As we settled into life in America, Saman and I thought ourselves pretty well off. Life was good. Our electricity stayed on all the time, and didn't go off for days on end. Our telephone line was installed and working within hours instead of years. We had cable TV that gave us access to hundreds of channels. Wherever we turned, abundance lay at our finger tips, including freebies that came just by filling out applications for credit cards—a food tray, a pitcher and six glasses, a watch, a small radio, a clock. We didn't know then that we were hurting our credit standing by applying for all this free stuff.

We found a great place called Pedro's Restaurant where $4.00 bought us all the hamburgers and fries we could eat. We skimped on soft drinks and sipped slowly on one large drink with two straws rather than spending money on two drinks, until I saw a woman refill her drink without paying extra. That's when I learned refills were free. When we wanted something better, we treated ourselves to dinner at Perkins Pancake House.

In America, we discovered to what extent convenience was built into the fabric of the culture. You could pay bills by mail. If you bought an article of clothing and it didn't fit, you could return it. And you could browse through magazines at newsstands and replace them on their racks without having to pay for them. But our first bus ride showed us the greatest discernible difference between our previous and current ...

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