My childhood in the 80s in Israel was shaped by two significant socio-economic phenomena. The first was the war in Lebanon, an senseless act of aggression that was bloody, unjustified, and seemingly endless. The other was an unstable economy characterised by hyperinflation. As a child, I was too young to fully comprehend these realities, which was probably for the best - It’s hard to understand the value of human life and of money when both literally have no value.
I now have some unusual memories that I can tie back to these events unfolding around me. The Israel of the early 80s, while already excelling in research and development, advanced agricultural techniques, and military might, was still a developing economy. It would take another decade and some change before Israel would be recognised as a developed nation and admitted into the OECD. As a result, people often found themselves missing certain things. One of those missing elements might have been vocabulary. Expressing some concepts was challenging, leading people to develop original solutions.
One such innovation was the term "America." Here, "America" wasn't referring to a geographical location or to the United States as a country. "America" was used to express a superb and barely-attainable ideal. The best of the best. It was used quite a lot in the world of commerce. For example, let's say you go to the market and look for a watermelon to take home and enjoy on a warm summer evening. You might ask the seller at the stand whether this watermelon is any good. Is it juicy and sweet, red and beautifully textured? Or is it one of these melons of disappointment that turn out to be tired, tasteless, and full of hard black seeds? "Is it any good?!" the seller would ask with a rising tone? And would answer himself "AMERICA!" Meaning: this is the best watermelon on the market. You're in for a treat.
I also vaguely remember a massive campaign for TV sets with remote control. The billboards would show a picture of the shiny TV, with very few details about the device, and plastered across the entire billboard the word "America", coloured with the stars and stripes. Apparently that campaign was a huge success. Never mind that the TV was made in Japan and we only had one channel, the official government broadcast.
Fast forward a few years to the latter part of the 80s. The first round of the war has ended and people's existential worries focused more on the violent uprising of the Palestinians, who all-of-a-sudden remembered that they were robbed of their land and denied even the most basic human rights. Really. Hyperinflation was masterfully and almost miraculously curbed with an economic reform package that is to this day studied around the world as the gold standard of economic modernisation.
I have also grown up a bit, at this point I must have been about maybe 11 or 12, and like any normal person I have learned how to pay only shallow attention to the world around me and spend most of my time wholly absorbed in concerns manufactured and maintained entirely inside my head.
One winter evening I was walking back home from some after school activity, when all of a sudden the weather took a surprising turn and heavy rain started pouring relentlessly. Needless to say I did not have an umbrella or any kind of clothing that would protect me from the rain - rain just isn't a frequent enough issue in that part of the world to prepare for it. But it quickly became clear that I can't really walk for another 20 minutes or so to get home. I looked for a shelter from the rain and quickly found one under the roof a bus stop. Just as I was trying to gather my thoughts and take stock of the situation, a bus arrived, and I made a quick decision to hop on and cover at least part of the way back.
I took a seat, and started relaxing, looking at the drops of rain as they splash on the bus windows. It couldn't have been more than a minute or two when I started realising that some of the other passengers are looking at me with an angry expression. And just as I figured out what has gone wrong - in my confusion I had completely skipped the first part of the bus boarding sequence where you pass by the driver and buy a ticket - one especially angry man turned towards me and shouted, "What do you think, kid, that here is AMERICA?! Here you have to pay!!"
Over the years I visited America many times. Mostly the coasts, and also a little bit of the country in-between. I even lived there for a couple of unforgettable years. Whenever I'm there I always try to look for those busses where one can just hop on and take a ride without having to pay. So far I haven't found them. In fact I don't recall finding anything in America you can have without paying.