16 People On Things They Couldn’t Believe About America Until They Moved Here

An article I was pointed to by a friend. Apparently derived from responses on a site called Quora, which requires registration (through Google or Facebook, IIRC) to actually read, so this is nice for those of us who don’t want to do that. :stuck_out_tongue:

Interesting stuff; there are some definite patterns and commonalities between responses. I’d love to teach a class or run a website explaining some of these to foreigners (in terms of origin and why it makes sense in the American perspective).

Anyone in the same situation got others to add?

I used to work from a woman from Russia

her biggest surprise was that we label our government buildings.

Also that people make fun of the president, even on TV.

Even after being in America for years her husband still did the grocery shopping because he just loved looking at all the produce.

Do people in the US actually refer to the President as “The President of the United States” because every time I hear that on TV it makes me wonder what other president they might otherwise have been referring to. We just say “The Prime Minister” and no one thinks we’re speaking of any other PM than our own.

It was refreshing to see all the positives. The US isn’t a joke- we have problems but we do a lot right. It was nice to read some of the appreciative comments, like how we can always go back for more education and get advanced degrees in fields unrelated to original college majors. My sis was an engineer and got her PhD in cancer epidemiology.

Nope. In my experience, you rarely hear the full title except in heraldic sorts of announcements at official events or in the context of foreign affairs when presidents of other countries might be under discussion. In conversation, you’re more likely to hear him referred by his last name, as “the President”, or even as “the Prez”.

Thanks. I thought it might have been a TV-ism but wasn’t sure.

Yes, you really do hear “the President of the United States” as well as just “the President”. Why, I don’t know, and I’ve never though about it until you just brought it up. Maybe it’s just a quirk?

ETA: I’d like to point out that balance and I are in two very different parts of the US.

I find it intriguing that some things come up in more than one person’s list (cashless society, people not staying with their relatives when visiting them.)

This is true. It’s possible that the prevalence of the less-formal forms is more of a southern regionalism. Still, do people really say that mouthful often when referring to the President up there? Or is it mostly when they’re referring to the office, rather than its current holder? I have encountered the latter here from time to time, usually in a statement drawing an unflattering contrast between the two.

I remember when I visited Thailand a few years back. I would always set the shower to pure cold; it was lukewarm, and a welcome reprieve from the pervasive heat. I live in Canada; if you try to take a pure cold shower here during winter, it will hurt your bones.

Teenagers and young adults often believe that Americans are much more sexually promiscuous than they really are. Someone on another board told a story about an exchange student at her high school who came here mainly because he thought U.S. high schools were like nonstop orgies. He was quite disappointed.


I find that when most people in my area are referring to the sitting president they will use his last name only. Rarely, they will say “President _________,” and it’s more likely to be in a formal setting or in a classroom. If they are referring to the political office they will say The President or the full title The President of the United States.

A couple expressed surprise that credit cards were so prevalent and not debit cards. I think the mistake there is that debit cards and credit cards look exactly the same. They can also both be used with either a signature or a PIN. I find it impossible to know what the person in front of me is using unless I’m looking very closely (which I don’t.) I use a debit card every day and no one bats an eye.

It’s definitely easy to forget how big our country is. My daughter is at a college 6 hours away. She’s still in the same state.

Also, I’d like to see someone from another country drive the freeways around here slower than 75 and not fall asleep. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover! I was super excited when they raised the speed limits. Hallelujah!

Just today my friend told me he really liked the president. He brought it up kind of out of the blue so I said, you mean President Obama or the president of your company? He meant the president of the company he works for.

The office Mr Obama currently holds is definitely our most famous president, but we have lots more random presidents than other countries have prime ministers. Not that it’s often hard to tell in context…

Not that I’ve ever heard. I have only heard them referred to as the President or by their last names (Kennedy, Nixon, Clinton).

I used to live over a youth hostel, so talked with lots of young foreigners passing thru. One hilarious conversation I had with people involved obesity, fitness, and portion sizes all at once - basically, lots of them had the idea that all Americans eat too much. The thin Americans all worked out, the fat Americans didn’t, but nobody - in their opinions - was consuming less than 4000 calories a day.

US television does make the US deceptively small - there’s NYC, LA, Chicago, a few other places mentioned, but the assumption is they’re all fairly close to each other since tv shows mention people traveling between them all the time. Two girls from Australia were going cross-country from California to New York, and they were blown away by how huge the US is, and how empty. They thought being from Oz they knew big and empty, but the US put it on another scale, especially the southwest. (Ironically, one of them married a guy here and moved to Texas).

Root beer - seriously, no other country seems to get root beer.

One of the items in #10: “No jaywalking. At least not in Seattle, no matter how empty the street.”

I noticed the same thing last year when I was in Seattle. It certainly doesn’t apply to Chicago, Washington DC, or any of the smaller cities I’ve lived in/near. I think they actually give tickets to jaywalkers in Seattle.

This is the one thing I hear again and again.

A Chinese coworker was astonished at the amount of food at the local grocery store, like almost to the point of tears. He also asked in all sincerity why no one caught and ate the fish from the retention pond outside the factory we were engineers at. We pointed out that the water never froze even in the winter (seems suspicious, no?) and that we (the factory) buy thousands of gallons of industrial machining coolant every month but you never see anyone hauling the old stuff away…

Likewise my Japanese in-laws were aghast at the size of the groceries and the vast selection of produce and meat. I never really understood until I visited Japan. At least in Akita shopping is done almost daily and at small shops. They won’t have everything under the sun but you can be pretty sure that what they do have was good quality and probably locally grown.
They did complain that they didn’t see things they were familiar with, so we brought them to Mitsuwa and they were happy again :slight_smile:

Even my German and Jamaican neighbors agreed that the huge American supermarkets were just silly in their eyes.

LOL - this one too :smiley:
We live in Chicago. My in-laws wanted to pop over to the grand canyon on a weekend. They thought we could just drive it. I had to show them a map and say “see California? That’s roughly the size of Japan - (pointing) this is Chicago, and this is the grand canyon, see the distances involved?”

HAHA - more root beer for me! Diet root beer from Publix when available, of course.

The answers were very eye-opening about how Americans are perceived, b/c this was about how Americans appear to others, not necessarily what’s completely factual. It’s how they look in the media that’s shown in other countries as well as how they’re seen by people from elsewhere when in the States. When it comes down to it perception really is everything; how Americans are understood to be is how they are, even if it isn’t exactly how they are.
The Russian scoffing at philanthropy I’ve run into in my own Russian friends; ‘wasting your money, why would you do such a stupid thing’, yet they’re very generous w/ things they can do or make and don’t get the connection when I point it out. “I **know **you! Them I don’t know.”

This was a source of frustration to me. At the hostel, you’d meet people that would get very annoyed if you made cultural assumptions about them based on books or movies set in their country, but the stuff they knew about America from similar sources was gospel. :rolleyes: