America is one of the most hospitable countries. The American people are genuinely nice: they give a lot to charity, they like to have fun, they smile. It’s hard to realize how much of a difference this makes until you spend some time living somewhere else. In Russia, for example, people seem sad and distant, while in South Africa the pleasantries feel much forced and status-driven, as if you were talking to a butler or a panhandler.
Only in America do tellers ask you if you’ve had a good experience finding what you needed, say “please” and “thank you,” and strike up conversations while scanning in your purchases. Only in America is it not inconceivable to share a cab or an umbrella with a perfect stranger—in fact, I did both of those things just yesterday.
What surprises me, then, is the disparity between that and the experience of actually getting here. The United States is notorious for its extremely paranoid and unfriendly security practices when it comes to travel and immigration control. Of all the countries I have travelled to or lived in (the list is quite large), the process for the United States has been and continues to be hands down the most painful I have experienced.
This realization came to me when reading Mark Vanhoenacker’s New York Times op-ed, in which he writes:
No country’s border staff is perfect, as every traveler knows. But America — a land where strangers greet one another in elevators, waiters act as if they like you, stores deploy professional greeters and government serves the people — should aim to be the best. That means a smile or “hello” as we approach every agent, a “please” and “thank you” to bookend every official request and an occasional “welcome” as we cross a secure border.