Last week my brother and sister-in-law returned from Germany after two weeks of visiting friends, seeing the Passion Play at Oberammergau, and enjoying Octoberfest. We visited them the weekend they returned, and they spoke of how well-built the German homes were, the quality of the construction and materials, and the pride the German people had in the craftsmanship of their products. When they presented me with some souvenirs from their trip, every one of them had been made in Germany.
It made me think of how a few months ago, when I went shopping with my sister-in-law to buy a baby present for some friends of hers in Scotland, we couldn’t find any baby clothes that were made in the United States. She wanted something that would not only be useful for the new baby, but would be special because it came from America. She had to settle for an outfit that, though purchased with American money, was made in Bangladesh.
I’ve been walking around my house, picking up some souvenirs and special items I’ve purchased or been given over the years, looking on the bottoms to see where they were made. My two lighthouse snow globes, one of Portlandhead Light, the other of West Quoddy, Christmas presents from my husband who ordered them from that solidly American company, L.L. Bean in Maine—made in China. The little spinning wheel replica from the gift store at Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, a re-created town circa 1820 New England—made in China. My clothes are made in Sri Lanka, China, Peru, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Turkey. It makes no difference what store they were purchased in, whether it was Chico’s, Talbot’s, or Blue Ridge Mountain Sports.
If people from another country wanted to bring back authentic, made in the U.S.A. souvenirs, they’d have a nearly impossible task of locating any. Yet my brother and sister-in-law had no trouble buying me authentic German souvenirs. When they came back from Italy last winter, they brought me a little tray stamped on the back, “Made in Italy.” And I have two beautiful pottery birds we bought in Mexico. Painted on the side of each is, “Hecho in Mexico.” I know this wasn’t always the case. I have several items that were my grandmother’s and my mother’s, teapots and serving trays and such. They were made in the U.S.A. in the ’40’s and ’50’s and clearly stamped as such.
I mentioned German construction earlier, how well-built their homes were with quality materials. Recently, here in Hampton Roads, many people paid for gorgeous condominiums by the Chesapeake Bay. Turns out their new homes were built from Chinese drywall. They are unliveable, and the buyers’ money will be tied up for years in court.
It makes me sad for our country because I know this is not how we want it to be. I know I’m naive when I think we could make it so expensive for foreign countries to load our shelves with their products that we stop being an easy market and our people can get back to work making our own things again. I know that would be terrible for those other countries. It would create an economic disaster for them. Their people would be out of work, their homes foreclosed, and…wait a minute! That sounds familiar. Could it be that their prosperity means our demise? How do we change this picture? And don’t tell me it’s all about who we vote for because no one in either party is making a strong case for putting our people back to work by limiting the foreign products that come in.
We are a country of incredible talent, but you won’t see it displayed on our store shelves. I’m searching for America and don’t know where to find her.