America Has Built the Most Comfortable Civilization in the World

I was talking to two friends in their twenties recently, about our travel experiences in foreign parts, and we circled around like an airplane looking for a landing place before we all agreed that foreign parts are all very well, but they’re not… comfortable.

Now, sometimes it’s worth it to endure some discomfort in the name of travel — of seeing new places and broadening your horizons.  I put up with an awful lot of it when I was a kid, traveling by train across Europe.  It was worth it because I had stuff to see and places to go.

But…  in normal life?  Every day?

We Americans get all sorts of opprobrium from Europeans and other self-designated superior life forms about our obsession with being comfortable, being at ease, doing things in the easier, most direct, and – often – cleanest way possible.

Agatha Christie in “At Bertram’s Hotel” makes a comment about Americans liking their rooms warmer in winter, and needing air conditioning in the summer.  There was a faint sneer to the words.  Americans, you know, like to be comfortable, and aren’t hardened, easy-going travelers like the rest of the world.  They don’t put up with discomfort and inconvenience with a smile.  For some reason, this is held against us.

The thing is, you stack all your cathedrals, all your palazzos, the broad expanses of European plazas, of arches and columns and ancient paintings, and they’re all very fine, very impressive, very worth seeing.  But you can’t have them and ease and comfort in the same day.  Because nowhere in Europe, no matter how much you’re paying (unless you are at the very top of the tree and paying multi-millionaire type of money), will you find the consistent comfort and ease of American life.

I don’t say this to be derogatory of Europe.  They’re used to their little discomforts, they aren’t bothered by them, and that’s fine for them.

But we’re not made of the same stuff.  The idea of America, where citizens rule and every man is a king, permeates our daily life.

Our system (derogatorily called consumerism) has unleashed market forces to cater to the comfort, the whims, and yes, the needs of the consumer.

I remember my mom being bewildered in the detergent aisle of our grocery store in a tiny town (we then lived in) in Colorado.  "Who needed that many detergents?" she asked. Why the bewildering profusion?

My answer was: Because we can. Because they find a market.

Which is the essential point of this: No one decides what we need.  No one says, like Bernie Sanders, “why do you need more than one brand of toothpaste?” Or rather, people like Bernie Sanders say it, and the rest of us answer, “Because we can. Because they find a market.”