Thursday, April 12, 2007

Religion and Money

I know, I know - two traditionally taboo topics, which any blogger with a sense of self-preservation should probably learn to avoid. I´ll keep my remarks brief.

Yesterday, the internet café was populated largely by Mormons. Without deliberately eavesdropping, I was nonetheless quickly able to figure out that next Monday must be the deadline for signing up for fall courses at Brigham Young, as there was much discussion of the relative merits and demerits of various elective courses. Also of the relative pros and cons of carrying out one's mission in Sevilla versus Granada (clear consensus that Granada is preferable, because of its more compact size, notwithstanding the steepness of the terrain in some sectors). What fascinated me was the discussion about which course one should take to satisfy BY's mandatory "diversity requirement". Having worked in corporate America for over 20 years, my natural inclination is to be slightly leery of "diversity requirements" myself, but given the nature of the conversation, I have to say I found myself rooting strongly for the university in this case. The casual racism of some of the comments, and apparent ignorance of, or indifference to other cultures was frankly breathtaking, particularly here in Granada, once the center of Menocal's "Ornament of the World". Unfortunately, for some of these clean-cut young men, one had the distinct sense that a single course in fulfilment of a well-meaning diversity requirement was not going to be enough to make much of an impact.

While writing the preceding paragraph, I realise, of course, that the issue has very little to do with religion, but is rather one of mono- versus multiculturalism. I can't really wrap this vignette up with a pithy bow, so forgive me if I leave it at that, and move on to this morning's incident, which also left me a little baffled.

As a child of privilege, I have learned to be extremely respectful of frugality in others. I am fully aware that very few people share the advantages that I've been lucky to have in life, which are not limited to having been born into a loving, upper-middle class family, and getting a terrific education. For instance, I was lucky enough to receive a talent (for mathematics) which, when developed, allowed me to choose a profession that afforded considerable financial benefits. I won't belabor the point - I've been lucky, and I'm generally smart enough to count my blessings, and know that not everyone is as lucky.

Differences in background mean that people have different attitudes toward money, and different views of the virtue of frugality. Without wishing to offend anyone here, I will say that travelling with someone whose views about money are way different from one's own is likely to be difficult. (And without having direct experience in the matter, I am guessing that the same thing is likely to be true about marriage).

So I would never say that my attitudes toward money are "right", because there is no universal "right" in territory as complicated as financial matters. Nonetheless, cases of extreme frugality, by which I mean frugality taken to extremes that seem to defy commonsense, baffle me. A case in point. Last night I stayed up reading until about 1:30am , so before turning in I gave myself mental permission to skip today's first class. Accordingly, I waited until the hordes of my emaciated fellow-boarders headed out to class at 8:55 before making my appearance in the kitchen. As luck would have it, Madame Rosa shuffled in just as I had put the bread in the toaster, so I started mentally to dust off a few little nuggets of small talk. When the meltdown occurred.

Not being particularly quick in the mornings, it took me a while (a) to figure out that a meltdown was occurring (b) that it was not directed at me, and (c) - much harder - what the proximate cause actually was. This was over an hour ago, and I've been puzzling over it ever since.

See, every evening before retiring, Madame R lays everyone's breakfast place - individual juice for everyone, communal stale toasting bread, margarine and jam, teabag for Joey, coffee for me (to be microwaved, yum!), communal paper napkins. Ay, there, apparently was the rub. The number of paper napkins is apparently precisely calibrated to the number of students. And someone, prior to my showing up in the kitchen, had used two, instead of the one to which they were by law and birthright entitled. Leaving me napkinless (a state of affairs of which I had been blissfully unaware, because - gentle readers - I assure you that my use of the word "paper napkin" to describe the wafer-thin wisp of tissue in question is being generous here - we're not talking triple-ply Bounty here). I was not bothered in the least by this. Rosa, on the other hand, as she unlocked the cupboard where the napkins were kept, peeled off another to give to me, went into an all-but-catatonic state, cradling the remaining napkins to her bosom, as if they were €100 notes. As she did this, she appeared to be keening under her breath. With horror, I realised that she appeared to be repeating the names of the other student boarders, presumably obsessing about who the likely culprit might have been.

I finished my breakfast in record time this morning. Because, to be honest, I found the whole thing a little bit scary. It may be time to cut my losses and move to plan B (the hotel option).


Anonymous said...

Hello! Mainly a comment about yesterday's post -- I lived in Granada for a while a couple of years ago (and spent about half of my time in Ireland!). I don't know which theater you're familiar with but there are several there. My favorite was on Calle Recogidas, pretty close to Acera del Darro, just to the west of the Burger King. Or whichever fast food place is there, I can't remember. Anyway it had some more artsy kinds of films, and a few in English. You're making me miss it... even the rain.

Abbey from Texas

Bill Yard said...

The whole group napkin allocation business has always annoyed me. Being an obese glutton, I feel I am entitled to a larger surface area of paper than, say, the anorexic waif seated next to me. Yet I must make do with a device similar in size to hers, which she no doubt will barely touch.

Goddess knows I'd never manage without two sleeves and a mustache.