I went to the US in 2014. We landed in San Francisco and had to rent a car. We thought: “we’re in america, let’s rent a big car” So we rented a “big” car. Then we joined the I101 and we were the smallest car on the road… So with our redefined car we went to the Golden Gate Bridge but we were hungry. So we stopped at a diner. My brother ordered a burger and a small 7up. He got a liter of 7up. He wasn’t even halfway and the waitress came to ask if he’d like a free refill (!). To quantify the bigness would be an insult of the bigly bigness that is american lifestyle. Certainly a shock for me.
Strangers talked to me for no reason. I could be walking on the street and a total stranger would come up to me and say “nice jacket” or something similar.
In an interview with Yale News, Sterling Professor of Political Science, Ian Shapiro, said that the trust in politicians, parties, and democratic institutions has become eroded. The cause of this? The transfer of political power to the grassroots. As such, there has been a rise in divisive and populist politics in the US.
“Many people are concerned about the damage Trump has inflicted on America’s political institutions. What they are missing is that Trump is a product of bad political institutions. The main infirmity is that the United States has very weak political parties. They are weak because they are subject to control by unrepresentative voters on their fringes and those who fund them,” Shapiro said.
Teens addressing adults by their first name. When the school bus driver invited my 16-yo self to “just call him Dave” I had no idea what to do with myself. It just wouldn’t go through my throat.
Also, the over-the-top-friendliness in the service sector towards total strangers. Yeah, no wonder American’s think we’re gloomy and depressing, lol. The first time a shop assistant exclaimed “Hi!! How are you today??” looking as if the sun has just come into the store I had a minor panic attack because I thought we had met, she knew me and I was the asshole who forgot her. People criticize the American “fake friendliness” and the obligatory “fine” but I quite liked it if it wasn’t turned up to 11, made everything seem smoother.
I witnessed a mother opening several packs of sugar and sprinkle it in their kids Coca Cola. I’m still speechless.
I also can’t comprehend how people think private health insurance is a threat to their freedom or that private prisons could be a good idea.
Lastly, the gap in the toilet doors. WHY
My wife was shocked by all the open space, and how we horizontally fill much of it up with low, hastily built buildings. Strip malls and such. “It’s like you have more space than you know what to do with.” And it’s true!
She was also astonished that you can drive through dozens, sometimes even hundreds of miles of wild empty nothingness, with nothing but the road you’re driving on to indicate you’re still in civilization.
The Dutch redditor who created the thread in the first place shared their own experience with going to America for the very first time.
“I went to the US in 2014. We landed in San Francisco and had to rent a car. We thought, ‘We’re in America, let’s rent a big car.’ So we rented a ‘big’ car. Then we joined the I101 and we were the smallest car on the road… So with our redefined car, we went to the Golden Gate Bridge but we were hungry,” they wrote.
When I was a young child I went on holiday to Florida. I remember going to a museum and seeing a ‘non guns’ sign at the entrance. My mum has to explain to young me that in the US people regularly carried guns around, which blew my mind. Still does today.
Swiss are famous for the love of cheese and putting cheese on and in things, but America takes that to another level…even if the cheese is less good tasting. They think they have Swiss cheese, but what they call Swiss like a really sh*t version of Ementaller cheese. They are surprised that we have like 400+ kinds of cheese, none of which we call Swiss.
The water level in the toilets, I walked into 3 different cubicles in JFK that where all seemingly blocked, until I realised that in the states the water level in the toilets is much higher, like half the bowl, where as here in Europe theres just a bit of water at the bottom.
“So we stopped at a diner. My brother ordered a burger and a small 7 Up. He got a liter of 7 Up. He wasn’t even halfway and the waitress came to ask if he’d like a free refill (!). To quantify the bigness would be an insult of the bigly bigness that is the American lifestyle. Certainly a shock for me,” the redditor shared their experience and just how huge everything seemed once they arrived on the West Coast.
To be honest, the flag salut in school. I could not comprehend it. I had flashbacks to videos seen in history class…. Made me feel super uncomfortable.
We’ve been several times, but my first experience was when I was 15 and transiting through Houston to get back to the UK from visiting Mexico.
I think it was just the scale of everything that stuck with me at the time. We never left the airport, but the scale of the airport, the sheer size of everything (including the people I’m sorry to say) was enormous.
The size of the walkways, even the toilets were bigger. I was hungry so bought a slice of pizza, and I swear it was the size of a dinner-plate (although on reflection probably not).
I’ve gotten used to it over repeated trips and it doesn’t phase me anymore – but the US certainly takes ‘bigger is better’ to the extreme.
All my USA visits were for business purpose so I can only tell how insanely toxic is US working environment.
also as someone born and grown behind iron curtain, young stupid me idealised USA as country of freedom not as a country where people like to all aspects of their lives to be dictated and policed. The number of arrests in the US every year is something completely absurd to me.
and one more thing, I was told I should follow some urinal etiquette which means use every second one for no reason but I don’t know if that was real or some sort of joke against me.
Plenty of people have heard a lot about American culture without having delved into the culture firsthand because of how prolific movies, TV shows, books, video games, and other forms of media from the US are. So it’s only natural that some individuals have a skewed understanding of how things in American society work, basing a lot of their knowledge on stereotypes.
How divided everything is. There are only extremes, no in between. I thought this was mostly the case on the internet.
On the drive from the in Florida airport I saw an “the NRA is a terrorist organization” billboard right next to one advertising semi automatic (assault) rifles.
I was also surprised how many churches there were in rural Florida. Most seemed to have advertising unlike anything here in Europe. Some seemed to wage war against each other.
Americans are very aggressive drivers. Courtesy for fellow motorists seems to not exist. Everyone everywhere goes considerably over the posted speed limit, even when police are present. I never figured out what the rush was or the reason for the “me first” attitude when driving. Perfectly friendly people turn into raving lunatics behind the wheel.
But in reality, the United States is such a huge country that it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that even Americans can experience culture shock. Somebody going from the West Coast to the East Coast or from Texas to Minnesota might encounter a host of differences. Though one doesn’t have to travel far: just going to a metropolis or visiting the countryside is enough to show you that the way that you live might not be the norm elsewhere.
The country is vast and covers many different climates and biomes, yet it is also shockingly the same. One can be at the Wal-Mart in Juneau Alaska or Portland Maine and see the same products. The plazas contain the same stores, with only some regional variation. It is really weird how similar the feel of it all is…even when the people and landscape are different.
In general, low price seems to be favored over high quality. An American will buy a 10 USD shovel a dozen times in his life.
Americans are shockingly open and friendly. It is terrifying at first. The generally are lovely, but I can see why they think we are cold. It took me years to understand things like small talk between strangers. Many times when I first arrived I thought people might be mentally ill, cult members, or trying to set me up for a crime. lol.
Like other countries, the US is multifaceted. You’re as likely to find someone who’s willing to give you the shirt off their backs as someone who’s rude to you. Incredibly wealthy and startlingly poor? Check. Socially backwards (which can mean drastically different things depending on your point of view, of course) while also incredibly progressive/traditional? Double-check. It’s a country of contrasts. Like most (if not all) nations are.
The feeling that everyone is out to squeeze you for just one more dollar. Granted, I’ve mostly visited touristy cities (NYC, Miami, LA, San Francisco, Las Vegas), so it might be different in more rural/less touristy areas, but it was all sorts of small things which built up to this feeling, and it made me more wary when I encountered people who seemed friendly, because I’d automatically assume they just wanted money from me. And pretty much everything came with a prize tag. So weird to drive into a national park and paying at a booth to enter.
Nonetheless, there are certain features that make America, well, America. Founded on the ideas of liberty and justice for all, the United States very much values freedom of thought and expression, as well as the drive and ambition to succeed. After all, the pilgrims who were some of the first colonists escaped England because they were persecuted for their religion.
I saw more obese and morbidly obese people than I ever had seen before in my life. Literally, before I visited NYC, I think I only once or twice saw a morbidly obese person.
The prices not including tax so you never know how much you’re gonna pay because you can’t multiply by 1.08875 in your head
However, that’s not to say that there’s no conformity in the US. Quite the opposite. It’s a very human part of our nature to seek out those who think like us, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that in America speaking out (especially on polarizing topics) isn’t always met with respectful listening.
Extremely dirty and old public infrastructure – NY subway feels unsafe to use at times, some of the stations look like they’re collapsing any minute now
Extreme friendliness to you when you’re a customer. Too much in my opinion, it made me feel uneasy
So many whackos around. People just standing in the middle of the pavement with a huge “Jesus is coming” sign or similar
Friendly yet fierce, incredibly individualistic but still very tribal. That’s the US for you, representing some of the best and some of the worst qualities of the human experience. But what do you think, dear Pandas? What’s your experience with America and Americans been like?
My experience was that Americans act or seem to be more friendly and personal. But it always feels like they don’t actually mean it. Don‘t get me wrong, I met great people in the US. But Europeans, especially Germans, seem to be more reserved at first or second contact.
Educational system sucks and is made to print money and throw the youth under the debt bus. Professions that don’t make any sense to spend years in uni for (nurse for example) instead of doing an apprenticeship course.
Extremely sad to see people freak out about having to get medical attention and/or illness at work. Also going through the trouble of verifying my travel insurance indeed cover me in the states. I have been less concerned going into literal war zones.
On the first night of my first trip to the USA we ended up in a restaurant where pretty much all the customers openly carried handguns. That was quite shock.
One thing that still seems to surprise me on every trip is the amount of open space once you leave the cities. Drive an hour from any city and you’re pretty much in the middle of nowhere.
For me a very strange thing was that in the USA people share pizzas, I was with a group of US friends and they looked at me very strangely because I ordered my personal pizza, then I realized that everybody share their And it’s not common, since In Italy everybody have their own (only in rare circumstances like when ‘meters of pizza’ are purchased) I seemed rude but you know, I want my own pizzas ! Also tips, I needed 5-7 days to realize that it’s rude to pay ‘just’ the normal amounts in a restaurant
In hotel rooms: We didn’t watch a lot of TV, but when we did, I was very taken aback by the amount of commercials. I watched Cartoon Network as a kid and I remember the screen faded to black and immediately back to whatever I watched like every 10 minutes maybe (usually during an exciting part, for dramatic effect). I realized those blackouts were meant for commercials, but my home country didn’t do that.
And also commercials for booze. And just in general the intensity of them. Some were hilarious though.
The need to do math at 2 AM in the morning while drunk to settle the bill. I don’t want to stiff anybody for their earnings, but sales tax really adds to the confusion
Having to say the ”Pledge of allegiance“ every single day, not gonna lie I found that really strange because it kinda gave off North Korea vibes to me, that’s just something that would be unheard of in German schools
The streets were generally wayyy more dirty and filthy than they are in Europe, and the amount of homeless people were downright depressing. Also the sizes of everything you ordered from restaurants were completely unhuman lol. Also the inefficiency was surprising, you could easily spend half an hour queueing in shops or supermarkets, even though there weren’t even that many costumers
A single coffee is like a liter and yet there’s barely any coffee in it.
The open and friendly mentality of the people. People were always helpful and polite. Being a 15 y.o. teenager and called “sir” by the people felt very good 😀
In clubs, partying, women would come up to you and start a conversation. Happened 0 times in 15 years of adulthood in Europe. Happened several times a night every time I was out in California.
As a German the patriotism is very scarry. I worked in a camp for kids in the woods of North East and the first thing we did in the morning was to gather at the flag and sing the anthem. Every morning! I can’t even remember when I sang the Germany anthem the last time?! One time the boys of my group, who were the oldest group in camp, randomly stud up after lunch and started singing the anthem again. All the kids joined in and after they were finished the chanted “USA USA…” And hit on the tables in rythm. I sat there with a guy from South Africa and we both were paralyzed. I guess for someone with a history that made it necessary to reflect critically on patriotism the American patriotism is super scary.
How religious the US is. Pretty much everyone attended a church and the churches were a big part of everyone’s life. Weekly attendance was a thing. One of my teachers was very progressive (gay democrat philosophy phd literature teacher in a Bush worshipping area) and he was asked by his students about which church he attended. I felt that was weird thing to ask in the first place.
I knew the public transit was pretty bad in most cities, but I didn’t realize to what extent. I went to Orlando FL and stayed in the suburbs (not even that far out though) and the nearest public transport stop for getting to the city center was almost a 2h walk
Homeless and drugs ins the street, it is incredible.
I feel like this is a deeply splitted society, either you serve or you are served. Or you die in the street.
Bagged milk. Who puts milks in bags?! I knew that the canadians did it, but apparently the cheese eating Wisconsinites are part of this madness as well!
Said it before, and I’ll say it again. The gaps in toilet stalls.
I’d heard of them before I visited but they still shocked me. Literally like 2cm of space between the partitions, for literally zero reason at all. People can look right into the stall. Goodbye privacy! Why? Whyyyyyy? Baffling.
The sheer amount of advertising and open display of patriotism felt very odd to me.
A/C. I visited New York in the summer, going from the hot streets and subway stations to the freezing indoors was a shock in its own right.
The sheer distance between everything and the fact that most americans consider an 8 hour drive no big deal
How hard it is to walk in smaller cities. Everything is designed around cars. Want to go to the mall across the street? There’s a 6 lane road, good luck crossing that! If you somehow manage to do it, you still have to cross a gigantic parking lot that is like 10% full.
The weirdest thing for me were houses. They were, like huge, even in middle class people, with a huge front yard no one used but had to be perfect and tiny tiny backyard for the family. It was just a waste of space for me: you buy a land and use only a small part on it. Why a so big front yard?
Everything is sugary and sweet. I swear even bread was sugary instead of salty.
The portion sizes. The price of petrol is ridiculous.
The friendliness and openness of people. Visited the south and everyone talked, some invited me over. The curiosity and enthusiasm of people overwhelmed me haha.
I went to Miami for a day when I was 11. I was just so shocked and disgusted by the slums, the country acts like they’re so far ahead but their poverty is indescribable. Every country has their poor and underdeveloped areas, but holy crap man. Miami gave my system a shock.
I went for the first time in 1999, to Washington DC, it was the first time I had ever seen truly obese people, I grew up in Ireland and yes we had some overweight people but nothing comparable.
The poverty. I had been to the US a lot, but always along the costal cities. Sure, I saw homeless people around LA and New York, but I’ve seen homeless people in Sweden too and figured it probably had to do with addiction or mental illness. Then a couple of years ago I decided to travel across the US. I started in Los Angeles, then Nevada and then just moved on throughout the southern parts of the country. There were places that looked like a third world country. Homes barely holding together, people with dirty clothes, just horrible horrible poverty that I’ve never ever seen in a developed country before.
So many overweight people. I’ll see more alarmingly obese people in 15 minutes in an American airport than in a year living in Amsterdam
The loudspeaker announcements about how much we love the soldiers. What the hell? It sounds so fascist.
The vehicles are really big and most people are driving the kind of heavy truck/van mashups that normally I only see for the king’s motorcade or something. How can they afford all that fuel?
I went there for a semester and had to attend a bunch of sexual harassment education classes before classes started. Seemed like a way bigger cultural problem than in Europe.
The size of drinks in fast food restaurants is crazy, we were in Florida driving from Miami to Orlando and we stopped on the way to eat in Wendy’s, I got a medium Coke and when it came I was shocked, it was literally the size of a bucket, it just goes to show why the obesity problem is so bad in the US.
Imperial measurement system. For a whole month I had to google convert everything to metric. A year later, I joined the military and most American Vehicles in our army were are using imperial measurement system and to this day this is something that annoys me
I experienced the biggest culture shock when my uncle and I went to get money at a drive through ATM. That’s when I realized that Americans truly do anything with their cars
The prices. Deals were extreme. Like you would get 12 donuts for the price of 2.5 single ones. I didnt want to overpay for a single donut, but i couldnt eat 12. So i didnt bought anything.
Healthy stuff was 2x-3× the price Im used to. Unhealthy stuff was half the price.
I was not shocked but surprised how dirty the public buildings (like airport) were and how low-quality (doors, floors, windows) everything in buildings (including plumbing and electric installations in private buildings). Sizes in general weren’t as large as i had expected, especially cars were much smaller than I thought.
How large/big everything is. Wide roads, enormous interchanges, food/drink portion sizes (!), cars bigger than tractors at home
When you’re sitting down in a diner, somebody will constantly top up your glass with icy water. I mean thanks but it was December!
I was in San Francisco with my family a few years ago. At some point we stopped in a Hard Rock Cafe and I ordered what I thought would be a small brownie, and I got probably a dozen of brownies mashed into the biggest cup I’ve ever seen, along with a crap load of ice cream and chocolate on top; even by sharing it with everyone we didn’t finished it, and it was the same everywhere.
The size of the meals over there is ridiculous. Also the distance you can travel before finding any sign of life freaked me out a bit at first.
Next time went to Nashville, entirely different story. Biggest difference I noticed was traffic and transportation. So many cars, huuuge parking lots everywhere, virtually impossible to get anywhere on foot or by bus. And the hotel was something that could never happen in Europe either.
There’s this fast food chain, called Sonic. It’s basically a drive-in restaurant. Looks like a gas station, where you order from screens where the gas pumps would be. You get your order delivered to your car, where you eat it. It’s not a drive through, you stay in the parking lot, you just don’t need to leave your car for a single moment.
How difficult it actually is/how much knowledge is required just to not get fat
The size of the portions was the most obvious culture shock, we were there with my mum and my then teenage brother who ate a lot. But on the second day we stopped ordering three portions and asked for two with an extra plate because we were absolutely unable to finish them.
I havent been to an American airport that didnt suck. Also the queue to get through customs is a joke.
How strangely old fashioned the lorries/trucks looked compared to European ones. Very strange to see them chugging around NYC with their massive bonnets.
For a car centric country I found the roads to be bad (California / Nevada / Arizona). Even the worst countries in Europe are reasonable compared to there. The first trip in the rental car I thought the car was broken, but it was the highway.
The taxi driver asking me, a student driving to a cheap ass motel to stay over the night and earning 1/10 of his salary, to give him a tip after paying $40 for a taxi drive 15 minutes away from the airport.
On our last trip to the US, our car rental didn’t have the car we had pre-booked available anymore.
They asked if a brand new Dodge Viper would be ok.
YES, IT IS VERY MUCH OKAY, said we, with the excitement of the innocent.
…and then we had to drive at speed limits of 60 and 70mph (~95 and 110Kph), on loooong straight streches of open road 😢.
Why. Why deposit such a toy unto our hands if you’re not allowed to drive faster than a dying slug. WHY
Depends on what state. In California i was surprised at how many homeless there were and that we couldn’t drink the tap water. In Tennessee i was surprised how involved parents were in their kids lives. Even after turning 18 they are still considered kids as long as they live with their parents. It’s like “as long as you live under our roof you will follow our rules”. I also noticed how present the cops are everywhere
Went to Chicago and was brought to a deep dish pizza place. We ordered a starter, it was breaded chicken and a gigantic portion of fries. Couldn’t believe it. Barely made it through a slice of the pizza. My friend boxed up the leftovers, put them in the fridge. On Friday her and her husband would eat all the leftovers from the week.
Fat wildlife everywhere was sad, junk food pouring out of bins.
Amazing nature but cafes everywhere. Getting donuts at the top of pikes peak. Employee says ‘we had to get a special donut fryer because of the altitude, they won’t cook properly in a regular one’. Why get a special fryer though?!
Went to Florida for 3 weeks. Asked for directions to a certain mall at the hotel. They said it’s 2 miles up the road. I ask for the closest sidewalk (as they are far from standard) that could take me there and they look at me like I’m an idiot.
Receptionist: You can’t walk there, its 2 miles! Me: Yes, and the sun is shining, what’s the problem? Receptionist: But it’s really far! Me: You said it was 2 miles, which means 3,2km to me, or did I get the conversion wrong? Receptionist: I dont know kilometers but I know it’s too far to walk to the mall! Me: Okay. I’ll try it and I’ll tell you if it killed me.
Had a nice stroll and came back after a nice day out and about, she looked absolutely astounded
I am 30 years old,look older. Went to a pub after work, dressed smart as your average office worker. Still got asked for an ID when I ordered a beer. Felt so awkward.
I guess just how grey and industrial everything looked and felt. All those buildings towering over me like that was just so intimidating. I mean, I have seen it all in movies and shows of course, but those just can’t convey exactly how it feels to actually be there.
All the waste and no concern for the environment. It really irks me.
And how the ‘greed is good’ mantra has taught many people how they shouldn’t give a sh*t about others.
Police are the rudest and most aggressive I have experienced anywhere in the world (and I say this as someone who’s dealt with some famously prickly regimes). I go up to ask directions and they put their hand on their gun. If I have more than a single question they are basically telling me to back off and move along. I always read about conflicts between American police and citizens; with that attitude, no wonder it’s a problem.
Tipping is so annoying and I hate the fake friendliness that waiters put on. Americans are already nice enough, we shouldn’t have to pay them to pretend to be even nicer
How massive the roads were and the fact that lane discipline does not exist. Ordinary roads with six lanes which is basically a motorway in the UK. The lack of roundabouts and everything built on a grid means you have to stop at a four way junction every couple of hundred metres. People waiting when the lights have turned green. In UK, if it’s green you go.
The thing I found really weird about dating was that people would have the “conversation”. So you could just being dating/having-sex with multiple people, but until you had the “conversation” there was no indication of monogamy. This was in the early 2000s so perhaps things have changed.
I found the American attitude to sex much less romantic in some ways, which had it’s positive and negative aspects. Of course, this is generalising over a huge country from a very small sample.
The amount of “fakeness” from people in the service industry: waiters, receptionists, bar staff, store employees etc
Everyone greets you with a fixed totally artificial smile, they speak in standard scripts, everything will be “their pleasure” and they will do it “for you”. You just feel they are acting out a part but actually not listening to what you say and they certainly never do any of the things they promise. You just wish (a) they would start acting like human beings rather than pre-programmed service bots and (b) they would treat you like an actual human being rather than a visiting emperor.
The tap water tasted like pool water, that’s how much chlorine there was in it. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the water from a drinking fountain tasted the same, I’d have thought that it wasn’t drinkable.
Our waitress in the 230-FIFTH Bar in Manhattan INSULTED us (“jerks!”) when we declined to tip her because the service was really bad. She actually came running after us (“Guys, you forgot the tip!”), when my friend turned around and told her: “30 minutes no service: no tip”. I’ve never seen a waiter/waitress being pissed, but she was so pissed and had us almost thrown out after calling us names.
That there seemed to be no normal restaurants like we have in Europe. It was either fast food or an expensive restaurant where you have to make a reservation.
Distance. No, you can’t drive from NY to Florida for the weekend. A flight to California lasts about as long as your flight from Europe.
My biggest shock was how small the statue of liberty was because when I saw it on TV I thought it would look completely different. Also beaches in California are not filled with models that will make you feel like you are in heaven. Of course dress code in Walmart or shops in general and morbid obesity. Also seeing an automatic rifle being carried by someone.
The blatant every day racism.
Like, I knew Americans were racist but it was just soo blatant and disgusting.
Washing machines in the freaking kitchen, mixing food and detergents in the same room, and not even thinking about that as something bad.