11 things to know about American culture before moving to the United States
Coming to the United States? Not sure what to expect? Well, buckle up and get ready for a weird and thrilling ride through the land of the grown-ups. Here you will find the Elyos delight of bottomless soda machines. The amazing spray cheese experience. You’ll walk through the aisles of the biggest supermarkets you’ve ever seen, while eating take-out burgers and drinking venti coffees. You will wear sweaters in the summer and you will always be too cold because the air conditioning is always set to “cool”.
In this article, we’ll go over 11 of the oddities you can expect to find as a new immigrant to the United States.
Walking down the street of an American city, you might notice, here and there, a pedestrian eater – a person waving at a taxi (or Uber) while devouring a pizza. You might also notice people at your local coffee shop leaving with giant mugs — mugs larger than the average face — filled to the brim with complicated coffees. You’ll notice these things because many Americans — rather than sitting down and enjoying their vanilla latte with 2 pumps of mocha, fat-free, steamed, more sugar — will take their food (or drink ) to take away.
And even if they take a moment to sit down and eat, they can ask the server for a “doggie bag,” a specially designed receptacle for leftovers. No meal is wasted in the United States of America, that is, unless you leave it in the bottom of your extra large American fridge for weeks. But this is another story.
Big, big, bigger!
You may have heard that in the United States things are just bigger. Sometimes unnecessarily. Some supermarkets look more like airplane hangars than grocery stores. You can walk into a Walmart and think you’ve seen it all. But then you will find a Costco. And no one is ready for a Costco.
But it’s not just the stores. Meals are often served in generous portions. The coffee cups are larger than necessary. Trucks, hummers, jeeps. Automobiles are, in general, much larger than in other parts of the world. There is no way around it. For better or for worse, things are going very well in the United States.
Is the bread sweeter?
Yes. Apparently in the United States the bread is sweeter and sweeter than in other parts of the world. This is simply because consumer breads are made very quickly. With rapid rolling, the loaves don’t get a chance to fully ferment, which means less flavor. Manufacturers add sugar and salt to mask this total lack of taste. The high sugar content led an Irish judge to conclude that Subway bread is legally not bread. But don’t worry, you should be able to find some good, tasty bread at the local bakery.
Must love dogs (or cats or any other pets)
Americans love their pets and consider them part of the family. They dress them up for Halloween (or just because), take them out drinking, and include them in work calls. Nearly 70% of Americans own a pet, and that number continues to grow.
If you’re new to the United States, having a pet can be a great way to meet new people. Take your dog to the local dog park and start bonding with the best grain-free kibble.
Lots of flags
In many countries, an event with flags can be a worrying affair, as nationalistic pride — what many in the United States call patriotism — is often associated with the history (and very current issue) of fascism. In the United States, however, flags are on everything. You can see them on houses, on top of city buildings, at large (or small) public events, in front of restaurants. So just because there’s a flag in front of a building doesn’t mean it’s the Pentagon. It could also be a restaurant.
Vacation? Which holiday ?
Other parts of the world recognize the need for time off. It’s time to refresh and reflect. Time for you, your friends, your family. Not in the United States. Excluding sick leave and paid vacation, people working in the American private sector have an average of 10 days of paid vacation after 1 year of work. And in 2017, 52% of people in the United States used only part of their vacation days.
This is very different from countries like Brazil, where workers have 30 days of vacation per year. But remember that different companies have different rules, so you might find one with a more lenient holiday policy.
Would you like some ice cream with that?
No one ever asks that question in the United States. They just put ice in your drink.
In many countries, cold drinks are not necessarily filled with ice. In the United States, on the other hand, it is a different story. If you don’t want ice in a cold drink, you’ll probably have to ask the server to skip the frozen water. But if you like lots of ice cream, you’ll be on cloud 9.
Pancakes at 3:00? No problem
Ok, so you might not find a place for 3 a.m. pancakes in literally every part of the United States, but in many cities it’s very easy to find a restaurant that’s open all night. You might find a 24-hour restaurant with a 30-page menu, or you might be in New York, where the bars never seem to close. You might also find the random food truck serving late night clubbers. If you’ve ever thought “gosh, I really wish I could stuff my face with greasy food after midnight”, then you’re in for a treat.
Not many trains
The United States is a car-centric country. Even the vast New York City subway isn’t as comprehensive or user-friendly as other rail systems around the world. Public transit, in general, is lacking in the United States. Over the past 65 years, the United States has spent about $10 trillion on roads and highways, but only $2.5 trillion on public transit and railroads. But if you find yourself in cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago or Washington DC, you can still get around without a car.
Americans like to stick to their schedule
You might find exceptions to this rule, but in general, people in the United States are serious about their punctuality. Not arriving on time for a meeting (whether formal or informal) could be considered an affront or, at the very least, could be a cause for annoyance. why is this the case? Hard to say for sure, but it may have something to do with the work culture in the United States. As we spend a lot of time at work, there is little free time left for leisure. Wasting this extra time could therefore be perceived as a lack of respect.
Tip your server
In many parts of the world, servers receive a relatively substantial hourly wage, making tipping virtually unnecessary. But in the United States, servers can earn as little as $2.00 per hour, before taxes. So, without tipping, waiters might go home empty-handed.
Not tipping your server is therefore considered disrespectful, so you’ll want to make sure you collect (at least) 15% to 20% of the total, for tipping. Outside of restaurants, customs are less simple. A good rule of thumb is: if you have the ability to tip, you most likely should tip.