Last week I stumbled across a piece on Quora that asked people who moved here from other countries “What facts about the United States do foreigners not believe until they come to America?” Some of the answers were predictable, but some were enlightening. More than a few pertained to food, portion sizes, quality (McDonalds and chocolate fall short here in the U.S.) and relatedly, obesity. Predictable, I guess, but nonetheless enlightening. Take a look at how we are sometimes viewed by newcomers:
On Food & Obesity:
- That, generally speaking, the poor is more obese than the rich.
- Quality of chocolate – It’s just not as good. Sorry folks, but a Hershey bar is the most overrated thing I ever tried. And the Kit Kat was horrible. The chocolate was oily. Yes, oily. I have no idea why.
- McDonald’s not up to the mark – This was a shocker for me. McDonald’s is like one of the best known brands of America, and the quality was arguably worse than what I get here (India). And I’m non-vegetarian. The burger doesn’t resemble it’s pictures at all. On the other hand, Starbucks seemed totally worth the hype for me. They have great coffee.
- The amount of food Americans waste. My grandma to this day remembers a story about when she came to teach in California in the 1970s. The students used to get apples along with their lunch. Nobody ate them, so they’d just throw them away or leave them at the tables. My grandma was shocked at how they were able to just throw out good food like that, and that no other teachers cared.
- 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.
- Food portion sizes which are ridiculous to my view. When we eat out with my husband or friends, we usually share. Not because we can’t afford, but just because we do not need THAT much food. On the other hand I like the can-I-please-have-it-to-go thing for everything that left on the table, which is not so common in Europe, and especially in Eastern Europe, where I am from.I just don’t get it.
- Infantile and convenient food (and I’m not talking about the fast food). No bones, no spines, hardly ever find an entire fish, it’s mostly filets, very little diversity (little lamb, or duck, hardly ever rabbit, and for fish it’s almost always tuna, salmon, haddock and bass), seedless everything. A lot of things (not desserts) are sweetened, like honey smoked, glazed, etc. Even desserts sometimes look like 5-y.o. were left alone in the kitchen: cookie dough ice cream, oreo cheese cake…
- Huge serving portions. I’m a big guy and love eating, but 50% of the time I could only finish half the food on my plate (how do you guys do it?!).
- Widespread obesity. I was shocked to see the amount of obese people in the U.S. I can fully understand it though: the portions are big, everything has cheese in it, refills are free, purchases in bulk are cheaper, etc.
On cars & traffic:
- Dependence on GPS – I knew people who went to office everyday since the past 5 years and could not tell their way without a GPS. It was amazing! I made some friends there and they were so impressed that I could tell my way back to their home without help from a GPS.
- Awesome Traffic – Coming from India, I found it amazing the way traffic behaved without any intervention from traffic policemen. Just everyone following the rules. It was a bit bad in NYC, but not even comparable to where I live right now (Kanpur, India). People don’t try to cut you off. People let pedestrians cross. Also, the parallel parking is really efficient! The roads are so well maintained, and the scenery is always beautiful.
- Cars, cars, cars. It’s a big country and public transport is lacking. Hence, everybody owns at least one car and uses it for the smallest distances. It’s like people forgot how to walk or bike. Although I saw many people bike, it was to do sports, not for day-to-day transportation.
- Gigantic cars. WOW, I thought a Land Rover was big until I saw the average pickup truck in the U.S.
On manners, religion and attitudes:
- That you address your boss (and some of your professors) by some abbreviated variation of their first name. And that applies to pretty much everyone, regardless of how much older they are than you.
- In spite of the society being openly hedonistic and liberal, the social norms and standards still have very strong conservative religious influences.
- Cashiers talking to you – Every cashier will greet you with “How are you today? You find everything okay?” with a smile, and you’re quite thrown off the first few times. Also, I had this really great cashier at Harris Teeter give me discounts because I always checked out at his counter 🙂 Really nice people! In general also, people were extremely polite, and many just complimented you too!
- Patriotism – The flag was everywhere. Literally. I came to know students are supposed to pledge allegiance to their flag since Kindergarten.! (I can’t fathom how they pronounce allegiance). On the other hand, they are blissfully unaware of the rest of the world (A high school kid thought Taj Mahal is in Washington DC). But I loved how all students were involved in some sort of extra curricular activities or the other.
- A lot of couples adopt children, sometimes in spite of having their own, and treat them exactly like their own. (To me, this alone is a marker of a great people)
- When my husband moved here he was a Chilean living in Spain. When he first arrived, he couldn’t believe how little we had to work for such money, and how we had the audacity to complain about being “overworked.” Now, he is lazy and entitled like the rest of us.
- Children are expected to leave home when they are 18.
- A lot of hurt feelings and misunderstandings because of the sometimes shallow nature of American social interaction.
- Parents can get arrested for physically punishing their children.
- Tests in pajamas. Ok, this might be an MIT thing, but I’ve seen several students (mostly undergrad) take exams in pajamas.
- How people feel it’s important to immediately know your first name and use it.
- He’s come to appreciate it, but hubs sees Americans as just more intense, opinionated, passionate , loud. He had to tell people that Canadians are not apathetic or weak, they just are more reserved .
- Extreme sensitiveness towards race and religion. People tend to be very sensitive about racial and religious topics. I was embarrassed to ask a Costco employee where the white chocolate was because I was afraid she would tell me I was a racist.
- People really are afraid of socialism. This seems to be especially true the less they know about it, or believe it means turning their car in to the state. It also turns into fear of Obamacare being some sort of socialist plot, which is hilarious.
- The role of religion is much stronger here than in other Western nations. Things like creationism are usually believed by a handful of people in other places, but here it seems to be at least a force to be reckoned with.
- It really is a diverse place, much more so than many foreigners really understand. A country that can produce both Snoop Dogg and Westboro Baptist Church is like no other place (seriously!).
- A lot of people really think a constitution written hundreds of years ago provides written guidance to any issue the nation might be faced with. Then again, a large subset of the same group believes that a book written 2000 years ago provides answers to all problems in life.
On guns and alcohol:
- That you cannot purchase alcohol unless you are 21 but can purchase a gun if you are 18.
- Guns, obsession with guns with many Americans. We’ve seen an increase in gun obsession or ” intensity” among friends and extended family. His brother is an engineer who lives in Windsor and works over here a lot, and that is his biggest” surprise.” Usually he thinks its silly but sometimes the conversations about guns gives him the creeps.
- Yes, you can buy guns without very much of a background check. When I was driving around yesterday I saw a guy walking out of a gun store with a bag, possibly enjoying his purchase of two new pistols. It was great!
And just some on a variety of topics that I found humorous:
- Black Friday and the frenzy associated with it.
- Public Toilets – Indian public toilets are usually in unmentionable conditions, and this was a refreshing change. Specially because half the stuff was automated. I remember thinking at first, that Americans are so lazy, they don’t want to flush their toilets.
- President doesn’t automatically become the richest person in the country.
- My Russian in-laws were shocked when they found out that we get packages left on our doorstep and no one steals them.
- Drive-thru ATMs and stores. It left me speechless. And then to think that most purchases in the U.S. are on credit ;). You can even do drive-thru shopping, drive-thru oil-change, drive-thru massage(?). Everything is drive-thru!
- Many payment options. You can pay with check, credit, debit, cash, or anything else of value. Unbelievable. I’m used to either paying in cash or with my debit card. It’s really smart business wise – you simply cannot say you don’t have the money, because even if you don’t.. you can still pay.
I especially like that last one! It’s always interesting, though not necessarily flattering, to see how others view you. It sometimes gives us insight into ourselves, but also a glimpse outward.