The first time one lands in the US of A from India, one is enthralled by the super straight roads, tall buildings, traffic signals - that are actually followed - everywhere, the sheer variety in every single thing available on earth, the huge portions of food (indicating abundance as opposed to shortage in our country), smiling strangers greeting you in elevators... Great!! But to me, a few days into this country and I realized what a pain-in-the-ass living here would be.
Before I go any further, I should also mention that I am highly partial when it comes to my country. I love it to bits - all the noise, dirt, pollution, stereotypes, prejudices included - and would never exchange it to live in any - even far better - country. I have travelled to a lot of foreign countries and never felt at home anywhere. Though this was my second trip to the US, I surprisingly don’t seem to remember the same impressions from the last time. Probably, because I was so overwhelmed, it being my first time. Or I had just started traveling and did have much of an opinion about places.
So here is why the best country in the world failed to impress me:
1. Indian Stretchable Time: This is the first thing on my list and any Indian will understand where I am going with this. It’s nice to be punctual and all but I’m sorry, Indians are not on-the-dot punctual. Period. A buffer of 10-15 minutes is a given for us. And having to follow exact schedules is plain regimental. And a crime on a vacation! But guess what! If the ticket counter closes at half past five, it closes at half past five!
2. Time zones: For someone used to the same time in Mumbai and Chennai, this seems one fucked up concept. I know this has more to do with geography but I still cannot wrap my head around it. When we started our drive for the Grand Canyon, we were a little short on time. But we’d still make it. Except for a little hitch - our clocks suddenly went an hour ahead on our way. Oh! Nevada to Arizona - two contiguous states - have a time difference of an hour. And remember, the ticket counter closes at half past five! Another time, I woke up nice and early for our flight to Mumbai to finish packing. Just as I got done, I realised that the clock on my phone is an hour ahead of my wrist watch. The auto setting feature on the phone picked up on the daylight saving and it was 10 am instead of 9 am and out of nowhere I lost an hour of my life! (Which is nothing compared to losing 3 hours between Vegas to Orlando!!)
|The time zones in the US itself are so varying (Photo credit)|
3. The levels of courtesy: I was, and still appreciate to a large extent, the courteous behavior people generally have here. Nodding, greeting, wishing people a great day definitely makes the place more cheerful. Plus, in deference to someone’s personal space ensures that people queue up with 4 ft between each other! Great! But by the end of a week, I had enough of apologising just because I got within 2 inches of people. I mean I don’t have a contagious disease I should be sorry for! Stop queuing up for change! (I always thought queuing up was too goody goody in any city) It’s ok to mind your own business sometimes and leave strangers alone!
4. Driving hell: I know that we constantly complain about the lack of lane discipline and incessant honking in our country. And we all wish that we’d behave a little more on the roads. Driving in the US is just the opposite - it is like military rule. Yes, after you honk, scream, maneuver your way through the roads of India, driving in the US is like Taliban regime. The lanes are laid out, the speed limit carved in stone and there is absolutely no scope for making a mistake! I shudder to think of how people in the US make it through their learning phase!! While we were stuck in a 45 min traffic jam in Orlando, the first thought that came to my mind was how our ingenious country would have used the side lane, covered up the 4 feet gap between every vehicle and reduced the jam to half!!
5. Automation heaven?: While I am inspired by the level of automation in the US - where most payments can be made with one swipe of a card - it does go a bit too far, if you ask me. I went through different hues of feeling strange, annoying and intimidating when the lady at an airport cafe told me to pick what I want and scan codes on my own. And at the end of it, I could swipe the card and generate the bill. That is like finding a new profession in my country! It might be a great thing for people living here, but I'm used to someone doing that for me back home. Spoilt, am I? Yes!! Checking in at airline kiosks is a great thing but quite intimidating for a first timer. Filling in petrol in your car on your own should come with a manual of instructions.
6. Domestic travel: As if time zones and punctuality isn’t enough of a kill joy, try traveling to different cities within the country. I travelled to 3 cities and observed the same things and I think it’s safe for me to confirm them. Security in the US is a pain. Shoes and belts need to come off too. The security personnel are outright scary and eye everyone as if we are all guilty of some crime. There is no buy-all-the-food-you-want hospitality on the planes. So, each time it was - grab a bite at the airport and pick something to eat on the flight. Each checked in baggage costs!! (about 20-25 dollars per bag). The result - people try to pile on all their luggage into the cabin, the overhead storage is crammed, the boarding process crawls because people are trying to cram all the bags they have. (Plus food bags for the journey) I totally feel like a queen traveling in my country!
I think it’s pretty natural to be hit by the almost robotic, rule following lives that people there live after being in a free-in-every-sense country like India. Some sign boards made me want to yell, “How dumb are you! Isn’t it obvious!” So in conclusion, I think they need to become a bit of badasses and we need to straighten up a bit. Both the countries are like extremes of a spectrum. We can meet somewhere midway where they loosen up and we become more stringent. What do you think?