I was in the United States for one month on an exchange program for youth leaders from Pakistan. Apart from innumerable things that I liked while I was there, some aspects of American life did not appeal to me as much as the rest of them. Following are some of those snippets of Daily American Life that I noticed and was not too pleased about.
United States, unlike Pakistan, has abundance of many things, including food and electricity. There is plenty of cheap food available and no load-shedding, unless there are extenuating circumstances like Super Storm Sandy. This abundance manifests itself in form of a lot of left-over food and lack of concern regarding switching the lights off. I belong to a country where I get a maximum of 14 hours electricity, that too on a good day. I was exasperated on observing that very few shops chose to switch off their lights, even when they were supposed to be closed.! This affliction was not limited to the posh areas of Manhattan but was present around the country. Similarly, the food portions were so big that it was almost impossible for one person to finish the whole portion. Despite that much left-over food, millions of Americans remain without adequate food.
Smoke on the streets
It was a pleasure to note that smoking is banned inside most buildings in the U.S. The fallout though is that people smoke on the streets. The streets of New York especially were full of smokers, puffing away on their cigarettes. For a country that prides itself on the value of ‘personal space’, something should be done to restrict the smoke in the open. In some parts of Europe, and at some International airports around the world, designated spots for smokers are present, a model that can be used in the U.S as well. According to Center for Disease Control(CDC), 443,000 Americans die of smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke each year(As a comparison, about 100,000 people die annually from diseases caused by use of tobacco in Pakistan).
Too much plastic?
It was my last day in San Francisco and I didn’t have a printed copy of my train ticket. I went to the hotel business center and asked for instructions. I was told to use my credit card. I did not possess a credit card so I tried using a debit card. It was of no use. I went to the information desk, concierge and the reception office, only to be told at each of those places that unless I use a credit card, there is not much they can do about it. A friend of mine later said, Cash is preferred by only two types of people here. Those who are trying to evade tax and those doing some shady bussiness. I belonged to none of these, but found it strange that amid so much advancement, there is no backup plan.!! What if the credit card system stops working for one day? That, as I can verify from experience, would be the true Doomsday experience for Americans.
Sugar without sweetness?
For a chai/coffee addict like myself, appropriate amount of sweetness in the beverage is crucial. The packs of sugar available at most coffee shops were simply NOT sweet enough. Normally, I prefer low sugar in my chai/coffee but even 3 packs of those sugar packs were not sweet enough at times. Someone along the way pointed out that artificial sweeteners(the ones without Calories) are the solution to my particular problem. They were. And the best thing was their ready availability.
Consumerism means “the pre occupation of a society with buying goods”. I have a lot of qualms with this idea, the details of which I don’t want to divulge. I was in the U.S during the height of this maniacal pre occupation with buying things, i.e. on Black Friday. Shops remain closed on Thanksgiving day until late at night. People start lining up outside major retail stores, to be able to buy stuff at discounted prices(This year, a woman set shop outside a store 5 days before Black Friday). As soon as the shops re-open on thanksgiving night, all hell breaks loose. Shopping malls, retail stores, branded shops, electronic retailers’ shops, all of them are filled to capacity with over eager customers. I heard some overtly ridiculous Ads on Radio for products. At the few shopping places that I unwillingly had to visit on Black Friday, the quality of discounted items was mostly pathetic. It was freezing cold with sub zero temperature and strong winds, which didn’t deter the shoppers one bit, it was a matter of life and death for them. The best deals were on electronic items, although the discounts were marginal(e.g. A 16GB iPod Nano’s price was 150 dollars before sale, on Black Friday it was being sold for 140 dollars.). I left those stores a happy person, my convictions getting reinforced.
Nothing in life is free
This important lesson was reinforced during my time in the Capitalist Heaven that is the United States. In different cities, even the shopping bags were charged, at different prices. At a few places, we had to pay for ketchup along with the chips that we got. There were very few places with Free Wi-Fi service, unlike in Pakistan where plenty of people are still living off their neighbors’ Wi-Fi. The tipping system at restaurants initially baffled us, because we had almost never calculated the Tip with such measure back in Pakistan. Even the costumed characters on Times Square asked for ‘Tips’ if you got a picture or two with them.