While flying back from San Francisco, I had a layover in Phoenix and was seated next to a very talkative man from Fresno on his way to meet his girlfriend in San Diego after a series of cancelled and delayed flights and being rerouted on my flight. He was an interesting guy, telling me about his life growing up with his grandparents because his parents were in and out of jail on gang-related charges, both parents being members of a Mexican gang. He was the first of anyone in his family, since they immigrated from Mexico 3 generations before, to go to college, achieving not just one, but two degrees, all while living with a gay uncle and the partner of that uncle during his college years in the city where he went to school. (And if you're wondering why I know all this, it's because I have that look on my face that makes people want to tell me their life stories.)
Since the economic crisis hit the US, he's been underemployed when not unemployed and has had a hard time making ends meet. But when he was disembarking from the plane, he pulled out a Michael Kors handbag and told me it was a gift for his girlfriend. I asked him if it was a knock-off, and he confirmed that it was the real thing. It reminded me of a comment a friend made somewhat recently in that "luxury" has lost some of its meaning. We are told to believe that we all deserve a little luxury in our lives at any cost, and I think it's true that his is happening to us. Almost every female seems to have a designer label purse these days, regardless of her socioeconomic situation. I began to wonder if I was one of the few without such an item. I have some designer shoes that I bought at discount stores, which I think charged me a maximum of $60 because I would pay no more than that. And I once bought a knock-off Burberry purse in Indonesia that turned out to be crappy quality (though many aren't and probably depend more on where you buy them) because I liked the size and felt the colours were neutral enough for me to use it year round. I'm just not into purses.
In any case, it saddens me in a way because luxury is so relative. I look at the house that I live in, that I was able to buy last year, and know that I have electricity, plumbing, and heat. I've got lots of blankets and food and even a fireplace to keep me warm if the heat and electricity fail. And I have a yard that allows me to grow fruits and vegetables and a climate that is temperate enough that I know these plants will produce. If I think I'll have a period of no rain, I can turn on my tap and plug in my hose and water my plants if I need to. I may not have a Coach or Louis Vuitton handbag, but I do have what half the world doesn't, a life where many of my wants are met, let alone my basic needs. About 2.8 million people in the world live on less than $2 a day, according to the UN. If you're able to read this blog, it's probably because you are a millionaire like me, relative to what this other population has available to them. If that isn't luxury, I don't know what is.