Why I love Mexico, and why the United States is decaying culturally.

Border wall in Mexico

Every time I arrive back in the US at the port of entry I am dismayed at the behavior of the Customs and Border Protection agents. They holler. They yell at the incoming visitors to our country. They are rude. And above all they are disrespectful to the tired visitors who may have just arrived via an hours long flight. I never saw that behavior in Mexico, France, Austria, Peru, Columbia, Malaysia, nor the Philippines (et al.) There is a certain arrogance and haughtiness about the way they carry themselves, these agents of America — the people who create that ‘first impression’ of the United States.

Every time that I have arrived back from Mexico, for example, the tension in the United States is palpable. After spending three months there recently, I arrived back in liberal California only to be barked at for almost entering the wrong door at Walmart:

“Wrong door! Go the other way!” an authoritative voice yelled at me.

You see covid pandemic was still high and Walmart had taken to corralling us into separate entrances and exits. Remember this? The guy almost bit my head off. I had walked into many supermarkets in Mexico during the pandemic, and had only been asked to wipe my feet on a mat and rub some gel alcohol on my hands— maybe take my temperature at the door. But there was never any anger or conflict.

One time I had just arrived back from Mexico in my little convertible car into New Mexico. I was still tired, admittedly, from a long drive and I pulled out into the road a little hastily. You see, two cars had just hit a green light up ahead and they were racing toward me at breakneck speed — not actually racing per se, but just going fast enough with that American brand of competitiveness. I tried to maneuver quickly to the side breakdown lane to get out of the way of the two cars speeding toward me. And even though we were far from a collision, one driver decided to jam on the brakes and scream at me from his rolled down window — my convertible top was down. So we saw each other face to face.

“What the fuck are you doing?!” he screamed at me with an intensity that could only be described as hate.

He was red-faced. Exasperated. Had I caused him to lose that “unconscious” race he was having with the fellow in the other car? All I could say was, limply:

“I’m sorry. I’m tired.”

He shook his head and muttered,”What the fuck?”

What shocked me was how intelligent he seemed — even reasonable. Except for his face which was beet red.

You see I had just been in Mexico. I had driven all over and had never even been honked at. Even when I did something “guaranteed stupid”, no one had ever seemed to notice my infraction. The Mexican people were as friendly to me in their cars as they had been in the street — warm, down-to-earth, and unconcerned. Tranquilo. Later when I stayed in a house in Albuquerque, NM it seemed I got honked at on a daily basis. Either I was driving too slow because I was unfamiliar with the area, or they just didn’t like my brown Mini-Cooper. Curiously, in El Paso, TX, nearer the border, I never got beeped at.

Every time I come back to my country, the United States, I feel a tension. The hair stands up on the back of my neck. You see the people are just so relaxed and stress-free in Mexico; likewise, in the Philippines; likewise in Peru. Is it because they are poor?

If you had ever the opportunity to cross into Ciudad Juarez from the El Paso border you might see a curious phenomena. You see, when you’re in El Paso, except for the downtown area which is closest to the border, the city is mostly empty. The Americans are in their air-conditioned homes, in their air-conditioned cars, and the streets remain vacant. Now I know the city of Juarez has a reputation of being one of the most dangerous cities in the world due to the murders and the activity of the Cartel, but have you ever just been to downtown Juarez for a taco? Every weekend there are many people in the street. Vendors. Entertainers. Musicians. Whole bands playing outdoors. The older people sit in a park next to the church. People roam about in costume. The tianguis, or open-air market, goes for blocks and you can find people in the street selling food, leather goods, souvenirs, tequila, and more. The atmosphere to me always is like a carnival, an ever-lasting fiesta. After having walked the empty streets of America, to walk amidst friendly faces, and hundreds of people milling around, eating, and enjoying the day, I feel at home there in Juarez — not scared at all.

What has happened to Americans? Why don’t we go outside anymore to really gather? In Mexico, in any town you go to, on any evening in any Zócalo — the main square of the town — there are always people seated in the park. Every day. People talking. People selling tacos, burritos, elotes. People mingling. In America, we sit at home in front of our 65″ TVs for our entertainment. We stay inside and only venture out in our cars with the windows rolled up so we can take full advantage of the air-conditioning. We don’t care to see anyone. And now in our self-service checkout lanes we don’t even have to interact with anyone at the supermarket. We call Uber Eats. We stay in because we can afford the delivery.

The well-known Zoologist Desmond Morris once said the reason we have road rage is because people cannot see our faces inside our steel and glass cages when a slight has been made. If you bump someone while standing in line, your face immediately shows your apology. But inside the car, people cannot see your “whoops” face. They cannot see that “oh no” expression that would at once convey to the other person the accidental nature of the event. Is it maybe that we do not get out and about amongst our fellow citizens enough, that Americans are so grumpy?

Of course there’s more to the story. I can remember 25 years ago even in Austria. I would be riding the train and suddenly from 100 feet away I would hear the boisterous loud voices of Americans, talking English in a sea of German speakers with a volume and bravado as if they were running the train. I thought: why are they so damn loud? Another time in Malaysia, I watched an American man have a meltdown and screaming fit with a border agent because they wanted to remove some cologne from his luggage. What do these events have in common? Just sheer arrogance and entitlement. “Look dear fellow, I’m an American. I am deserving of special consideration!” they might say if you asked them.

I have been to over 20 countries in my lifetime and watched Americans behaving like assholes throughout the world. I can only convey here a few impressions that I have had out of hundreds the last 20 years of traveling.

When I have been inside of Mexico I was never harassed or extorted by police. And indeed at various checkpoints, I have been stopped by the army, police, and other officials throughout the country. They are courteous. Even warm. However, when I am back in the United States, I fear the speed traps. I fear the police. One time, a long while ago in the US, a recklessly speeding police officer came around a corner on a rural road and almost wiped out my family with three kids in the car. I followed him a short ways to the “scene of the crime”. I told him firmly and respectfully, he had almost crashed into my whole family. He claimed matter-of-factually he was on his way to a “suspected break-in”. After I told the officer to “slow down” and asked him what’s the sense of killing people over a house break-in, he suddenly took a new attitude:

“Sir, don’t create an incident.” he said.

I immediately turned around and walked back to my car. Again he repeated to my turned back. “Don’t create an incident.” Hours later we had police cruisers tailgating us around a small town in the state of Massachusetts.

One time I was on my bicycle in Boston. I had started to ride across the intersection. Half way across, the light turned green and two police officers in a cruiser gunned the car and lurched out in front of me. I was narrowly hit. I watched them stop a block away while they laughed and gawked at me to view my reaction. I was too smart to say anything back. I only hung my head and shook it heavily in disgust. Suddenly there was a car tire screech and in seconds the cruiser had pulled up alongside of my bike. A big officer stuck his head out of the window and taunted me:

“You got something to say?! Huh? You got something to say to me?!”

Let me tell you something: I feel at ease when I cross the border into Mexico. I don’t fear the corrupt police, because I have never been stopped by corrupt police. I don’t fear the cartel killing me, because I don’t buy drugs. I don’t fear getting shot in Mexico, I think about getting shot when I’m in thatWalmart in El Paso.

The people of Mexico are warm, friendly and genuinely nice. Is it because they are poor? I ask you, is it because they are poor? Then maybe we have the answer to the question: “What’s wrong with Americans?”

And finally — what do the police and Americans have in common?
A sense of entitlement.

Maybe the the Grand Ol’ Party and the NRA are right — it’s not guns that are the problem. It’s American culture.

Our American dream. It is vanishing as fast as inflation can take it…

Hi, I’m Jeff

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