By Troy Headrick
Many of you know that I’m an American who spent nearly two decades living and working abroad. During the time I’m referring to, I resided in Poland, the UAE, Turkey, and Egypt. I taught writing, literature, philosophy, research methods, and critical thinking at universities and colleges in those locales.
I got spoiled while living in those faraway places. I signed contracts with institutions that paid me well and provided me all sorts of perks, including free housing in beautifully spacious apartments, free utilities, free transportation to and from work, free airplanes tickets to my home of record during the summers, world-class healthcare that was extraordinarily inexpensive by American standards, and the list goes on and on. Given the sort of life I lived and the way my employers treated me, I sometimes wonder why I returned to the US. Actually, being entirely transparent, I came back to be near my elderly and ailing parents.
I had reverse culture shock during my first year or two back “home.” Even though it’s been nearly five years since I left Cairo, Egypt, and the American University in Cairo, I have to admit that I still occasionally feel like a stranger in a strange land.
In the US, I often feel like the system has been designed so that the average person finds herself in the unenviable position of being forced to allow large corporations to tap into her personal wealth and siphon it away. For example, there is no such thing as inexpensive and widely available public transportation in America—with the exception of a very few locales—so citizens are required to buy expensive, private transportation (automobiles) to get around. This situation works well for those who sell cars. For those who need get from one place to another, it requires a large expenditure. It happened to me when I returned to the US. And because my Egyptian wife came with me, we had to buy TWO of these wheeled behemoths.
Purchasing a car (or two) means that one needs to buy insurance. The law requires this. Good news for those who sell car insurance. Bad news for us. Also, cars have to be fed quite regularly because they have such big appetites. Good news for oil and gas companies and those who dispense these two commodities. For those who own vehicles—as I’ve established, that’s pretty much everybody—well, you know.
I almost forgot that cars age or sometimes get sick (just like the rest of us). In steps the mechanic, the car doctor with his diagnoses and instruments of treatment. When the fellow with dirty hands and bloody knuckles informs you—while speaking in a hushed voice to indicate how sorry he is to have to give you the bad news—that you’ve got a broken timing belt (who knew that cars even wore belts?), you find yourself at his mercy. You simply open your wallet and hand him your debit card. He swipes the thing and asks you to enter your PIN number.
I know America is not the only place in the world where people must pay for things, but it feels a little like this country has perfected the Art of the Siphon. Maybe because it has designed a system where the business of America is business? The individual simple serves to feed the monster.
Meanwhile, while writing this little piece, my wife went to our mailbox only to return with a handful of envelopes and such which she hands to me. In the middle of all that paper is a Christmas card from our local car dealership, the one we go to whenever it’s time to change the oil in what sits in our driveway. Isn’t it nice that Nissan wants to wish us a Happy Holidays and to thank us for being such good customers!