26 May 2015

Only poor people have clothes lines

Recently I learned something that astounded me: a clothesline (for hanging washing out to dry) is a sign of poverty in the United States. Clotheslines are really things of the past, they said.

I was told this by some new neighbours who are from San Francisco. Having lived here for a year already, they realised that all New Zealanders have clotheslines, so could tell me this without feeling as though they were insulting me. For they must have noticed me hanging out our clothes... like a downtrodden wife stooping under the burden of poverty, according to their social conditioning.


For the record, we have three clothes-drying options: a backyard rotary clothesline, lines under the carport, and a drying rack that can be moved around to catch the warmest, sunniest spot.


My first, unchecked reaction (which went on inside me silently and invisibly, I hope) was "How lazy and irresponsible, how can you defend using clothes dryers all the time that run on electricity that is probably generated by burning fossil fuels, what wasteful destruction of our planet... rant, rant."

(I should emphasise that they were not saying they used clothes dryers in winter when it was too wet and cold to get the washing dry. They don't even have lines to hang it on, summer or winter.)

Then I realised that this was another of those rare opportunities that has come to me recently. I was given a glimpse of standard western culture as it truly, crazily is. Mostly we live inside it, so we can't see it.

To me, in many ways New Zealand has a very American, energy-hungry, consumerist, uber-comfortable way of life*. What we don't have is their cheap energy: I gather that at about 35 cents per kilowatt hour, our electricity is roughly 4 times more expensive than theirs, and our gas prices are also about four times higher. So most of us haven't slid into the central-heating, year-round clothes dryer, leave-lights-on mode. We're precluded from that aspect of Western culture by the shock of our $300 power bills.

So what would a non-Westerner, or a Westerner from long ago, be astounded at me for doing? Here are some I've figured out so far:

  • not having aged parents living with me
  • forcing my babies to sleep in a cot in a separate room to me
  • buying cheap Chinese-made clothes for my children (sometimes)
  • driving a car too often
  • habitually sitting in a chair and therefore failing to squat, so that like most Westerners I can't go to the toilet in the bush without danger of toppling over. This seems like a minor inconvenience until you think of the resulting tight achilles, hamstrings and lower backs that have lead to an epidemic of biomechanical problems (e.g. bad backs).
  • wearing shoes that are so stylishly narrow in front that my big toes deform to point inwards, creating bunions and much money for podatrists and supportive granny-shoe makers (actually mine don't but I see it everywhere, it's rife)
  • eating meat most days (I was abandoning this practice until my son developed a belly problem that means he can't eat beans and lentils, aaaghh!)
  • staring at an engaging screen instead of enjoying my friends and family, or perhaps an extra hour of sleep
  • Having a reasonably big fridge (not a double-door job, but adequate for four people). When I lived in the UK I was constantly irritated by their tiny waist-high fridges. The only freezer space was a little ice box at the top that could take maybe one large packet of frozen peas. It seemed like an impossibly antiquated way to live... which is probably how hanging out clothes seems to the Americans! (Actually I struggled to find places to dry clothes outside in the UK too.)
So I keep asking myself what other health, soul and planet-wrecking practices do I engage in that I can't see because everyone else is doing it too?

Today Anna made a quill and did her homework with it.
The ink is food colouring.
*Does this sound anti-American? I don't mean it to be. The people from the United States that I have met, in the US itself, in the UK and in NZ, have been polite, charming, eloquent, and smart. That includes my neighbours.

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