[Viewpoint] A uniquely American white Christmas

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[Viewpoint] A uniquely American white Christmas

White snow covered the east coast of the United States on the weekend before Christmas. There was more than 50 centimeters (20 inches) of snowfall in Virginia, near my residence in Washington, D.C. I went to my front door to pick up the morning newspaper as I always do, but had difficulty opening it because of the snowfall. Then when I did pry it open, there was no newspaper.

When the snow stopped, all the neighbors came out with their shovels to quickly dig their cars out of the snow, because even the nearest supermarket is not within walking distance.

As I anxiously looked at the snow-covered road ahead, it stirred up memories of cleaning up snow in the street as a young child. This is probably something difficult to experience now, with Seoul transformed into apartment complexes and a forest of automobiles.

I am frequently reminded of my memories of the advanced United States. I think the United States is either a country that does not change easily or a country where it is not easy to feel change.

I live in a duplex townhouse that was built in the 1960s. The wooden stairs that connect the first and second floors creak. In Korea, I could not remember the last time I went to the post office, but here, I go twice a month. I sometimes go to send packages, but I mostly go to buy stamps, because all electricity, water and telephone bills are handled through the mail. A personal check in the amount on the bill is made out, placed in an envelope with a stamp and put in the mailbox. Account transfers are possible, of course, but many Americans still use the traditional analog method.

I opened the mailbox a few days ago to find a New Year’s greeting card. The card, even including a photograph of a beautiful European country he visited last summer, was sent to me by Bill, my next-door neighbor, an old man in his 60s. The warm-hearted gesture of sending a card, not to a missed relative who lives far away or a colleague to whom one is obligated to send greetings, but to an Asian neighbor he sometimes sees in the morning on his way to work was pleasant and fresh. Is this not another memory that has disappeared for Koreans now?

This season cannot even be compared to New Year’s Day in Korea. It can be said that the Christmas season is the biggest holiday of the year in the United States. Religion aside, many people give and receive thoughtful gifts.

When I recently visited a small neighborhood post office to send a package to Seoul, there was a long line that was out of the ordinary. Most had Christmas gifts and cards in their hands. An old man with a long Kaiser moustache like Salvador Dali laughed out loud, holding a hamster’s house to send to his grandson.

The stagnant economy is still a serious problem in the United States. The unemployment rate in Michigan, the capital of the American automobile industry is up to 12 percent. Larry Summers, director of the National Economic Council of the White House made the diagnosis, “The economy is getting better, but we still have a long way to go until we get back to how things were before the financial crisis in September, last year.”

Nevertheless, stories like the classic by O. Henry, “The Gift of the Magi,” where a husband sells his watch to buy hair pins for his wife and the wife cuts her hair to buy a watch strap for her husband, still suit the United States better than Korea. After all, the United States is a country where things that should not change do not easily change.

*The writer is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jung-wook
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