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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

House Hunter's

My favorite channel on TV has become HGTV (on cable). It's full of show after show about home selling, home buying and home improvement. You get the feeling of touring different homes without ever having to get off the couch. There's also a fair bit of education going on, as you learn some things about houses.

One of the more interesting shows on HGTV, in my opinion, is one called House Hunter's International. Typically it's got American couples who are shopping for second homes in exotic places in foreign countries. I always enjoy seeing the homes, but have to confess that I am quite frequently amazed at the decision criteria that the prospective buyers seem to be using. Let me explain.

Invariably, you will hear couples giving a very high priority to the notion that they will be "entertaining" people in their home. Listening to them talk, it sounds as if they expect all of their friends from back home will be visiting this exotic location frequently. And that is the overwhelming criteria that they apply to the buying decision. There doesn't seem to be a lot of weight given to quality of life, proximity to churches and schools, or other services and infrastructure.

To put it bluntly, it never sounds as if the couples shopping for homes in Mexico or Belize or the Dominican Republic really intend to integrate themselves into the community. They just aim to have a trophy house on the beach, where their friends from back home will come to be impressed.

Isn't this called "showing off?" Honestly, it gets a little embarrassing to think of Americans going into these communities and being Americans. It doesn't take much to imagine how the locals might begin to view these outsiders. They roll in and splash a lot of cash on a premium property in the area, and then proceed to live large in the community. And they do this versus joining the community.

I wonder how we would feel if affluent people from other parts of the world would come plant themselves in our communities and proceed to show off for their friends. Would we resent them? Would we be amused by them? Would we be glad they were here to help drive up our housing prices? Would we long to get to know them and be their friends too?

I don't know if I'll ever be buying a house internationally. But if I'm ever in that position, I hope my driving motive will be to become a part of the community in which I'm shopping. I'd like to think I'll care about the locals. Hopefully I'll be interested in the proximity of doctors and hospitals, community centers, churches, schools, libraries and even public transportation. I think I might like to know a bit of the demographics about the people, so I could begin to think of what I might be able to add to the community.

Those of you who read my blog know that we have a (leased) house in Entebbe, Uganda, where our eight adopted children (and a nanny) live full time. When I visit there we often go for walks in the evenings. One night as we were strolling through the neighborhood, the children were pointing out where all the white people lived. I asked how they knew they were all white, and they simply said, "Because they're rich." The houses they'd been pointing to were walled estates.

I began to wonder if I would live any differently. If I were living in Uganda full time and buying a home there, would I want a walled estate to keep Uganda out? Would I want a little American bubble to live in? No, I concluded, I would want some property. But instead of building a wall around it, I think I would spend the money building a play ground for the neighborhood children. I might construct a pavilion with some picnic tables for the parents to congregate.

I think if I lived in a foreign country, I'd want to swap recipes with the locals. Maybe we'd exchange meals, cooking for each other from time to time. I'd teach them our board games, and ask them to teach me theirs. As I learned about their country, I'd help them learn about mine. Maybe I'd volunteer in a local school. I'd definitely volunteer in a local church. I'd want to become so entrenched in the community that they wouldn't ever want me to leave. Moreover, I'd want to become so entrenched in the community that I wouldn't ever want to leave!

House Hunter's International is an interesting show. And frankly, I'm surprised that I can get this philosophical about a TV show. It seems that as I grow, life becomes less about what you get or where, and more about who you get and are. Go figure.

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