Larry, I did not think your initial dispatch was confusing. I totally understand where you are comming from, here in Mexico the situation is pretty similar, since equipment, materials etc are so hard to come by the people who look at prints and are interested usually dont think of "what camera?" but of "where, how, what it means? how do I feel about it". What I really think you are talking about is a very fundamental difference in culture, where in the US the attitude is "time is money" and what can I get to acheive the same results as fast as possible, in other cultures (or at least mine) there is a tendency to "take it easy" and discuss things.
To me this was the greatest cultural shock when I first started living un the US, all the way from college where god forbid if you disagreed with a professor, to your job, where people do not care to hear what you have to say, they just want you to get the job done. OTOH it is this same attitude of expediency that opens doors for people who are good at what they do, I can only speak for myself but I am very greatful for the priviledge of having lived in the US and for the opportunities that many people afforded me, but this opportunities where given because I had the right attitude. This is my fundamental disagreement with your friends statement, for someone looking from the outside it might look like people in the US are over preoccupied with gizmos and toys, but looking from the inside I think this is only a symptom of the desire to get the best posible results. Lets face it you might be able to turn out prefectly beautiful pictures with a barrel lens with waterford stops, but the chances are better if you have a lens with a shutter, MC and with plenty of coverage.
I agree with you that some people might obsess so much over equipment that they can not see the forest for the trees, but the same can be said on the other side, where the "meaning" of the print becomes so absorving that we fall into the artsy pseudo speak.
I dont think it is the case that your observations are incorrect or correct, but that they are an interesting point of view that show us a little window into another culture which many of might not ever have the chance to experience, as such I find them very interesting and not dissimilar to those made here in Mexico.