Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Culture Clash

I received a promotional mailing from one of my credit card companies the other day.

It got my attention, all right. And I didn't just pitch it in the trash, as I generally do. But did the marketing staff get their money's worth from this campaign? Not from me, at any rate! I've been glancing at this letter for several days now, and every time I just have to shake my head.

Apparently the Chief Executive Officer of this company thinks it worth his while to send a "personal" letter to me just to tell me that I can choose from "more than 150 free card designs." That was worth the environmental cost of an envelope, a piece of paper printed in , and postage--not to mention his time, and that of his secretary, staff, and ad agency.

So I can "find the one that's just right for me."

This "will make using my _____ Card more fun!"

Either the CEO or I, or both of us, have gotten really out of touch with some sort of reality.

I've never EXPECTED using my credit cards to be "fun." Nor "exciting" nor anything but expedient. Yes, there are times when having a credit card makes it easier to do something ELSE that's fun, like have a roof over my head in Vancouver. But it is simply a means to an end. The physical act of using it is pretty neutral, unless circumstances or the environment (a sullen clerk or a frigid night at the "pay outside" gas pump) make the overall experience unpleasant.

How on earth would a fancy picture change my credit card experience? Am I going to take it out of my wallet and admire it from time to time, instead of looking at my grandkids' photos? Heck, I don't even do that (I do have ancient school pix in the front of my little pocket calendar...but I hardly ever even look at the appointments I write in there, let alone look at photos. I can see my loved ones perfectly well in my mind's eye, including their endearing gestures, AND hear their voices).

Would a fancy picture impress the computerized pump at the gas station? Would I thereby get an extra $.02 discount per gallon like I do when I show it my grocery store discount card? Hmmm...don't think so.

I guess the occasional live clerk might see it--but mostly it seems like I'm expected to "swipe" (when I was young, that meant to steal) my own card in an upside-down-and-backwards position where only the post of the check-writing shelf could possibly catch a glimpse of my fancy card. And generally, the clerk and I are looking mostly at each other, smiling and chatting. If the clerk looks at my card, it's to examine the signature...which is on the side of the card without the pretty picture!

I just don't get it.

Maybe people want fancy pictures on their credit cards to somehow communicate something about who they are (or think they are, or wish they were) to the rare clerk that actually looks at the card? Is a fancy credit card a new, subtle way of flirting with the waitress when I pay for a meal? Does a personalized credit card add to someone's sense of identity? My personal sense of identity and self-image is grounded in who I am inside, the relationships I have with God and with others, and the big, long-term goals towards which I use my time, energy and money.

Maybe some people find fun in spending money they don't have, or in buying things they don't need?

A lot of my reaction to this letter is related to my "take" on the word "fun." "Fun", in and of itself, simply isn't a big motivator for me. Lots of things are "fun" for me, but the "fun" aspect is a fairly insignificant part of why I do them. I do things because they are meditative, like sweeping up the flaxen curls of wood shavings from a friend's workshop floor. Or physically and mentally challenging, like rearranging all the fences and gates in the sheep handling area in the barn, so that everything fits around the posts, all the gates swing in practical directions, the space can be converted to easily accessible lambing pens, and the sheep will want to move through it according to my wishes. Or necessary, like switching out summer's automatic stock tank water valves for winter's tank de-icers and short fill hoses with "quick connect" fittings so they can easily be drained with each use. Or because the end result is something I want, like baking bread pockets stuffed with blackbeans and pork, or building a fire in the wood stove.

What makes these things "more fun" to me? Certainly not a fancy credit card! Things like choosing to do the stock tank changeover on a gorgeous, relaxed, warm Indian summer afternoon, instead of a cold blustery one when I'm in a hurry. Having a good sturdy broom for the sweeping, nice pans for the bread so it doesn't stick. Talking out the details of a project with a clever friend, or the Border Collie, when I'm building something.

Thankfully, very little of my hard-earned money was spent on this credit card promotion. I virtually always pay my balance in full each month, to avoid paying finance charges.

Avoiding finance charges: I guess maybe that's the part of using a credit card that I find the most "fun."

If you got the same promo letter, I'd love to hear your point of view, especially if it made any sense to you. For me, it just made me feel like a stranger in a strange land...but then as a dear friend once bluntly stated, I'm "just not American." Somehow I've just quietly drifted away from my native culture over the years. The farm has a lot to do with it, but then so does being a radically conservative Christian. Over the years, I've thought a lot about how my daily choices, actions, words, purchases, etc. either reflect or contradict my real values. And I've increasingly made choices based on my values. Over time, it adds up to something rather remote from the "norms" that the media reflects.

Come to think of it, having lived most of my adult life with minimal influence by the media (TV, radio, and magazines especially) might have something to do with it....

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