Author Topic: What surprised you about the U.S.?  (Read 41665 times)

NestEggChick (formerly PFgal)

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 238
  • Location: Boston-ish, MA
    • Nest Egg Chick
What surprised you about the U.S.?
« on: November 19, 2013, 06:13:25 PM »
I saw this article online:
16 People On Things They Couldn’t Believe About America Until They Moved Here
http://thoughtcatalog.com/michael-koh/2013/11/16-people-on-things-they-couldnt-believe-about-america-until-they-moved-here/

I've heard some similar things from friends, like about how large our houses are and how big our food portions are, but I was surprised by so many of the other recurring comments, like about how weird it is that we use credit cards and how bad our public transportation is (I know it's bad, but I didn't know everyone else thought so too!)

So for the folks from other countries who've been here, what surprised you about it? And for people who are from the U.S., I'm sharing this because you might find it as fascinating as I do.

Gin

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 52
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #1 on: November 19, 2013, 07:00:57 PM »
Thanks for sharing I found it interesting.

chasesfish

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3284
  • Age: 37
  • Location: Texas
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #2 on: November 19, 2013, 07:06:52 PM »
This list is amazing.

As an American, there's a ton of stuff I can relate to and still question:

- why are the poor generally more obese
- why do people get Black Friday frenzy
- the concept of a liberal arts education...

gooki

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2388
  • Location: NZ
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2013, 07:18:15 PM »
From direct experience

Food portion size at restaurants. I remember eating at a Mexican restaurant, and we (physically active family of four) thought the entree was the main course.

How crap LAX is. For such a wealthy nation it is applauding that many visitors to the USA have to experience the crapness that is LAX.

How friendly and talkative people on the street are.

How little time off work people take, and how many hours they work during a day.

Richard3

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 292
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #4 on: November 19, 2013, 08:10:12 PM »
After a two month trip there (Western states)

How much food there was. The buckets of soda (literally saw two guys coming out of KFC with cups that had carrying handles because they were too large to hold normally), the bottomless fries, the "regular" burrito the size of three fists. I'm a big guy (6'2" 220lbs and physically active and I was on one and a half to two meals a day). Related - how cheap the food was and how much variety of fast food there was.

How nice people were. Not just service industry staff, random people like the hairdresser, or people in a bar. Maybe it's a small town thing and the fact I'm foreign but everyone seemed happy to talk to me even if they weren't getting anything out of it (or indeed it was a mild inconvenience for them).

How amazing pretty parts of the country are obviously Yosemite, Yellowstone, Hood River, Lake Tahoe - but even random little places like Glory Hole state recreation area (hur hur).

How Jesus-radio is totally a real thing.... On multiple channels.

How people unironically wear t-shirts like "I love Jesus, Beer and Guns" or "Want to annoy a liberal, use facts and logic" - more generally how virulent extremism (on both sides - I just find the right wing funnier and more obvious since I'm a dirty communist) is the norm in American politics.

That there are quite a lot of people who genuinely wear cowboy hats and boots (OK this one is mostly at the rodeo I went to, but not entirely).

Just how many adverts there were for new cars and prescription drugs.

Flags. America loves flags and other public patriotism (like praying for the firefighters and the troops "who fight for our freedom to enjoy high octane racing" before a random stockcar meet).


I guess these aren't huge surprises although they were all stronger / more dramatic than expected (I hadn't expected the stereotypes detailed above to be true) so I'd have to sum up by saying scale. America is really freaking big, you dont realise how big until you try driving around small parts of it. Its also got a lot of people so the idea of "an American" should be as abstract and inexact as the idea of An European... and yet there is something almost indefinably American about everyone. Some common thread of not quite optimism, perhaps the word is positivity.

Also there were lots and lots of pretty girls (although sampling may have been flawed hanging out a lot at rodeos, college football games, vegas, etc.

pka222

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 105
  • Age: 42
  • Location: south pacific
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #5 on: November 19, 2013, 08:33:30 PM »
I'm American and I was surprised at how reasonable the IRS has been about not taxing my overseas income! (less the the 92k ceiling)
I'm also super surprised at how insecure American consumerism makes Americans

brewer12345

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1386
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #6 on: November 19, 2013, 09:08:04 PM »
After a two month trip there (Western states)

How much food there was. The buckets of soda (literally saw two guys coming out of KFC with cups that had carrying handles because they were too large to hold normally), the bottomless fries, the "regular" burrito the size of three fists. I'm a big guy (6'2" 220lbs and physically active and I was on one and a half to two meals a day). Related - how cheap the food was and how much variety of fast food there was.

How nice people were. Not just service industry staff, random people like the hairdresser, or people in a bar. Maybe it's a small town thing and the fact I'm foreign but everyone seemed happy to talk to me even if they weren't getting anything out of it (or indeed it was a mild inconvenience for them).

How amazing pretty parts of the country are obviously Yosemite, Yellowstone, Hood River, Lake Tahoe - but even random little places like Glory Hole state recreation area (hur hur).

How Jesus-radio is totally a real thing.... On multiple channels.

How people unironically wear t-shirts like "I love Jesus, Beer and Guns" or "Want to annoy a liberal, use facts and logic" - more generally how virulent extremism (on both sides - I just find the right wing funnier and more obvious since I'm a dirty communist) is the norm in American politics.

That there are quite a lot of people who genuinely wear cowboy hats and boots (OK this one is mostly at the rodeo I went to, but not entirely).

Just how many adverts there were for new cars and prescription drugs.

Flags. America loves flags and other public patriotism (like praying for the firefighters and the troops "who fight for our freedom to enjoy high octane racing" before a random stockcar meet).


I guess these aren't huge surprises although they were all stronger / more dramatic than expected (I hadn't expected the stereotypes detailed above to be true) so I'd have to sum up by saying scale. America is really freaking big, you dont realise how big until you try driving around small parts of it. Its also got a lot of people so the idea of "an American" should be as abstract and inexact as the idea of An European... and yet there is something almost indefinably American about everyone. Some common thread of not quite optimism, perhaps the word is positivity.

Also there were lots and lots of pretty girls (although sampling may have been flawed hanging out a lot at rodeos, college football games, vegas, etc.

Some of this is very regional.  I was born and bred in NYC but have moved to Colorado.  I have been surprised by much of the same things that struck you.  Living here has required adjustments on my part (expect to spend 5 minutes discussing the weather or whatever before conducting business, etc.).  I routinely wear cowboy hats, but it actually makes a great deal of sense here.  DW2 wears cowgirl boots, but this is because she has weekly horseback riding lessons.  One of the officers (AVP) at work usually wears highly polished cowboy boots in our silly dress-up work culture and nobody remarks upon it.

Jamesqf

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4047
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2013, 09:16:39 PM »
What struck me about a lot of those responses was the fact that those folks obviously aren't living in the same US that I am.  A good many of their places seem just as strange to me, and perhaps even more alien than the foreign countries I've visited.

JamesAt15

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 200
  • Location: Tokyo, Japan
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2013, 10:48:41 PM »
What struck me about a lot of those responses was the fact that those folks obviously aren't living in the same US that I am.  A good many of their places seem just as strange to me, and perhaps even more alien than the foreign countries I've visited.

Well, last I checked there was still quite a bit of difference between regions, even if it's the "same US". What are some of the things that seemed strange in their responses?

Expectations are sometimes a bit out of whack for visitors to the US as well, just because of how it is portrayed in the media of their local country. Here in Japan, we have occasional "interesting captured video from around the world" TV shows that come on now and then. If the video is a car chase, it's always from the US. Also, all the good videos capturing cars crashing through the front walls of restaurants and convenience stores are always from the US. I could easily imagine Japanese tourists getting an uneasy feeling when going into a US convenience store because they half expect a car to come crashing through the front windows at any moment.

LAX is a horrid experience and should be avoided at all costs. SFO is much, much nicer.

Portion sizes are definitely huge. After adjusting to meal sizes here, whenever I am back to visit the States and we go out to eat, my wife and I either share one entree or each get an appetizer and that's plenty. (If we stay for a couple weeks, though, my stomach seems to get stretched out to American size again, though.)

"Dependence on GPS" - really? Is that a thing? I find it difficult to believe, since generally US streets and highways are laid out so they are trivially easy to figure out. (Compared to, say, Tokyo.) Several years ago my family took a long vacation to the states and we did a roadtrip across a bit of the western states. My wife thought I was crazy for not renting a GPS unit with the rental car. She changed her mind by the time we reached our destination. "Everything is laid out so easy, all the streets are perpendicular, all the signs are clear. If you want to go to this city, you get onto this highway and drive straight for xx hours."

Well, to be fair, I was doing the driving and I'm reasonably used to US roads and driving, though I was out of recent practice.

geekette

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1883
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #9 on: November 19, 2013, 11:07:25 PM »
Quote
"Dependence on GPS" - really? Is that a thing? I find it difficult to believe, since generally US streets and highways are laid out so they are trivially easy to figure out. (Compared to, say, Tokyo.) Several years ago my family took a long vacation to the states and we did a roadtrip across a bit of the western states. My wife thought I was crazy for not renting a GPS unit with the rental car. She changed her mind by the time we reached our destination. "Everything is laid out so easy, all the streets are perpendicular, all the signs are clear. If you want to go to this city, you get onto this highway and drive straight for xx hours."

Have you tried driving in the northeast?  Laid out so easy?  All streets perpendicular? Hahahahahaha!

Even here in central NC, streets change names when they cross, and some go in circles. Don't even ask me to drive in Durham without a GPS (lost, lost, lost). Sure, the interstates are well marked and you can get from city to city easily enough, but in town, not so much.

And portion sizes are far too large.  Fine for leftovers at home, I suppose, but a pain when traveling.

Eric

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4061
  • Location: On my bike
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #10 on: November 19, 2013, 11:14:59 PM »
I saw that a couple of days ago and really enjoyed the perspective.

I got a big kick out of the guy whose friends couldn't believe that he had never ever seen anyone shoot a gun out of a moving car.

AlexK

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 327
  • Age: 46
  • Location: Sparks, NV
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #11 on: November 19, 2013, 11:33:17 PM »
Thanks for the link, I found it fascinating.

I work for a Japanese company and that means going to Japan occasionally and often entertaining Japanese coworkers here in the states when they come for business trips. I take them out shooting guns and to restaurants which have ridiculous portion sizes even by US standards. They absolutely love it and take photos of themselves sitting on front of huge racks of ribs, giant nachos, etc and shooting .50 caliber sniper rifles and .357 Magnum handguns. Once I took a Japanese friend out to the Black Rock Desert and we rode around on scooters on the immense open playa surface. It was like another world for someone used to crowded Japanese life.

It is fun to see the reactions to such differences in culture.

It goes the other way though when I am expected to adhere to the insane Japanese work culture when there for business. We're talking 3 day marathon meetings, working till 9:00 pm (or at least until the boss leaves), and all-you-can-drink-for-one-hour restaurants afterward, sometimes karaoke in a bathroom-sized venue.


scrubbyfish

  • Guest
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #12 on: November 20, 2013, 12:09:48 AM »
Postal service - Awesome (Saturdays?!? and the speed! and the options!) and cheap.

How cheap the food is -wow! What would cost me $11 here (Canada) can cost me $4 there. The first few times I kept asking if they'd rung everything in... One day it dawned on me, "Oh! *This* is why people drive across to get their groceries.

I also envy the sheer range of stuff (excellent nutritional supplements, etc) a person can get there but which are inaccessible in Canada. Sigh.

Roses

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 189
  • Location: Seattle
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #13 on: November 20, 2013, 12:46:02 AM »
I came to this country more than two decades ago and had many of the same impressions in the article:

1. How polite and friendly random people are - cashiers, clerks, random person passing you on the street - but at the same time how small an individual's circle of friends is (at least compared to Latin America).

2. When you put your money into the newspaper box on the street the door opens so you could take them all if you wanted to! And yet nobody does! Also just general orderliness and following of the rules.  You have to cross at a crosswalk!?

3. How people really believe this is the greatest country in the world even when many have never been outside of it.

4. How much you hear about Jesus and 'The Lord'. One of my American aunts once said she wanted to get a second set of piercings in her ears but wasn't sure the lord would approve - she'd been praying about it for a couple of years.

5. Just the abundance of it all.  My American grandmother had an entire closet in her house dedicated to 'extra' things for the house (extra hair dryer in case hers broke, extra iron she picked up on sale) as well as potential gifts for people. 

6. How sleek and modern the schools are - my elementary school had a tv in every classroom!  At the same time I laughed heartily when I saw how very far behind my classmates were in math.  Within a couple of years I 'caught up' to them and it became one of my worst subjects.

7. 16 year olds can drive and work, 18 year olds can smoke, vote, and go to war, but you have to be 21 to buy alcohol.

8. People actually seem to respect the government and people in positions of authority.  There doesn't seem to be much corruption and when there is, if it's uncovered, it's a huge scandal.

9. People use dryer machines to wash their clothes and there are no lines of unmentionables hanging outside apartment balconies! Also dishwashers!

10. How big the cars are.

11. How comfortable everything is: Homes are warm, showers are hot, couches are soft, cars offer a smooth ride over roads with few potholes, etc


My husband is a much more recent immigrant and his big ones are:

1. How awful Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's are, and all fast food for that matter.  In his country those are actually pretty good.

2. How clean public spaces and bathrooms are - there's actually toilet paper!  To this day if we ever walk under a bridge or a dark corner of a public place he says "How is this not covered in graffiti and reeking of urine?"

3. How people treat their pets like children.

4. You actually need a prescription to buy prescription drugs!

5. You don't have to pay cash for your house!

6. How easy it is to get a good job and earn good money without having to work nights and weekends whenever your work demands it.  The concept of 'work-life' balance.

7. There are amazing places of natural beauty, not just big cities like New York, LA or Chicago.

8. People jogging in shorts in the snow.

Left

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1159
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #14 on: November 20, 2013, 01:26:53 AM »
I know I shouldn't... but I laughed at this comment

Quote
Obesity and food portion – It is easy to find obese people in USA. Some people are so obese that they require a special electric scooter to carry them around. This sighting can be seen easily in Walmart where obese people use scooters to shop more … food.

chasesfish

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3284
  • Age: 37
  • Location: Texas
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #15 on: November 20, 2013, 05:24:50 AM »
I know I shouldn't... but I laughed at this comment

Quote
Obesity and food portion – It is easy to find obese people in USA. Some people are so obese that they require a special electric scooter to carry them around. This sighting can be seen easily in Walmart where obese people use scooters to shop more … food.

It gets better, quite often these people are collecting "disability" because they can't work due to their obesity, then their food is paid for by SNAP (the "supplemental nutrition assistance program), also known as food stamps.

moestache

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 64
  • Location: Australia
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #16 on: November 20, 2013, 05:40:24 AM »
I was in the US for the first time earlier this year and what surprised me was:

food and drink portion sizes
weird food like bacon milkshakes
lots of places do unlimited coffee but hard to find places to get cappuccinos
how wide the roads were
how friendly and chatty people were
people going jogging everywhere
cashiers inspecting $50 notes when you hand them over
access to so much stuff in general

acroy

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1702
  • Age: 42
  • Location: Dallas TX
    • SWAMI
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #17 on: November 20, 2013, 08:37:34 AM »
As an American (So Cal, then Texas) I read this with delight. It's a fun place, yes?

We have it all - diversity in culture, geography, weather. Interesting people & places everywhere. We're 'cursed' perhaps with too much of everything, too cheap, so it's easy to get into bad consumerism habits.

In much of the word, people are frugal because they must be frugal. In the States, it's often a 'strange' and difficult life choice to be frugal! If you got it, flaunt it baby! Bigger and shinyer and chromier and cushier the better!

I entertain a lot of international clients and enjoy exposing them to rodeo, Dallas Cowboys, drag racing, BBQ, 1/2ton 4x4 trucks used as personal vehicles (sometimes as rental cars for Norwegian women who have never even seen one before, much less drive one), and 12g shotguns. It's a hoot.

ichangedmyname

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 420
    • Luxe Frugality
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #18 on: November 20, 2013, 08:41:30 AM »
It surprised me that people are so friendly. Like walking down the street they'd say hi or ask how you're doing. This would be considered flirting where I'm from LOL

All the hugs! I cannot believe the hugging! and I love it.


Numbers Man

  • Guest
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #19 on: November 20, 2013, 09:10:09 AM »
I enjoyed that article.

senecando

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 486
  • Age: 30
  • Location: Madison, Wi
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #20 on: November 20, 2013, 09:16:16 AM »
For those of you who were surprised by the friendliness: Were you surprised because people in the US seemed more friendly than people where you are from, or because they were friendlier than you expected? Are Americans seen as unfriendly?

Russ

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2213
  • Age: 28
  • Location: Boulder, CO
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #21 on: November 20, 2013, 09:18:07 AM »
For those of you who were surprised by the friendliness: Were you surprised because people in the US seemed more friendly than people where you are from, or because they were friendlier than you expected? Are Americans seen as unfriendly?

Yeah I was wondering about this too... I though we were supposed to be stereotypically unfriendly

dadof4

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 179
  • Age: 44
  • Location: Portland, OR
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #22 on: November 20, 2013, 10:29:17 AM »
* People seem to be either obese or health nuts. In most places in the world, the lifestyle naturally balances activity/consumption to normal human levels. In the US it needs to be done consciously.

* Vegetable prices. Things like avocados, eggplants, or bell peppers are sold by unit, and usually exceed $1 each. Ouch!

* Meat prices. $1 per pound of drumsticks? That's insane.

* Feeding a family of 4 for under $10 at fast food places.

* Really big cars. And how easy it is to find parking for that Expedition or Hummer.

* Police Officers, by and large, are high character individuals. Will treat you with respect even if you are in the wrong.

* Extreme right wingers . Evolution is a hoax, global warming is a hoax, 9/11 is an inside job, Jesus is coming back in our lifetime, homeschool the kids so no one tells them differently, etc. There's a lot of them!

* How orderly everything generally is. From lines to traffic.

* How quickly you are out of the city and in the countryside. And the country goes on forever.

Dezrah

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 458
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #23 on: November 20, 2013, 10:33:42 AM »
I've had a handful of foreign-born coworkers and classmates through the years and try to ask them question when appropriate.  Here are some of the more interesting answers I got:

From South Korean high school student:

-For a long time he was thrown off by the fact strangers would give you a polite in passing.  In Korea, people only tend to smile at strangers who have a mental disability, so he thought everyone was being rude and condescending to him until he finally just realized that was normal.

-He also hates watching live American television because we put commercials halfway through episodes.  Apparently in Korea they still have plenty of commercials but they're all placed between shows, not interspersed.


From older India-born coworker:

-He was impressed that most American workers could be told what to do and when they're boss left the room, they would actually do it.  His experience in India is that work is almost never done without constant management presence.

nawhite

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1060
  • Location: An RV somewhere in the West
    • The Reckless Choice
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #24 on: November 20, 2013, 10:40:00 AM »
What struck me about a lot of those responses was the fact that those folks obviously aren't living in the same US that I am.  A good many of their places seem just as strange to me, and perhaps even more alien than the foreign countries I've visited.

Absolutely! I grew up in Upstate New York (not NYC), have lived in Appalachia (SW Pennsylvania and West Virginia), northern Virginia (DC area), and Northern California, married a girl from Tennessee, and now live in Colorado. They are very much like different countries that speak the same language. The US is a HUGE place with very different people living in each part. Sure the US has some large impressive cities but also some of the most remote/rural places in the world.

mikefixac

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 313
  • Location: Brea
    • Uncommonly Brilliant
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #25 on: November 20, 2013, 10:52:15 AM »
I've really enjoyed reading the article. Makes me happy to live in sunny Southern California.

A few responses that cracked me up was having packages left outside and they weren't stolen. Or drive through banking.

It truly is a diverse country and I love driving through it. Even though it's one big country, each region can be much different than another. For instance, ride the Boston subway and then come and ride our LA subway. Even so, when travelling cross country, with all its regional mixes, I can expect certain standards in regards to hotels and restaurants.

imbros

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 48
  • Location: WI
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #26 on: November 20, 2013, 10:54:54 AM »
The conditions of roads in the Midwest. Not only highways but also city streets etc. It is more comparable to Eastern Europe or a third world country. Definitely not on par with Western Europe or Japan.

senecando

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 486
  • Age: 30
  • Location: Madison, Wi
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #27 on: November 20, 2013, 11:12:55 AM »
The conditions of roads in the Midwest. Not only highways but also city streets etc. It is more comparable to Eastern Europe or a third world country. Definitely not on par with Western Europe or Japan.

I wouldn't go as far as third world, personally. As you get further out of Madison I think they get better, too.

But yes, definitely some rough spots.

Jamesqf

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4047
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #28 on: November 20, 2013, 12:05:20 PM »
Well, last I checked there was still quite a bit of difference between regions, even if it's the "same US". What are some of the things that seemed strange in their responses?

There's not space to quote everything, but just a few that really struck me:
Quote
Fruits and vegetables are way more expensive than meat and poultry.

Not where I shop.  Of course you can buy exotic & out-of-season fruits & vegetables at high prices, but the common staples are much cheaper than meats.

Quote
By and large, people do not carry cash.

Not at all true, in my experience.  They may often choose to use a credit card instead (as I do, for the cash back rewards), but the cash is there.

Quote
Dependence on GPS

I don't know anyone who has an in-car GPS, or uses one.  I have one that I sometimes use when hiking or riding the horse, and I want to ride cross-country and reach a particular destination, but I'm not dependent on it.  I really only bought this particular one (Garmin Astro) because it also lets me track the dogs.

Quote
Street Performers

Only ones I can recall seeing were in Europe - but I did spend more time in European cities than US ones.

Quote
Religion – I always thought that America must be very laid-back about religion, like Europe, but that was not true.

There's a case of two different Americas occupying the same space.  A lot of us are, like me, non-religious (or have non-mainstream beliefs) but outside of politics, that part of our lives seldom intersects with the conventionally religious.  And I was on several occasions approached by religious evangelists when living in Europe.


Albert

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1254
  • Location: Switzerland
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #29 on: November 20, 2013, 12:43:48 PM »
This is an interesting thread. I'm a European (from the East) who has lived in US for 7 years (2002-2009). Here are some things which surprised me, both good and not so good. I lived 5 years on the West coast and 2 on the East in fairly liberal locations so nothing here about Jesus or cowboys :)

- Americans are friendly in the sense that they are helpful and like to chat with strangers. Not that many close friends though.
- A phrase "how are you?" just being used as a greeting and not requiring an actual answer. It annoyed me a lot for the first few months.
- Enormous portion sizes in restaurants and free refills in fast food outlets
- People taking leftovers home from a restaurant. 
- Driving is very easy with super wide roads and most cars being automatic
- People still use personal checks like in old books
- Mobile phones are underused (not anymore)
- Food is actually surprisingly cheap, quality not that great for a standard fare
- Great diversity of ethnic food
- Online banking is very underdeveloped (still, I think)
- Prevalence of obese people, particularly among poor people
- More visibly poor and homeless people than I expected
- Shops and offices cooled are to a ridiculously low temperature in the summer
- People travel very little. I once met a well educated guy from NY who had never been to NYC!
- Racial segregation by income/place of residence. It was educational to see how a percentage of black people in a large East coast city I lived went from 70-80% for cashiers in a supermarket, to 40-50% for for security guards, 20-30% for secretaries and accountants in the university, 10% for undergrad students, 2-3% for grad students and 0% for professors (our department).

There is also the beauty of nature on the West coast, wide open spaces, large houses and lack of public transport but none of that was a surprise to me.

Albert

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1254
  • Location: Switzerland
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #30 on: November 20, 2013, 12:49:27 PM »
Forgot some things of course:

- tipping culture. Restaurant is understandable, but in Europe I don't tip anyone else for anything.
- Outside US 50 and 100$ notes are common. I don't think I touched a single one while living in US.

Exflyboy

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 6500
  • Age: 58
  • Location: Corvallis, Oregon
  • Expat Brit living in the New World..:)
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #31 on: November 20, 2013, 01:22:18 PM »
UK expat living in Oregon here:

1) How cheap gas was.. I could get it for a dollar a gallon back in '97.. US gallon is 20% smaller than a UK gallon but even so.
2) How poor the education level is of the "average" student/HS graduate
3) Thay actually refer to someone who finishes high school as a graduate!!
4) There is a thing called an "Associates" degree... (Rest of the world degrees start at batchelor's level)
5) Children driving cars!... You people are nuts
6) How low real speed limits are.. In the UK for cars we tolerate 90mph on motorways and Germany of course is unlimited.
7) Cops have a sense of humour failure at motorcycles doing 140 to 170mph... why?
8) Harley = motorcycle.... waaahahahahahahah....:).. Fashion statement more like.
9) Standard of driving generally..Poor!
10) How much money I could earn....:)
11) I can live on 6 acres of land in the country and have enough money to pay it off in 7 years!..:)
12) Lazyness/entitlement attitude of kids
13) People are generally fat.
14) Poor people are even fatter... in Europe poor people are really thin!
15) Really old people driving V8 automatics!.. I known one person get killed as a result of stamping on the "wrong" pedal in a car park.
16) Obvious taxes are higher... hidden taxes are much lower or non existant.
17) Aviation habit MUCH cheaper in the US... I built two airplanes as a result.
18) Just how big the US really is..:)


Frank

No Name Guy

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 450
  • Location: Western Washington
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #32 on: November 20, 2013, 02:11:57 PM »
Interesting read.  One repeating theme I saw was the "big" comments - especially on the country itself.

I hiked with some Germans on a long trail a few years ago.  It took them a while to wrap their heads around how big the continental US really is (or is that how small all the European countries are).  Fun stats...all numeric values drawn from Wikipedia for comparison.   I focused on the Western Continental US since many east coast states are so piddly small (come on, Rhode Island is smaller than counties in Washington, yet they get 2 Senators....WTF.) 

Oregon and Washington combined are ~90,000km^2 larger than Germany.  Washington is the smallest of the western US states at ~185,000 km^2.....about 2x the size of Portugal.  Oregon, only the 7th largest of the 11 western states at 255,000 km^2 is bigger than the UK.  Poland and New Mexico are about the same size.  Switzerland is smaller than the land areas of the 12 COUNTIES that border the Puget Sound (and those being but a fraction of the State of Washington).  Spain / Portugal combined are smaller than Washington, Oregon and Idaho.  The Pacific Crest Trail (granted, a hiking trail, so it goes hither and yon a bit) runs from the US / Mexico border to Canada (8 miles in, at Manning Park) through the mountains of California, Oregon and Washington.  It's 2,660 miles long.  Google Maps indicates the driving distance from Caen, just behind the Normandy landing beaches, to Moscow is only 1,860 miles.

No wonder the impression is that the US is "big".

CommonCents

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2386
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #33 on: November 20, 2013, 02:23:45 PM »
Just to remark on a few things
- The cowboy boots is totally regional.  Hardly anyone (no one?) wears them here in New England
- GPS, you better believe it here in NE.  Boston started out as cowpaths.  My dad continually comments on how there are 6-7 streets coming off from Davis "Square" and Harvard "Square" is not in fact square.  It's circular, windy, lots of one ways, etc.  NOTHING like the midwest grids (I was astonished driving in a grid city for the first time).
- Religion is also be regional.  No one here in NE really makes a statement about it (unless you turn to a religious station by choice).  My visits to the south show this is a significant difference.  I was super surprised to take a tour when visiting Cartagenha, Columbia that started off with a prayer.  ETA: Just read the original, which states "In spite of the society being openly hedonistic and liberal, the social norms and standards still have very strong conservative religious influences."  I think that is true although I think it's regional how much religion is involved in daily lives.

I'm also curious about the friendly, if that's because we're actually friendlier, or thought to be unfriendly.

Things I've heard about America in other countries (perceptions) is:
- We are fat/eat a lot.  I actually had to convince a family in Hong Kong once I really was American and not, perhaps, Canadian, because I am in shape.
- We are unadventurous in eating (true compared to Asia certainly)
- We are interested in things that are none of our business and don't really matter (this by my french family during the Clinton/Monica scandal).
« Last Edit: November 20, 2013, 02:28:10 PM by CommonCents »

Albert

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1254
  • Location: Switzerland
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #34 on: November 20, 2013, 02:35:49 PM »

I'm also curious about the friendly, if that's because we're actually friendlier, or thought to be unfriendly.

Difficult to say if actually friendlier, depends who we are comparing to... Superficially seems friendlier for those who are not used to it because you smile more and are more willing to chat with strangers than people from North Europe, for example.

Jamesqf

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4047
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #35 on: November 20, 2013, 04:06:56 PM »
- People travel very little. I once met a well educated guy from NY who had never been to NYC!

But why would anyone in their right mind ever want to go to New York City?  I grew up in upstate New York, and (at least then - haven't been back in decades) many upstaters regarded NYC as a cross between Hell and an occupying colonialist power. 

That;'s a thing about some US states: the boundaries are either historic relics (like New York), or arbitrary lines on the map, like many western states.  So they wind up enclosing groups of people who at best have little in common, and more often regard each other with distaste, suspicion, and worse.

moestache

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 64
  • Location: Australia
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #36 on: November 20, 2013, 04:09:39 PM »
For those of you who were surprised by the friendliness: Were you surprised because people in the US seemed more friendly than people where you are from, or because they were friendlier than you expected? Are Americans seen as unfriendly?

I live in Australia, and I've travelled to Europe as well and I've found that people in the US came across as the most friendly in comparison, when it came to striking up conversation with strangers.

nawhite

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1060
  • Location: An RV somewhere in the West
    • The Reckless Choice
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #37 on: November 20, 2013, 04:19:50 PM »
But why would anyone in their right mind ever want to go to New York City?  I grew up in upstate New York, and (at least then - haven't been back in decades) many upstaters regarded NYC as a cross between Hell and an occupying colonialist power. 

Second that NYC is among the worst places in New York State.

That;'s a thing about some US states: the boundaries are either historic relics (like New York), or arbitrary lines on the map, like many western states.  So they wind up enclosing groups of people who at best have little in common, and more often regard each other with distaste, suspicion, and worse.

Here in Colorado, there was recently a movement where a number of counties wanted to secede from Colorado to form the new state of "North Colorado." Have to see that I see their point. State level government is basically run by the City of Denver which has very little in common with the people way out there.

Albert

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1254
  • Location: Switzerland
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #38 on: November 20, 2013, 04:26:30 PM »
NYC is among the most fascinating places in US to visit. Very popular here in Switzerland as well, every other vacation trip to US I hear about is to NYC. Of course tastes differ :)
« Last Edit: November 20, 2013, 11:28:51 PM by Albert »

nawhite

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1060
  • Location: An RV somewhere in the West
    • The Reckless Choice
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #39 on: November 20, 2013, 04:44:46 PM »
NYC is a very cool place to visit. There's cool food and cool tourist attractions. But it kinda sucks to have your taxes get split between your town and NYC where you visit as much as a tourist but still have to pay taxes to support it. Also, in my opinion, living there would be pretty terrible. Cost of living is one of the highest in the world. You get to live in a broom closet. Even if you live in the city, you still end up with a 40+ minute commute simply because there are 10 million other people commuting at the same time. There are much much nicer places to live, many of which are in other areas of New York State.

Kriegsspiel

  • Guest
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #40 on: November 20, 2013, 05:03:03 PM »

I got a big kick out of the guy whose friends couldn't believe that he had never ever seen anyone shoot a gun out of a moving car.

Agreed, that was funny. Shooting, to the US, must be what martial arts are to Japan and China.

Paul der Krake

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4647
  • Age: 11
  • Location: USA
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #41 on: November 20, 2013, 05:04:46 PM »
The friendliness was definitely a shocker for me when transitioning from central London to the US south east. It still annoys me a little at times (why do people use "how you doin" instead of just "hello"?!).

Other shockers, in no particular order:

Football, guns, how easily quality weed can be purchased, the ravages of processed foods in the lower classes, income disparities, anything related to Thanksgiving, and ads on TV.

huadpe

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 219
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #42 on: November 20, 2013, 05:42:52 PM »
NYC is a very cool place to visit. There's cool food and cool tourist attractions. But it kinda sucks to have your taxes get split between your town and NYC where you visit as much as a tourist but still have to pay taxes to support it. Also, in my opinion, living there would be pretty terrible. Cost of living is one of the highest in the world. You get to live in a broom closet. Even if you live in the city, you still end up with a 40+ minute commute simply because there are 10 million other people commuting at the same time. There are much much nicer places to live, many of which are in other areas of New York State.

Gonna push back on that just a little.  NYC pays more income tax per capita than is paid upstate.  This is of course not descriptive of everyone, and is largely the result of there being a small/medium number of REALLY rich people in NYC.  But NY state taxes support the upstate economy more than they take from it.  There are a lot of quite well paying government jobs that are major supports to local economies, especially once you get outside of the bigger cities.

Re: living in NYC, it's your choice what sort of thing you want.  Revealed preference says a lot of people want to live there though.

swiper

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 254
  • Age: 38
  • Location: Ottawa (Gatineau)
  • swiping ottawa
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #43 on: November 20, 2013, 05:48:45 PM »

I got a big kick out of the guy whose friends couldn't believe that he had never ever seen anyone shoot a gun out of a moving car.

Agreed, that was funny. Shooting, to the US, must be what martial arts are to Japan and China.

On this topic. I've never held a real gun or been anywhere near someone shooting a real gun. (heard hunting gunshots while hiking). Visited Vegas this past summer and got to shoot a SCAR with about 5 min of instructions. Crazy!




swiper

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 254
  • Age: 38
  • Location: Ottawa (Gatineau)
  • swiping ottawa
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #44 on: November 20, 2013, 05:58:19 PM »
- seeing real gated communities
- some great cheap food choices like "Cafe Rio" :)
- 2/3 of the TV adds in the Vegas area were about personal injury law or trading up your car.
- really cheap food: 12 eggs for $1
- friendly people

JamesAt15

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 200
  • Location: Tokyo, Japan
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #45 on: November 20, 2013, 06:09:13 PM »
- 2/3 of the TV adds in the Vegas area were about personal injury law or trading up your car.

...and half of the remaining third are "Ask your doctor if prescription drug xxxx is right for you" (followed by 30 seconds of muted descriptions of possible side effects) commercials.

NestEggChick (formerly PFgal)

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 238
  • Location: Boston-ish, MA
    • Nest Egg Chick
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #46 on: November 20, 2013, 06:59:11 PM »
Wow, I'm loving the replies! Thanks everyone, keep them coming!

nz

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 112
  • Age: 55
  • Location: New Zealand
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #47 on: November 20, 2013, 07:41:49 PM »
I had a wonderful few weeks in the US. San francisco, Indiana, New York and Chicago, staying with friends, staying with friends of friends and motels/ hotels.
 The warmth and hospitality of everyone I met was outstanding......great people, great country.

There was one aspect that hit me however. And that was,a general unawareness of the wider world regarding geography, politics and culture. People seemed to be pretty vague as to where different countries were and how different countries were aligned.

After thinking about this for a while I came up with a theory.
The USA has led the world in film and TV production for the last century and they have exported their media , and by default culture, to the world. The rest of the world as a result is very knowledgeable about such things as 'halloween' and 'thanksgiving' but Americans have not had the opportunity to consume other countries media.

Jamesqf

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4047
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #48 on: November 20, 2013, 09:23:32 PM »
NYC is among the most fascinating places in US to visit. Very popular here in Switzerland as well, every other vacation trip to US I here about is to NYC. Of course tastes differ :)

You kinda missed my point.  It's not that - if your tastes run that way - you aren't allowed to think that NYC is a fascinating place.  It's that if you grow up in upstate New York you acquire a certain attitude towards the place, which someone growing up elsewhere won't acquire.  Think e.g. Serbs and Croats, or the way the Welsh think of the English.
« Last Edit: November 20, 2013, 09:25:37 PM by Jamesqf »

jrhampt

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1074
  • Age: 42
  • Location: Connecticut
Re: What surprised you about the U.S.?
« Reply #49 on: November 21, 2013, 05:49:36 AM »
I wear cowboy boots in New England!  But I did grow up in TX.