On Poetry and Culture Shock

rags to riches

Americans seem to love rags-to-riches stories: the stereotypical kid-from-a-trailer-park who conquers Hollywood or Manhattan turns on the colective American imagination.

I hate rags-to-riches stories because they focus on the luck on one individual instead of questioning what made them in rags in the first place. Hard as I try, I cannot think of any European celebrity ever explaining how they came out of the gutter. How they came from absolute obscurity, yes. But that’s it. Why is that so? Because of course there is desperate poverty on Europe, but:

one, not in American proportions (according to Barbara Ehrenreich, a third of workers here are below the poverty line, and that’s just the workers, then there’s their families, and then there's the unemployed),

and two, not in the same degree of defencelessness as Americans. Europeans have free or next to free healthcare. Much better public education than there is in the US. Free, next to free, or reasonably affordable (depends on the country) higher education; scholarships.

Europeans also have their stories of epic success. It’s just that statistically, people hardly ever start their way up the ladder as far down as Americans do. An American that comes out of the gutter has every reason to be proud, but her country has every reason to be ashamed.

(*) Europe is not paradise on earth, and to my knowledge there are four categories of people for whom life can be very tough: foreign immigrants, the elderly poor, the long-term unemployed especially if over 45-50, and university-level first-time job seekers.

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