Three Cheers For Uncle Sam!
The thing that moved us instantly on moving to USA was the pleasantness of its people. On our walks or at the work, on the street or in stores, we experienced it everywhere, every day. Friendship and hospitality are traits that can be readily found all across this land. The day starts with almost every one, who passes us on the pavement or the park, greeting us, some even stopping to talk to us. Once on our morning walk on the beach, we were pleasantly surprised when a person approached us to bless the chip that he was holding in his hand. He was participating in the lottery for permission to operate the weekend kiosk on the beach and believed that Indians were spiritually very powerful and he would surely win if we blessed him . He soon returned to thank us; he had won kiosk for the weekend. Very simple, sincere and warm people. They are a nation of immigrants. Their parents, grandparents or forefathers came from many nations. This makes them specially compassionate, caring and hospitable to foreign guests. Ask for assistance in finding some destination, the stern visage of the Americans melts instantly as their concern and compassion takes over. Once traveling in the city bus I requested the driver to announce when he approached a particular stop as I was new to the area. The driver not only remembered to announce the stop but also stopped the bus for a while to give me detailed directions to walk to my destination. At the workplace too, the atmosphere was absolutely tension-free that made life easy and enjoyable at work. I was astonished when my boss, the Regional Manager, asked me if I wanted coffee when she was going out to bring for herself (no peons for the job here!). No wonder, multitude of people kept coming from different countries, and felt at home here amidst the friendliest people on the planet.
2. “Pahle aap, pehle aap”!
The second thing that attracted our attention was America's national love affair with cars that has been going strong for over 100 years; nearly as long as there have been cars at all. In the last sixty years, they have built such a great network of roads and service stations and restaurants that whenever you feel like it, you can get into your car and drive and drive and drive and ... Anything they want to do, anywhere they want to go, they have to get into the car. Their life seems regulated by stripes marking the parking places. Every adult seemed to own a car, some more than one. Most youngsters get a car as present from parents on completing 16 years, the prescribed age for procuring a driving license. There are 220m cars in a country of 290m people. America's obsession with the car goes so deep it is reflected in virtually every facet of socio-economic life. Back home in India car was a barometer of a man's richness, whereas in the U.S. we were surprised to see even the lowest on the economic ladder commuting in their cars. The newspaperman delivered the paper while driving, the mailman came with the mail in his official van, and the part-time gardner got out of his truck that carried all his garden tools and so did the weekly domestic help to do the cleaning job. The most amazing, also the most amusing sight was a procession of the homeless demanding subsidized homes, most of them in their cars with bold stickers or banners - “How long can we live in our cars?” The most cheering aspect of all their love for cars is that they never ever fail to respect the pedestrians' right to cross first. At times when persons like us, who are not used to such a right back home, want to wait and let the car cross first, inadvertently recreate the proverbial “Pehle aap, pehle aap” scene of the Lucknow railway station, as the driver would keep signaling to the pedestrian to cross first.
3. Age before beauty!
The third and most heartening thing for us was to see the respect for senior citizens that we experienced in every walk of life. The first time it attracted our attention when we went to watch a movie with our son and daughter-in-law. We were pleasantly surprised to find that we were charged half the price for our tickets of what our son and his wife paid. Senior citizens are given many advantages in American communities and by the American market. These include significant discounts on anything from travel to movies to bus-fare to consumer goods. Some establishments give out senior citizens cards which allow discounts all the time. Many stores, hotels, restaurants, theaters and other establishments do give senior citizen discounts, but do not advertise or publicize them widely. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), open to anyone over 50, offers its members a wide variety of discounts on travel, auto rental, insurance, and anything else sold in the United States. Community help for senior citizens can range from help preparing tax returns to free hot meals for the homebound. Many communities have "Senior Citizen Center" that allows for socializing, entertainment, job search and other kinds of assistance. To top all the above advantages, the U.S. workers become eligible at the age of 65 years to retire with full social security benefits and all citizens at this age are eligible for supplemental social income and free medical insurance under Medicare. In their everyday life too, people show great respect to seniors and put them ahead of themselves. An interesting example was when at a function I tried to let my boss go ahead of me at the entrance, but she insisted I go first - “age before beauty!” - she said in her own inimical style.