July 20, 2014

Challenging Assumptions

It must be a day to challenge my assumptions. Holly Brubach offered a jarring, but valid, observation about health care at The New York Times

Edward T. Hall, the cultural anthropologist who advised members of the State Department in the ’50s, wrote that you can live in another culture all your life and you will never completely understand it, but you will come to understand your own. You might think that sickness and health would transcend the differences that put people from disparate countries at odds. But over three days at the Ospedale Gaetano Pini, I came to realize that my assumptions when it comes to medicine are completely in keeping with my bedrock American outlook on life, which, like it or not, revolves around money. As a consumer, I go into every transaction, even surgery, with an expectation of the service I’m entitled to and feel shortchanged when I get anything less.

In advertisements featuring athletes and ballerinas, hospitals in the United States claim to make their patients good as new—a foolproof selling point in a nation of perfectionists fixated on youth. Physical decrepitude, to our way of thinking, is not universal human destiny but a condition that can be forestalled by those who have the means and make the effort. This refusal to come to terms with our own decay is, finally, no more realistic than blind faith in fellow mortals ordained as doctors.

Recounting a procedure for a dislocated hip Brubach writes

The Italians I have known and loved are fun, funny, cynical, flirtatious, spontaneous, determined not to let their work interfere with their lives.

That makes me feel like I'd make a good Italian—a long-time observation for me is that "work is an eight-hour interruption in the rest of my day.

At Explore Pamela Druckerman offered an observation about French culture that caught me off guard, too.

The French have all kinds of worthwhile ideas on larger matters. This occurred to me recently when I was strolling through my museum-like neighborhood in central Paris, and realized there were — I kid you not — seven bookstores within a 10-minute walk of my apartment. Granted, I live in a bookish area. But still: Do the French know something about the book business that we Americans don’t?