Being it’s Thanksgiving week, this entry is about being thankful for what I/we Americans have. All you have to do is walk into a store in the U.S. after going to El Salvador to feel grateful, any day of the year.
My first big trip to the grocery after returning from El Salvador was an eye opener. It showed how much we have as Americans, at least in terms of very low-priced food and easily accessible consumer items. Until you leave the borders of the U.S., you have no clue what it’s like to live in another country, and vacationing in one just glazes the surface.
Living in El Salvador and being a consumer there, I had to live with what the country provided and offered, except for a few boxes of items I’d sent to El Salvador ahead of time, and whatever I brought with me in my suitcases. The selection in stores is limited, and prices of many things are comparable to the U.S. That’s OK if you’re a baby boomer living off social security and 401k distributions, or just making good money down there, but for the general Salvadoran populace, paying about the same price as you would for something in America – ouch!
Here’s one example. I’ve mentioned how appliances and electronics seem to cost more in El Salvador, but was reminded of it first hand when I went into Target this past weekend. Though many a Salvadoran household can happily live without a coffeemaker or a microwave, the blender is an appliance found in every kitchen. My husband, beaner that he is, cannot live without the beloved veggie. We’ve eaten them lots since we’ve gotten back, but after two months without frijoles molidos, boy we need a blender.
The biggest bargains you will find in El Salvador are with services and labor – honestly it’s almost too cheap. $100-$150 for a LIVE-IN maid who only goes home one weekend a month (?). $20 to fill a cavity, $40 tops. Electricians make $15 a day, and savvy landscapers make $15 too. Doctor visits are $20-$30. But consumer goods in El Salvador? Naaah.
Going back to the United States, I came to realize after being away that we live in a Consumer’s MECCA. This is probably because we have more money > most other countries, demand a lot of items, and expect a lot of variety. And because we buy in such large quantities, we have immense power to negotiate prices and get great deals. At end of the season sales, “everything must go!” Shelves and racks are cleared out at give-away prices because store owners know that ravenously consumptive Americans will engorge themselves on more, and as soon as shelves are stocked again with shiny, new, colorful items, they’ll “buy! buy! buy!”. While walking through a Macy’s in Florida with my mother recently, we saw two different very long carts in two different departments full of new stock ready to be loaded onto the floor. At Charlotte Russe, another rack appeared, full of shiny and sequined clothing that will soon be donned by buyers at holiday parties.
In El Salvador, there is no Target or Home Depot, but thankfully, there is WalMart. Stuff doesn’t go on clearance sale like it does here, because the pool of hungry buyers is smaller, and what they can buy is less. EPA, the Home Depot look-alike in El Salvador is an expensive imposter, selling the same things you’d find at HD, only much pricier. You can get some foodstuffs cheap at the market in El Salvador, and market clothing is priced about the same as cheapy clothing stores in the U.S. but it LOOKS like you bought it at the market. Ironically, there is a plethora of malls in El Salvador – more than in the Boston metro area where we live. The parking lots do fill up, at least in Metro Centro, so I can’t figure it out, cuz there’s lots of poor people in El Salvador, I know many of them. Do the same people with $ or remittances go to the mall over and over or are they just window-shopping, and/or are the malls a fantastic way to launder money for the narcos? Who knows.
Oh, and CARS – since arriving, we bought two cheap used cars, each for less than $3000 apiece. I’ll admit, we got a killer deal on the 2001 Toyota Corolla for $2700 last month, a giveaway at a thousand dollars less than it’s worth. We owned the same exact car in El Salvador, a 2001 Corolla, but more beaten up looking, and people down there were willing to pay us $4000 for it, as is.
So yeah, food, clothes, small consumer items, and cars in the U.S. – whoopee! I make five-ten times what I made in El Salvador and yet what I buy here costs waaaaaaay less. No wonder people are crawling over our borders to get in.
One big ‘sticker shock’ I did feel since coming back was on my visit to the dentist(s) to check my ailing teeth. $150 was the cheapest quote for a filling – silver ones – in my local town. So I thought why not give my $ to my good old friendly dentist. Well, it was that visit which was really the shocker. I don’t have any medical or dental insurance yet, and you know what I realized? It’s a GOOD THING to feel the pain of paying out of pocket once in awhile so that you pay attention to HOW MUCH you are actually PAYING for services. It’s amazing how ignorant one becomes when, “no worries, the insurance is paying for it.” Take a look at the bill sometime, you might be amazed. So back to my story: my friendly dentist knows I’m paying out of pocket. So, a consultation that was all of 30-40 minutes, including three x-rays, discussing the problem areas (he says there are very few), then checking my bite with the chewing gum waxy stuff and making a tiny adjustment with the drill for 15 seconds – no anasthesia, just a quick shave-off of the white resin to change my bite, and on my way out the door….
“That’ll be $220.”
Does he think he’s a LAWYER or something???