Monday, February 23, 2009

Breakfast in America

My Spring Break to the USA was lovely. The wedding was perfect and it was so good to see so many friends and to visit one of my favorite cities.

A few observations were striking.

First, I used to get major culture shock coming to the USA: everything was so consumption driven. I was amazed how often people went to stores, the things they ate in restaurants and how much they talked about consumption-related activities. The America I visited this weekend was a little greener and a little healthier; it was also a place where conspicuous consumption is ending. There has been a distinct shift not yet felt in Canada, though the culture of consumption was never as embedded here.

In the stores clerks thanked me just for looking. Everywhere, people were returning items instead of buying them. No one I knew felt like shopping, mall trips were restricted to specific purchases (other than a small foray alone). My own enthusiasm for shopping was dampened by a pathetic exchange rate but also by the feeling in stores and from those around me.

Second, I noticed the inflation and absence of product innovation. There used to be major disparities between certain items - for example, magazines and paperbacks, or even junk food. Prices in the USA are now virtually identical to prices in Canada, maybe even slightly more with the current exchange rate, for everything I looked at. I also noticed a lack of novelty. America used to be overwhelming in terms of variety and new products I'd never seen before. I was hard-pressed to find anything that differed from what is available at home and I don't live in a metropolis. When I noted this, I began to actively search for the new, the improved, the experimental... there was none.

The GW-era posed a lot of conflicts for my friends but not as many personal challenges. We used to talk about international relations, now we talk about how many unemployed people they know. They are less optomistic, overall, and more aware of current events. Partly, we're a little older and no longer the fresh-faced college kids we were when we met, but the shift is more than that.

In many ways, America now feels a lot like, well, everywhere else.


For Your Interest, My Personal Economic Stimulus Package Included:

One BCBG winter formal dress <3 ($101)
One evening bag ($21)
One basic skirt suit ($86)
One Litre Export-Quality Tanqueray Gin ($20)

All the clothing purchases were at least 75% off. The alcohol isn't available for purchase here but would be at least double. I was impressed I could get a 1L bottle instead of a 750 mL version, maxing out the duty free limits (1.35 L, I believe).

I cased the duty-free shop for reference. When I fly through in a few months, I'll have layovers one three continents. Not all duty free is created equal! I'm pre planning a few stock-up cosmetic purchases for either June or August and although the shop at this airport was minimal it had all of the necessary basics.

I did run into the tragic problem of the way pants are cut; had this not occured I might have purchased a second suit. I was also disappointed by material quality, but didn't embark on a really extensive process for many of the reasons discussed above.


Today the NYTimes identified Pay-As-You-Go as the New Cell Plan. Will cell phone companies stop with the draconian contracts and unadvertised service fees as a result of this shift?

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