Monday, August 17, 2009

About America

I am currently on the train from Baltimore to New York. My trip to Baltimore totally helped me to understand the ‘real America’ in my point of view, as I was staying with a family in suburban Ellicott City. They are friends of my parents, and so incredibly nice, they’re Polish immigrants but gave me a lot of information into the American way of life. So, I have decided to share a few.

  • College is intense. Jacob, their son, is a senior this year. It’s not about grades. It’s about sports. It’s a lot easier to get into ANY college, for ANY degree if you play sports well, then if you get good grades.
  • The tuition fees for college cost an average salary a year. Most college’s have tuition fees around the US$40,000 a year, not counting books, extra expenses, rent or food. And we complain about HECS. For example, a medical degree is 8 years, so $320,000 in tuition.
  • Most colleges also require you to live on campus, so there is not much room for money saving.
  • The food is big. A small cup of tea/coffee is like our large. An appetiser is a full meal. The reasoning is based strongly in tradition. When the pioneers came over from Europe, a lot of them were suffering from starvation and malnutrition. The big servings are to symbolise that this is the land of plenty, the land of opportunity, etc. Fair enough, but to me it seems a bit wasteful.
  • They are seriously strict when it comes to drinking. If you are under 21 you cannot even HOLD any alcohol. Say for example, if you are helping a parent carry the shopping, the assistant will not LET you carry the bag with the alcohol. In some states, like Kentucky (of all places), buying alcohol is a biiiiiiig run around. You cannot simply go into any liquor store and buy some booze, you have to first join the ‘club’ at the store 5e(pay a $5-$10 joining fee) and then you can buy liquor. By state law, it is illegal to sell alcohol to someone who isn’t a member. In other states, it is illegal for you to see your alcohol being poured at a bar. You order, the bar staff go into another room, pour it, bring it out to you.
  • I asked Ania and Jacob why they are so strict when it comes to alcohol. Reason is simple, America was settled by puritans. And it’s not just alcohol, so many of America’s laws still have a very strong puritanical basis.
  • Don’t ask, don’t tell: more than just the policy in the armed forces when it comes to sexuality. You do not talk religion. You do not talk politics. Period. It is tabooed. You do not ask people what they think when it comes to politics, or why they do or don’t go to church. You do not go yammering about. You do not say ‘Iraq’ in public.
  • Due to this, most of what hits the news back home and around the world doesn’t hit a chord here, for example, Sarah Palin’s famous ‘I can see Russia from my house’ statement is unheard of here. We care more about American politics than they do.
  • Obama’s victory was a shock. Everyone thought McCain would win.
  • Due to the stupid Electoral College system, Bush got elected to a second term having less votes then Kerry. Kerry had, in fact, received 300 votes more than Bush but Bush still got the presidency. Put it this way – One state has 55 Electoral College votes. In that state, Bush wins 51% to 49%. He gets all 55 votes. Another state has 10 Electoral College votes. In that state, Kerry wins 99% to 1%. He only gets 10 Electoral College votes. So, you can have the majority of the votes, but still have less Electoral College votes. Makes sense? No? Good.

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