Wednesday 18 August 2010
American Diary: The Sheltered Ones
Americans are very well mannered people. I've only been here one week yet the number of times I've heard the phrases - are you ok ma'am, can I help you ma'am, please ma'am, thank you ma'am, what would you like ma'am, yes ma'am, no ma'am - could fill the dialogue in a book. Everywhere I go, the people are nice, they are helpful, they smile and they make conversation with strangers on public transport, something that I find perturbing, fresh from London.
All this politeness got me thinking: why are Americans so nice? What special thing do they have in their water that makes the bon homie switch function in them. Then I realised. They have food, they have water and they have light. It's not only that they have these things, because there is steady electricity in England, its the abundance of it, the readiness, the convenience whose peak is the drive through cash machine.
I don't make light of the suffering that can happen in America, the trauma, the ugly side of first world poverty, but still, I feel it is the blunted edge of suffering, never its full impact. Even the poorest will not starve, the kwashiorked belly of a child will never be seen in the projects and water will always be found for those who are thirsty.
In America, more than any other first world country I can think of, here live the sheltered ones but I, scion of the backward world, bear no resentment. Perhaps something is lost when you live your whole life in a shelter, unaware and removed from the outside, perhaps knowing intimately the details of the shelter and nowhere else is stunting to the soul, perhaps some deep springs of personality are never unlocked because one never sees the need to leave the shelter.
Or perhaps the shelter just makes you polite.