A good friend of mine is Chilean. This is, of course, tres exotique, and by all measures should score me impressive brownie points for my magnanimous tolerance of ridiculous foreign cultures.

Oh, don’t get me wrong – Chile is, by all accounts, a beautiful and welcoming country with much to offer in terms of art, history and folklore. And they have some tasty cheap wine. But it is also a country where someone who gets a facelift – and is rendered brain dead by a careless anesthesiologist – doesn’t even get free parking out of the deal.

Yes, this actually happened to a relative of my Chilean friend. The woman in question lived for 20 years as a vegetable until she died – with nary a dollar of support (or an apology) from the doctor or hospital in question.

Aside from the irony of looking fabulous as she drooled, this is a perfect illustration of the kind of thing that can happen in countries where the laws that protect consumers and patients are written on the back of an empanada.

Trust me, I’m no fan of lawsuits – I remember seeing a Phil Donahue episode in the 80’s where a couple sued for $5 million in emotional distress after discovering what they thought was a condom in a loaf of Wonder Bread. (It was the tip of a rubber glove, something every member of the TV audience  wanted to jam up their butts at that point.)

And I do believe that awards should be capped.  There was a comedian who said, “I wish somebody would have told me that I could work really hard in school for 16 or 18 years and then make $30,000 for the rest of my life…or spill hot coffee on my cooch.”

But until countries like Chile institute a litany of laws that protect people from stupid, careless or unscrupulous individuals like that anesthesiologist, I will continue to consider them ridiculous.

Fortunately, we live in the United States, the greatest nation on earth, where that kind of thing could never happen.

Well, of course, there was that banking crisis thingy.

And the BP oil spill.

Oh, and the tobacco industry advertising to kids.

True, there was Worldcom.

And Enron.

And Halliburton overcharging in Iraq.

Sure, there was Roche Pharmaceutical withholding an AIDS drug to countries that couldn’t pay enough.

And Goldman Sachs betting against the mortgage backed securities it was selling.

And Bernie Madoff.

But God bless America!

I hear Chile is lovely this time of year. I wonder if I could sell ceviche from a cart?