Sunday, September 07, 2008

Life in the USA

I was promising to write this post on how life in the US is different from life in India for some time, and putting it off repeatedly. In the meantime, I had my first week of classes and the assignments hit me like a bolt from the blue. I thought that would further delay my blog post. Then I received an assignment from my English class to describe my experiences on visiting a new place, and I thought I would kill two birds with a single stone, and so here's that promised post.

When I came out of the Newark Liberty International Airport on the night of the 13th, my cousin brother and his neighbour were waiting to pick us up. I went to his neighbour's car and put my luggage in the trunk. Then I went beside the car to sit, and he called me and said, "Not there, you go on the other side." I was so used to the fact that the driver's seat is on the right side of the car that I had unthinkingly moved to the left side. This was only the first of the little differences that I was going to encounter over the next few days. I will write mainly about these little things because the big things like weather, cleanliness, rules and discipline are much written about everywhere, whereas the small things that we leave to our subconscious mind are the ones that really surprised me more.

Once the car started moving, I noticed that it was going on the right side of the road. I was going all queer in my head as I was anticipating wrong turns at every crossing. After almost a month in this country, I can't really say I am fully used to this thing yet. I hope things get better soon, because I have obtained a bicycle and plan to start riding it next week.

Arriving at my cousin's house, I went to take a bath as I was feeling exhausted and dirty after the 24 hour long journey. The switch in the bathroom seemed upside down. Then I realised that the people of this country really try and do things differently (or maybe we Indians do it differently), for the light switches here are "On" in the position where they are "Off" back home.

The taps here are something that I really don't like; the one in the bath was so complicated that I had to call in my sister in law to show me how to operate it. I have seen several bathrooms in this country in the last month, and wherever there is a bathtub and a shower, you can open EITHER the bathtub tap OR the shower, but not both. Getting warm water whenever you want is cool though!

The next day I realised something as I stood in front of my brother's house in the morning: one is not likely to see too many people in this country in the residential areas. If you stand there for an hour you may see something like five people, and then too they would probably be driving. this is a really big change for someone who has come from India. Even on the busy streets, the traffic is never really bumper to bumper - cars maintain a distance with each other. In fact, Indian drivers are infinitely more skilful than their American counterparts. They can take their cars through narrow gaps with only an inch or so of clearance on either side and drive with very few accidents in cities with bare minimum traffic lights and rules. Here every road has a speed limit set and even small crossings have traffic lights. While it may seem to make the drivers' job more complicated, it actually does just the opposite.

Speaking of speed limits, I think there's another difference that is worth mentioning: the Americans measure their distances (and speed) in miles. This is a bit misleading, for when I saw a speed limit sign stating "50" on a highway en route Niagara, I told my brother that the United States is a slow country. However, I later realised that speed was in mph and it really translated to 80 kmph which is not a bad speed at all! It is really strange how our subconscious mind controls our conceptions about measurement.
The sun sets quite late here in New Jersey, and I was surprised to see bright sunlight at 7:30 pm on my first day here. Even at half past eight, there's light in the sky. The weather has been quite hot here since I arrived, and there were only a few days of chilly weather. But one of the things that I noticed in New York City was that while it is quite hot in the sun, it is cold in the shadow of the skyscrapers and there is always a wind blowing due to the tunnel effect of the tall buildings.
One other difference that I noticed instantly in the US is the lack of animals in the city. There are only a few cats and squirrels to be seen. No dogs, cattle, goats or pigs like back home. Very few birds are visible, though flocks of pigeons and sea gulls can be found in select places. The squirrels here are large, with huge bushy tails, and no stripes on their back. All ground is covered with grass, and where there is no grass it is covered with wooden chips so that there is no dust flying around.
I could go on and on with this post, but I must stop here as this post is becoming too long. I will further write about things that I see in this country, and will probably bust some myths about America as well. I also have to write about New York City and Niagara Falls and my new house. Let's hope I can get the Internet working on my laptop soon, and then posting will be a whole lot easier than it is at the moment.


  1. hmm, nice. be careful with your cycle!!! have you been to the market places...specially the fish market??? any difference???

  2. @debmalya: All market places here are airconditioned supermarkets, so if you are thinking about the bargaining at our fish markets back home, forget that! The Americans are surely missing a lot of fun in their lives. :-)

  3. @debmalya: Yes, I would say just that! Life IS so boring out here without all the adventures we had everyday back home.