Thursday, September 11, 2008

US of A!

I like USA a lot! Many reasons for that. Above all, half a dozen of my best and most loyal friends are living there. I feel like going home when I get back to the US. Even as I pass through Immigration checks. But above all, despite what many US haters are saying, I like the US system as is, their checks and balances, the structure of their Economy, their Wall st. and Nas, their Supermarkets, their architectural monuments, their opportunity to make billionaires out of homeless, their love for heros. 'Think big' was invented here. Nowhere in the world could be possible to create gigantic monsters like Walmart, Coca Cola, Apple, and Google in the way it is done in the US. You can only find University establishments like Stanford and MIT in a country like the US (regardless whether most of their best researchers and lecturers are Asian and European).

I don't travel to the US too often nowadays. Just came back from a week's trip but before that it was only back in August 2005. I used to be quite often there in the second half of the 90ies and the first couple of years of the current century. As I went back again this last time, many small details I used to like and admire and some that I hated, came back to mind, and I loved it. Le'me give you some examples.

Commercial focus: As a rule, the country is built upon the principle of openness and politeness towards prospects and clients. Everyone cares for customers and their business everywhere in the world, goes without saying... but in the US, as a customer you really feel you are in the middle of all attention, at all times. They greet you as you come into their premises, they'll ask you if you need any help, they'll go thru anything possible to fulfill your needs and, even if you don't buy anything, they'll thank you upon your exit for dropping by and ask you to come back again. Show me one shop in Europe that does that! Just one shop! Go visit any shop, even US franchisers like GAP and McDonald's, in Paris, France for instance, and tell me how 'friendly' their salespeople are, especially if you have trouble expressing yourself in their native language ("C'est cool et sympa" sort of thing - if you know what I mean).

I was impressed particularly by the cashiers at Duane & Reade, a Drugstore chain in Manhattan with stores in every corner of the city, I'd say, in the hundreds (I reckon they even beat Starbucks). You go find your items, walk to the cashier next, and first thing she asks: "Did you manage to find everything?"... if you go, "Yes, I did", she is like, "is there anything more you need?". Jeez, Maria, Josef! It's a bleedin' drugstore for crying out loud! They never stop selling you stuff in the US. No wonder the best management books about sales skills have been written by American authors. No wonder Amazon was a US start-up! Eventually, everything the rest of us are doing in the rest of the world is copying their models.

Cash is king: US seems to be unique in terms of total consumption. In Belgium, we save our money, in the US people spend it. I reckon, an average dollar bill must change hands at least ten times more often over its life time than any other equivalent currency, bill or coin, anywhere in the world. Money moves in the US! Cash in particular. Americans love to take a bunch of bills out of their pocket and start counting what they need to do a payment. Especially when they pay cabs or tip bellboys. In Europe, nobody counts money in public, in America they love doing it! Another mystery, a buck was worth a lot 40 years ago. Nowadays, it's like a Euro... you can't survive on a buck, and a cent (in both currencies) is a... joke. I can't get it that they still use paper bills for a single dollar. And still using cents and nickels! I was carrying about half a kg of coins the last day and was out to go look for beggars and homeless to unload them. I had more than a handful of just cent coins in my hand at one point when I saw a cripple sitting by the side of the street holding a plastic beverage cup for passer's-by offerings. I was embarrassed to tell him "sorry, they are only cents..." and he is like, "don't worry... it's still money". And he seemed just grateful. Money is still money! A simple statement by someone struggling to survive day in day out! How about that?!

Everything is there out in the open: It seems that there aren't many secrets in this country, especially about those in public life. The days we were there, it was just made public that Sarah Palin's 17 year old was an early screwer and got herself pregnant. And within micro-secs everybody had to hear the story of the boyfriend's life three generations deep. Something like this too about the frames-design of Palin's spectacles. The Japanese designer and manufacturer will end up earning a fortune selling Palin's fashionable frames. Which reminds me... When King Baudouin of Belgium visited Kongo fifty years ago, he had those typical myopic round frames that 'intellectuals' often wear. Within days, scores of natives used some waste wire and made frames in the shape of the King's spectacles. They wore them with no lenses though. When asked why doing this, they were like "Comme le Roi Baudouin!". Are modern Americans sometimes like those Kongo natives 50 years ago, somehow? I wish I didn't ask that question...

To be cont'd...

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