That “E” word….

The world is already going crazy over that “F” word. And lots is already written on it, more so spoken out. And the raging debate of whether it is amongst the best of words to be used in public?? Aw..what the heck! I refuse to get into that argument! I think there is another word that deserves some discussion, especially in the Indian context, where it is grossly missing and is very much missed.
At present I am in USA, on a short term visit and apart from trying to work hard at the office and having a good time, out of it, I am also constantly and pretty keenly observing this strange country! In fact, this morning, I had a thought. The whole meaning of “being on the *other* side of the world suddenly dawned on me. I was here, in a totally different environment, where everything was different….REALLY DIFFERENT. The people, the lifestyles, the cultures…but that we have in India too. And what we have is very typical of our side of the world. Having said that, definitely it has been a great experience in seeing first hand, what I have only read about so far.
The one “stark” difference which I noticed between homeland and here is that of “etiquette“. Man this is one trait which I sincerely feel, is sorely missing, in our part of the world. Especially our country. And even the so-called educated class seem to have overlooked acquiring this one aspect.
I used to consider myself a man with etiquettes but when I came here and saw the way people behave here, my own shortcomings became very visible to me. For example, I never ever bothered to hold a door open for somebody who was following me into the same enclosure. I just let it slam on their face and let them open it for themselves (un-intentionally of course!) but here I noticed that the people make a conscious effort, to hold that door, as a gesture of politeness. I never realized that “technically” I was being rude. There are many such instances, which made me think and realize that we just don’t have etiquette. And we are rude in more situations than one.
Some examples which really caught my attention:
1. Traffic (ha. you know this one even before you read it).- Here, the rules of the road are meant to be followed, not a mere suggestion! And the best part is that each and every person on the road follows the rule. If you are signaling to turn, you will be allowed to turn. Nobody will ever cut you off while you are trying to take that turn. The “most” striking experience which I had here, regarding the amount of regard and respect people have for other road users is as follows:
“I was on the exit of my hotel, about to enter the highway. I need to take a left (so that I reach the right side of the road), which means I have to cross a lane of traffic (going towards the right side) and then reach my direction on the road. Now, when I reached the exit, I saw a huge traffic pile up happening towards my right as it was evening rush hour and there was a signal which turned red. But the traffic oncoming actually stopped to let me pass. Simply amazing. And this is not the only time it has happened, I have had this experience 2 or 3 times here and it is just a great feeling to know that the person in the other car does have a concern to let you pass, because if you are not allowed to pass, then you end up standing there for god knows how long before the traffic pile up clears out.”
Since everyone follows the rule, driving in the US is relatively tension free. In fact almost a year ago I had written a piece [Let us Drive Better] suggesting a few things based on my personal experiences and practices, which might help some people who are interested, to drive better. And who knows one day everyone might drive decently on the road (I know I know… too far fetched and all that crap…But I have always been a die hard optimist). But looks like that post was relegated to the dark alleys of the servers. 😦
2. Great respect for the individual.- The individual commands extreme respect in all terms. There is no “ME-FIRST” attitude here. If you were the first one in a queue, then you would definitely be the first one to be served. No two ways about that… Back home, we have no concept of a queue. Probably because our biggest superstar immortalized the lines “हम जहाँ खडे होते हैं, लाइन वहीं से शुरू होती है!” in the movie Kalia. We just crowd around the counter and elbow and shove and do what not to get our job done first! Not here. In fact if you are say at the coffee machine and someone just approached it. Even if you offer the person to take his/her coffee first, it is politely refused with the words, “you came here first!”. Just too good.
3. Now this is more of an extension of the previous point. The infrastructure and facilities, if it is going to be used by a large number of people, then special attention is given to the fact that the weakest and the most physically challenged person, who might ever access that facility, is actually able to access it. For example the office building where I work, has all the labeling of the halls and rooms and facilities accompanied by the same text written in Braille. That is really nice.
4. D.I.Y – Do it yourself. That seems to be the keyword here. Housekeeping is a luxury which not many people enjoy here. So everyone is used to doing their work with their two hands and does not expect any undue Royal Treatment. Probably that is the reason why any type of work is respected here. And nobody really looks down on you (exceptions exist everywhere and I don;t want to get into that debate!) But since the cost of labor is so low in India, we have all our sundry maids and household helps, coming in and doing the dishes and washing our clothes and cleaning the general mess that we make. This DIY bug had hit me quite sometime in the past, even before I ever traveled to America. Even then it was more of an American Influence, I’d say. And I began to service my bike at home. Much to the amusement of most people around me. It is a great feeling to have done something by yourself. I realize the value of the work done especially when I have to clean my own dishes here by myself. It is a great leveler.
On the whole, this trip has been a terrific experience. And now that the last two weeks left of my stay here. I will try to make the most of it in terms of gaining a new perspective… and of course have whale of a time and post a ton of pictures on my travelogue.

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