Commonplace Cultural Differences 3: USA All the Way

I’ve recently returned from a two-week sojourn in the USA. I’d never been before, though it did feel like I had because everything looked familiar from all the TV and pop culture I’ve ingested over the years. (Honestly, I walked around a mall seeing shops and finally getting jokes I’d never got before. I was like Captain America once unfrozen, saying ‘I understand that reference.’) My observations are perhaps more specific to the areas I visited – rural NY state, Ohio and Michigan – and obviously based off me being British, but still…

eagle_murica_da1

Yes. Buckle up.

Stuff they do well

  • Tags on bread bags. The little plastic doodads actually keep the packaging in place, unlike the allegedly-sticky tags we use in the UK.
  • Free refills. I approve.
  • Doggy bags. It should be more socially acceptable in the UK to ask for a box to take your leftovers home. Admittedly, our portion sizes are usually smaller than those I was given in the US, but it’s good to have the option, and I’m always a fan of having leftovers for the next day.
  • I can buy booze at a chemist (drugstore)? Self medication has never been easier!
  • You seem to have a better selection of stuff I like on Netflix.
  • Your robins and general small birds are cute.
  • Northern-England levels of talkativeness. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I didn’t anticipate random conversations with friendly strangers who weren’t trying to sell me something.
  • Custard. After being told all last year that it’s this cold thing like icecream, not like the British hot sauce, I finally tried some. Pretty good. And if you find any lumps in it, it’s because you ordered a flavour that has bits.
  • IHOP
  • Cheesecake factory.
  • Good shop sign boards. At a car wash: “Don’t get caught riding dirty.” Restaurant: “Grills gone wild!” Church: “THIS IS YOUR SIGN FROM GOD.” Fast food place: “Give me liberty and give me pie!”

Stuff done less well

  • Beer. Don’t get me wrong, I had some excellent craft beers while abroad, but everything was rather carbonated, and cold. Essentially, I was just a little unhappy that your beers made me burpy.
  • Being allowed to turn at junctions when the red light is against you. As a pedestrian, this just freaked me out. Red light means stop, right? No? You can menacingly edge towards me in your tank of a car as long as you don’t cross the crossing line? Ok, that’s not unnerving at all. Patience is a virtue, guys.
  • You can buy beer at drugstores? Isn’t that a bit sketchy?
  • We all know the stereotype of proud ‘MURICANS! But, coming from a country which on the whole doesn’t really go in for flag waving, the sheer extent of your national pride is slightly unnerving in the flesh. You have a lot of flags. And pics of eagles. And bumper stickers with questionable politics.

freedom intensifies

  • “Still working on that food?” “Working? No, I was enjoying it, but if you think what you serve is a chore to eat, then that’s not a great advert.”
  • Terrifyingly powerful toilet flushes. Also toilets with overzealous movement sensors, which flush every time you slightly move, thus making you jump, and so setting it off again, in a never ending cycle of noise and water wastage.
  • Cops carrying guns. Just not used to this and it always makes me hella uncomfortable.
  • MILK IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THAT SWEET. What the hell? Was the cow raised on candyfloss?
  • Waitress: “I love your accent, you’re so posh!” Me: “Eh? You’ve never met a Geordie before, have you pet?”
  • No, I haven’t met the Queen either. (I have met her daughter, but that’s another story and beside the point.)

QE2 colonials

Stuff that is just different

  • Polite football fans. I went to an American Football game in Canada and all the fans were rather polite. This could be a Canadian thing, but the chants the Americans I was with were more supportive than anything: “go team! Come on! Let’s do this! Good play! Bad call ref!” Meanwhile, I’m used to British football fans and trying to restrain myself from screaming “c’mon man, kick his teeth in! Ref’s a f—— w—–! Take him down! T— the stupid b——,” etc. (Apologies to my parents, they did raise me better than that.)
  • No stinging nettles. This is a good thing, but disconcerting for a girl who grew up being wary of all plants at calf level.
  • Everything is so far apart, I can understand why you have to drive everywhere. Like, I knew the place was big but the sheer distance between amenities was a surprise.
  • Dramatic adverts! Shouting Car Excitement! Burgers in Explosions! HAVE YOU BEEN INJURED AT WORK/WHILE EATING A BURGER/WALKING AWAY FROM AN EXPLOSION?
  • Scare-mongering adverts for medical insurance. My NHS-loving, socialist sensibilities are tingling.
  • An entire isle of BBQ sauces at a supermarket.
  • You have no kettles. I don’t understand. How…? I mean, I get that you don’t go for tea, unless you’re dropping it in a harbour, but you can use kettles to make coffee, hot chocolate and suchlike. I’ll give that your coffee machines are good, though. The few kettles I did glimpse were all stovetop ones like my grandma used to use in the 1950s. Nawww.
  • Flags. Everywhere. Admittedly I was visiting over the 4th July, but on the 30th, during a 2 hour drive I counted 191 flags on homes, lampposts and suchlike. Your national pride is impressive, yet terrifying.

Anyway, flippancy aside, I had a fantastic trip. You keep doing you, America.

 

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