San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Potlatch Musings from the U.S. Northwest

The coastal native Americans of the U.S. Pacific Northwest lived in a land of such plenty that they used to hold potlatches, ceremonial feasts for an event such as a wedding, in which the host distributed gifts according to each guest’s rank or status. Between rival groups, the potlatch often involved extravagant or competitive giving and destruction of valued items as a display of superior wealth. The Bellevue-Redmond area of Seattle,Washington, where I stay when I am in the United States, is one of the places where native peoples lived and celebrated their prosperity. You may think that much has changed, but, in some ways, things are not so different after all.

This is one of the upscale neighborhoods in Seattle, the area where Bill Gates decided to establish Microsoft. As I stroll through this neighborhood and look around, I can’t help but contrast it with Costa Rica.

As if string theory weren’t enough, traveling from a remote mountain area of Costa Rica to this place in less than a day gets me to wondering about the true nature of reality.

This is the place where…

Everybody has a bread machine and a juicer, but nobody makes bread or juice.

You can buy five different kinds of salt.

Everyone sleeps under a duvet.

Wedding costs begin at $15,000.

Nobody throws garbage on the ground.

There is a special park just for dogs.

Nobody has to watch commercials any more.

Grocery shopping is available online – free delivery next day.

The hospital reception area features floor to- ceiling aquariums and a classical pianist.

No one ever overcooks vegetables.

There are no stray dogs.

Everyone has an outdoor hot tub and speakers hidden in fake rocks.

Yards with dogs all have invisible fences.

No one knows, thank goodness, what a chayote is.

Bus drivers are always helpful.

All appliances (large or small) must match the decor of the kitchen.

Dog sitters charge $25 a night.

People leave blenders and toasters on the sidewalk for Goodwill pick up.

Everyone has at least one gas fireplace.

Black beans are a gourmet item.

During the Christmas season, stores feature a section for doggie stocking stuffers.

No one jaywalks.

Everyone eats organic.

You can get your money back on merchandise for any old reason.

UPS comes two or three times a week.

People stop their cars for pedestrians to cross the street.

For just $1 apiece, you can buy one kind of lemon (yellow, thick and pulpy).

Each child has his own DVD player for the car.

The roads are perfect.

Everyone recycles.

Little girls take ballet and little boys take karate.

Landscapers charge $900 to prune two apple trees.

A four-lane highway is a very small one.

Phone cable stays put.

All the traffic lights work.

CDs are passé.

Everyone has a redwood deck.

Sushi is a standard item in grocery stores.

So what is my conclusion? Is Bellevue, which means “pretty view” in French, better than where I live? Better than my view of the Costa Rican mountains from the windows of my funky cabin?

Mmm, I don’t think so.


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