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Opinion Happy Birthday, America!


04 Jul, 2015 00:00 1355 Marime text

I accepted the challenge of writing an article about what the American people’s qualities are in my vision, because it is their Independence Day and also because I have always believed that us, Romanians, seemed to have absorbed Valentine’s Day and Halloween, without any true or just cause, but overlooked to cast our attention on that which would have truly been worth borrowing, from a nation distinguishable by several remarkable qualities. 
When I embarked on my trip to Colorado, in 2010, I set off more than excited, even though I had not set foot on American soil until then and hadn’t the first idea of what was awaiting me at my destination. From the get-go I noticed the smiling disposition and all-around kindness of the people surrounding me, their heart-felt hospitality and eagerness to meet me and extend a helping hand.
Even so, I held on to my Romanian heritage by my gritted teeth, with an excruciating obstinacy, and found it easy to criticize, instead of value, what they possessed and I lacked. It took the better part of a year for me to understand that it isn’t weakness to adopt valuable qualities from those around you.

A smile is free, but it surely isn’t a cheap matter

Us, Latin peoples, like to firmly state that a flower, no matter how beautiful, vividly colored or pleasurable to look at, will not bring forth spring. But that same flower will most likely bring a smile, brighten a cheerless face and bring a glimmer of hope. That is how I see a smile, which I dare say defines the average American. At least, it did those around which I have lived for almost five years. A smile does not fix your financial problems, it does not cure diseases or grant you your dream job, but it does bring joy, peace and hope. 
Lately, I’ve been asking myself what attribute of the American citizen I would most likely embrace and would wish to pass on. On my last visit to Romania, some two months ago, I got the answer to my question: a smiling and kind demeanor always accompanied by respect for your peers. I can hear the comments starting to form in the reader’s mind and I am reminded of the fact that the standard of living, opportunities and society in general are so different, that even geography seems to suggest it is by no coincidence that we are divided by an ocean, and a smile, although steered by respect, wouldn’t manage to alter the Romanian society where most of us have already buried our hope. However, I believe that kindness and a positive outlook are foretelling of some very high quality services, where the customer is attended to, the patient is seen to, the employee can be heard and the student’s efforts are appreciated. 
My latest visit to Romania took place in April this year, when I was mystified to find that the average Romanian is exceedingly sorrowful and glum. I went on to carefully observe the general demeanor of people walking down the street and realized that, for the most part, the average Romanian lives his life in constant discontentment. I know the reasons for the nation’s resentfulness, as I keep in close touch with friends and family and follow the Romanian media. However, although justified the tribulations of the Romanian people may be, I believe that bitterness which bleeds into one’s behavior does not improve or salvage circumstances, but, in fact, disheartens society.    
I believe, without doubt, that the younger generation, who travels extensively, as opposed to what my childhood and teenage years were like, may truly contribute to change. 

The customer is always right

The kindness, ease and patience displayed by the average American, when listening and offering a helping hand with solving a problem, are reflected in many fields, but the first that comes to mind is customer services. I highly value this customer care policy, which I have encountered in no other foreign systems, even though I’ve lived in two other countries, over short periods of time. I’ve always praised the American system for pampering its clients. For a while, I worked as Assistant Manager for a retail company and it became clear to me during that time that any customer’s demands are generously acceded to.
My first great surprise on American land was when, during a routine check-up, the doctor showed a sort of kindness and patience I had never experienced up to that point. Being accustomed to a system where you need to pave your way for the right place and the right person in just the right manner, at the end of the appointment I felt I experienced a twinge of guilt for having the gall to go to the doctor’s “unprepared”. Later, I came to realize that there are no monetary expectations whatsoever and smiles and kindness are offered unconditionally to all patients, by the entire medical team. 

Even politicians can be gracious sometimes... 

Another experience that has taught me a great deal about respect and kindness towards your peers was when a member of staff in Congress offered his assistance twice, over the course of my process for obtaining American citizenship, showing a capital sort of graciousness. At that point I understood that, although politics is a puzzling business and it is more often than not soiled by all kinds of interests, there are leaders with heavy burdens on their shoulders, but who still take the time to listen to the man in the street. One phrase that stayed with me, found in the booklet I had to study for my citizenship exam, was “In the Unites States we have a Government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

I don’t know you, you don’t know me...

One of my favorite qualities in Americans is the respect they hold for their peers’ private lives. Being influenced by Hollywood movies, I believed that everyone welcomed newly moved neighbors by presenting them with a tray of home-made cookies and a wide smile. However, with one exception, I didn’t see this as being a rule in the area where I lived. I appreciate the fact that one’s life does not become the focus and topic of debate for people living in the vicinity.

Encouragement is the most frequent lesson 

During my childhood a parent could easily be recognized by the high handed stance he displayed. Children dared not disapprove, use tears as a means of manipulation or raise their voice to a parent.
An American parent may most likely be recognized by his encouraging attitude towards his child.

Pride – a national hero 

When I decided to apply for American citizenship I realized that as an American I would show more respect towards the Unites States than I do as a Romanian citizen towards Romania. This is not because the pride of being an American citizen weighs more, but because, generally speaking, Romanians show little consideration towards their Romanian affiliation, as pride is an expression which might be considered inappropriate.

I would like very much the mentality of that Romanian, who believes that being a Romanian citizen is no big deal, to change into a healthy mentality, whereby one values the fact that the country we were born in is a part of our lives and identities. And if we are to look beyond the daily dose of bitterness brought on by politics, the average Romanian has plenty of reasons to be content with having been born and living in Romania. This underdog mindset, of the citizen who didn’t get to choose the country he was born in doesn’t have to become a way of justifying our contempt towards the country.
I have witnessed and sincerely appreciated the solemn setting in which, when singing the national anthem, Americans would hold their hand to their heart, take off their hats and proudly sing the words to the song that is a symbol of their national unity. Whether you’re at a rodeo in a small town, or on the stadium, in a sea of people, the respect and pride the American citizen has towards his country are monumental.

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