Almost a decade ago, I was in Madrid visiting my wife, Emily, when she told me that her aunt back in New York had just died. When I went down to the market where she lived, she picked up a red rose and had it delivered to my hotel.
“It was one of her favorites,” Emily told me. “And I think it would fit nicely on my wife’s table.” Two years later, I sat with Emily at dinner in Barcelona, and she told me that her aunt had asked for a second, slightly larger red rose. And, at the last minute, she had a third. As you might expect, my sense of humor has been put to the test by this grim but sweet tale. Here’s why I think people are very generous, especially to people who die in foreign countries. In their travels abroad, especially since the Sept. 11 attacks, many Americans tend to look abroad for the best things to do, especially at night.
There are, of course, cultural differences from place to place, and in general the things that matter most to Americans are distinct from those that other people see as important. But Americans still tend to be more attentive to the value of traditions and a tradition of hospitality. On the whole, the truth is that most people around the world appreciate Western style of living, and, in the wake of recent terrorist attacks, appreciate Western generosity. Now, I admit that this is a contrarian view of the world. It also may have changed because Emily’s aunt-in-law didn’t die overseas. But I don’t buy this version of events.
I agree that often those who live in Western countries, especially in cities, take hospitality and tradition for granted. But, even if I were to disagree, I’d still observe that Spanish people in particular are very generous to guests, and may be unique in that regard. I also see some advantages to the red rose. This, of course, depends on your other considerations. If you are going to be a good host, flowers are a pretty good place to start. And of course flowers are great fun to look at. What’s not to like? No one, that’s what. The cost of red roses is notoriously high. They are rarely given for themselves.
Even the most recent edition of “The $2 Trillion Man” warned that flowers are frequently considered too frivolous to maintain, and that it takes quite a bit of money just to buy and deliver them. As a result, the dollar value of the three roses Emily and I received will probably only offset about 1/6 of the price of the flowers. Not to put too fine a point on it, this is a bit of pure consumerism. But my objection to the extra flowers is not just aesthetic. It is moral. And I think that you might even find an argument about that in Emily’s aunt’s obituary.