India is brimming with corruption. A traffic violation will disappear for a bribe half the price of the ticket. House plans get approved in a day as long as a dozen bureaucrats get their kickbacks. For a low sum, I can get driving lessons, be given a cheat sheet to the written test and pass the driving test. All in a week. Numbers multiply, the circle gets bigger and things that the humble Rupee can accomplish will surprise anyone.
My brother moved to the states nearly 10 years ago. He was the first in our immediate family, and was subject to every typical question from the elders. "Are they racist*?" "Do they fornicate in the streets?" "What are black people like**?"
Soon we were talking about bribes, and my brother had this to say. "There's no corruption on a daily basis - cops, low level clerks and municipal workers are mostly honest, but the corruption at the highest levels is staggering". That was my first insight into the world of lobbyists, town hall meetings, campaign funds and the whole shebang.
So when I first moved out here, I was delighted that being stopped by a cop didn't mean that I had to bribe him, 3 constables and 2 peons. It did mean coping a massive fine and spiked insurance, but whatever. The land of the free, good, hard working people.
Living with two roommates in abysmally small apartments, shuttling back and forth from grad school, one doesn't get complete perspective on how average Americans live. I did start picking up on things when I started making major purchases.
The first was a beaten up Mazda 626. I took it to the local mechanic to have it inspected. He gave it a clean bill of health, but said it would need new tires, new cv boots, possibly a new timing belt. Soon. Just in case. I bought the car and did nothing about the alleged problems since my penury limited maintenance to oil changes. And guess what? A year of madman driving and no problems at all. I shredded a tire much later, and got them all changed then. CV boots? Only 1 needed a change, mainly because I was off on a 1000 plus mile road trip.
And so it went. Trouble breathing due to a nasty fall on the ski slope? You need to sleep it off, said the doc, but it could also be a bruised lung, ruptured diaphragm or worse. Better admit yourself, just in case. You come from India? You may have been exposed to TB, get on a 9 month course right now. As part of the "treatment", I had to avoid alcohol for those 9 months, that made the decision rather straight forward. "Are you sure you don't want it? The last patient who said no came back with a hole in his lung".
Buying a house? Sure, it looks fine, but probably needs a new furnace, new AC, vent cleaning, new windows, new doors, more insulation. I had to go through 3 damn handymen before one of them repaired my furnace without giving me a $2500 quote on a new one. Buying a TV? Yeah, you'll also need the protection plan and $50 cables.
It's the death of you otherwise. Doom, gloom and utter destruction. Not now, but soon.
I've come to realize that there is corruption in this country. Plenty of it. They don't want bribes, the good honest working class, the blue collared middle class average Americans. Oh no sir, they'll work for that dollar. To every last penny. But they lack honesty, they all do.
When a policeman in India spends 10 hours on the street with a malfunctioning rifle, and demands a bribe because he makes a tenth of what I do, I can laugh it off and part with a few hundred rupees. But when a mechanic charges twice the hourly rate I get paid at, and wants to replace every damn moving part, what's his excuse?
What does the lower middle class pat itself on the back so much for? Where are your values? If God asked you to vote for Bush, did he also ask you replace that two year old compressor for no good reason?
Before you call me an ungrateful prick, I'd like to point out that I'm eternally grateful living in a country that gives me the space and freedom to live my dreams. To be overtly sensitive about my race without me asking for it. To let me speak my mind anywhere I choose to. Like criticism, credit should be given where due.
Every system has its flaws, and if its one that gets my goat the most right now, it's the abject lacking of moral fiber from the kind of men that supposedly built this country.
* - Indians are crazy racist. Crazy, I tell you.
** - See what I mean?