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My review of Mark Manson's 10 things essay

08 August 2021

Living abroad shows you that many things in life, big and small, can be different than your native culture. One of the exciting things about it is seeing your base assumptions about how society should work and how people should act turned on their head.

If you’ve never lived abroad, Mark Maonson’s essay 10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America is the one essay I’d recommend to learn some of the things you may come to understand about the U.S. from your time abroad.

Here are my takes on the article’s points, tailored to my experience living in Santiago, Chile. TLDR, I generally agree with it.

Few People Are Impressed by Us

I disagree with this point. Generally, I think people in Chile are impressed by the United States. There are some things they scratch their heads at, like why we voted for Donald Trump, why we have so many guns, and why blacks are treated as they are. That being said, they admire the U.S.’ economic, political, and cultural accomplishments.

Few People Hate Us

If Chilean people generally like the U.S., as I wrote above, that means people generally don't hate it.

We Know Nothing About the Rest of the World

Chileans do follow political events in the U.S. a bit, just because of the U.S.’s position in the world. I’ve been asked about U.S. elections. I was asked about the storming of the Capitol. I was asked about the killing of George Floyd. I’ve been offered opinions about various aspects of U.S. politics and culture. The news does cover elections and international affairs in neighboring countries, and Latin America more generally. It’s not as if these people are experts, but interest in foreign affairs isn’t zero, and probably a bit above where it is in the U.S.

We Are Poor at Expressing Gratitude and Affection

I think this is the case, Chileans are more comfortable with expressing affection than Americans are. And I kind of think, so what? Every culture engages in some form of emotional repression to keep people rowing in the same direction. Manson writes about this in one of his essays about flirting. Chilean culture selectively inhibits certain emotions people express, just like American culture does, as well as any other culture that exists.

The Quality of Life for the Average American Is Not That Great

The best way I can compare the U.S. and Chile is: the U.S. does a better job of providing what can be counted. Chile does a better job of providing what counts. The U.S. is richer in material terms, but poorer in the intangibles that often matter more once your basic needs are met. Manson’s observations about this point lined up with what I saw in Chilean society.

The Rest of the World Is Not a Slum-Ridden Shithole Compared to Us

Aside from a few details, I didn’t notice any change in my day-to-day quality of life in the U.S. than in Chile, despite making around fifteen thousand dollars a year for most of my time in Santiago. Yes, in the U.S. stuff might be newer and shiner. It also doesn’t take up as much of your income to buy something. But most things I wanted, material-wise, I could get. I also had tons of opportunities to try new things, meet interesting people, and grow as a person.

We’re Paranoid

I agree with this one. People in the U.S. spend more mental energy imagining “what if”. Maybe it’s the culture of litigation. Maybe it’s the news. Maybe it’s how we view mishaps and misfortune. But yes, I do think people are a bit more relaxed about their safety in Chile.

We’re Status-Obsessed and Seek Attention

I think this is true. It’s not like Chileans aren’t blissed out Zen monks. They feel the pressures of consumerism as well. They want shiny things also. It’s just that those desires are tempered by a larger focus on family, friends, and community. Americans are atomized, isolated. We bank everything on professional success. We have no other way to size each other up besides the almighty dollar and what it can bring. Thus, there’s a larger focus on looking the part and keeping up with the Joneses.

We Are Less Healthy Than We Think

Yes. Americans don’t realize just how unhealthy they are. Chileans are, in general, healthier. Chilean GDP per capita is a fraction of the United States’. So is its healthcare spending per capita. But, Chileans live longer, and have lower rates of obesity and diabetes. Although, Chileans do consume more tobacco.

In my anecdotal experience, people seemed more fit in Chile. It’s not a country of models by any means. But people tend to be in better shape. It’s not complicated why. Chileans eat less junk and move more than Americans. As a result, they’re healthier. You don’t need a lot of money to do this. You just have to make it a priority above other things. Chile does this better than the U.S., which I think chooses to put more focus on instant gratification and financial profitability than health.

We Mistake Comfort for Happiness

This is true, and Manson hits the nail on the head as to why. You can buy and sell comfort, and comfort disguised as happiness. You cannot buy and sell happiness. It’s something, once your basic needs are met, that you have to figure out for yourself.

Wrapping up

At the end of the day, the U.S. and Chile are imperfect countries with their pluses and minuses. You can have a good life in both.