form of democratic government. (And no, no one here – inside my head. We have a quorum, trust me – advocates for pure democracy. Well maybe Good Man Simon St. Cyr who is, after all, a member in good standing of a secret organization called the Sans Coulottes. Don’t fret. His lesson is coming, and in spades.)
I was meditating on the subject of hotel maid service – in this case prompted by the fact that I think I understand our hotel maid worse than if I didn’t speak a Romance language or two. Between her attempts at speaking English and my attempts at speaking Porto-Spanish we ended up grinning at each other like lunatics and nodding a lot and pointing.
This reminded me of when we hosted an exchange student, years ago, and shocked her by “talking to shop people like you’re trying to make friends.”
My smiling and bobbing like an idiot at the hotel maid would probably shock my mom, too, now that I think about it. It is part of the reason she tells me things like that I don’t value myself and don’t give myself my own respect (It’s not only an untranslatable Portuguese phrase, it’s one I don’t get. “Nao se da ao respeito.)
Of course the reason I don’t think I’m above the hotel maid is that I’ve done her work, when I spent a summer in Germany. And I’ve worked retail, and as a field hand, and of course, I cook and clean all the time.
Which brought back the memory of buying our twenty fifth anniversary ring (part gold, part silver) and liking a very pretty one, and having my mom say “it will look like tin the first time you put your hands in dishwater.” This shocked the shopkeeper who said “but, surely, the young lady” she has known me all my life “doesn’t put her hands in dishwater. She has a maid!”
My mom delighted in telling her that not only did I put my hands in dishwater, but also in paint, solvent, garden dirt and just about everything because I delight in being contrary and not hiring help. (My mom seems to think it’s much cheaper than it is, or my writing pays a lot more – for the record, I do hire help, usually on a task-basis. I’m just lousy at it. And my run of housekeepers has been dismal. First they become friends, then I don’t want to fire them even when they’re bad, then…)
It occurred to me, though, that in the States no one assumes that just because you have a degree or your ancestors weren’t poor as dirt, you should have a maid. Oh, sure, if you’re a millionaire, you probably have someone who does almost everything for you. I’ve never been a millionaire, but I have very briefly been in a position where we made more money than strictly needed and I found it necessitated our spending more money, too, because just dealing with issues preceding from the money made it so we had less time – so we went out to eat more, got someone to clean… that sort of thing. However, I wonder if even millionaires treat their servants as though they were a different caste. Maybe hereditary ones – or ones brought up abroad. But in the states, chances are even if you come from a wealthy family you worked summers scooping ice cream or walking dogs, or something.
Our kids haven’t, mostly due to the lousy economy, these last few years, but when they were very young, they used to hire out to our friends for yard work.
And it’s not even that I think you need to work “beneath yourself” as it would be considered in Europe, but just that you need to have worked at some point in your life, to know that other people work very hard also. I know my hotel is cleaner is probably not writing novels in her spare time (and if she is I wouldn’t be able to read them) but I also know she works as hard as I do. Harder, in many ways – a different kind of hard – if she has to do 100 rooms before ten, as I did.
I know this sounds goofy, but people abroad worry about losing face and keeping their “class” far more than Americans do, and they just don’t GET us – perhaps I’m attributing it all to the wrong cause – it wouldn’t be the first time – but I think it’s because most Americans have worked at real work, at some point. By which I don’t mean just manual labor, but… work that produces things or does something needed. What I mean here is most of us have had one or more jobs outside my bureaucracy (no, that is not normal in the other developed countries.)
We’ve cleaned, we’ve cooked, we’ve produced something, we’ve fixed, repaired or created. In other countries, other than farming, which everyone regularly views as the lowest occupation, most people view their jobs as sinecures, as “posts” as something they do which confers status upon them. (In fact in Portugal even retail clerks are now calling themselves “functionaries” – the title that used to be given people in the bureaucracy. Because it is far more “important” than “employee.)
Again, I’m probably attributing it to the wrong things, but, for all our divisions there is among ourselves a brotherhood – a baseline understanding – that not only doesn’t exist between classes in other countries (Other colony-countries like Australia probably excepted) but that no one there wants to exist. And it’s probably chauvinism, or jingoism or chauvinistic jingoism, but I think that improves our chances of survival.
America works. Let’s not lose that, even when they make it d*mn difficult for us to. It’s one of our more charming characteristics.
And it is why, though I think we’re in for a storm of cack and rotating objects, in the end, I think that we will do. Or to quote poor Simon St. Cyr “Ca ira.”
The future will be better than the past. Because we’re willing to work to make it so.
Update, unrelated: For sheer fun, head on over to Mad Genius club where my friend Amanda does fifty kinds of shredding on Fifty Shades of Gray. Mind you, she’d read the sample and told me it wasn’t porn. I’d read that from other places, too “not enough sex to be porn” — HOWEVER she has more… er… substantive issues with it.