How to Combine Your Luck of Not Being Born South of the Border with Something Else
Some things in life we earn, and others, we don’t.
We use many names to describe the things that happen to us that we don’t earn, including “fate,” “destiny,” “God’s will”, “luck,” and my personal favorite: “dumb luck.”
After reading more than 9,500 answers to questions and 300 stories of more than 600 expats in Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua and Belize about their life abroad and now having traveled through Mexico on a one year road trip (eBook available for free here), it’s difficult not to notice that, on average, those of us who were born north of the Rio Grande (what I’ll shorten to “North of the Border”, or “NOTB”) generally have a lot more money than those on average born South of the Border (“SOTB”). Of course, where one is born is not the result of pre-birth virtue or hard work done by the baby prior to passing the birth canal; for the newborn, it just happens.
On average, what will be your circumstances if you happen to be born NOTB? Materially, if you earn an average NOTB living, you have lots more money than someone who was born SOTB. This SOTB person may be exactly like you in every way, but while your luck had you born NOTB, it was their luck to be born SOTB. As a result, with regard to material possessions, and to mix and make extreme my gambling metaphors, you hit the jackpot, while they rolled snake eyes.
If, as a NOTB person you take that big plastic pail filed with coins with you to retire SOTB, the SOTB people won’t have a pail like yours, so by local SOTB standards, you experience an immediate lifestyle upgrade. (The same happens if you figured out how to be a “digital nomad”; constantly replenishing your pail of coins by earning NOTB money while living SOTB.) You and your pail may have been just middle class NOTB, but suddenly, SOTB, you can afford things only “rich” NOTB people have-- housekeepers and gardeners (because they cost you only an average of about $3 per hour), “apples to apples” what you pay to rent your house generally drops by more than 50% or you get a nicer house, and if you buy a home, your property tax may decrease from $3,000 or $6,000 per year to about $200 per year, leaving you lots more coins to buy more things. You’re able to afford to go to the movies at 25% of the cost, and you’re effectively gifted with never-ending 75% off coupons on massages, facials, doctor and dental visits, pedicures, playing golf, etc. It’s a material windfall you’ve completely lucked into.
Thank you, NOTB countries!
In contrast, even if you’re the same as that NOTB person I described above in every way, but you were born SOTB, you did not hit the "Born NOTB Jackpot," so you could be one of those gardeners or maids providing services at the prices I’ve described or worse. On the financial side, for almost everyone, you’re really lucky that you were born NOTB as opposed to SOTB.
But what about on the non-financial side? Who is luckier; average people born NOTB or those born SOTB?
I believe that the answer to this is a bit more mixed, a conclusion I come to solely on the basis of one measure: the happiness or lack thereof I’ve witnessed comparing those living NOTB with those living SOTB. From what I’ve seen, having more material goods does not necessarily equal having more happiness. While most of us would agree with this in the abstract, most of us NOTB folks don’t behave as if it true, because we trade so much of our NOTB time, the quality of our relationships and our attitudes (even our happiness directly) in order to attain more “stuff.” And deep down, on many levels, we do believe that money buys happiness. But from what I’ve seen by observing life both NOTB and SOTB, money does not buy happiness.
For example, when I first started to spend time SOTB as a newbie, I was surprised that people who, by NOTB standards, would be considered quite poor were so often so genuinely happy, even happier than those living NOTB with lots of shiny new leased cars and big houses with big mortgages. How could this be? If the people I knew NOTB had as little as these SOTB people I was observing, the NOTB people would be miserable. And yet, here were these SOTB people who had so little by NOTB standards laughing with their friends. Didn’t they know they should be morose and / or angry?
Evidently, culturally, these average SOTB people didn’t get the memo, so there they were, warmly greeting each other in the street, sharing a good laugh amongst friends, enjoying their children play, etc.
Also, these SOTB people didn’t have a lot of the stress we NOTB people have, because us NOTB people need to get more “stuff.” Of course, SOTB people care about stuff, too, and of course, all other things being equal, they would prefer to have more stuff, but it seemed to me that, culturally and subconsciously, if not individually and deliberately, they had made a trade-off to move their lives more to the side of the scale marked “More Laid Back With Less Stuff” and away from “More Stress to Get More Stuff.”
We can illustrate this NOTB / SOTB difference in attitude with one word. It’s a Spanish word, but it could apply just as well to Belize, where they speak English. That word is “Manana.” NOTB people who come to live SOTB soon learn that the dictionary definition of “manana,” which is “tomorrow,” is not how it’s used. When a SOTB person tells you something will happen “manana,” he or she doesn’t mean the definitive NOTB concept of “tomorrow” that we would use and enter into our calendar. What the SOTB person means when they say "manana" is “not today” (and they probably don’t even have a calendar). So, if it doesn’t happen today, it will happen some time in future… perhaps. They’re not going to get that worked up about it, and it certainly isn’t going to ruin their day or stress them out in any way whatsoever, even if it doesn’t happen the next day.
There are lots of reasons for this, and we can debate its origins and efficacy, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is how it is.
So, after being able to see and live in both the NOTB and SOTB worlds, observing human behavior and happiness (or lack thereof) in each, who are the luckiest of all?
Here’s my answer: Those with NOTB money thanks to, in my opinion, dumb luck, but who can adapt a bit of a blended NOTB attitude with one they can see exhibited by the SOTB people all around them.
If you can do this, then, you will be doubly lucky.