Today some 46 million turkeys will be devoured in the US. Any turkey is fair game, except for Popcorn (the duly elected National Thanksgiving Turkey) and Caramel, which were solemnly given a “full reprieve from cranberry sauce” by President Obama. Tomorrow, when they’re done with the turkeys, Americans (who are typically extremely nice on every other day of the year) will turn on each other, trampling anyone who stands in their way to get the best Black Friday deals.
For me, thanksgiving is a yearly reminder of how peculiar the American way can be even after 4+ years in the US. Therefore, as an alternative Thanksgiving celebration, I am happy to present the top five things that never cease to amaze me about the US (in no particular order):
- Credit history: Any long-term contract (renting an apartment, electricity or Internet connection, cellphone, etc.) requires a credit check, which determines whether you qualify as a good person (good credit history), a bad person (bad history), or a turkey (no history). The underlying logic is that you are a reliable person if you get into debt and then repay it. In contrast, if you never got into debt in your life and have lots of money in your savings account then you’re obviously a drug dealer. But here’s the catch 22-esque irony: To build your credit history you need a credit card, but to get a (usable) credit card you need credit history.
- Taxes: A crazy tax system is one where nobody has any idea what the rules are. A crazier tax system is one where the rules are nondeterministic. One of my favorite examples is this line from US tax form W-4: “Enter “1” for your spouse. But, you may choose to enter “-0-” if you are married and have either a working spouse or more than one job.”
- American Football: An average professional football game lasts 3 hours and 12 minutes. Average minutes of play: 11. Average time spent on replays: 17 minutes. Average number of commercials: more than 100. I’m not making this stuff up.
- US Congress: Enough said.
- Healthcare: The American healthcare system has turned inefficiency into an art form. Here’s what a typical visit to the hospital looks like. Upon arrival, you are quickly ushered into a private room. Now, let there be n nurses denoted 1,…,n such that for all i, nurse i+1 is more senior than nurse i (they have different titles like unlicensed assistive personnel, licensed vocational nurse, registered nurse, physician’s assistant, etc.); usually n is 4 or 5, but I’ve also witnessed n=6 at Children’s Hospital Boston. For i=1,…,n, nurse i enters the room and asks you the same questions asked by nurses 1,…,i-1 (nurse 1 usually also measures blood pressure or something). Nurse n is a nurse practitioner, and is essentially equivalent to a doctor; after asking the same questions asked by nurses 1,…,n-1, she writes a prescription, say for 10 pills. Incidentally, the pharmaceutical company distributes the pills in packs of 10. A naive person would think he can go to the pharmacy and procure a pack of 10 pills. But that would be too efficient; instead, a pharmacist must take the pills out of the box and carefully place 10 pills into a bag. It is widely understood that this medically indispensable process takes around an hour.