I learned how to plumb!

plumbing.gif This is exciting… I did a plumbing job yesterday! Might not sound that exciting to most of you, but I’m a woman and never thought I could plumb. My husband is a big DIY guy and he was trying to fix a leak in the sink. After all the back and forth to the hardware store, he decided to ask for help… my help. He couldn’t reach the hoses underneath, and given that I’m petite, he thought I could reach there just fine… and I did. I changed the hoses, tighten the screws and the leak was gone. I was so proud of myself! As the adage goes… if you want a job well done, do it yourself. I find that to be true in most instances. My husband even got a kick out of my “plumber’s moon” (butt crack…).

February 22, 2008 is the 8th anniversary of my arrival in the US, and plumbing yesterday was my very first DIY project. A bit of an embarrassment, I know, but DIY is not as popular in Latin America as it is here in the US. I didn’t grow up doing projects around the house (most Latin Americans don’t), and I always called for outside help.

I won’t generalize here… some Latin Americans do DIY projects. Mexicans, for example, are Latins who are into DIY. Big-box retailers such as Home Depot and Sears are well established in Mexico. I believe that the proximity of the two countries have influenced the adoption of many Anglo-Saxon “DIY” values by Mexicans – English (and their underlying American value system) are often tossed around in everyday Mexican conversation. However, this is not the case in other Latin American countries further away from the US than Mexico. Sears, for instance, wasn’t successful in Brazil, Argentina or Chile. (Boy… to take a DIY store to countries that have NO DIY culture and expect it to succeed? That should have been a predictable outcome… but that’s a topic for another post.)

DIY is a 100% American custom, it’s ingrained in the American culture. Kids grow up doing DIY, Americans take pride in DIY. Why not? It’s totally consistent with “the almighty Individual” mindset. There are even TV channels just for DIY (DIY Channel) and sitcoms about DIY (Home Improvement). DIY is an all-American thing… It reinforces what Americans are all about… the drive to do things for oneself; the individualism of doing things as one pleases; the ingenuity of doing things differently. This mindset is purely American, no other country ever had the pioneer experience, population-wide capitalism and the marketing environment combining at the same time, in the same intensity as the US. And that is, quite frankly, the charm and appeal of the US and its way of life.

Most of would never think of DIY in Latin America. We have more important – usually social – things to do. Besides, one has to get the tools, get in grubby clothes and get into positions that do not necessarily look “cool.” Worse, you might even get your hands dirty. And “dirty hands” are not what prestigious people do! At least those of us Latins who live in the Big City and have to project a Big City image 24/7. Phew! It’s not only exhausting… but that’s why you don’t have the time and energy to do DIY!

I had a great experience yesterday learning about plumbing and I felt a sense of accomplishment. I should really try DIY more often and get my hands dirty around the house. But again… maybe not… my back was hurting afterwards… I’d rather spend my time reading… or writing another post here…

PS: Happy New Year!

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2 responses to “I learned how to plumb!

  1. Oi Katia, como vai? Tudo bem? Feliz ano novo! Recibe por favor meus votos dum ano cheio de felicidade, boa saude, amor e sucesso pra você. It’s great to see you blogging again. I really enjoy your blog, as it gets me to thinking more about the cultural differences I have unconsciously pr subconsciously noted in Latin America & the Caribbean over the years but not necessarily sat down to analyze and reflect upon (which I should!).

    I experience some of what you’re talking about when I lived in Santo Domingo. I come from a strong DIY tradition in my family, and my dad showed me how to do many jobs around the house and simple things on the car. But when I tried to do so things in SD, people (including Dominican family members) looked at me askance. I heard several different explanations for it, but it always seemed to boil down a near-class thing, along the lines of educated people don’t plumb, or do household electrical, or work on their car engine, etc. — that’s left to “the guys with dirty hands.” 😦

    I confess that in some things I simply gave up trying to DIY and let “the pros” do it, in part because I could not deal with how things were done “the Dominican way.” Example: when we moved into our house, we found that the prior owner had taken away all the electrical outlets and lighting fixtures (something an American never does, at least I haven’t heard or seen it happen here). So I went to the hardware store and bought alot of outlets and fixtures with the idea of doing it myself. (The hardware people looked at me like I was loco.) But I soon discovered that every electrical junction had different colored wires, no two alike — also something one does not encounter in the US in any house or apt. meeting code. So to DIY, I had to risk electrocuting myself… I gave in, and called a local electrician, who seemed comfortable with this type of wiring because he sees it daily and knows well how to deal with it without harming himself…

    Likewise I rarely did car repair in the DR. In the US, if I can take a part out of the vehicle, my local auto parts store or dealer can give me a new or rebuilt part right away, no prob. Finding proper parts was an art form in SD, and sometimes parts even had to be machined specially for my car.

    Abraços, Keith

  2. I had to ask someone what DIY meant! So I guess you can safely assume I’m not under the sink addressing a leaking pipe. My car died yesterday, and rather than jump it myself, called AAA. Not only did they come to my rescue, but brought a battery with them, installed it, and was was on my way within an hour. I paid a little more than shopping it at Sears, but my time is more valuable than the money I would have saved. Time is such a premium these days that DIY sometimes becomes impractical. Happy New Year Katia!

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