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A Conversation With An Immigrant on U.S. Life

In: Life,

I had an insightful conversation with a Mexican immigrant the other day.

We also might have had a round of margaritas, which could have enhanced the perceived value of the conversation, but nevertheless, I wanted to share it with you.

It went something like this:

ME: So, I imagine you came here with some expectations about the U.S.  What have been your greatest disappointments thus far? (Seriously, I should have been an anthropologist.)

HIM: Besides the fact that no one knows how to make a real margarita?

ME: What, you don’t like the margarita?

HIM: I’m just kidding.  I just think it’s (pauses)…interesting how you Americans lick these big pieces of salt off of the rim, as if you were a cow.

ME: I’ll be happy to have your salt if you don’t want it.

HIM: Is that a serious proposition?

ME: After another one of these it might be. Anyway, disappointments.  I want to know what your big, fat disappointments have been about life here in the U.S.

HIM: Well, to be honest, I think the thing that I notice most is how you’re great at making life look good, but very poor at actually living it.  The focus is very narrow and revolves only around money.  You don’t seem to be very good at relaxing and enjoying the money you’ve made; instead, you’re out there making more money.  I just wonder:  How much money do you really need?

ME: Funny–there’s a saying that says that you can never have enough money.  I guess people take that to heart.

HIM: The other thing is that time seems to pass more quickly here.  In Mexico, an hour feels like a day, a day feels like a week, a week feels like a month, and a month feels like a year.  Here, it’s the opposite:  A year feels like a month, a month feels like a week, a week feels like a day, and a day feels like an hour. I feel like I’m in a rush all of the time.  I hate that.

ME: Thoughts on why that is?

HIM: Yeah – everyone is always stressed, worried, and over thinking everything.  Your brain never has any downtime.  It’s constantly working.  In Mexico, you worry about eating.  Once you’ve got that covered, your time is yours–it does not belong to overbearing thoughts that completely consume you.  We’re grateful to have food on our plate; everything else is a bonus. Then we can live in the moment, instead of constantly trying to control the outcome of all of the future moments.

ME: Interesting.  I’m going to make a note of this conversation in my blackberry.

HIM: Why?

ME: So I can write about it on my blog.

HIM: See what I mean?  You can’t even be in the present moment now because you’re already thinking of what you’re going to do in the future.

ME: That’s not because I’m an American; that’s because I’m neurotic.

HIM: What does the word “neurotic” mean?

ME: It means I get very upset if certain philosophical Mexican immigrants do not order a second round of margaritas before I’m done typing.

HIM: So neurotic is a synonym for alcoholic?

ME: Very funny.

I think most of us would agree that we’re a time-poverty nation, with many of us wanting to get off the merry-go-round but unsure just how to go about doing so.

I once wrote about the U.S. Concept of Time and how our attitude toward time as a tangible resource forces us to become engaged in a never ending battle to mold, shape and bend time to our will. We view it as a limited entity, and therefore have to speed up our lives in order to fit it within time’s confines.

Because of this mindset, we’ve evolved into a society of do-ers, where action is applauded, and anything less regarded as lazy, unmotivated and weak.

I encourage you to check that post out here, if you haven’t already.

Beyond that, though, why do you think that time seems to move so quickly here in the U.S.?  Is it our strict adherence to deadlines and our worship of the clock?  Is it a psychological thing, because our minds are so buried in a mountain of to-dos, as my Mexican friend might suggest?  Is it because of our value of productivity?

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16 thoughts on "A Conversation With An Immigrant on U.S. Life"

  1. Audrey says:

    Thanks for sharing this – it made me laugh as I can imagine the scene. It reminds me of a business school case study about the cultural differences in time between the United States and Mexico. Some big US manufacturing company (can’t remember the name after all these years) thought that they would incentivize their Mexican workers to work harder and longer by increasing their pay. Instead, the Mexican workers realized that they could work less hours to get the same money they earned before so that’s what they did. What mattered more to them was the extra time with their family and friends.

    Having lived outside the States for almost a decade, I find that I get frazzled by the pace and speed of things when I return now for visits.

  2. This is one of the reasons that I love going home to visit family. There’s a huge difference in the attitudes in the city I live in now, and the small town that I grew up in. I’m definitely geared more for small town life, not for this city (and it’s not even a big city!)

  3. A Traveler on the Road says:

    People in the U.S. do have a twisted concept of time and you’ve nailed it dead-on here. I’ve been living in Nicaragua for about six months now and find that one of the biggest cultural challenges is the time thing. When someone from the U.S. says let’s do it now, generally that means now. Not tomorrow. Not next week or next month. But right now or, even better yet, yesterday. But if you really want to see a country obsessed with doing, doing, doing, you have to go to South Korea. If you think we never stop in the States, you haven’t seen anything! Talk about your off-the-charts stress levels.

  4. It’s modern society in general moving towards this type of lifestyle, modeled from the “success” of America. Unfortunately the problems with the lifestyle don’t show themselves until later. Now more and more Americans are running away from it as fast as they can!