"In God We Trust" is the motto of the country where atheism can be propounded and propogated without even the slightest flutter of an eyelid. Some call it The New World, some call it The Dream Country, to me it is just another piece of land in this beautiful world’s geography. The United States of America holds a lofty place in the world – whether or not it deserves this loftiness is quite another issue – but that it does is fact. Columbus landed here by mistake, killed (brutally savaged) the natives and since then it has been a country of immigrants. Thousands immigrate into this country from all over the world each year and many more come to study and work here each year. The dollar ($) holds a predominant position in the world economy. No decision of military worth shall be taken without consulting the US. Hollywood has reached places to which even water has not found its way as yet. Gates and Buffet have become common names in the third world.
I joined the GRE bandwagon when I was in college with the dream of coming to study in the US. However, I had to let go of my ambition for want of money. That which I couldnt reach was sour for me and I let the episode pass as unwanted. When I joined Infosys, I was pretty sure that I would go onsite to the US. My client was Microsoft (this made it doubly sure) and like everyone else, I waited for the opportunity. But destiny charted a different route for me and that route took me to England (for Microsoft). 🙂 After my return to India from London and after several arguments at home, I got my opportunity to come onsite to the US. In America, where its actual citizens continue to fight for rights and the immigrants live a high and bounty life, I landed on the 30th of Jan 2010. My immigration was through at SanFrancisco in a few minutes. When I touched down in Seattle, my mind was full of questions – was I going to LIVE THE AMERICAN DREAM at last? What was I going to see and face? What would the experience be like? What is it that this country has in store for me? And scores of other thoughts showed their faces to me until I spotted my welcome party – Shyam and Senthil.
After a day, I started observing people, things and the system around me. The first thing that caught my eye was the infrastructure – the roads, the pavements, the city structure, the bridges, flyovers were solid and very, very clean. No stray animals, no litter, no water logging – it was different. At office, I found people of various nationalities working together. My client is Chinese, the senior manager is American, his senior is Indian and our developers are from Argentina! Years of immigration has taught them to co exist. It is a very nice thing to see people who have different perspectives put their heads together and get things done. The shuttle drivers in MS give me an insight into an ordinary person’s life – those who get paid every week and do multiple jobs to make ends meet. They are very courteous and polite. They have faith and they believe in friendship. Even the Govt Bus Drivers, Postal Department and Police are amazingly helpful. This is in such starking contrast to India. People here are capable of living life on their own – they are highly assertive and have an inherent risk taking ability. Most of them hold highly individual opinions about things in life and about happenings in the world. They may be right or wrong but the capacity to hold such assertive views is good. People respect personal space and value time a lot – again something that we Indians need to learn desparately.
These were the good things that I saw here. There were some bad things too – like every other country, it has its own good share of the bad. The first thing that hit me here was – this country charges for incoming calls – what the heck do they have MIT and Harvard for? Having free incoming is one of the basics of communication – no? We get laptops and consumer electronics for throw away prices here but they rob us for everyday items like food, clothes, soaps and other stuff. Ennangada economy! The first time I reached my apartment, I found that they dont give lights for the individual rooms. While I agree that lighting a room to personal tastes is a good idea, groping in the dark until you get the light is not really a nice sight. Fortunately, I had a torch and managed that night and got a light the next morning.
Healthcare is another sick point here – seeing a doctor here is like seeing God or an apostle. When thou art in death bed, He shalt appear before thine eyes. You can even have darshan of Tirupathi Balaji or the Pope in a day or two but meeting a doctor in the US will take you a week – by which time either the patient or his disease is gone for good. My second week here gave me a very bad back pain and every hospital I called only said that I have to have Insurance to even see a physiotherapist. I didnt have my SSN yet – so I couldnt apply for insurance. In Developed countries, facilities are supposed to be more accessible – no? The most irritating factor for me was public transport – it is pretty pathetic. You only have buses and they are in less frequency during the weekend!! They need to think twice before they submit proposals at the climate change summit. I am informed that the politicians in the US have had big stakes in oil companies since the 60s and it was planned that there be very limited public transport. But the people were told that they are rich as they own a car!! It is easy to brainwash people here into anything. Tell them anything with what sounds like logic and they will accept it.
My first experience of the US attitude came in the form of my room mate. She is one of those unfortunate Indians who has formed an opinion that the "US is the best place in the world, Cant go back to India because it is good for nothing". She could vie with the Vatican for proselytization. Before she met me even once, before she read my emails, she called me up and told me that she was doing a lot for me and that I ought to trust her more as she is older than me and knows things here better than me! [All she has done so far for me is drive me in her car to the grocery store a couple of times.] I fought back and she couldnt take it. She said I was being rude and I retorted saying the feeling is mutual. And she kept the phone down saying she didnt know why she was having this conversation!! What a confused soul!! Well, anyway, she apologized the next day and we started our so called co-existence. She announced that she is on a diet and that she doesnt eat rice or oil or fatty substances and hence our cooking would have to be separate. The next evening we went to Fred Meyer (local department store) and she bought a Chocolate Mocha from the adjoining Starbucks! I realized that this place held wierd people.
Many of them have the attitude – I, Me, Myself ONLY. I am more important than all the rest of my family put together and I will sacrifice them for my happiness. Most of them dont know sharing – they will not do anything if they dont see something in it for them. This has given rise to the very popular American Greed. For everything, they need proof (written) and/ or reports/ studies/ surveys from leading universities. One of my colleagues was talking to me and she finds it amazing that a study in some university has discovered that Moms and Babies are wired together for a few years even after a baby is born. Why in the name of Merlin would you need a study for this? Dont you just know this – she might not have had a baby, but she definitely would have had a mom? Doesnt she feel wired to her mom even now? I am glad I do.
Individualism to the point of neglecting the society coupled with freedom to a degree that borders on insanity has created a different species of human beings in America – I like calling them the wierd ones. I have seen so many people talking to themselves, colouring their hair oddly, dressing differently, behaving improperly, etc. When I spoke to my friends about it – they ask me – "How do you care what colour his hair is and what he wears. He is doing his job well isnt he?" A cow, a dog, a bird doesnt wear anything and does its job perfectly well and if as a human I also have to be content with that – well, I dont know what I can say.
General levels of cleanliness are good but levels of personal hygiene I find are pretty low. People havent learnt to wash their hand and mouth after food! They eat old food. Life is kind of sedantary here. Work – office – eat – sleep. Wash clothes once a week. Vacuum once in two weeks. I find quite a few people here lazy and unwilling to do physical work. But they will talk about health and fitness regimes and go to gyms and be on diets. Nothing out of the ordinary will happen in this country and I cant think of anything that is going to wake them from this all too powerful slumber.
These were some of the good and the bad that I have seen so far in my living experience here in the US. Whether the country succeeds in changing my attitude or whether I succeed in retaining my own self is a question that I will leave to time. After all, In God We Trust!