Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Bourgeois (you) vs. the Peasants (your wife and her family).

Many first-worlders, upon migrating to the Third World and getting a local girlfriend or wife, often discover that she does not know how to budget money, goes through the husbands/boyfriends’ allowance like it was water , and her family also keep asking the husband for money and other types of financial help. When the help is given, the money is promptly spent on seemingly nonsense things, and more requests for help start coming. “The people just do not seem to have basic financial literacy”, the first-worlder realizes. Then he starts talking about “cultural differences” and the “culture” shock.

The shock is really not about “culture”, but social class. It is all about the long standing “peasant versus the bourgeois” conflict, as the two classes have been clashing since cities had been established way back when. A city dweller did not have land, had to pay rent or city taxes; had to budget and value money as a precious resource. He had nothing else, really, unless he was a landlord, but even then, money had to be budgeted because of all kinds of expenses. A peasant, on the other hand, often could live off the fat of the land while money was secondary because it would always be there sooner or later as the result of the land giving him its wealth. The two classes could never relate to each other- the peasant would have many children who would then help in his agricultural activities, the city dweller could only afford a few, the peasant was generous with money and shared it among the members of his family and expected the new members of the family (new husbands and wives) to pool money together for the common good. The peasant would ask the bourgeois for money, but often could not pay it back because he had never learned how to manage finances the way city folks do.

The peasant thus perennially accuses the bourgeois of being stingy and greedy, of being selfish and cold-hearted, while the bourgeois keeps accusing the peasant of being a profligate and a bumbling provincial fool.

In the 1st world, peasants have long since become “farmers”, and, slowly, adopted the city ways of budgeting, had smaller families, and, pretty much, became “rural bourgeois” with now, very few differences in mentality between them and their urban counterparts. However, in the so called ‘developing’ countries, the peasant mindset is still very strong even though many former peasants now live in the cities: they have large families, they do not have money saved up, they do not know how to budget and often appear to behave in impractical, provincial ways. If the country is tropical, and harvest can be gathered all year around, the peasant classes appear even more indifferent to money, more relaxed and care-free, and less respectful of the Western bourgeois ways of doing things. Upon marrying a beautiful (peasant) girl, the American or other Western husband soon discovers just how irresponsible she can behave with his money and how disrespectful the whole family is of what he has- they expect him to buy them things- buy food, buy houses and buffaloes, and also help with medical bills. Haven’t they heard of medical insurance? They have not, apparently. What did the father think when he was making a family of twelve which he now cannot feed? He thought nothing. He just obeyed his “thirst”.

They are peasants, man. They hoped that land would take care of them. As it had for millennia.

So, a Western man runs into all kinds of confrontations, gets called a “cheap Charlie”
and gets accused of having no pity when he refuses to share his hard earned money with an enormous extended household. Then, he starts complaining about “cultural incompatibilities “between Americans and Thais or Canadians and Filipinos or even Japanese and Indonesians. But this is not about culture, man, it is about ‘class’. Unwittingly now, you are participating in class misunderstandings and class struggle but on a very miniature scale. Karl Marx revisited.

Had you chosen a real city girl, whose family has lived in the city for generation, and who knows the city ways of doing things, you would rarely have such problems, but city girls are often stuck up, unfriendly, and do not have the “warm heart” of the peasant. So, a man is stuck in a dilemma that is hard to solve. Some simply prefer not to marry into any family although some do get lucky and end up with a good urban wife. Good for them! Some succeed at training the rurally-minded girl in the intricacies of budgeting and manage to keep the money hungry other members of her clan away, or negotiate for smaller allowances. Different people deal with it differently. Some just can’t hack it, and end up leaving the country complaining about not being able to adapt to local “culture”. But few ever realize that what they come up against has nothing to do with culture, but is, basically, the thousand year old conflict between the rustic hicks and the city slickers which has been very much alive and well in the developing countries up till now, which has not yet gone away and which will, probably, still not go away for a long, long time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just discovered the website who reviews about
Several
home business opportunity

If you want to know more here it is
home business reviews
www.home-businessreviews.com