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How To Survive When the Economy Stinks

Politics / Recession 2008 - 2010 Apr 27, 2009 - 09:55 AM GMT

By: LewRockwell

Politics Cristina C. Espina writes: So your economy stinks. It’s not as bad as you think. Really.

Let me explain the view from several cultures away . . .

About a month ago, I got to chat with a friend who is currently on holiday in her brother’s home in Japan. She opened the conversation with a very odd question: "Do you think cleaning for yourself is degrading?"

Since the alternative is living like a slob, I replied in the negative.

Then she told me the whole story. Since she arrived, she has been doing household chores to help her brother out; and one of their uncles, upon learning of the fact, said he found it shameful that she was doing the work of a domestic helper. He’d had a similar reaction, my friend added, when one of her cousins traveled to the United States and got to stay with an American buddy in exchange for looking after the buddy’s child.

Now, this uncle wouldn’t have cared if his two nieces had been doing something more white collar. Typical of many Filipinos, he believes in a hierarchy of jobs as imaginary as its effects are real. It’s a sure bet that if he got a flat tire, he’d pay someone else to change it for him, like his driver or a mechanic at the nearest gas station. It’s an attitude to so-called "dirty jobs" that seems to be a shibboleth of elitists in the third world. People in developed countries aren’t so snotty.

When I was in New Zealand earning my degree, I had several part-time jobs involving "menial" work. During one year, I was employed in a hostel kitchen, peeling potatoes, chopping bell peppers, baking muffins, washing dishes, wiping tables, mopping floors, cleaning windows, scooping ice cream, and having the time of my life. All the other kitchen hands were fellow university students happy to have found such a good job. It was part of the youth culture – indeed, part of the university experience – and one could not consider his higher education complete without it.

Another year, I was a baby-sitter who also had to cook dinner for an entire family. My employer took me to task several times when I made a big mess of her kitchen or when she thought I hadn’t been supervising her daughter closely enough. Yet when she learned I was returning to the Philippines, she insisted that her whole family take me to dinner at a fancy restaurant to say thank you. Obviously, she didn’t look down on me just because I did some "dirty jobs" for her – and it was probably because she had done some baby-sitting herself when she was a student.

A fellow Filipino student was tickled to hear about the work I was doing, and at one point even teased: "Does your family know that they are paying hundreds of thousands of pesos a year so that you can be just another Filipina maid abroad?" I laughed with him, knowing that the joke was not on me at all.

Yet now that I’ve been home for several years, it’s hard to remember what the right perspective is. Some time ago, for a variety of reasons, I had to resign from my job as a Literature teacher in a private all-girls high school and take a more "lowly" position as an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) instructor in a language academy. Of course, it was perfectly respectable work; but I still felt embarrassed whenever someone asked me what I was doing, especially if he had known about my first "prestigious" position.

Strangely enough, this Filipino attitude towards so-called "dirty jobs" may just be the evil twin of the Filipino "world class" ideal. Everyone wants to run a "world class" business, receive "world class" service, enjoy "world class" entertainment, produce "world class" merchandise, etc. Yet few people seem to have realized that "dirty jobs" happen to be the cornerstone of a "world class" standard of living – not in the half-baked Communist sense, of course, but in the sense of being in control of your own life. Freedom is one of the greatest luxuries there is, but it’s not necessarily something that money can buy.

A former student of mine whose family moved to Australia figured this out very quickly when her parents, charmed by their neighbors’ yards, hoped to hire a professional landscape architect for their own. This plan was nipped in the bud immediately when they realized they couldn’t afford one. Yet neither could their neighbors, my student discovered: those hardy, self-reliant Australians made do by sculpting and styling their gardens all by themselves! That was certainly a culture shock for her: in the Philippines no middle-class businessman will spend the weekend hauling dirt around in wheelbarrows to save money, much less to have fun.

My sister learned the same lesson the first time a friend in the Netherlands helped us out with a problematic PC. A firm believer in not hiring repairmen, he insisted on giving her step-by-step instructions over a long-distance phone call. The problem having been fixed, he pointed out, "The problem with you Filipinos is that you’re so used to paying other people to do things for you that you don’t know how to do anything yourselves . . ."

At least the tide may be slowly turning. It is currently cool to do volunteer construction work for non-profit organizations like Habitat for Humanity or Gawad Kalinga. (So I guess some middleclass businessmen are hauling dirt around in wheelbarrows on some weekends. They’re just not doing it for themselves. Hmmmmm.) If we’re lucky, then this healthy attitude to humble work will find its way into the professional world.

Before scraping these scattered impressions into an article, I shared them with an American friend who could probably build a house from the ground up and who makes his own sourdough bread. His laconic reaction: "The Philippine economy isn’t that great, is it?"

Well, the whole world isn’t doing so well in that area right now; but instead of quibbling over that, I really should get to the point I originally wanted to make.

So your economy stinks? As long as you and most of your neighbors are self-reliant, capable and perfectly happy to do your own "dirty jobs," you’re not in the third world and it’s not bad as you think.

Cristina C. Espina [send her mail] is a teacher and freelance writer. Visit her blog.

    © 2009 Copyright - All Rights Reserved
    Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

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