5 Things I love about America

Friday, July 4, 2014

Today is the 4th of july, when the United States of America celebrates its Independence day. Its been 10 months since I landed here and there's a lot I've learned from the people around me. There's a lot one can learn from this country. Following are the most prominent lessons I've learnt. 

1) Traffic Discipline
Trust me, coming from India, the very first thing you'll notice about the Americans is their immaculate sense of discipline on the road. US is a car loving country and its the most commonly used form of transport around. In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower approved the bill to build an Interstate Highway system to ensure the country's security in the face of a foreign aggression. The outcome was a fantastic network of super-wide highways connecting all major states and important cities. With a fantastic system, came increased number of cars. And thankfully, a better sense of driving. 

Having been used to adventure that is crossing a road in India, I was almost shocked when, on my first day in the US, a car stopped a few feet away from me to allow me to cross the road. Turns out, the Americans take the right of passage of the pedestrian rather seriously. Whether you are at a marked zebra crossing or otherwise, a car WILL STOP to allow you to cross first. Lane driving is impeccably followed and the average speed of the vehicles on the highways is unusually high. The cars maintain a safe distance between them at all times, even during gridlocks. In fact, whenever stuck in a traffic jam, I'm sure we Indians could squeeze 2 more cars in the space maintained between two cars here! The lane discipline and the wide highways makes driving almost monotonous and boring. But its definitely a better way to drive. Hearing somebody honk a horn is extremely rare in most places and I'm not exaggerating. 

2) Predisposition to Trust
If there's one quality I'd like to pick up as a person from the Americans, its their predisposition to trust people. Im not sure the Americans even realize they have this quality, but its definitely something that me and my fellow Indians have noticed here. Without a genuine reason to believe otherwise, most Americans trust you. Most officials that Ive dealt with in various offices, they genuinely listen to you and believe your reason for not being able to do something. Most retail establishments and companies have extremely liberal return policies, even after a product has been used and they take your word for it, that you are genuinely not satisfied the product. I have had products replaced under warranty without a question or being asked to prove that the product is within warranty or broken due to my fault. They just take you at your word. And I find it heartwarming. 

It also breaks my heart to see people abuse this trust. A lot of outsiders take these privileges as a license to abuse the system. The best quality of this society also brings out the worst quality in a lot of the people.

If only we all trusted each so easily, the world would be so much better.

3) Thought for the disabled
image courtesy: Valleymetro.org
On my first day here, when I took a local bus, I was surprised to see that it had a pneumatic ramp that could be lowered for wheelchairs to come on board. The footpaths tapered at every crossing, so that the wheelchairs could effortlessly cross the roads. At the university, every building had at least one door that could be opened by pressing a button by persons sitting on wheelchairs. Every computer lab and classroom had some height adjustable tables for use by these people. As a result of all these thoughtful provisions, people confined to wheelchairs could independently move around on mechanized wheelchairs without anybody's assistance whatsoever. Ramps and signs in Braille are present without exception. Most of the classrooms on my university have special hearing aids for use by hearing-impaired students. In fact, the university has a dedicated Disability resource center to help disabled students with any need they might have. 

I find all this amazingly nice. This is a society which is genuinely, truly disabled friendly. 



4) Love for the Outdoors
The Americans take outdoor activities rather seriously, and invest heavily in it. Its common to see lakes full of canoes and kayaks and sails. Beaches are full of surfers. Trekking trails are marked as nicely as highways and are always full of families hiking and trekking with their little ones in tow. Mountain Bikers and off terrain vehicles are all over the trails. There are RV parks everywhere and full of mobile homes. People do use every long weekend and holiday to hit the road and do the activity of their choice. 

I find this a fantastic culture. Maybe its the luxury of having all your basic needs taken care of are the relative inexpensiveness of the activities here. But I love the fact that people do more than just survive and do all these things. And they do all this with their kids! This is how you get your kids away from the TVs.


5) Systems
This is perhaps one aspect which is known back home- everything works by the system here. I felt the difference from my first day here. I walked into a bank and walked out with a Debit Card in my hand within an hour. It takes one day to get a working power connection and a day or two to get a working Internet. The public transport is easy to use and I love the fact that I can take my bike aboard a Metro or a bus. Roads are well maintained, regularly cleaned and repairs are swift. Even in the middle of the desert here in Phoenix, lawns and gardens are impeccably maintained and are lush green. Most things can be done over the internet and the customer care helplines are almost always helpful. Cities are well planned. 

I like the fact you are not judged by the kind of job you do. Unlike India, its very common for students here to simultaneously work while studying to meet one's daily expenses. And students do all kinds of jobs, right from serving at restaurants to food deliveries to desk jobs. Or that certain jobs are not restricted to a certain, marginalized sections of the society. Blue-collar workers are professionally dressed, well equipped and have a decent standard of living. 

Its nice when everything just works. Personally, I want to return back to India. But I no longer find it difficult to understand why so many don't. Its a good society to be in.


So there it is, my lessons from this wonderful country. This society is not equal, not by a long shot. But its certainly a better place to work your way upwards, if you want to. This society has its flaws, like any other place. But thats a discussion for another blogpost. Maybe the things I've mentioned are common to every developed nation. This is the only place I've seen so far and hence, can comment on.

Its the place to be for millions around the world. And for good reasons.  On behalf of all those people, Happy Independence day USA!