It’s proved that the best observations come from talks with taxi drivers on the way from the airport – especially when they find out that you just arrived from the United States.
An experienced driver doesn’t ask a lot of questions, but he certainly shares his expertise on the economic and political prospects of life in America and, sadly sighing, sums up: “Well, there’s nothing good here.”
Trying to change his mind is weird and useless – I myself left the country after all. However, I had a feeling that it’s my civic duty to give a couple of arguments in favour of life in Belarus.
I was incredibly happy when my husband was offered relocation to Boston since it is one of the few cities in America with public transport. But even there, the metro often breaks down and buses run at huge intervals, which turns ‘getting from point A to point B’ into a real quest.
In other states, they don’t even have this: people live in one-story houses outside the city and any meeting with civilization is possible only if you have a car. My classmate, who moved from Belarus to Minneapolis, said that there were no sidewalks or vehicles within tens of kilometres of her house.
There was only one way to put an end to home imprisonment – to get a driver license and buy a car on credit. In case you have no driver license and a car, then in most states, you just have nothing to do. Now, arriving in Minsk, I am surprised at reasonable and punctual public transport system, pleasant taxi fares and how much space is provided for pedestrians.
This point could have been mentioned first, but it is not that simple. Speaking about healthcare in the U.S., and I don’t mean its quality (everything is fine with it), but accessibility. The entire healthcare system in America is built on the services of private clinics and insurance companies. There are state hospitals, but there are very few of them and they are always crowded. No one will be left to die on the street, but in order to get help without insurance, one must literally should be on his deathbed.
Even having a treasured card doesn’t guarantee that you will be treated for free. The agreement has a lot of asterisks and paragraphs in small print: here you pay 20% of the procedure, here ー 50%, and if you suddenly got to the doctor out of network, then please be ready to pay for the service in full. One doctor’s appointment will const you one hundreds of dollars, and a paycheck for major medical proceures can reach tens of thousands.
Emigrants tell each other a horror story about a man who had an accident and called the insurance company in a half-faint state to find out which hospital would accept his insurance. An ambulance brought him to the right hospital, but the doctor who operated on the victim was out of the insurer’s network and the dude had to pay more than a hundred thousand dollars.
Such an opaque system completely deprives you of a sense of security and trust in the country “for people”, forcing you to overestimate the importance of free or at least paid healthcare system you understand, which is available in Belarus.
American catering is painful not only for Belarusians, but also for other emigrants from the post-Soviet space who grew up with the idea that going to a cafe equals a coming-out party. Well-worn furniture, similar dishes, the smell of the kitchen and the tattered posters on the walls will haunt you from one place to another, you will have to put up with this.
Burgers, sandwiches and pizza can be found on every corner, but finding real, tasty food is a challenge. The thing is that Americans don’t have their own cuisine, and the cuisines of other countries are quickly “Americanized” here.
Portion size is getting bigger, food presentaion is simpler, interior and concept are fading into the background. “Well, at least service is good?” the driver asks. We didn’t notice any difference with our realities, except that one should leave at least 18% of the tip everywhere. So, having arrived in Minsk after Boston, it hit me: according to the U.S. standards, any Belarusian place can get a Michelin star.
Leaving to America, we were prepared for almost anything. But we were certainly not ready for the fact that they will only accept cash in a bar in the center of New York or to the fact that there won’t be a single working ATM in the whole block. So that’s just how this goes: in a country where all the most advanced technologies appear, only a small part of them is available.
Explore the topic:
First, you shop at the Amazon Go without cash desks and sellers, with funds beign debited to a bank account, and then, you stand like a fool in front of an ancient subway machine for half an hour trying to buy a token. And why? In the U.S., both the subway and payment cards appeared much earlier than ours. So the turnstiles and terminals here remained about the same as 100 years ago.
Minskers using smart watches to pass the turnstile in the subway, just know – you live in the world of the future. I can’t swipe my Bank of America debit card – it’s not contactless. And as to Apple Pay, many people here had never really heard about it.
The last, but not the least: in America, Belarusians lack beauty. And it’s not about the hackneyed stereotype about beautiful Slavic girls. The thing is that people who come to the U.S. from all over the world become a gray mass in identical down-padded jackets, similar sneakers and stretched hoodies over time.
People here strongly believe that your own value doesn’t depend on appearance, and happiness doesn’t correlate with whether you are fat or thin, thus, the market is focused not on beauty, but on comfort. As a result: an absolutely faceless mass market, a cult of practicality and sport, a lack of attention to detail.
In those rare cases when you see a stylishly dressed passer-by, you can be 99% sure that the person in front of you is from Eastern Europe or Asia. At home, the girls in the metro look like style icons, and the interiors of most Minsk cafes – the top of aesthetics.
I didn’t speak about the benefits of living in America, and the taxi driver didn’t ask. The question of why we moved there and while we are not going to come back was up in the air but remained unanswered.
But that’s a coversation for a whole other trip.
The original text in Russian belongs to Irina Karelina, the author of the “Sleeping you way to the USA” Telegram channel. Source: aviasales.by