In French language class yesterday, we were discussing cultural customs in France compared with how things are done in our native countries, ie the US for me, an Eastern European country for the other student.
It struck me how often my response was, "It used to be this way, but that has changed over the years."
At the dinner table, do you respect the family hierarchy, ie the children listen while the parents speak? It used to be that way - now, anyone and everyone tends to talk at the same time ... on those rare occasions when families even sit down to a meal together.
Do couples touch and embrace in public? That ... and a lot more! (Obtiennez une chambre!)
When someone gives you a gift, do you open it in front of them? (The French don't, perhaps in case a lousy gift will cause an involuntary negative reaction.) American kids especially rip through the wrapping paper and barely even look at the gift, then on to the next one. A thank you? Ha! Manners disappeared for most long ago.
Do people show up on time for appointments and meetings? When I worked at Nortel (which many of you know is now bankrupt, no surprise), the engineers would only begin to think about ambling down to the conference room at the announced time - they generally got there about 10-15 minutes late - and more surprising, the execs and everyone else waited for them!
I'm in agreement with those who lament that society in general has become less civil, less respectful of others, and we're all the worse for it.
Another significant change from my early years is the steady loss of freedom such as Freedom of Speech (depicted here in one of Norman Rockwell's classic "Four Freedoms" paintings).
Whether it's the NSA spying on every citizen of every country, the US included, or the police using military weaponry and illegal tear-gas to suppress protests (yes, I know there is looting and other criminality, which only gets in the way of the protesters' arguments), or the State Department and IRS intimidating the banks of foreign countries to harass ex-pats via FATCA ... we all lose.
Now Freedom of Speech is equated with the rich's ability to buy politicians.
Freedom of Religion is either Freedom From Religion (none allowed) or Freedom Only For Politically Correct Religions ... I don't think any religion should be factored into government policies.
Freedom from Fear? Have the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan made America, the UK, etc. safe from terrorists? Or motivated them?
Freedom from Want - while the rich rake in all the gains in the US economy, the middle class and poor lose ground; the official unemployment numbers don't tell the story of the millions who have given up or taken (or been forced into) part-time work that doesn't cover the mortgage and groceries.
When I think of the America I grew up in and America today, I am saddened. The changes won't have a huge impact on me, as I am toward the end of my life. I worry about how the country and the world will change even further, even worse, for our children and grandchildren.