The grass is greener? Not!

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

There is a tendency to assume that “the grass is greener on the other side.” They say this is an indication of discontent, lack of gratitude or appreciation for the now and what we have or simply a yearning for something better.

Many Filipinos want a green card in the land of milk and honey, others dream of postcard perfect scenery and road trips and four seasons, others would be happy for many of the high-tech services we lack in the Philippines. That’s all normal but often lacking in accuracy and perspective. What we imagine to be is not always the case. No, the grass is not always greener on the other side.

Last weekend, our family of three found each of us in three different countries, two continents and two time zones. While it is not new for us, the distance and updates have proven to be informative and educational.

When the “girls” started their journey to Germany, Hannah commented that the quality of mobile connectivity in the European countryside is just as sketchy as that of telcos in Philippine provinces. In addition to that, internet connectivity on board trains is just as unreliable.

To quote my daughter: “It doesn’t matter where in the world you are. The countryside is still the countryside.” Yes, connectivity and signals may be great in city centers and business districts but not in small towns and rural settings. Profitability and population still determine telco investments, even in Europe.

Although Germany and the Netherlands are both EU states, their telcos are not united by EU membership. Karen had to go out and buy a new SIM card the minute they got into Germany because the Dutch SIM card had compatibility or accessibility issues. What shocked Karen was that the SIM card cost 39 euros or P2,364. That includes a 15-euro load, the cost of the card and the enrollment and activation fee.

In case you’re planning to go to the UK, be ready to shell out some hard currency as well because according to students who recently returned from London, the price for data compared to the Philippines was quite stiff!

In order to get from The Hague, NL to Sonthofen, Germany, the girls had to take three train rides with three different stops. The schedules were so tight and hard for a student with a couple of suitcases and this required three sprints or 100-meter dashes. What was shocking to hear was that the German trains were notoriously late by as much as 40 minutes, and the Dutch trains were predictably “unpredictable” and, as Karen discovered, trips could be cancelled in a flash.

During their trip, the girls discovered that having reserved seats is not a guarantee of hassle-free travel. Not all passengers book in advance or get reserved seats and often end up taking your seat. Summer in Europe gets hot, and the girls discovered that even aircons on trains to Germany fail.

Train conductors also reminded the girls to keep an eagle eye on their luggage because people have been known to just walk by a suitcase, pick them up and get off the train. I’ve heard of pickpockets, of suitcases pilfered at some airport in the Philippines, but people walking off a train in Germany with someone else’s suitcase, that’s new for me.

Filipinos are complaining about high prices of food items, which is the price we pay for being unproductive in agriculture. Ironically when Hannah compared food prices between the Netherlands and Germany, she noted that Germany had lower prices. Considering that the Netherlands is a very productive agricultural nation, one would think their food prices would be lower.

I can only venture that the production cost in the Netherlands is significant since most of its production is done with so much technology such as computerized green houses, massive energy demands for artificial lighting to produce large volumes in a very limited and small land area. There is also a mountain of regulations, safety screening and processing related to food safety. Last but not the least, the Netherlands is a major exporter of agricultural products globally. By the way, bread and potatoes is what you usually get to go with your food, not rice!

In Germany, stores are closed after six and on Sundays. Small towns don’t have much of a “night life” as people stay home and eating out is very expensive. Unlike the Philippines, there are hardly any inter-connected shopping centers and malls. So you do most of your walking on the sidewalk, outdoors and go to small shops, many of which are Mom&Pop specialty stores.

The bureaucracy works, but there is a lot of bureaucracy! If you rent an apartment, there is a maximum number of persons that can stay there, and the rules are enforced to both tenants and landlord. With a shortage in housing, there are places where you need to get a permit to reside in the area. For sun loving Filipinos, European winters feature a sun that barely rises at 9 a.m. and starts to set by 4 p.m.

A German gent told the girls it is very hard to make local friends in Germany, especially in the more rural areas where it is even tough for Germans from other areas to integrate. Life is much lonelier. Europeans don’t usually have extended family relationships and often live by themselves. For the friendliest bunch of people in the world, that would be hard for Filipinos.

My suggestion: Fertilize your “garden,” buy your milk and honey and thank God for who and what you have! God bless you!

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