Land of the Free?

A great benefit of traveling and spending any amount of time in a different country is getting a different perspective on the world. In the US, we tend to think that we have the best of everything, and that everybody in the world would rather be in the US, or at least wants to be like the US.

This turns out not to be the case.

For example, the trains in Europe are miles (or kilometers, I guess) ahead of Amtrak. They are fast, efficient, and comfortable. I would much rather change planes in Panama City than in Miami’s airport. Fresh foods that I’ve tried in almost every other country have been superior to fresh foods in the US. People are as friendly or friendlier, and while many of them may not be fans of our government’s policies, they tend to not take it out on the tourists. Perhaps hardest to accept at all back in the US, is that generally people in other lands don’t give much thought to the US at all – unless we happen to be bombing them at the time, of course.

Living in Ecuador has also been an education. Here we are living under an admittedly socialist government, but how different is day to day life?

Ecuadorians have an interesting relationship with their laws. As shown by the picture above (note the sign on the pole), many of them view laws more as suggestions – especially when it comes to traffic laws! Maybe it is because there are fewer “nanny state” laws, where the government tries to protect you from your own stupidity. There is definitely more of a personal responsibility culture here. Even when there are safety laws, like seat belts or motorcycle helmets, they are generally not enforced much. The attitude tends to be if you’re that stupid to not take precautions, fine.

You also notice this at stop signs and traffic lights. If there is no one at the intersection, or it is late at night and obviously no one is coming, drivers here do not bother coming to a full stop, or waiting for a light to change. I asked a driver about going through a red light once, and he looked at me like I was loco – there’s no one here, why should I wait?

I was thinking about this the other day while walking down the Maleçon. We passed a woman breastfeeding her child on a bench, and no one was making a big deal out of it. Beer vendors are walking up and down the beach doing a brisk business, and we also saw folks under a pavilion passing back and forth a bottle of rum and a bottle of coke. We passed some surf fisherman, whom I am sure did not have licenses or permits.

In most of the US, you would be harassed, fined or jailed for doing any of those things. So where are you more free?

A common sight on the beach is children running around in the surf either buck-ass naked, or just wearing underwear shorts. Heck, their parents usually strip them down and pour water over them to clean the sand off, and again, no one even seems to notice. In the States, people have been arrested for child pornography because they took pictures of their kids in the bathtub.

So where are you more free? Where everything is ruled, regulated, and requires permits and licenses? Or where for the most part, do what you want, but if you hurt someone you’re in trouble?

Of course I would be remiss if I did not mention the thing that is currently causing consternation all across the USA. Who is allowed to use which potty has become some huge threat to humanity, something that threatens the laws of nature, God and man.

Trust me, in most countries, no one gives a crap where you take a crap. Most other countries do not see going to the bathroom as a sexual act, or a chance to have sex with strangers. Here in Ecuador, there are public showers and baths that may have a side for hombres and one for mujeres, but not much more than a token curtain between them. I’ve seen people changing into their bathing suits on the beach, without any kind of mass sexual chaos ensuing.

In France and many other parts of Europe, many public bathrooms are just a row of stalls that may or may not have doors. Men and women are free to use which ever ones they like, there’s no attempt to segregate them. Even the bathroom I used in one of the major airports in France, while it had a men’s side and a women’s side, there was no wall or division between them. We all walked in the same door, and turned right or left. Once at a bathroom in the Louvre, I was standing at the urinal and a woman came in and started mopping around me. I don’t recall her expressing an urge to fondle me, just for me to lift my foot.

It is just not a big deal to most of the world. It really makes you wonder what it is about the US culture that makes people so afraid or ashamed of their bodies, or makes them think the height of sexual excitement is watching them pee? It certainly couldn’t be to distract you from things that actually affect your lives, could it?

Of course, you are free to disagree …