Ali is a damn good engineer. He is a Turkish immigrant. While he was raising a family he could only afford to go home every other year for a visit. He would send the wife and kids over for three or four weeks during summer vacation. He would go join them for the second half of the time, so he could fly back together with them. A few days after he returned from one of those trips, I got a chance to ask him about the trip. He told me a few interesting things. Then, about a month later, we had one of our delightful political discussions, and it prompted him to tell me a story.
I had asked if he would want to retire back to Turkey some day. He snorted. “No.”
It was the next day that he launched into his tale. “Bubba, Turkey is so frustrating; I could never move back there. Nothing works.”
“Right. Not the least little thing works the way it should.”
“Why not? What sort of things don’t work? How should things work?”
“Things should work. And they do work, but only if you can pay. Everyone has a hand out.”
“Isn’t that sort of like here?”
“No. Not at all like here. Here, there are some jobs that are expected to make tips. That gives an incentive for lower-paid people to perform well. But lots of lower-paid jobs here don’t make tips. Let me tell you.
Ali told me about the Post Office.
“I went to ship a package to a cousin in Germany. So I walked to the Post Office. It was horrible.”
“Yes, horrible. The Post Office is just a few blocks away, and it doesn’t look all that much different than a Post Office here. But nothing works.”
“What doesn’t work? Did you get your package shipped?”
“Bubba, I stepped into that place; it was chaos. In America, you go to the Post Office and it is quiet. There are three or four clerks at the windows along the counter, and there is a line. It is just one line, we all get in line, first-come, first-served. You advance through the queue, and when it is your turn, you wait for an open window. In just a minute or two one of the customers at the counter is finished and leaves. The clerk motions to you, or calls for the next customer. It is just ordinary life in America, but it is light years of civilization ahead of most of the world.
“There was a mob of people, mostly men but including some women. They would shout at the clerks, competing for attention. Everyone was rushing the counter all at once. The clerks would occasionally help someone. But the clerks might just pretend to be busy with some office paperwork. To get a clerk to actually process your item, you needed to hold out some cash. The bigger and more aggressive customers got served first.
“Then a man walked in. It was clear that everyone recognized him as an important man. I learned later that he works for a very wealthy man and is known as his agent for mundane chores. Everyone let him push his way to the counter, where he was served right away by a clerk who was happy to pocket the small tip he paid. Then the crush and shouting resumed.
There is a word for that; the old word for the crazy house?”
“Bedlam! Yes, thank you. It was bedlam.
I saw a small old woman who had been pushed into a back corner. I asked her how long she had waited. She had been there all morning; she had been unable to get her business done on the day before.
I took her by the hand and pushed my way and pulled her right along to the counter and swore at the clerks for dereliction, and allowing the woman, a fine citizen, to go un-served. They were so surprised that anyone really expected them to do their jobs that they did not object when I lectured them about doing the work they are paid to do.
She was very grateful, and, since I had a clerk’s attention, I got him to ship my package also. I did give him a nice tip, and I have been sore at myself ever since; I should not have done that.”
Bubba, I told about that and how mad I was to my family, and they all laughed at me. “That is just how it is,” they said. “You have been in America too long. Don’t expect us to change. We will never be like America.”
And, they never will be like America.
On my way home I told my son that he should be grateful that he grows up as an American.”