It suddenly occurred to the good lady of the house that our sixteen year old would next Wednesday fly to San Francisco and no thought had been given to insurance. A hasty call to the broker brought an uncertain response, “Your travel policy is a family policy. She’s going with one of you?”
“No, she’s going with a school friend. They are going to stay with another school friend and her family.”
“Hmmm”, he said, “I’m not sure if the company will cover her going by herself. I can only ask”.
“They are being met at the airport and the security checks for the flight have been stringent”.
“I’ll see what I can do. I can’t promise anything.”
The phone rang this afternoon. “The company will extend cover to your daughter for this trip – what’s more, there’s no extra premium. They must think it a very safe place”.
“They must do”.
So much for the image of the United States as a place with a high crime rate. If an insurance company is prepared to take on an additional risk at no extra cost, that crime rate must be very concentrated; insurance companies are not in the business of altruism.
Lines from Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Big Country” came to mind. Bryson described life in New Hampshire in the late 1990s:
That people leave their cars unlocked and the windows open tells you something more about the town, of course. The fact is, there is no crime here. People will casually leave a $500 bicycle propped against a tree and go off to do their shopping. If someone did steal it, I am almost certain the victim would run after the thief shouting: “Could you please return it to 32 Wilson Avenue when you’ve finished? And watch out for the third gear – it sticks.”
No one locks anything. I remember being astounded by this on my first visit, when an estate agent took me out to look at houses (and there’s another thing – estate agents in America know how to stand up and move around) and she kept leaving her car unlocked, even when we went into a restaurant for lunch and even though there was a portable phone on the seat and some shopping in the back.
At one of the houses she discovered she had brought the wrong key. “Back door’ll be unlocked,” she announced confidently, and it was. I subsequently realised that there was nothing unusual in this. We know people who go away on holiday without locking their doors, don’t know where their house key is, aren’t even sure whether they still have one.
Now you might reasonably wonder why, then, this is not a thief’s paradise. There are two reasons, I believe. First, there is no market for stolen goods here. If you sidled up to anyone in New Hampshire and said, “Wanna buy a car stereo?”, the person would look at you as if you were off your head and say, “No, I already have a car stereo.” Then they would report you to the police and – here is the second thing – the police would come and shoot you.
But, of course, the police don’t shoot people here because they don’t need to, because there is no crime. It is a rare and heart-warming example of a virtuous circle. We have grown used to this now, but when we were still new in town and I expressed wonder about it all to a woman who grew up in New York City but has lived here for 20 years, she laid a hand on my arm and said, as if imparting a great secret: “Honey, you’re not in the real world any longer. You’re in New Hampshire.”
San Francisco is obviously another place where the market for second hand car stereos is limited.