Skip to main content

The United Quirks of America

So, I’m in the US. the supposed land of opportunity. And so far, the opportunities outside of the assignments, projects and the (almost daily) trips to the grocery store, have been few and far apart. Life as a poor Indian grad (henceforth referred to as a PIG) sure is tough, and after two years of work and squandering salary as pocket money, the PIG experience is surely making me eat humble pie (or whatever version of it that I can cook). 

For the last 4 months, I’m calling an 80-year old yet-unfinished place my home. And where I live, is a place famous for every act of entertainment and debauchery known to man – The City of Angels. And sadly, but for a few places, I haven’t seen much of the city. A city where there are internship openings for dog photography must surely be interesting!

In the time I've been here, I have noticed a few distinct quirks about the US and its people, which I’m pretty sure every incoming (esp. Indian) grad student will have asked himself/herself. Now that the long weekend is upon us (and I've not got a lot of assignments), I tried to find a few answers. 


Every smartass on the planet thinks America's biggest problem is obesity, but in my opinion, THE biggest problem of this country, is the over-use of LIKE. This one word, I tell you, is the most obnoxious thing to hear, beating even 'Call Me Maybe' and that Skrillex thing.

No kidding, this is what almost all conversations on campus sound like

I believe the fine state of California, as expected, is where the harmless looking qualifier took its roots. The 'Valley girls' (affluent air-headed high-school girls in the San Fernando Valley, part of the LA area) harmlessly (and quite brainlessly) inducted this word in their slang. Not just 'like', fillers such as 'as if!', 'totally' and 'whatever' - words which are commonly used by many a wannabe popular college-goer even back home, are some of the wonderful gifts of these highly er, sophisticated young women to humankind. And future historians will note that the subsequent embracing of these phrases by Hollywood, what with its Lindsay Lohans, the 90210s and infinite chick flicks, ultimately led to the intellectual and cultural downfall of the human race.

Hey, teenage kids using slang and colloquialisms is very common. Heck, we've all grown up with slang. We still use our 'da's and 'dude's when we talk to friends. The problem is when such slang enters the workplace or the college classroom. It's as if these kids all graduated from their snooty high schools at the same time and spread to college campuses across the country with a collective mission to devolve the college brain. Instead of intelligible, clearly articulated sentences or ideas in class, we often hear things like 'Well Professor, I think we're supposed to like address that issue first and then look into the umm, implementation'. And that's where the problem is. We'll soon have this generation graduate and move to workplaces. And unless people learn to omit such verbal clutter during important conversations, they will carry it along with them for their whole lives. Office memos and circulars may soon read 'We totally need to focus our attention on like, this one thing'. As my brilliantly articulate Professor puts it, "Umm is not a word, it's a speech defect!". 

So, when you use such ticks, knowingly or not, remember you're not coming across as worldly wise and intelligent, but as a verbally and intellectually defective, incoherent mind with utter lack of communication skills.

2. How did the $ sign come to be so?

It's interesting how the American currency came to be called dollar, and even more interesting how the weird-looking $ symbol came to be associated with it. We Indians are still getting used to the INR sign that we got barely two years ago, after a contest and everything, that too.
Like most things in America, my eyes have Spanish origins too!

The word dollar evolved from 'daler', which was an evolution of the word 'thaler', a silver coin that was used through the Medieval Ages in Europe. And in 1792, a few years after the American War of Independence, the Spanish-influenced 'dollar' was chosen to be the United States' preferred currency over the British Pound. (Source -

There are many versions on how the '$' sign came to be used to represent the dollar. A popular hypothesis is it is derived from the Pillars of Hercules, which were part of the Coat of Arms of Charles V, who was the King of Spain following the discovery of the Americas in the 16th century. 
Charles V's Coat of Arms inscribed on the Seville city hall(image courtesy Wikipedia)

The motto inscribed on the scroll is 'Plus Ultra' meaning 'Look Beyond', referring to the discovery of the New World. Soon this 'pillar dollar' became part of the Spanish Peso and the Spanish Dollar, and eventually the American dollar that we use today.

Well, that's two all-American eccentricities explained. Happy Kasab execution day everyone!


Anonymous said…
You totally nailed the point, as in like slayed it !!!

Popular posts from this blog

Detachment Theory

A psychological and evolutionary theory that attempts at explaining human behaviour is the Attachment Theory, mainly propounded by a John Bowlby, whose basic tenet is that infants need to develop a relationship with atleast one parent or a caretaker for its natural development to occur smoothly. This relationship, that Bowlby talks of, exists mainly between the 'caregivers' and infants aged 6 months to 2 years old. Bowlby published the full theory in his trilogy Attachment and Loss, and his Attachment theory has since become "the dominant approach to understanding early social development, and has given rise to a great surge of empirical research into the formation of children's close relationships". 

While this theory does supposedly explain attachment of infants with their 'caregivers', what still eludes my mind is the nature of the myriad other attachments we have, all of which affect our behaviour, and psychological state equally, or maybe even more th…

Unseen Bangalore: Lakes - Part 2

The last few months have been just great personally and professionally thanks to some very dear people, and I'm more than looking forward to the latter half of the year! But as I sit at my computer on a raining May night in perfect coffee-pakoda weather in the comfort of my room nursing a fever, I return to the blogging scene, hoping to show you some new places to see, and explore.
The history of Bangalore is quite well-documented. The common story of Ballala, the Hoysala king being offered boiled beans by a helpful woman, though fancy, isn't historically true. Inscriptions unearthed at the 1200-year old magnificent temple at Begur, speak of a battle of BengaLooru during the 9th century AD. However, the objective of this post is partly to pay homage to the visionary founder of Bangalore, Kempegowda I
Not many people are aware that Kempegowda was a chieftain of Yelahanka. (In his honour, the BBMP christened Yelahanka as the Kempegowda ward and started its ward-numbering system …

May God Help Me - Farewell NITK

The NITK Chapter is officially closed. As Bangaloreans, we have had plenty of rants against college. But after the exodus dawns the epiphany that things weren't so miserable at NITK after all. Now that I'm back home, I've been able to see the very thin silver lining beneath those very, very dark clouds that made these past four years pretty rough.

The Department:

After a fairly successful series of exams(barring the JEE of course!), I landed up in a class of 73 other souls, who, like me, had screwed up just the one exam but had fared pretty well in the AIEEE and landed in the most sought-after branch in the most sought-after NIT, only behind the IITs and BITS Pilani. Although I felt from the curriculum book when I first looked at it that our courses were very well-structured, I must admit that quite a few of them were mostly rote-mugging courses sugar-coated to sound cool. The Department and Its Presiding Diety always kept us on our toes. Assignments, projects or those excru…