Silent visitor

It’s when life calms down, when the hasty stress takes a few moments to catch breath, that you come for a visit. Once again. As if you were never gone, as if you were just hanging around invisibly nearby, waiting for a good moment to show up. ‘Hey, remember me? I will always be here!’

What sounds so reassuring is a silent thread. ‘You are not alone!’, you whisper in my ear, and it gives me shivers. I tried so hard to forget you. I kept myself busy with tasks and goals, rushing from achievement to achievement, no time to stop and acknowledge them. Mini-steps, bigger steps, just never stop.

Cause if I stop, you’re here with me in a heartbeat. When I run, rush, swirl around, I cannot see you. You cannot see me. Or at least, you cannot get to me.

But once a year, you catch up. The sun is shining and never stops, the nights are gone and won’t come back, it’s warm and pretty and nice outside, everything is alive, and everyone is full of joy. The hectic daily routines slow down, everyone fully enjoys life, and everything should be more than alright. That’s when you strike. Not unexpected, not anymore, but not less harmful nevertheless. When it becomes silent is when I hear you. Hear you whisper, hear your presence, feel your cold.

You are a part of me. No matter how fast I run, you follow me like a shadow. Only visible in the light. Sometimes further, sometimes closer, but always there. I don’t like how you make me feel. I don’t like the thoughts you plant in my mind. I want to get rid of you, but I don’t know how.

More work. Another goal to achieve, another task to accomplish. One day it will be enough. One day I will be enough. One day you’ll leave me alone.

But when you reach me, you slow me down. You weigh so much, it’s hard to move, hard to breathe. I want to carry on and bring distance between you and me, but it’s too late. You’re so heavy. You’re so cold. I get tired to try. I get tired.

Maybe I can just wait it out. Maybe one day, you’ll have enough. Maybe one day, you’ll leave me alone.

And I can breathe again.

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Back in the game: Of Tinder oddities and other problems

Oh, Tinder. I am so happy to have you back in my life, because what would my procrastination be like without some daily portion of tindergarten-drama?

Someone asked me what Tinder was like in the US. Well, surprisingly normal! You find some that you meet up with, and have a beer and nice conversation, you find some you don’t wanna meet up with, and you find some that directly tell you all they want is to hook up. Pretty good representation of the normal population, I’d say.

But the social awkwardness of Finns paired with an increasingly common assumption that this particular dude you swiped right is the answer to all questions any woman ever had, his phallus the solution to every problem in the world (plus his greatest achievement ever), and his ‘very complex personality’ a gift to womanhood in general, makes Tinder in and around Oulu a rollercoaster of horror. You either end up talking to those that almost autistically ignore every cue you offer, and rigorously and diligently work through their catalogue of questions, or you find the ones that are a bit less socially awkward, know of it, and thus consider themselves the king of Finnish dating-hoods. And they might have a point, after all, in a land of the blind, the one-eyed man is the king, right? But as an expat, it’s like an endless pool of research material for social studies. Sure, there’s normal people too, but here they are the outliers, and not vice versa.

Admittedly, Finland being a very emancipated country is not exactly known for its gentleman culture. While in the US, you actually feel like the guy is at least trying (or pretending) to court you, and for sure he pays for the first date*, you wouldn’t even dare to expect the latter in Finland. But boy, what about some basic human decency, at least? What about not insulting someone 3 minutes into the first conversation, because it’s simply not a very nice thing to do in any kind of human interaction? Also, is this really part of a mating game?

The saddest thing that comes with the awkwardness, the ignoring of cues and the self-praising-attitudes is that you get the feeling the other person is not the slightest bit interested in you. Sure, Tinder is a meat-market, and you occasionally feel like you’re going shopping. On a flea market. Or in a fifth-hand-store. But if you don’t value the goods you wanna buy even a little bit, why barter at all? There can be more to human interaction than rubbing your genitals together and exchanging body-fluids for a certain amount of time. And isn’t the reason for flirting working so well that, often, anticipation is a major part of an event?

Who doesn’t like being catcalled?

The attention you get on Tinder boosts your self-confidence, is what my male friends told me once. Well, not really – this kind of attention I basically get by just passing any random construction site. If you have boobs, many people feel obliged to tell you that they can observe this fact with their own eyes, and that it makes them think of lots of nasty things. Instead, it would be somewhat special to get some attention that’s directed towards my jokes, or brain. Or how about just some simple interest in who I am beyond those boobs? That might be actually flattering. But if the definition of a compliment on Finnish Tinder is “You have nice body :)”, and the understanding of courting someone “Do you like to touch? I like being touched!”, my desperate cry for attention is not answered on this platform, unfortunately. Even my cat gave me more attention than that, and cats only love themselves by definition.

It is probably the incapability of putting oneself in someone else’s shoes that makes guys act like that. After all, they are immensely proud of a body-part that simply came with the mere fact of them being alive, in an entirely random size and shape. So when they admire the equivalent on someone else, they most likely think it is a strong compliment. Following a similar logic, it seems unclear to them as to why they have to ask questions about someone. “Maybe this is just something you do, it’s part of the game, gotta ask X questions per girl.” If anyone stopped for a second and pondered over the deeper meaning, maybe he would realize that the questions are aimed at getting to know someone? So, how about asking stuff then you’re interested in getting to know? Stuff that enables you to ask follow-up questions? No, “What do you eat for breakfast?” is not part of that (I have to admit, at first I thought he was trying to make a joke about me ending up at his place till breakfast, but unfortunately it was just question no. 3 on the list). Neither is “What are your favourite flowers?”, especially if it comes as an answer to what I eat for breakfast.

I’m not a big fan of these interview-like conversations anyways, and a firm believer in discussions over questions. You’ll figure out the important stuff along the way. And what better way would be there to get to know someone than engaging in a discussion, preferably with opposing view-points? Unfortunately, the last time I did that, I was told I have problems. And that something must be wrong with me to be willing to “discuss something in such detail”. Later, the same person then offered me his time. You see, this happens a lot: Apparently, it’s completely irrelevant whether you have time or not, because all you did your life up until that point was waiting for him to be free for a day, anyways, right? (Also, this is how I ended up in my last relationship). Well, I dared to decline because I do this odd thing during the day called work. He passive-aggressively sent a thumbs up and unmatched me.

Without any doubt, I perhaps seem just as odd to them as they seem to me. Plus, I can already notice myself changing towards an odder version of me, working through a catalogue of questions, and becoming picky when someone doesn’t talk the right way. So it’ll probably just be a matter of time till the first rant I’ll appear in. But until then, I’ll patiently collect more material for this blog, and continuously work on my fish-picture-collage.

*I’m a feminist, but I got no problem with that. I don’t think it hurts anyone to spend 3 dollars on a coffee just to signal some appreciation, and I don’t feel undermined by it. If I spend an hour blow-drying my hair, creating this face of mine, and shaving my legs (on a good day) to show my appreciation, I think it’s a fair trade?
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maybe it was true

This is the stuff grand love stories are made of, he says. Her heart skips a beat when he takes her hand.

It was not logical. It was not rational. It was just feelings. So many of them, in such a vast spectrum of colors. Colors whose existence she could have never pictured in her wildest imagination. They took over her mind and her ability to reason. Like lava they worked their way through her brain, hot and bubbly, creating tiny explosions while silencing slowly but steadily any doubt her self-defense tried to raise.

Maybe it was true. Maybe it could be true. She had always been fast to know when she liked someone; one conversation, one glance, and it’s a clear yes or no. Crazy, people would say. Naïve, and they’d be shaking their heads. Hopeful, she would answer. Optimistic. If I work that way, surely there’s others, too?

It was a match. A perfect fit. They spoke the same language, they thought the same way. She got excited. I can’t wait to meet you, he said. The first minutes were awkward, in a good way. Nervous, in an exciting way. Still, the same language. Looks, words, gestures. Everything was fast, quick, intense. Time rushed and stood still. Your crazy matches my crazy. Finally.

Be careful, reason tried to warn. Shut up, cheered the heart and jumped in head first. Your crazy matches my crazy. Such a relief when you can be yourself. Finally. No games, just be. No thinking, just feeling.

This is the stuff grand love stories are made of. And when you’re in love, anything is possible. Maybe it could be true. Maybe it was true. Maybe it could last, for a moment, for now, forever. With the hours spent together accumulating, the number of times they touch, laugh, kiss, new plans manifest. Ideas pop up, dressed in excitement, dragging along anticipation, and hope. They stay. They fill the space around her and him. A vague future begins to draw itself, in fine lines at first, the strokes getting stronger and bolder. First days, then weeks. Maybe the next months. Maybe it could be true.

It was not. It was not true. He was quick, fast, intense. Like her. And quickly, fast, abrupt, he changed his mind. About her. About them. And it was not true. It could not be. I can’t wait to meet you, is something you just say, to reach your goals. I love you, is something you just feel in a quick moment, and then it’s gone. Some day I’ll marry you, means sleep with me, and then I’ll forget about you. I miss you, is something people want to hear. Whose crazy matches my crazy?

It was not logical, and it was not rational. She got lost in the storm of feelings, got high on them. They unarmed reason and sanity, and swooped her off her feet. A tornado of irrationality disguised as a breeze. Too late to put the guards up, when it suddenly revealed its nasty face. Unexpectedly it hit, and she was defenseless. Caution had long gone overboard. Without protection, she was powerless against the impact.

Such a relief when you can finally be yourself. Let that shield of mistrust and suspicion crumble, and underneath is just you, and you just are. You just feel.

But without a shield, you are vulnerable. You can get destroyed, in the fight. And who can you be when yourself is gone?

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Is Love Really All We Need?

The Beatles had it all figured out. LSD gives you weird trips, yesterday is always better than today, and as long as you got love, anything else is solvable. But is that really true? What about all the dysfunctional relationships that people are stuck in because they don’t know how to leave the one they love? The woman that stays with her husband even though he occasionally beats her up when he’s drunk, just because she loves him? The man that stays with his wife even though she regularly cheats on him with all his friends? What if love is actually the force that leads us into misery and makes us remain there, just like the frog in the hot water that missed the point of escape and now has to boil to death?

Clearly, without being in love we would not be able to stand being crammed into a tiny space with another human being and bear all their oddities for an uncertain amount of time, maybe even forever. Note that the tiny space can also be a big space physically, but due to all the compromises and the fact that you’re now not living your own life anymore, but half of someone else’s life instead, really provides you with not a very big space, symbolically, or does it now? So, love definitely is a necessary condition for being crazy enough as to even start sharing all your thoughts and dreams and plans and time. But is it actually sufficient? Whenever people see a couple with an enormous amount of chemistry, they enviously mention how these two are that perfect match that everyone dreams of finding. This passion, this devotion, this crazy amount of love!

You can be almost 99% certain that the passion and intensity you observe in the good parts of a relationship are most likely happening also in the bad parts. Every couple fights. But those who have extreme passion probably also fight extremely passionate. And who would like to be part of a fight with great intensity, exaggeration, and passionate screaming and dish-throwing? Here’s the problem: You can’t really pick only the cherries of a phenomenon. If you like the extreme thrill of skydiving, you’re also aware that once it goes wrong, the consequences are much more fatal than for example consequences of the far less exciting cross-country-skiing (though people do die in stupidly normal situations, admittedly). If you “settle” for a less crazy, less rollercoaster-like relationship, maybe also your fights actually take a more reasonable course than they otherwise would.

As with every decision we take, only we personally are able to weigh the costs against the benefits and go for the option that suits us most. Maybe you’re fine with having crazy fights. Maybe it’s less of an effort for you to destroy a couple of plates every once in a while than having to come up with ways to artificially create passion in almost every daily situation. Only you know. But don’t tell me that ‘love’ is the only thing that’s important in a relationship.

Or, perhaps, we got it all wrong. Maybe The Beatles were actually talking about love for oneself. I am pretty sure that every single dysfunctional issue we can find in ourselves and others can be derived from the fact that we don’t accept ourselves the way we are. Insecurity and a lack of self-confidence is what feeds an unhealthily huge ego. If our ego is enormous and we constantly try to live up to our own expectations of who we ought to be, then it’s no wonder we are miserable. And how can a person who’s miserable deep inside actually be free to give to the world, to their partner? They are trapped in constant inner conflict about all the ‘shoulds’ around them – this person should treat me better, this situation should have gone a different way, the world should not be this unfair. Acceptance is the only way to deal with such conflict – acceptance of those things that are not changeable, and acceptance of ourselves. The way we are, the way we developed – and also the fact that things we don’t like about ourselves can only be improved if we first accept that they are there now.

I don’t know if there is such a thing as bad chemistry between people. Or the wrong kind of chemistry. Or if it could all be resolved through love – if not just for one another, then certainly for oneself. I do believe that almost all situations are resolvable through communication and patience. But love for one another, the way we romantically define it, the way we value crazy passion over everything, is certainly not enough to make things work. Relationships are work, they require a strong will for committing to a situation that deviates from what we otherwise would have done by ourselves. They require taking your partner into consideration when you take big decisions such as where to live next just as well as small decisions such as not being reachable for a weekend without a warning. But most of all, they require knowing who you are. And accepting it. Knowing your flaws and your strengths, and accepting them as part of who you are. Communicating why we do the things we do might be the most important factor in interpersonal relationships, because all conflict usually comes from misunderstanding each other. And this might just as well be achieved through an honest understanding of and true love for ourselves.

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How intolerant is demanding tolerance?

I don’t like to see myself as a Social Justice Warrior, but I have to admit that I do take chances to point out intolerant or non-differentiated nonsense people utter or post on Social Media. Simply because I think change starts small, and if everyone who sees or notices something in their inner circle (yes, I count my 1000+ facebook-friends to my inner circle) speaks out, maybe people will start listening, and, more importantly, start thinking. Towards a more tolerant and kind society.

Fact is, however, that human beings are selfish little scumbags. Since, like, ever, we need institutions like religion or the government to tell us what’s right and what’s wrong, simply because we don’t seem to be able to internalize something like moral values, and act accordingly. Discussing about ethics and moral is thus as constructive as Sisyphus keeping on rolling that stone. Because, here comes a fun fact, there will always be counter arguments as to why the person that in someone’s eyes acted intolerant is actually very right in what they are doing, has reasons that can be related to, and anyway, there’s no law that would keep them from doing whatever disgusting little selfish act they are living out right now. And then you stand there with all your good intentions to make it right, to bring someone onto “the right path”, and you start questioning yourself: How do I even know the path I want them to take is “the right one”?

If we were all super tolerant, nothing could ever bother us, right? The most intolerant behaviour, which, according to my established hypothetical parallel reality would now need a different adjective, would just be an “alternative” way of doing things, and we should be absolutely fine with it. If an acquaintance offers you to lend you their vehicle when you’re in need, to conditions that would let the most nefarious business man turn green with envy, and then calls it an act of friendship, while you are one of those people that are used to helping out even random strangers on the street at your own expense – well, then that’s just the way they roll! You do it your way, they do it theirs, and because we’re all so tolerant, there’s absolutely no problem with that!

Since I came to the US, I compare and rant and complain about all the little nasty things that come with this strongly individualistic, capitalist system that leaves so many people behind and seems to benefit only the few that are in power to change it (which, of course, they won’t). I’m sure you noticed. So the other day, I was starting another rant about how on social events, people seem to need to hop from person to person to make small-talk about uninteresting things for two minutes. I went on how I, of course, totally boycott this, and refuse to play this game. How I rather have conversations with a deeper meaning and a real value, and maybe even some entertainment factor, instead of trying to “invest” in the future in which this random two-minutes-person might be of help to me some day. And then, suddenly, I caught myself in my own head as being very judgemental.

Who am I to decide which way is the better one – having conversations to invest in the future, or for mere entertainment? Yes, I do advocate the YOLO approach to a certain extent, but why would that be the one right one? Everyone is on this planet only once, and only for a limited amount of time. If some people want to make the most out of it by enjoying every second, it’s their choice, but if some people want to try thriving for being remembered way beyond their existence, and they thus need to “invest” in their future and career at any possible point in time, shouldn’t that be their own choice then, as well?

You can carry this thought forward. Who are we to decide that socialism is better than capitalism? Sure, it’s unfair if people are left behind merely because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, and others are given a head start because they are privileged. Sure, no one on this planet, I claim, is able to sustain their high living standards without living off of other people’s poor living standards – but does that mean they owe being fair to anyone? That life is unfair and random becomes most evident when natural catastrophes kill people. When a spider ends up in your house instead of your yard and this might be the last thing the little creature ever saw. When you want to get in shape and all the weight you lose leaves from your boobs.

The other day, someone shared a very true comic about having ideals, in the context of inheritance and true equality in opportunities. The bottom line was that everyone seems to have an ideal opinion as to how fair society should work – until they are affected themselves, and something they think they earned or deserved is suddenly at stake. This is usually the upper limit of people’s kindness and generosity. And these upper limits are defined very subjectively and per individual. For some people, money is the thickest boundary, for others it might be time. As soon as we have to sacrifice something we value in order to give it to someone else who might need it more, we take a decision about where to set those boundaries. We might be willing to sacrifice a little bit, but not too much, and the threshold of this sacrifice is again very subjective. So while you (or I, in that matter) might be thinking we are super altruistic people because we are willing to lend our car to a friend for a weekend and drive around by bus ourselves, because the friend needs to go 500 kms and we only 10, this is actually just defined by our own constraints. For someone else, the constraint might be at the fact that even though it’s just 10 kms, it’s still their own car, so why the heck would they even need to lend it to anyone in the first place?

This was just an excursion into what-would-be-land for me, and I will of course continue to regard our society as a whole, and our goods and assets more as a shared basket where everyone randomly happened to be in control over a certain part; if nothing else then because of the unfairness and randomness of being born into the ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ family, which I mentioned earlier (I hate unfairness). In this ‘basket’, I weigh 500 kms against 10 kms, and I disregard the my-car-aspect versus their no-car-aspect, because there might be so many reasons why someone does not own a car but I do. And also, it really doesn’t hurt me to take the bus.

I just wanna make sure you *know* you’re living in an ivory tower – ok, thanks.

I will, however, try to be more tolerant towards those that set their constraints lower than I do. Those that think they earned every penny they own by themselves, with their own hard work alone, while randomness has nothing to do with it. Who think it is thus OK to not tolerate anyone who works less than they do, or earns less than they do (which apparently implies someone worked less, according to these people’s belief system), and dares to live off social welfare. I will try to not judge them. After all, I have to tolerate their intolerance. But I won’t shut up, either. And while I will still explain to them why I see things very differently, expecting my view to be tolerated, I do admit that this might be a discussion to which there is no ending: it might as well be that the world will change to the worse instead of the better, benchmarked by my own, socialist beliefs. Tolerating each others tolerance and intolerance will lead to a vicious circle of confusing nothingness, where any opinion is to be accepted, even those that might generally be considered morally and ethically wrong.

Because, after all, human beings are nasty, selfish scumbags, and with moving more and more away from religion, we seemingly managed to eliminate the one good thing the Bible had to offer: Love thy neighbour as thyself. Breaking news: now tolerance is the new next-love!

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American Dream or Blatant Scam? More on how to make money in the US.

People who have ever traveled as tourists through Asia know that in most parts, haggling is a big part of the culture there. On markets, no prices are on display. Instead, you ask for one and then start haggling, or you initiate the bargaining by offering a price yourself. If you were to pay the first price mentioned, some vendors might even be disappointed or offended. Then there’s another reason for the lack of publicly visible prices: If you are a tourist, you usually end up paying the ‘tourist price’ when buying things on local markets. Obviously, vendors cannot easily display two different prices; that would cause too much discontent. And maybe you might say it’s just a rumour. But anecdotal evidence of a wife angrily whispering into her husband’s ear after he has made an offer to a backpacker, which resulted in the price suddenly rising, is just one of many stories to prove this unofficial rumor.

Since I came to the US, I noticed many parallels to the parts of Asia I have seen so far. I am not referring to the working culture, which strangely resembles the Chinese one, with 10 days of vacation a year being a blessing, or to the deliberate withholding and tunneling of public information. Well, at least not in this blog entry. Here, I actually am talking about the culture of setting prices completely at random, and trying to deceive and confuse consumers to an extent that leaves me in shock almost every day again.

I admit that I might come from a very protected environment. In the European countries I am familiar with, we have consumer protection, we have tenant protection, and we have employee protection. As a result of a more socialist culture on the continuum of capitalism, those people without power (so basically those who have at most an average income and no connections to any Mafia bosses or other politicians) are taken care of fairly well, contrary to what they actually might believe themselves. In the US, a country that strongly believes in capitalism, the rights of the individual are valued most. This basically means that theoretically, everyone could do what they need to be well off – but reality looks a bit different. Few people who have all the power make all the rules, and everyone else just has to follow. The consequences are an exploitative employee-employer-relationship, an imbalanced tenant-landlord-bond, and a consumer market where not supply and demand find an equilibrium, but instead the suppliers play consumers like little puppets and squeeze every cent out of them until they stop moving.

There is no governmental regulation, there are hardly any upper limits to what can be charged from people, and the only players seem to be competitors who randomly rise prices as they please, which results in a higher and higher overall price. Housing is expensive and so badly maintained that people have pest-problems all over the country, food is either literally toxic or unaffordable, when an employee falls sick they have to take unpaid leave or vacation, and reproducing is a financial disaster from the moment you get pregnant till you have to put your kid to college. If you ever wondered why the majority of the poorer people here seems to be overweight – contrary to Asian cultures by the way, where a big belly is a sign of a wealthy lifestyle: It’s because the food you can afford to buy here has so much added corn syrup and is run through so many additional processes that there is basically zero nutrition left. And what happens if you keep cramming empty calories into your stomach? Right, it still feels empty, so you naturally keep cramming. But if you can buy a kilo of sugared crap for a dollar, and a single apple for two, the story is quite straightforward.

Confused what to pay?

Despite the prices randomly being set at the will of sellers, they also are almost impossible to know from the start. Probably this is due to the fact that you can confuse people better by deceiving them, and because you can alter the prices daily without having to alter your information out there, and because you can drag people till the check-out and then reveal the price, and going back and changing whatever it is they wanted to buy would be too much of an effort by now, and… well, there are numerous reasons, really. None of them aids the customer, though. If you want to know how much to pay for a car repair service, you have to call. It is bad enough that they charge you for visiting any random tree stump, but putting a sign at the bottom of a mountain that says “Tickets at the gate uphill”, and letting you drive all the way up first before you even find out that now you gotta pay 15 bucks per person to climb up a mountain, that’s just pure evil. Who would turn around again now? And what on earth is so difficult about giving the actual price when already making the effort of asking you personally if the additional fee for the extra driver for the rental car is OK? You literally find out about it when signing the credit card receipt 20 seconds later, and you probably do notice that it is 30 dollars more than what was just said.

It’s like riding a taxi and anxiously observing the running meter accumulating to your last salary.

Also in Germany retailers make use of the psychological effect of displaying a seemingly lower price. However, this is a psychological effect, and not an actual attempt to scam you into buying by withholding additional information! Instead of displaying 5 euros, a sign would read 4.99, or 4.95 euros, for example. Your eyes see the big 4 and your brain suggests it’s super cheap. Still, with a minimum conscious control over your idiot brain, you could at least know what the real deal here is. In the US, I have already given up on trying to convert dollars into euros in my mind. What’s the point? The mere fact that one dollar is about 80% of a euro doesn’t mean anything. Actually, 80% of a euro is what you can see, and the remaining 20% are random sales taxes, fees, and I-don’t-like-your-face-add-ons, so in the end it’s really more like a 1:1 relation. You do save some money at the check-out though when you sign-up for yet another customer-card, and your toilet paper is suddenly cut in half. Literally already in production, and now also monetarily! But, as always, you gotta work for that, and you gotta sell your soul and email address to them.

I have a theory that their weird units are also just another way to deceive people. Having a metric system with 10s and 100s of the whole piece certainly makes comparing easier. Comparing olive oil in a 100-ml-bottle for 1.50 euros to a 200-ml-bottle for 2 euros directly reveals which is the cheaper one. But if stuff is sold in random sizes like 15.8 oz, 3/7th of a gallon, or 36 handful of Donald Drumpf’s tiny hands, there’s no way you know how to save money at one glance. Only with an excel spreadsheet and a lot of time you may find out. As tempting as that sounds to me as an accountant, I don’t usually have the time to do that in a supermarket, unfortunately.

One mile is fivethousandtwohundredandeighty feet. Easy.

Sometimes they don’t even try to deceive you, and just yell right in your face how stupid they think you are: Yesterday on the State fair a seller advertised his “Ice-cold pepsi!” with a bargain-price of “Fifty cents only, two for a dollar!” – I believe people who are used to quantity discounts might just buy two without even thinking about it. Trust me. I am the one who signed up for a 4-months gym membership for the price of 6 months. Or maybe they punished me with an extra fee for laziness because I don’t wanna go to their office every month again and again. I still think I let this adverse quantity discount happen only because they managed to confuse me extremely beforehand. That’s why I insist on claiming the US doesn’t keep their measures in “turn right in one MILLION feet” because it would be costly to change everything, or because they wanna remain special, no, they do it solely in order to keep everyone confused. You can sell confused people more.

The advertising sometimes crosses limits that no one would even think of approaching in other countries. By the highway, you see huge ugly signs with commercials of all kinds. The weirdest though are hotels promoting themselves with printing FREE BREKFAST in house-sized letters. Now probably what it means is that by paying an adjusted room rate that has already considered charging a fortune for cardboard waffles and plasticky pancakes, you don’t need to pay for those another time. What it does suggest, however, is that you can just pop by that hotel and ask for some free food. How likely is it that the latter is true? In America? Right, chances are like the p-value I wish to see in all my results: smaller than the fraction of a percent. So why the heck do you even write such a stupid thing on your stupid ugly billboard? Who knows, maybe a small number of confused people actually shows up and then ends up paying for it anyways because they already made it all the way there, just like with the mountain-visit-fee.

I think the award for the brashest scam goes to the management of my rental agency though, who were so clever to praise themselves for not having to increase the rent last year: They sent out an email that opened with the words “We are very pleased to tell you that this year, there will be no rent increase!”, and then they continued telling the tenants that, in case they wished to keep unnecessary luxury goods such as internet, TV, maintenance and pest control, and one of their so far included two parking spots, they would need to pay 125 dollars extra from now on. I have no clue what the second tenant of the shared apartments does with their car nowadays, to be honest. Maybe they sold it. Though, how do you go all the 2 kms (I think that’s about 4500 feet in size 5.5) to Trader Joe’s if you sold your Hummer?

The missing or confusing and misleading display of prices is not the only thing that resembles a proper street market like the ones I loved so much in Asia. Also the fact that you get constantly bombarded with advertisements and screamed at with misleading offers reminds of vendors trying to drag your attention towards them. Maybe that’s just how it is on a “real” free market. Maybe it is better if prices are set at the market and government cannot interfere. What is just very confusing is to find it in literally every instance of your daily life in a developed country that claims to be the number one of the Western world. Because, despite the fact that the buyer-side seems to have hardly any negotiation power in the US “street” market, while it might not be very hurtful to decide against buying the certainly really real RayBans from the street market if you don’t like their price, can you really decide against buying food or paying rent because you find it too expensive?

The rental agency increased the rent again this year, by the way. In Germany, you can increase rents only up to maximum 15-20% of the rent, distributed over three years, with very valid and clearly stated reasons. The house I currently live in here has raised rents by roughly 30% over three years with reasons varying from “We don’t increase the rent, we just offer you some things outside of your normal rent now” over not mentioning any reason at all to “We have to because everyone else does, too”.

But this is really material for yet another blog entry about the many USO-ddities.

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Haters gonna hate- but here is why they should stop already

Sometimes I feel like Milla Jovovich in The 5th Element, speed-watching human history and starting to cry because all that humankind seems to do is basically destroying each other. I think Bruce Willis tells her something about love being the motivator to carry on nevertheless. Or maybe I just want to remember this because it makes so much sense. However, wouldn’t it be awesome if we actually lived up to this?

On Sunday, we had elections in Germany, and, unfortunately not very surprisingly when following the developments over the past years, we now have a populist right-extremist party with more than 90 seats in the parliament. I wrote something about the possible reasons for people choosing such politics already when Trump got elected, but what worries me even more at the moment are the reactions of my non-AfD-electing friends and acquaintances. Yes, this outcome is bad. The AfD openly campaigns racism, homophobia, anti-women-rights, and a lot of other stuff that is detrimental for a progressing and forward-looking democratic society. Given our history, it might be even worse than if it had happened in a different country. It was, however, foreseeable, and I do claim that it is not just the politicians’ duty to prevent this from happening. We all have this duty as a society.

Everyone can vote in a democracy. You don’t need an election-license, even though some might half-jokingly suggest it could benefit the outcome. The problem here is threefold: For once, politics is a complex process, and complex things require thorough understanding in order to take an educated decision. That’s one thing. The other thing is that, even though there are many parties out there, the tendency goes towards a moderate mean with little change and more or less the same politics over time. That’s how our political system is shaped, and how our political parties have changed over time. If you’re not happy with that mean, you have to go to the extremes to suggest a change. That’s what the AfD took advantage of. Just like Trump, they listened to the dissatisfied, and promised them to solve all their problems. This is when the third problem enters the equation: In order to understand fully the complexity of an economy, and how to solve its problems, you need not only constant discourse, a diversified view on media, and formal education, you also need to be able to push past your basic human instincts. Otherwise, scammers like Trump and the AfD have an easy game at promising you exactly what you want to hear, without any logical grounds, and you’ll buy it. And once they got you, they even may utter the most outrageous, racist, human-rights-violating statements, you don’t hear them anymore. You stopped at “I hear you, I know your problem, I have a solution”, and give them your vote.

One of the basic human instincts, besides the one of wanting to be heard and not ignored, is fear. The majority of the votes for the AfD came from regions with low immigration rates. Humans are xenophobe by nature, I reckon – it’s what kept us alive back in the cave-days. Traveling, interaction with strangeness, reading about it, getting to know other cultures and people, is what opens the mind towards otherness. Experiencing it and seeing that it is not a threat. Thus, I find it only logical that in those regions where people are very homogenic, the fear of otherness is bigger. It’s the fear of the unknown. It cannot be discussed away easily, and certainly it won’t disappear by being judged for having it.

Now let’s add some other factors. High unemployment rates. It’s the same regions, by the way – in East Germany, unemployment rates are higher than in West Germany. Not to forget that for roughly 40 years, this part of the country was completely isolated from the rest of Europe – that’s a bunch to catch up with, anyways. Unemployment and job insecurity leads to less financial security, less security in general. People feel ignored, they get frustrated. They fear for their own future. Fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate – Yoda already told us. It’s the path to the dark side.

This is one side of it. People sliding onto the dark path unknowingly, while on the other side the ones that are still on solid ground could help them. So, how are they gonna stop the sliders? I would now expect the open-minded, tolerant, formally educated non-AfD-voters to act reasonable and rational. But they don’t. They also react with anger. They try to fight fire with fire, hate with hate. They, prior to the elections, already lashed out on everyone who dared to even mention they could maybe vote for the AfD – and now that it has happened, they (thousands of Germans, including leading newspapers) brag about how they are the smarter, the better, the wiser “87%” that did not vote for the Nazis to enter our parliament again.

Fact is, the voters of the AfD are the ones with the highest percentage of disappointment-driven votes. While other party-supporters elect ‘their’ parties out of belief, or maybe because it was the best they could get, 60% of the AfD-voters gave their votes because they felt left behind from the rest of the political system. Let’s look at this in the big picture: roughly 72% of the voting-eligible people actually did participate in the elections. Now I might be completely off, but I do think at least a part of this 28% that did not vote is demonstrating frustration and disappointment over the political system by refraining to make use of their democratic rights, too. Less than 6% of the eligible voters were so disappointed that they decided to give their vote to the AfD. Only 3.7% of all eligible voters actually believe in the concepts of this party. Around 62% voted for the other parties. Now it might not be impossible, but definitely very hard to change someone’s beliefs about the world, so let’s forget about the 3.7% for a minute here: These 6% plus whatever is left in the 28% non-voters are the ones we have to pick up again and start listening to. In numbers, it means that of 62 million eligible voters, more than 20 million feel overrun. 3.5 million so much that they saw the AfD as the only way out of this desperation. Isn’t that sad?

A well-functioning society only works as a whole, not as a power-play with the strongest making the rules for everybody. Power can change, easily, it just takes the right people to come along, promise whatever one wants to hear, and harvest disappointed voters. And if we keep on splitting our society into “them” and “us”, logically, there will always be disappointed ones. And “we” keep on driving “them” towards the vote-harvesters. Just like in any human relationship we need to find compromises where everyone is listened to and heard.

We have to stop insulting each other. If we call all the AfD voters a bunch of idiots and racist pigs, we are doing exactly the same the representatives of the AfD are doing, when they call all foreigners criminals and rapists and job-stealers because of some outliers which exist in every society. Sure, you might argue that the voters still gave their vote to a racist party, but re-read the part I wrote about hearing only what you want to hear. Plus, you cannot tell me anyone is 100% satisfied with the entire program of the party they voted for. If you now take into consideration the individual frustration- or desperation-level, you might, in a real hypothetical thought, far away from everything you yourself believe in, understand that it could eventually lead to giving the vote to a party that promises improvement. Maybe they are even anticipating a split from the far right, much like it happened in Finland, resulting in more of an ‘alternative’ without all the extremist, discriminatory thinking.

Whatever the motivations of those supposedly secretly voting for AfD are, generalization is the dangerous tool these populists use, and we ought to be better than that. If we insult someone for voting a destructive party out of desperation, with allegories like throwing a Molotov-cocktail into your own house if you have a water damage (or something), we can just as well go to people who injure themselves because they are depressive, and start laughing at them. Yes, human reaction does not always make sense, especially not when emotions are involved. The boundaries for what one is willing to sacrifice for their own well-being are set individually. Banning those that don’t conform to what we would do, what we would say, if we were in their situation, is not only wrong and destructive, it also is very irrational. We cannot possibly know what we would do.

I understand the frustration over the election results. I understand the anger. But fact is: This happened. This is our country today. There are more than 30% among us that feel left out – what are we gonna do about it? We can call them stupid and stop talking to them – where does that lead to? How can that possibly change anything into something better?

In the end, the big decisions are up to the politicians, that’s right (you can, by the way, become one of those yourself. Just join a party if you really want to change something). But we cannot give up on conversation now. Even if it might not lead to anything – what’s there to lose? You won’t make it worse by arguing. You will most likely make it worse by banning the people that you disagree with – or then you won’t change anything, in the best case. Neither will you change your own well-being, by the way, because the anger will also bring you closer to the dark side. Yes, there are dark sides both left and right of the way. It’s time to fight hate with love and live up to Bruce Willis’ promises.

 

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