What you think you know about the US is probably from watching shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians, That ’70s Show, and Orange is the New Black. Hollywood does a pretty good job at representing the American culture in a way that you can get a slight taste of it through the TV screen. Some things you probably already know are that English is the primary language spoken here, we have a huge respect for art and artists, we truly do live in the land of opportunity, we live on Starbucks coffee and Subway sandwiches, and we also live by the motto “Bigger is Better.”
However, to get a true US experience, you’ll need to really spend some time here and not just in one location. The more time you spend here and the more cities you visit, the more shocked you’ll be to learn the many colors of our truly unique American culture. It’s a free-spirited contagious culture that is easy to adopt and vice versa… you’ll begin to add to the US culture as well. Until that happens, blogs like this are intended to help you prepare for the things that might shock you the most about the US.
15. 8-5 is Life
Most Americans are subjected to a strict Monday through Friday 8-5 work schedule. You’ll pick up on this quickly when you visit Costco on a Tuesday at 10 am and see how terribly empty you never knew it could be. And if you want to know when’s the best time to visit a theme park, the same rules apply. It’s very rare to see people sun-tanning on the beach during work hours unless they’re a rich brat or just living off of social security. Otherwise, most of the people who aren’t trapped in a cubicle are either stay-at-home moms or retired seniors.
14. Tips Are NOT An Option
At restaurants and hair salons, giving a tip is an absolute unsaid requirement. In fact, it’s pretty much disgusting and unheard of to leave no tip at all. There are universal guidelines for leaving tips (usually two times the tax) and some restaurants will even help you out by calculating it for you at the bottom of your receipt. So if you forget to tip your hair stylist or a waiter, don’t even bother ever stepping foot in that salon or restaurant ever again. If there were a Yelp site for reviewing customers, you’d get zero stars and an embarrassing review.
13. Each State Offers a Different Cultural Experience
Going from Georgia to California can seem almost like an overseas experience in itself. Sure, English will still be the primary language spoken but between the flight and grocery store experiences, these two states are world’s apart. You can expect to have a bit of a culture shock. In the South, also known as “The Bible Belt,” you can find tombstones on church lawns, people visit Wal-Mart at least five times a week, and homes are acres apart. You’re also more likely to encounter a bit of racism. In California where there’s more of a laid-back vibe, people drive a whole lot faster, the beach is overrated, and homes are so close together that you can see your neighbor’s kitchen through your living room window.
12. Minorities are a Majority
In most major US cities, you’ll find that there are a lot more minorities than you’d expect. Movies and television shows don’t quite accurately represent the actual diversity that most big cities have to offer. Sure, most small towns in the south and Midwest are still white majority, but cities like San Diego, Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco are so diverse that whites are actually the minority. This can be quite a big shock for foreign exchange students arriving in the US only to be hosted by perhaps a Filipino-American family. This, however, would be a true modern-day US experience.
11. We’re Obsessed with Fitness
Whether it’s Crossfit, yoga, MMA, bicycling or running marathons… you name the physical fitness activity, we’re into it. If you want to know the easiest way to get socially connected, join a Crossfit gym or yoga class. People here are so big on fitness that it’s not just a hobby, but a passion and way of life. In fact, it’s hip to wear your yoga tights out on your Saturday morning errands. And it’s not uncommon for Americans to pursue studies in fitness and later go on to become fitness trainers or even open up their own gyms and studios. It’s a successful career that is in quite high demand due to the popularity of physical fitness.
10. Eating Clean is Expensive
In other countries, eating clean is your only option because you probably have never heard of steroid-injected meat or non-organic fruits and vegetables. In the States, if you want to eat pure, organic foods that are free of artificial hormones and additives, you would have to shop at more expensive supermarkets such as Whole Foods, Jimbo’s, or Sprouts. With the growing trend in fitness, more Americans are also getting interested in vegan and gluten-free diets, and more mainstream stores and restaurants are offering organic selections. However, this usually means you have to spend a little extra. Otherwise, you can’t really know what’s been added to the ‘normal’ foods you’d buy.
9. Sports Fans Are Crazy AF
People here go crazy over sports. They really do. If you’ve never been to a football or baseball game before, you might be a little confused when there’s a Super Bowl or World Series going on. With tailgate parties and sports bars, you don’t even have to be at the game itself to see that fans go wild over sports. They get competitive, talk smack, scream and cry even if they’ve never even played the sport being represented. Sports fans are loyal and passionate, and they will sport their favorite player or team’s jersey at any time of the year.
8. Free Restrooms for Errbody
In most other countries, there’s no concept of public restrooms. You’d usually have to pay to use a dirty toilet. Here in the US, public restrooms are just about everywhere from the mall to freeway rest stops. You won’t have any trouble doing your business in private any time you need to. The best thing about them is that you don’t even have to pay to use them, and the second best thing is that they’re usually kept pretty clean. Some public restrooms that are owned by businesses like gas stations and restaurants aren’t technically opened to the public, but they’re free for customers to use.
7. No One Pays With Cash
It’s not unusual to stand in line behind a guy who’s paying $2.00 for a candy bar with his debit card. Sure, perhaps ten years ago this might have been seen as kind of odd. But nowadays, 99% of US stores have a credit card machine at the register. Therefore, people don’t really carry cash on them anymore. Using a card is extremely safe and accurate since you can log online at any time to check your statement balance and transaction history any time you want. That’s why people prefer to carry a card rather than cash, which they might lose or have a harder time tracking expenses.
6. Public Transportation Sucks Balls
You’ll quickly find that the overall public transportation system here isn’t the best. We certainly are no London, Tokyo, or Moscow when it comes to the metro. Only a handful of cities (NYC and DC) actually offer sufficient subway systems for getting around town. Taking a bus or train can make your commute twice as long, although they’re cheaper options. Otherwise, cabs, Uber, and Lyft rides here in the US can be extremely expensive. You’re better off getting a driver’s license (which is pretty easy to obtain) and buying a used car to get you around. You’ll save on both time and money.
5. Emergencies Are For Real
In Russia, people frequently hire ‘luxury cabs’ that look like ambulance vehicles to give them a ride in order to dodge traffic and get to wherever they want to go quicker. In China, people don’t move over for paramedics at all regardless of the lights and blaring. Neither of these applies in the US. Here, Americans are required to give flashing ambulances the right-of-way, or else they can be cited with a hefty fine. Also, it’s generally viewed as rude not to brake and move over for an ambulance. This is because ambulances and fire trucks typically tend to true emergencies.
4. Pets Are Family
In the US, people have an undying devotion to their pets. They dress them in real clothing, hire people to babysit and walk them, and even stroll them around the mall in fancy strollers. Pet hotels are pretty common and some pets eat better meals than humans do. If you want to be well-liked at work, all you need to do is tell everyone that you volunteer at the humane society every weekend. And unless you want to be an outcast, you better not reveal any pet allergies you might have. No, really. People will call in sick just to tend to their pets.
3. Families Don’t Live Together
In many other countries, you’ll find multiple families living under one roof. The family unit doesn’t just consist of the immediate family but also includes aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Here in the US, however, there is an overwhelming culture of independence. Children are expected to move out by the time they’re 18 and are taught at a young age to be independent. Babies typically sleep in separate rooms and rarely do siblings ever share a room. It’s actually more socially acceptable for you to sublet a room in a random stranger’s home than to live in your parent’s house where there are plenty of empty guestrooms.
2. You Can Return Just About Errthang
Customer service is at the heart of every successful US business. If you’re a paying customer, you’re treated like royalty because the customer is always right. Amazon and Target really take this to heart, and they are the two leading contenders that every other company tries to mimic. At Target, you can return just about anything for store credit if not cash. As long as they sell it, they’ll take it back. With Amazon, you can return just about anything via mail and sometimes they’ll even pick it up from your house. A purchase is never a commitment and there’s no shame in changing your mind and taking something back.
1. Military is Royalty
We fricken love our military. So much so that veterans and military families can get discounts at just about any restaurant, airline, theme park, and even on insurance policies. We can’t see an armed forces member in uniform without stopping to thank him/her for their service. We honor them at major celebrations, sports competitions, concerts, and parades. We send them care packages filled with snacks, clothing, and letters even if we don’t know them personally. The military here have their own holiday and rightfully so. We value and respect the fact that they’ve sacrificed their lives and time with their families to serve and protect the country we so love.
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