Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Book Review: A Year Without "Made in China"

I should have written this book. Though I have never engaged in a formal boycott of Chinese imports, I have been married to a man who, for 31 years has challenged me to buy American products. This is not because he has a vendetta against China. No, it is rooted in concern for the United States of America, her self-sufficiency, her economic health, and ultimately her sovereignty.

My husband tends to go a step farther than did Sara Bongiorni, who authored the book that tells of her year's experiment. Sara would buy merchandise from any country but China; my husband scouts out American products. While it makes the thrill of the hunt more exciting, it also makes targeted purchases more elusive.

There was the year my son needed a bike. The Preacher spent countless hours scouring the city for the one with a "Made in the U.S.A." logo. He found one. Exactly one. One that had big scratches. One that, sadly, literally fell apart the first time my son rode it. It was almost like being mocked, "Take that for your loyalty!"

Last year, it was the microwave oven that needed replaced. Our city boasts one of the largest appliance marts in the country, so we started at one end of a long avenue of microwaves and worked our way to the other end, confident that we would find the American product we were looking for. The sales clerk followed us each step of the way, proudly enumerating the virtues of each oven. My husband patiently listened to each spiel and then would open the oven door, look for the country of origin, shut the door, and move on to the next one.

I knew what he was doing. The sales woman did not. By the time we came to the last model, my heart was sinking because the chances of my walking out of this place with a new microwave were looking pretty slim. The lady was nearly out of breath, having given us every pitch for every model.

Politely, my husband said, "Ma'am, do you realize that not a single model you have shown us was made in our own country?"

She arched her eyebrows, looking incredulous. Then SHE opened each and every oven door, just to verify his statement.

"I never would have believed it! You're right. I have learned something today," she said as she walked away.

I was glad to have added to her education, but I WANTED A MICROWAVE.

As we were leaving, the Preacher spied an "orphan" microwave around the corner, all by itself. It was a Sharp model and it bore the proud words "Made in the U.S.A."


Sara Bongiorni has a whole year's worth of stories like mine to tell, but she's a better writer and has the knack of making their predicaments sound very funny. I think the fact that both she and her spouse had a sense of humor greatly enhanced their year long experiment as they had to go without Chinese toys for their young children, tennis shoes, seasonal decorating items, and ink cartridges. I laughed out loud several times while reading, feeling our sisterhood on this issue a little too keenly at times.

One incident that was particularly humorous was her husband's inability to find sunglasses. The alternative was an Italian pair for $150---definitely not in the family budget. So this resourceful man dug out his ski goggles and used them. She likened him to a horse with blinders---too funny!

What did this family learn by the end of their boycott? That it's next to impossible to buy electronics, lamps, tennis shoes, even candy canes without patronizing China. That young children are NOT damaged when they are denied cheap, poorly constructed Chinese made toys.
That other alternatives are often available if you take the time to search them out.

How did it affect their finances? Sara figured that many of the items they bought from countries other than China were more expensive. BUT, they saved a lot of money by buying fewer items and passing over the cheap "junk" that is so enticingly displayed at every turn.

This was a fun book with a serious point, and Sara writes with sensitivity. She was very respectful of the Chinese culture, but like me she feels uncomfortable about the power they are attaining over us economically. She didn't try to win others to her way of thinking or act self righteous because of her choices. It was all presented as a grand experiment.

Sara and her husband decided that in the future they would purchase Chinese products when there were no other reasonable options. She felt that they had been sensitized to the alternatives and that the habit of making thoughtless purchases had been broken. This in itself is a sane achievement in these days of economic turn down.


Peregrina said...

I'm about halfway through this book. Very enjoyable...although maybe that's not the right word. Sometimes a little disheartening!

Shelley said...

Hello. I just stumbled across your blog and I am enjoying reading your "love of words" so very much!
I had to laugh when I read this post. I have a funny "Made in China" story to share with you.
My husband and I are the proud and most wonderfully blessed parents to two amazing gifts from God...both adopted from China. They are 2 and 4 years old.
The night we arrived home with our oldest (at least I think it was night...after nearly 34 hours of traveling, who knows!!) I was getting our precious new daughter out of her clothes and into a fresh pair of snuggly pajamas. As I took off her shirt I felt something on her back. I then removed her onesie and checked to see what was attached to her back.
I still laugh my self into a coughing fit as I recall finding one of those tiny little gold and black stickers that reads, "Made in China" firmly attached just under her shoulder blade.
I have no idea where it came from or how it got there, but I looked up at my jet lagged husband and said, "Do you think we can take this off of her now?"
There certainly is a lot of jumk that comes out of PRC, but I have to say that my two munchkins are definately NOT among them!!
Blessings to you and your family~
Mom to Aly(4) and Lili (2)