Among my initial impressions of American culture and lifestyle, what really caught my eye were the isolationist tendencies that this country has consciously and sub-consciously adopted over the course of the past 2 centuries. (The validity of the ‘why’ is not relevant to this discussion). And more specifically, how these isolationist policies had manifested themselves in the day to day workings of the society. And of all the different aspects of American culture that exhibit this isolationist propensity, perhaps the most visible, glaring and sometimes obvious one is sports.
American sports (apart from Olympic events) are mostly just that – sports played in America. American Football, Baseball, Basketball and Ice hockey are sports where the biggest sporting events include teams from within North America playing each other to be crowned ‘World Champions’. (Sure there are instances of international participation – notably for Basketball, and also for Baseball in Latin America and Japan). But for an outsider looking in – like an immigrant such as myself – the universal, unquestioned acceptance of such a largely self-contained system among its people seems to display a certain sense of ignorance, apathy and maybe even some arrogance over other sports that are a lot more popular in the rest of the world. And THIS can and does work towards discouraging people unfamiliar with the sports to explore it.
Additionally, for an immigrant coming in to this country well beyond his/her formative years, it can seem to be a rather daunting, and sometimes even pointless, task to explore the sports. My own initial thoughts went along these lines: “I have no association with these sports. I never grew up with them. I have no reason to be interested in them now. So I will still continue to just watch cricket, soccer and tennis.” And this was (and in many cases, still is) echoed among most of my fellow Indian friends. It would have been that much easier to simply keep my status quo and not make an effort into exploring the product of a seemingly isolationist thinking.
But it is only when one looks beyond this apparent barrier of sports apathy and isolationism does one discover a whole new universe of sporting culture this country has to offer. And so I decided to take the plunge to see what’s out there – at least as far as American Football is concerned.
Doing my Master’s in a university with a big football tradition such as Virginia Tech inevitably exposed me to a lot of buzz around the game and the team. An American classmate of mine volunteered to feed my curiosity by watching the VT vs Nebraska (2009) game with me and explaining all the rules and objectives. VT won that game – a rather low scoring encounter with a memorable finish. And I got hooked on to the sport. I watched most of the VT games and even managed to follow some of the other ACC/BCS games that season. I even recollect going to my friend’s super bowl party that winter.
My initial efforts to watch and understand the game may have been borne out of a desire to socialize and make new friends. But over time, the sport itself grew on me – to the extent that I started to watch even non-VT games whenever they were on. So in my third semester (and second football season), I decided to watch a few games at Lane Stadium – home of the Virginia Tech Hokies. That was also the first time I learnt about the tradition of tailgating.
I just couldn’t believe it! I had never seen anything like it before. People drank alcohol for hours before the game, during the game, and for hours after the game! Lane Stadium ended up being a spot where 67,000 drunk college kids cheered on a bunch of other college kids playing football! Wow! It was just incredible! And I definitely wanted more! So I ended up going to 3-4 more games at the Lane Stadium, the most memorable of which being the 28-21 win over Georgia Tech on a Thursday night.
In the end, maybe it was being around a lot of people who all cheered for the same team, maybe it was that I was looking to socialize and make new friends, or maybe it is because I am a big sports guy by nature and American football was a sport that I came to like, or maybe it was a combination of all of them. But whatever may have been the contributing factor, by the time I graduated in December 2010, I was no longer looking at American football as an outsider. I was a fan of the sport and I had a team to root for.
Over the last 6 years since my graduation, I have become even more knowledgeable about the game – not so much its history, as about the tactics, strategy and the team itself. I have a big group of American friends who are passionate about the game, and I feed off their passion and get increasingly more involved in the game over the season. Though the Big 10 and Big 12 conferences in the Midwest have little to do with VT and the ACC, I nevertheless have watched most of the VT games and a bunch of other ACC and other conference games. I have always watched the BCS bowls/playoffs even though there was no team in there to cheer for personally.
I have come to realize that to grow an interest in any new sport, one need 3 things: a general liking to the sport itself, a team to root for, and friends to watch the games with (preferably rooting for the same team). I have been fortunate to have all of them and so I now find myself cursing, clapping, shouting, jumping around and being my usual animated self whenever I am watching a VT game. I follow fan blogs that discuss each game, the team, recruiting and all associated gossip and rumors – all clear indications that I have something personally invested in the outcome of the games every weekend!
And speaking of having something personally invested in a team, I have also realized that I have a direct affiliation to the Virginia Tech football team. I went to school there and so there is a very valid reason to root for them. Which made me then question my affiliation to all the soccer teams that I have passionately supported for well over a decade now – Chelsea and Juventus. I suppose we don’t need a reason to choose a sports team to root for, but technically speaking, I have a more valid affiliation to VT football than to Chelsea or Juventus! (I know! This is sacrilege!) But I choose not to break my head about that.
Of course, the elephant in the room here is the absence of anything NFL in my encounters with American football. I do watch the games at the bar or at my friends’ place when they are on. I will even appreciate a close/good game regardless of who is playing. But the absence of having a team to root for has pretty much held me back from following it as closely as I do for college football. Many of my friends are either fans of the Broncos or the Packers, so whenever I am watching a game with them, I end up cheering with them. I do have some affinity towards the Broncos, so if I were to really pick a team, I would probably go with them. But until I truly commit to an NFL team and start rooting for it, I probably wouldn’t feel the same way about it as I do with college football.
At the end of the day, I find that I have spent many weekends watching American football with my friends to great satisfaction – bonding, cheering and even having opinions of my own about how the teams should have played. These experiences have proved to be a very fruitful, having served as an easy avenue to assimilate into the American lifestyle and to have a larger sense of belonging in a new society and culture that is half way around the world from where I grew up. I have benefited greatly from this experience and I definitely intend to keep exploring this further.
I am exhausted. And I may even be writing this just to get that point across. I am also writing this on my 30th birthday – which is apparently a significant thing. Apparently, I am now old, can be officially called an ‘Uncle’, and as my parents and relatives subtly remind me – my prospects in the arranged marriage market have now taken a deep hit. I am also writing this 2 days after my birthday celebration which involved the highest rate of alcohol consumption and (rather short lived) general feelings of invincibility I have experienced in the last 5-6 years – a combination that culminated in my very own “I AM A GOLDEN GOD!” moment (OK maybe not that dramatic). I am also writing this after a full day and a half of (completely necessary) recovery. But more importantly, I am writing this at the end of a wild, wild summer.
I AM A GOLDEN GOD!!
The idea of seasons took its time for me to get used to. It was at least 2-3 years after my arrival in the US that I realized that I cannot be as active in the winter as I am in the summer. And more importantly, that it was OK not to be going out and traveling all the time in the winter. At the other end of that realization was my effort to be as active as possible during the months of April to October. It is a change in my lifestyle that I have come to accommodate over the past few years, and am now actually quite content with the new mental states that I find myself in at various times of the year.
For the past few years, ever since I started working, I have tried to reach a particular point in my mental state around late October/early November. It is a state of mind wherein I can honestly tell myself, “I have done everything I possibly could this summer, and now I am ready for the winter.” I have been largely successful these past few years in achieving that state of mind around October/November – just in time for the winter to set in.
This year, I reached that state of mind in the first week of August.
This summer has been one long continuum punctuated with concerts, music festivals, weekend travels, night-outs at bars, work, poker, games of Settlers of Catan, games of bags (a.k.a Cornhole), lots of records and CD shopping and of working out. It has had its moments – from very intense and stressful to very peaceful and relaxing. 4 trips to Chicago, 4 to Kansas City, twice to Wisconsin (including my 4th visit to House on The Rock is as many years), 3 music festivals, 3 night-outs at an establishment that I’d rather not specify (one of which culminated in my rather memorable 530 AM question “Is that the fuckin’ sun?“), 30+ bands seen live, a month long stay in a resort at Storm Lake (for work), God only knows how many gallons of alcohol consumed, late late nights (more like early mornings) at the neighborhood bar, God only knows how many new friends made, and all this while working on a high profile highway project in the state of Iowa.
This is probably the point I post a meme summing it all up:
Yes. It was really exhausting. And I would do it all over again.
In all seriousness, I reached a point of complete exhaustion the first week of August. I had been on a non-stop schedule of weekend travel/concerts/general fun for over 3 months. And after my trip to Milwaukee the first weekend of August, I just felt I was done – which was really understandable. But the fact that I did not have any concerts/travel scheduled for the next 3 weeks made the timing just spot on. So the break was most welcome, which I spent doing exactly nothing. (OK I will admit I continued my obsession with Japanese crime novels during that time.) And towards the end of August, I got my energy back and was traveling around all over again.
In the end, I look back at these past 6 months with a sense of satisfaction that I haven’t felt in a while. This satisfaction came with a new found appreciation for just being fortunate enough to have the time, resources and physical ability to do all the things I did. It also came with a sense of pride for realizing that my passion and curiosity for exploring what’s out there are not going away. It came with the true understanding that I am really only as old as I want to be. It also came with the realization that I have a group of friends that I can truly depend on, and a neighborhood that I can call my own. This is the closest I have come to feeling like I am home here in the US, and I truly feel fortunate that I have all this.
My 30th birthday celebration was probably the last ‘exhausting’ activity this year. My concert calendar is now empty till January, and I am going sober for the next 4-5 weeks. But perhaps, more importantly, my parents are going to be here a week from today for a month. What better way to do the cool down lap this year than just feasting on mom’s food? There may yet be one final weekend trip this year where I get to take my parents out.
But all in all, I can confidently say that yes, I am indeed ready for the winter.
In a bizarre turn of events, young Americans under the age of 35 all over the country have stopped talking to each other after Congress accidentally passed a new law that banned the use of the word ‘Like’ – the most widely used word by Americans. The word ‘Like’ has been in popular usage not as a verb or a conjunction, but as a filler that is used in between ANY two words in any sentence in a role of complete redundancy that serves absolutely no purpose. However, in spite of it not serving any purpose, young Americans have shown a very strong affinity to throw in as many ‘Likes’ as possible while talking to each other. Now all this has been banned under the new law which took effect last week.
Now anyone using the word ‘Like’ in a redundant manner while talking will first receive two warnings. A third offence will invite a fine and more than 10 offences will make it mandatory for the culprit to take English classes demonstrating the redundancy of the word in regular grammar. As part of the law, employers will also be able to check how many offences any job applicant has to their name before hiring.
All this has not gone down well with Americans for whom the word ‘Like’ is fundamental to the successful construction of a sentence. A normal sentence such as:
After a long working day, he said, “I am feeling really tired and want to go home”
has always been spoken out as
After, like, a long, like, working day, he is like “I am, like, feeling really, like, tired, and want to, like, go, like home”
Young Americans have regularly demonstrated their inability to speak more than 2 sentences without using their favorite word. Linda, an American teenager, spent tremendous amounts of energy to focus and avoid using the word LIKE in order to tell us how she felt about the new law.
“I ….. don’t know …… what I’ll …..do……My friends…..cannot …..talk to ….each other anymore. I guess…I’ll have to….text them if I ….want to ….. say anything.”
This appears to be the ready made alternative to this new law. Teenage girls in America have always communicated with each other via text messages even when they are with each other, so this has become the go-to option for them.
Following this new law, demands for speech therapists has increased astronomically. John, a New York based speech therapist, had this to say about the new law and its impacts:
“This has always been an epidemic. It is not just Americans who have been affected with this disability. All immigrants who have stayed in the country long enough and interacted with other Americans on a regular basis have shown growing symptoms of this condition. So, I believe this really is an epidemic that keeps spreading and affects even those who speak without using redundant words.”
Some young folks have tried to protest the law by shouting slogans in front of the White House. But almost inevitably, their slogan shouting included the redundant use of the word LIKE (e.g. “We, like, like our like, right, to use, like, whatever, we like, like, when, we like, speak to , like, each other!”) and were subsequently slapped with a hefty fine and asked to enroll in English classes.
Guest speculators on the official Republican Speculation Channel Fox News have laid the blame squarely on Obamacare. Their Democratic counterparts on the Democratic Speculation Channel MSNBC have, as expected, blamed the existence of the Republican party for the consequences of the new law.
The international media, on the other hand, were perplexed about why anyone would be using the word LIKE in this manner in the first place. Most English speaking countries just failed to understand the idea of a spoken sentence such as
Like, I’m, like, very irritated to know, like, I, like, cannot even, like, talk to, like, my own, like, friends, like how I, like, want to.
Most English speaking people outside America said that by the time they heard the full sentence, they could not remember what it meant.
Everybody is now familiar with the leaked videotape of Mitt Romney’s comments on the 47% during a campaign fundraiser held in May. The American media has spared no time and left no holds barred in providing scathing criticisms of his comments and its implications. So much so, the real issue at hand is lost, or at best, obscured in a remote column somewhere. You will see a lot of judgment and opinion, but no inspection or meditation. The closest one does find to ‘inspection’ is the actual breakdown of the 47% who do not pay income taxes. But that is not the issue that should be the focus of Romney’s comments.
Before going to his actual comments, it would be prudent to put the whole comments into proper context. Everyone has seen the comments. But how many actually know what question Romney was trying to answer? His comments about the 47 percent were in response to this question:
Audience member: For the last three years, all everybody’s been told is, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.” How are you going to do it, in two months before the elections, to convince everybody you’ve got to take care of yourself?
The inquiry is not only clear and specific, it is also very important. The audience member is worried, and presumably tired, of hearing the rhetoric emphasizing government dependency by President Obama in all his policies and speeches. And now he wants to know how Mitt Romney intends to convince the same set of people that the right thing to do is actually to assume responsibility for oneself and not depend on the government’s plans.
It is to this question that Mitt Romney responds with the now well publicized comments. I am only going to quote one small line that, perhaps, best serves as a platform for my arguments:
Romney: And so my job is not to worry about those people— I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
There are two things to this. First, his comment about ‘my job is not to worry about these people…’ is only being said in context with who he can target for votes in the elections – NOT with regard to who he intends to care for when he is President. It is important to emphasize that this can only be seen within the proper context of the question asked. (And of course, the media won’t tell you that).
Second, when he says “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives”, he is making an extremely profound observation. Its spontaneity may have likely clouded the message. But that is not to imply that the message isn’t there.
Mitt Romney is not only talking about entitlement, but he is also pointing out what it does to a society in the long run. Subsidies, tax breaks, welfare schemes and food stamps are quick fire and sure shot processes to put money in the hands of the vast middle and lower class. There will be a lot of beneficiaries and a lot of happy people. Condition of life will generally improve and a lot of praise will be given to the President for having taken up this initiative. These welfare programs continue in their various forms, expanding the net to include more people all the time, while the federal debt and deficit continue to grow. A large number of people continue to extract the benefits year after year after year simply because they can.
But what this does over time is that it renders upon the beneficiaries a sense of entitlement – an expectation that the government is going to support them no matter what. And this expectation takes form more out of habit, repetition and prior experience, rather than a genuine appreciation of one’s own situation. The longer these schemes run, the less the people are prone to be motivated to achieve something by themselves. Add high unemployment rate to this, and you have a society feeding off of government grants and subsidies.
And here is where comes in the idea of the one way road of entitlement. You see, welfare schemes can only be introduced or expanded. They can never be stopped, paused or downgraded. Firstly, it is going to be an extremely unpopular decision as all the beneficiaries treat those tax breaks or welfare schemes as a true entitlement. (They have simply been GETTING IT for so long). Secondly, as pointed out earlier, these people, who are now simply used to the idea of these handouts and feel that they are entitled to it, can never be convinced that handouts are not the way forward. And finally, within the workings of a democratic government, there is always going to be a party which will sing the rhetoric of populism and appeasement for votes, if the benefits are indeed stopped.
Put all these three together and the fact that every party in power wants to remain in power, and you will find that everyone is staring down the one way road of entitlement and deficit.
The current President’s idea is to continue this drive of government dependency of the middle class with tax breaks and welfare scheme expansions. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, recognizes the one way nature of the road and clearly intends to take a deviation. And within this context, his comments about “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives” ring true. For, you see, a large number of people now view these schemes as an entitlement that cannot be reversed. And there really is nothing anybody can tell them that will help them understand otherwise.
Now, the idea is to make sure that Obama does not get the chance to continue on that same road and allow more people to walk it. The solution is to create jobs for people to build their own lives upon – not to keep giving handouts to the vast majority and increase their dependence on the government. I am actually glad Mitt Romney made those comments (albeit not in an ‘elegant’ manner) that have now created a furor everywhere. It had to be said. Too bad he did not say it in one of his campaign speeches. THAT would have been something!
Yes I do watch American football. I do find the game interesting at times but I tend to restrict myself to just College football. When I was at Virginia Tech last year, I did go to a few games there at the Lane Stadium and it was nice fun (especially the night game against Georgia Tech!). With regard to the NFL, I just watch the AFC and the NFC title games followed by the Superbowl. I have no allegiance to any team and I usually find myself rooting for the team that is lagging behind in the scoreline. I particularly despise the aspect of the game which gives rise to so many interruptions, which in turn gives rise to the inevitable ads. But I am not here to talk about that. Instead, I would like to talk about this one thing that I discovered recently that has fascinated me to no bounds. I am talking about the NFL Draft.
The NFL draft is an annual event in which the NFL teams recruit the best college football players who either just graduated or are ready to stop their college education in order to pursue their NFL dreams. This appears to be something totally boring and routine. But on the contrary, it has been one of the most fascinating revelations to me over the past few weeks. What has particularly caught my attention is the order in which the best college football players are picked.
You see, the way things would have been expected to work normally would primarily include the Super Bowl winning team to have the first pick in the draft. This can be looked at as some kind of a benefit for winning the Super Bowl. But the way the draft order is actually done is exactly the opposite. The Super Bowl champions get to pick the college football players right at the end. In fact, the first team that gets to have its pick among the best of the best players is the team that had the worst record in the previous season.
So if you finish with a 0-13 record (Zero wins and 13 losses), then you get to pick the best college quarterback in the country! And you are likely to get some leftover mediocre college kid to pick up if you are the Super Bowl champions (also called Mr. Irrelevant). So the basic idea is that the worse you perform, the earlier you get to have your pick among the new crop of the best college football players, thereby closing the gap to the champions.
The underlying idea behind this is what got me thinking. Rewarding the successful is what strikes as the most obvious and even the right thing to do. But this drafting policy goes beyond just that line of thinking. The underlying idea appears to be to create and maintain a level playing field among the many teams that compete in the NFL. So if one team is very weak and performs very bad, then they can be assured that they get to strengthen their team with the addition of the best college quarterback in the country. This also makes sure that the most successful or the strongest don’t become stronger. This is very much reflected in the results of the NFL teams. All except just 4 have won the Super Bowl at least once and have made their presence in the Super Bowl probably more than that.
Lets look at this another way. Say you are a business college graduate and there are a bunch of companies eyeing to recruit you and all fellow graduates into their companies. If the graduate is extremely brilliant and if the choice is up to the graduate, which is usually the case, he/she would choose the company which has shown to be the largest and the most successful. So the already successful company will increase its chances of becoming even more successful. And at the other extreme, the least successful company gets to choose only the leftovers or the big company rejects. This does not necessarily improve the chances of the smaller companies to become more successful. It may even hinder it. But hey! This is a free world. Mutual agreement and benefit should be totally free of any outside interference.
The situation I described above is the trademark feature of a capitalistic way of thinking. And this is usually what happens. The strong become stronger and more successful while the weak and the not so successful become weaker and do not really achieve any comparable success. Now at the other extreme, you have the communistic way of thinking which specifically aims at creating a level playing field and maintaining it that way. Add to this, the fact that America is pretty much considered to be the bastion of capitalism. And you have a fascinating presence of blatant communism right inside the bastion of capitalism!
Dont get me wrong. I am not at all saying that this is a wrong thing or that this is not fair. On the contrary, I feel that if at all one aspect of this world needs to be treated in a communistic perspective, it should be sports. And I am just fascinated to see this being implemented right inside the country which has long been accepted to be the epitome of capitalism.
All of us have our own addresses. If an Indian is asked where he lives in their city, the response ranges from Bandra to Basavanagudi, from Gurgaon to Gorguntepalya, from T.Nagar to Thodesandhipalya (Ok that last one was made up). And if you are familiar with the area given as a response, you ask “Where in Basavanagudi?” or “Where in Thodesandhipalya?” (You really dont have to answer the last one). And if you are familiar with even the second response, you keep narrowing the location until you have convinced yourself that the other person is your long forgotten neighbor.
However, in the USA, things, as always, are a little different. Say you approach an American living in New York City, one of the largest cities in the world. And you ask him where he stays in New York. The most likely response you are going to get is “Oh I stay in Perry Street” or “My house is on Graves Avenue” or “I live right by Richmond Lane”! You see, the address of a house in the USA has just two things on it that help you to locate it in a given city: the house building number and the street where the house building is located. Thats it! So in an area of about 800 square kms, all you have with you to locate one single house is the name of the street its on??!!?? That surely helps doesnt it??? Its equivalent to saying “My house is next to my neighbor’s house” or “I am my father’s son” etc. It doesnt tell you anything useful.
Yes we all know there is this invention called GPS which can take you from anywhere to anywhere with just the street name as input. But seriously, what if you dont have one? Let me elaborate on this a bit. Imagine you have just arrived in New York City and take a cab to get to your apartment. You tell the cab driver “Take me to 4800 Eastland Drive” and just expect to be dropped off in front of your house? Well if the cab driver does just that, then either he has an awesome memory or his house is within a 2 block radius of your house. But then what happens if neither of the above “totally-possible” situations prevail? Then I guess you have to start looking for a map. Imagine this. You are in a cab and the cab driver spends the first ten mins just figuring out which part of the city he is supposed to be taking you!
Not implying that this is the only way things happen around here in the US. But seriously imagine something like that happening in India. I mean, you go and ask a Bangalore Auto Rickshaw dude to take you to 8th Cross Road, WTF do you think he is going to do? Of course he is going to look at you like you were born a retard and stayed that way for good!
Perhaps one of the direct consequences of American addresses having such small number of characters in them is seen when you are trying to fill out a form online- like an application for the college, GRE, TOEFL or any other thing that is based out of the US. You see the website creators make this sincere and totally pointless effort to restrict the number of characters in which you enter your address. So when your address goes into describing just your house number and street name, there really is no problem. However, unfortunately for all us Indians, this poses a problem. Especially if your address involves your house name, house number, Cross Street number, Main Street Number, Layout, Stage, Near some landmark, Block and lastly Area name- as is the case with most Indian addresses- you are in for a small problem! And it is really amazing how I have learned, over the years, to express words in much smaller forms without failing to convey its intended meaning!
Getting back to ground reality, more and more people are having GPS in their cars and it is available for dirt cheap prices at WALMART. But that still doesnt justify having only one street name to describe the location of your house in a mega metropolitan city. ( You might argue that the Pin code narrows it pretty well but seriously who knows about the postal code apart from the post men?) I sincerely hope I dont have to go through any circumstances involving hunting for ONE street name amidst hundreds if not thousands in a city.
Feel totally free to get fully emotional and sentimental about the American address systemand pass judgment on my assessment of it- but make sure you do that on your own blog.