The youngish guy who sat next to me in seat 1B (hey, I got a free upgrade) on my flight down to Austin was a tall guy, a baseball cap on his prematurely balding head, and a little overweight. And as our flight bumped through storm cells over Virginia, Kentucky and Arkansas, he shared his internal debate with me.
He painted a very pretty picture of life in the place he was returning from: Karlovy Vary, the spa town in the Czech Republic that his parents left before he was born to build a new life in America, the land of opportunity.
And for his parents, it was the land of opportunity–his entrepreneurial father built his own construction business in Chicago (so, okay, he’s a Bears fan, but his wife is from Wisconsin and a diehard Packer fan) and this guy is proud to be the son of two hardworking immigrants.
And, he’s an entrepreneur himself, after doing some kind of corporate track thing post college and grad school, he started his own construction business in Austin.
But after his visit to see his cousins in Karlovy Vary, the land of opportunity appears to lack something that the old country still has. And that is time. He poked a little fun at his cousins’ five-week vacations and daily two-hour lunches, but also envied that kind of lifestyle because it means families have time to talk to each other. He marveled at their teenagers, who willingly spent time with their parents and their friends without being focused on their cell phones. He wondered if his own ten-month-daughter who is clearly the center of his life, would be like that with him when she hits her teenaged years. (I didn’t say anything but I am keeping my fingers crossed for him on that one).
He laughed about the way his Czech cousins complained about their taxes (crazy low), energy costs (a $30 monthly utilities bill?) and Greece (I’ll give them that one). But he also said he and his wife and daughter could cash in all they have and live there very comfortably for the next 50 years.
He was so torn! But he was clearly really entrepreneurial and even though it’s a French word, I think it’s a very American trait. I have so many European friends who are here and the reason is– they really have an American mindset. I just think we are the way we are because of self-selection. Immigrants are risk takers, by nature, even when that risk-taking is fueled by desperation. And some is probably environmental, but at least some of that has to be genetic and passed down.
So even though this guy loved certain aspects of his cousins’ lifestyle (and it did sound good to me, particularly the 400-year-old manor homes and backyards with cherry trees dripping with cherries that you could pick without getting out of your chair), he was doing some recruiting for the U.S. He’s looking into getting his cousin the dentist over to the U.S. and inviting an underpaid interior designer who finances her vacations by cleaning offices at night to work for his luxury home business. And he wants to get his cousins’ kids to the U.S. so they can perfect their already excellent English–just one of the five languages they speak, he says with admiration.
But I know exactly what he means about a different rhythm to life. I remember decades ago being in what was then Yugoslavia and watching Sunday afternoon strollers on Lake Bled–and I mean people of all ages, not parents pushing baby strollers–walking, arm and arm, just taking in the view. And talking to each other. I so loved it– walking, chatting, and enjoying the beauty around them. And when do we do that? Not enough, that’s fer sure.