Thursday, January 18, 2007

Land of $USA$

Call USA the land of opportunities, land of liberty but calling it the land of money is not quite right. In most of the places in this country you get lots of opportunity; personal freedom is visible everywhere and actively sought after. But you cannot just get rich here by coming to USA. I think the last fact is true about any country or place, but definitely true for this country.

Its surprising that I had the opposite perception before coming here. I am pretty sure that is the case by default for the common person on the street back home. Sure, any country has relatively richer and relatively poorer people but really poor people, who think before they spend; neh, not Americans.
Thus imagine my shock when I spotted a homeless beggar on the streets of Boston. Come winter and I read about shelter homes for homeless people.

I never give money to street beggers in India, not because I do not sympathise with them but more because begging has become an easy profession. I rarely meet someone who really needs to beg and it is nearly impossible to distinguish them from the fake beggers. I have ended up giving money to people on the streets here; again, not because I sympathised with them but I was so startled and ashtonished that I could not think what to do.

Gradually it became easier to accept the reality. I even know where some of the homeless people spend their night at. I have seen people at grocery stores, catalogue in their hands, searching for the cheapest thing and choosing products which save even a quarter. The divide between rich and poor is enormous here. I used to think that $4.00 for a sandwich is a pretty good deal but some of my american friends proved me wrong. If I were in India, I would have never considered it a good deal; there I am used to judging value by cost price (including labour). Every day I see numerous ads in TV about furnitures. They advertise how you can buy a $400 sofa without paying any interest for 1 year. I would never have imagined there could be people who need to pay $400 in installments over a year.

I guess one reason behind my misconception could be the graduate student stipend. Average graduate student stipend in Boston area, before tax, comes out to be about $2000. Thats about $12.5 per hour. I did some private tutoring sometimes. My friends sometime do. The students pay $25 to $30 per hour on average. Thats a whole lot higher than $8 an hour, which a lot of undergrads and non-funded students work for on campus. And its nearly double the minimum wage. No doubt tipping has whole new meaning here. Please tip generously .

Like most people here, I carry credit cards. More that one. I seldom use them as _credit_ cards, I use them so that I do not have to carry cash. I was shocked to hear that I am in the minority. People here have huge debt on credit cards. They get a new credit card to avail of the free no-interest transfer for 6 months or so and then interest starts piling on that too. Debt never decreases in middle class family. Number of credit cards keep increasing. I even read about people who cannot apply for credit cards anymore because of their credit history. There can be people like this ? In America! I guess thats reality.

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