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Craftsmanship Shows Culture

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SUCHITOTO, El Salvador- The landlord of our apartment complex told us when we moved in that he would have a window put in to fill a little 1.5 foot square portal that was only blocked up with a few bars and a piece of ply board.

I just shrugged. The rest of the apartment’s orifices where just shut up imperfectly with steel doors — no glass, no bars, no screens, no nothing — there were crevices leading to the outside world all over, it was not my impression that one more mattered too much. Having a window put into this little space seemed to be a moot point. But the landlord insisted.

For a month and a half we were spared the installation routine of having the window put in. Until yesterday.

Early in the morning there was a knock at the door. It was the window installation guy. He was specially hired to do this job. Apparently, he was a professional.

I went back to sleep in a hammock, the guy put in the window.

10 minutes go by and the guy splits.

I looked at the newly installed window. It looks like this:


Window in El Salvador apartment

I wait around for the guy to come back to finish the job. I refused to believe that he would just screwed in an ill-fit window frame — leaving gaping spaces all around — and call his job complete.

He didn’t came back.

He was done, his job was finished: a window was installed.


Each culture has its own idea of what a completed job entails, each culture has its own idea of perfection. Trade laborers and handymen are models for their cultures, they show the depth of their countries: they show was is accepted as being good enough through their work. This model can then be applied to most other tactical areas of the culture, you can then come to expect what will come next, you can start to see a pattern. If you want to see what a culture is made of first look to see if the doors fit nicely into their frames, or if they are just thrown in with gaps and spaces all around.

There are three stages of craftsmanship: bad, good enough, and good.

Most all places in the world function, only the most destitute places have handymen who do bad work — only a truly defunct place has windows being installed that don’t function. But most cultures stop at good enough, only a few go all the way to good. But there is a pattern at work here: the countries whose craftsmanship goes beyond merely good enough tend to be the richest countries on the planet.

Are the people in these countries able to afford to buy additional materials and pay for more labor from a handyman because they are from a prosperous place? Or is it the perspective of having a high standard for work, for going beyond good enough, that is a large part of the nuts and bolts of what makes these cultures powerful and rich?

I ponder this as I look at my new lopsided, shabbily installed window in El Salvador.

The median standard of what is considered a completed job is a lens into the meat of a society. It seems acceptable here to leave spaces, to cut corners, to do things cheap, fast, done merely good enough. The window that was installed in my apartment works, it does what it is suppose to do, it is not beautiful to look at but it is utilitarian — it completes its purpose. Rather than taking two hours and spending extra money for additional materials, the window was just thrown into the frame and screwed in. The dust was left on the floor, the guy who installed the window was gone in 1o minutes: elbows and ass holes. Done.

In some places, a window is not installed until all the gaps and spaces are full and everything runs flush and neatly together. In some places, a window takes two hours to install and is not complete until it can fully close out the outside environment when shut.

El Salvador is not such a place.

I pay $80 a month for my apartment. I don’t live in the places where windows are beautifully installed for a reason: good enough means cheap, and cheap is good enough for me. Who wants to waste time making a window look good? Who wants to spend extra money on appearance? I certainly don’t want to pay extra rent to be able to show my freshly installed, beautiful window off to guests. In point, when you install a window you screw the damn thing in and split. The job is done: simple, quick, cheap. There are more important things in life than spending all day putting in a window.

I like places that know this.

I like this country.

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Filed under: Central America, Culture and Society, El Salvador

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 80 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3134 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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