Friday, 24 October 2014

TIL: America; THE Consumerist Society

To preface this piece of writing, I would like to say that I have thus far thoroughly enjoyed my time in the States, and Texas for that matter and found the American people nothing but welcoming. Any of the gripes expressed in this blog are not intended to give the impression that I have been another one of those snooty European visitors who complain about every insolent characteristic of US society.



Within the first few days of life in the US, one thing became apparent to me: The three R's are not high on the American people's agenda. Now I have visited America before, but only in the tourist capacity. On this occasion, I have been a temporary resident, which means that I have had to engage in all the various American affairs necessary for making my time in the States as comfortable as possible. For example; shopping in Walmart

Before charges for plastic bags became a common feature in supermarkets across EU countries, people were far too frivolous with the consumption of bags given to them for free. Rarely did anyone reuse a bag or find a suitable place to recycle these throwaway items. Keep that era in mind, and then double the usage and half the occasions when people find suitable recycling locations and you have your average Walmart customer. I won't go through every encounter I have had with this shop, but on one occasion I had bought a bag of apples which I had bagged myself before weighing the items. The worker at the cash register saw it fit to then wrap my bagged apples in a plastics bag before eventually bagging them in another plastic bag. In all, there was my doubly bagged apples and a bagged can of Febreeze in one plastic bag. You could have easily fit triple the items in there. This was the first of the major consumerist culture shocks which my brain had to take.

I'm not quite sure if the next brand of consumerism is unique to the desert and swamp states of the South and South-West of America, but the majority of people here simply do not drink water from a tap. Or faucet as the Americans call it. Instead, people purchase cheaply bottled mineral water in huge bulk for a very low price. This would be fine, were it common custom for the American people to then recycle the plastic bottles appropriately. But of course they do not. And just for equities' sake; the European exchange students exercise much of the same behaviour which this society is conducive to. The amount of non-biodegradable waste which this must amount to almost makes me wince when I think about it.

Driving through San Antonio during the night for my first time presented me with a whole new environmental offence which again, boggled my mind. Almost every light in every shop, bank, hotel and any other type of establishment is on for the entirety of the night. In other words; 24/7. I realise that this is in order to deter thiefs and to make it easier to identify the faces of those who attempt to steal from these places, but even the most minor and pointless of lights are still on. Like the lights above the tables in a McDonald's. The cash register I can understand, but who is trying to steal a couple of benches and a table screwed to the floor? 'Luckily', gas is not an issue in Texas and the electricity bill might not be as substantial as one might think, but again, the heinous amount of natural gas that this must consume wracks the brain. All because humans can't trust each other.

The last point leads nicely into the final part of my rant, about a consumerist trait which is not uniquely Texan, but is certainly heightened in this part of the country. I would estimate that 3 out of every 4 motorist in Texas drives a pick-up or jeep of some sort. Even the girliest of girls in Texas drive a Chevy. Again, this does not cause too much of an upset in the wallets of those living here as petrol and diesel prices are absurdly cheap. This gives free reign to the Texan people to have zero qualms about driving their souped-up 2014 white Chevy pick-up with gigantic wheels and custom alloys to buy a can of coke and some cookies in their local supermarket. To only exasperate matters, cities in Texas are so expansive and public transport is so weak that residents are forced to drive almost everywhere.

While I realise this has all been documented to death in the media, seeing first-hand just how much resources American people expend for day-to-day tasks which could easily be achieved in a less wasteful manner is quite shocking. I would implore anyone who stays here for a period of time to try and not give-in to this way of living. It really is very easy to find yourself throwing plastic bags and bottles into general waste like Starburst wrappers and hitching a ride with the local rich friend you made because he's one eighth Irish in his father's Land Rover to the cinema.