Aging and growing old was never an issue for me. I’ve been raised that way. In my own culture aging is a good, great thing. The older you are the more respect you get and the more influence you have. We celebrate every decade with big pride and dignity. The only frustration that gets discussed every now and then is the decline of physical attractiveness. But otherwise people hold overwhelmingly positive views of aging.
There are plenty of studies that explain why social attitudes towards age issue vary across countries and cultures. The level of industrialization and economic development, as well as systems of preserved values and beliefs all affect the way a particular society treats its elderly. And yet nothing compares to your own revelations of cultural and social differences while travelling.
Ever since I landed on the US soil two months ago my brain kept noticing mainly verbal signals indicating that aging isn’t good. “You have to try Symphony Hall although it will be full of old people”, “Bad thing about Phoenix is that you see mentally ill people a lot but on the brighter side – you don’t see old people much”, “Sit home. You’re old!”, “Keep earning if you don’t want to end up in a sad nursery home for oldies”. I guess that is one of the culture shocks that I am experiencing at the moment.
So I searched the Internet. Here is a brief explanation from lifeintheusa.com: “Present-day American attitudes about the elderly have been reinforced by a century’s worth of media, particularly movies and television. From the 1950’s onward, a great culture of youth emerged and strengthened. Old people were left out of the picture. The period after World War Two also saw great mobility in America, which led to the break-up of large extended families. The old person was no longer seen as a useful member of a family team, but rather as a drain on the family’s resources”.
For me this is to the extent of feeling sad because when you actually meet people of an older generation they turn out to be way better as personalities than the younger representatives of great American culture. The best people I have ever met so far among the locals are people of age: always charming, warm, friendly, energetic, full of spiritual and personal strength.
In fact they are nothing like our own arrogant and stiff elderly back home! There! That is what I love in travelling – you learn something new about others but most importantly you learn something new about yourself.