There are more than 16,000 nursing houses for old people all over America, many of these houses has reached the 5-stars standard. The United States is famous for spending more on health care for seniors more than any other developed country on the world (America’s seniors, 2012). Moreover, beside health care, tons of money is also being invested in medical researches (95 billion in 2005). The seniors, of course, gain benefit from that investment. Rate of heart disease – the most common disease among old Americans- has declined by a third since 1980 thanks to many breakthroughs in medical field.
The vast majority of old American people considered themselves healthy when being asked about health condition (Haya El Nasser, “Life’s just good”) In contrast to the Americans, the olds in Vietnamese seem to be not so lucky with the so called ‘living condition’. A national survey conducted by the Vietnamese Ministry of Health Portal in 2011 pointed out that 60% of old people in Vietnam live in poverty. It is even worse in health care aspect with only 5% of old Vietnamese people confirm that they are in good health condition. While 21% of old American suffers serious illness, the percentage is nearly 95% in Vietnam.
It’s not because the government doesn’t care about the senior citizens but there is a lack of money and facilities to so. In Vietnam, poverty and poor health care service seem to be not only the problem of the old but also the young, the middle-ages and even the kids. There is still such a long way to go for the Vietnamese to improve the living standard and medical care for old people in Vietnam. However, ‘the richer’ doesn’t always mean ‘the happier’. When a person grows old in Vietnam, usually family and friends care for him or her at home until the end.
In America, the elderly are more typically sent to nursing homes (Judy Lin, “Honor or abandon”). Government programs could provide money or 5-stars health care service but these things can hardly a substitute for a caring, loving family. According to the survey conducted by Pew Research Center, there are more than 66% of old people in America live alone. Moreover, 43% reported that they are lonely. Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize winning author of “Guns, Germs, and Steel said that: “Many societies treat their elderly much better than Americans’.
Most old people in American are not respected and left at the nursing houses (Laura K. Egendorf, “Opposing Viewpoints”) The situation was not always that bad. In the 17th and 18th centuries, American’s attitudes toward the elderly were more positive. The seniors used to be highly respected; they were given the best seats in church, and Puritan teachings instructed youth on how to behave toward their elders (Laura K. Egendorf, “Opposing Viewpoints”)). At that time, old people were respected because they helped transmit wisdom and knowledge to the younger generations.
According to Professor Jared Diamond,the elderly’s usefulness in a society plays a big part in determining their fate. The industrialization in the 19th century meant that aged were no longer useful since younger, faster and stronger workers were more desirable in the factory and the society. These negative attitudes continued up to the 20th and 21st centuries. People now can easily look up things in books, dictionary or on the Internet. They are no longer need to ask old people for their knowledge. Moreover, from the 1950’s, the American culture was greatly affected by the youth.
Many teen heroes such as James Dean were worshipped at that time (“American Attitudes”, 2010). Slowly, the American culture started to shape as the culture of the youth and old people were left out of the picture. Different from the American, respect and caring toward old people seem to be the strength of Asian culture (Tom Plate, “The Age of Insecurity”). According to a national survey in 2012, 75% of Vietnamese seniors live with their children. Most Vietnamese people take care of their parents until they die rather than sending them in to the nursing house like the Americans.
Old people, regardless of wealth, education or social position, receive high respect in the society. This respect is expressed through attitude, behavior or choice of language. It’s quite common to see a rich teenage boy shows his respect to the old street vendor lady by calling himself ‘con’ (lower position) while addressing her ‘di’ or ‘bac’ ( higher postion). The question here is why there is difference between the Vietnamese and Americans culture in the way they treat their seniors. Why in one country, they are respected and highly value but in another country, they are considered as the ‘left out’ part of the society?
Perhaps the answer lies within the characteristic of the two cultures. In America, the emphasis are on independence, individualism and self-reliance so old people lose the respect of the society when they inevitable lose these traits. In contrast, since Vietnam culture is collectivism, it emphasizes on group-oriented values and social hierarchy. Therefore, young people are required to respect their parents, grandparents and their seniors. Moreover, most of the Americans have high demand on personal privacy (Judy Lin, “Honor or abandon”). Hence, in America, children tend to move out and have their own home.
In Vietnam, people don’t have such high demand for privacy. Even if they want privacy, the economic condition sometime doesn’t allow young Vietnamese to move out and live in their own house. Like it or not, some Vietnamese people are tied with their parents for live. Another reason for different attitude toward elderly between East and West is because in many collectivistic cultures like Vietnam, old people are seen as the sources of important knowledge such as culture or technology in the society. Young people, therefore, are expected to follow and learn from the older.
However in America – an individualistic culture, the role of the old is not highly valued since the young are encouraged to be independent, to express their own opinions and to seek knowledge by themselves. In addition, the stereotype and prejudice on old people are quite different in American and Vietnamese culture. In the US, old people are stereotyped as chronically ill, unable to work, behind the times, slow-thinking, useless financial burdens on society (“American Attitudes”, 2010). In contrast, Vietnamese consider long life as a sign of kindness, knowledge and wisdom.
Long life is a present from the deity for virtuous people (Huynh Dinh Te, Social relationships). We can easily recognize that in Vietnam, most of leaders of government or organizations are elderly while in America; people would prefer the young. In the 2008 election, many Americans debate that John McCain is too old to be the president. Unlike the American society that put a premium on youth, Vietnamese society is proud of its old members (Huynh Dinh Te, Social relationships). Americans should learn from Vietnam to respect and change their view on the elderly.
Old people are not the burden of the society because they do contribute a lot. In fact, elderly people in Americans own 75 percent of all American assets. Almost all older men women are still productive. One-third of the old people in America still work for pay and one-third works as volunteers in churches, hospitals, and other organizations (John W. Rowe and Robert L. Kahn, “Successful Aging”). In conclusion, Vietnamese and American view and treat their elderly differently due to many factors such as economy or characteristic of the culture.
However, both cultures need to learn from each other in order to improve the lives of the old people. Poor health care and low living condition of course do no good to the elderly. However, old people also need more love, respect and caring from family rather the lonely life as a 5-stars nursing house. Age is a present, not a liability. Works Cited Paul Taylor. Growing Old in America: Expectations vs. Reality. Pew Research Center, 2012. Web. 27 Oct, 2012. America’s Seniors and Health Insurance Reform: Protecting Coverage and Strengthening Medicare. Health reform. U.
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