Thursday, August 27, 2009

A (Political) Rant

It turns out that Kermit the Frog was wrong. In fact, it is quite easy being green. Don't worry - I haven't been stricken with some horrid flu virus that has turned my skin a sickly hue. I'm actually referring to living green, doing one's part for the good of the environment.

Now that my part time teaching jobs have started again at the beginning of a new school year, my focus is very much about learning and teaching. One of the places that I learn the most is when I'm in Germany. People who read this blog may be sick and tired about reading my posts about said country. I do apologizefor the redundancy, but I have one more entry about the Fatherland that I just have to write. Now I warn you, this post may get a tad political and hence ruffle a few feathers. So, if you're not the type who appreciates a different political perspective other than your own, you may want to skip this one.

I was in Germany for 2 weeks this summer. I've been there many times before but hadn't been back for 4 years. Every time I return to the country, I'm struck by how clean and orderly it is and how beautiful the vast majority of towns and cities there are.

My first steps onto foreign soil there already tell me I'm somewhere far from home. I see a garbage can that doesn't just have one hole, but three. Three holes that ask you to separate your garbage when you discard it. Above the holes are signs that say, "plastic," "paper," and "remaining garbage." These garbage cans are standard fare for Germany; they are all over the country, everywhere you go.

According to a recent article I read about Germany, this garbage can thing shouldn't be a surprise, because Germany has been named The World's Greenest Country. That's right, it is more environmentally friendly than any other country on earth. Being a person who tries to live green as much as I can, I appreciate this. In fact, over the decades that I've been to Germany, I always suspected this to be true but never had any proof to support my theory. I've been struck by a number of ways that Germans live their daily lives which include the following:

1. Germany is a very clean place, both inside and out. You just don't see a lot of inside grime or clutter, and outside, one immediately notices that there isn't much litter...anywhere.

2. Germans don't use as much gas as we do and can get away with it for a number of reasons. Their inner cities (which have a positive connotation in that culture's language due to all of the culturalperks inner cities there have to offer, not the negative one we have in English of poverty and violence) are pedestrian zones. People walk and ride their bikes to go shopping and often to work. Public transportation is excellent. Many cities have streetcars, buses, and a subway. And don't even get me started on how awesome their train transportation is. Germany also has fairly strict laws about the kind of condition your car is in. You can't go around driving some clunker that's spewing smoke and gassing out everyone behind you. This means better and newer cars which get better gas mileage. Plus, because their country is only about 1/2 of the size of Texas, yet is home to 80+ million people, they're not afraid to look like wimps and drive small cars, like the Smart Car, for example, to get into that rarely available and teeny tiny parking spot.

3. And while Germans are shopping, you see them with their canvas bags or woven baskets. If you want a plastic bag for your groceries, you have to pay for it (and paper bags aren't even offered). A few months ago, I bought myself 5 canvas bags from my grocery store to use instead of plastic bags - a recent trend here in the USA. Germans have been doing this for decades.

I'm going on a rant about all of this, because I sometimes find my adopted state of Texas...well...filthy. This is especially true when I come back from a trip to Europe. And it bothers me. The smog, the litter (when I first came to Houston, I used to call it, "Houston...The City With All The Crap On The Side Of The Road" - not the most endearing nickname). My little subdivision here in Texas doesn't even recycle. That's right, we have no recycling pick up service. And I find that very annoying. My solution to this problem is to bring my paper recycling to the recycling bins behind an elementary school that is 3 minutes from my house. I bring plastic and glass to public bins that are on my way to work. I know that most of my neighbors are not recycling, though. I see their cardboard boxes out on garbage pickup days, and I can just see the landfills piling higher and higher.

Sometimes, I think we Americans could learn a thing or two from our European counterparts.

And here's the political part - so don't say I didn't warn you.

I just don't get why our society is freaking out about Obama's supposed efforts to make this country more "European" and the accusations that he's turning us into socialists. First of all, life is pretty darn good in all of the socialist countries in Europe that I'm familiar with, and I've traveled extensively there. And they're all democracies, too. We're not talking communism here. They have the same rights that we do. And when it comes to their system of socialized medicine, there are no death panels (where ARE there death panels, anyway?? I mean, come on!!), and you don't have to wait for 6 months for surgeries either, like many people claim. My aunt who is German and has lived in Germany all of her life, found out she needed stomach surgery in June. She had the surgery 2 weeks later (and it was only 2 weeks later, because we were visiting her for those two weeks!).

For this Euro-wanna-be, I personally think this country could use some European influence. From what I've seen first hand, it would definitely make life here a a little bit more pleasant.

1 comment:

  1. You're right. What's the big deal about being green ? It should be a basic of life. Europeans, with limited land, understand. In Texas (where I grew up, Dallas), where there's a lot of land, I guess it's easy to hide your head in a landfill, pretending that tossing out plastic, etc... has no effect on your neighbors. Alas. (Love your superior sister, Melissa B. sent me !)