Non-US Dopers: What Do You Wish You'd Been Warned About Before You Came Here?

Here is an interesting article (loosely translated from Russian) that warns Russian travelers of some pitfalls to avoid when visiting the US: http://www.mentalfloss.com/article/54461/4-russian-travel-tips-visiting-america

I’m curious: as a non-Murkin, what are some things that happen (or don’t happen) in the US that you wish you’d been warned about before you came here to visit? Or that you had been warned about, and whether or not the warning was accurate?

I’ll begin with a little background.
I completed my undergraduate degree in the US (Central PA) and after a few years of work outside the US, I’ve come back to pursue a post-graduate degree in Washington, DC. Before college, I was in a mostly English speaking environment so I speak “accent-less” American English. I am of Asian descent.

I wish I had been warned about how unabashedly racist many Americans are.

The usual “what kind of Asian are you?” and its variations don’t really bother me. I’m curious too when I meet other Asians.
What does bother me is offhand comments about kung fu, small penis if they think they can get away with it (i.e. outnumber me), how attractive they find Asian women or how many they’ve slept with (hey I like White chicks too, but I don’t feel the need to tell you about it). Apparently it’s a-ok to condescend to Asians. Hey, someone needs to put me in my place I guess.
What was also disturbing is all the anti-Black shit people would say when they thought it was “safe” to do so.
I also got called a ‘spic’ by a pickup truck speeding past, which was more strange than offensive I guess.
The above was mostly during undergrad in Central PA.

In DC, thankfully I’m in a more “grown-up” environment but on the streets I’m tempted to think random incidents of harassment, rudeness and mean-mugging from Black youths are at least partially due to my race but I have no way of verifying this so meh.

I’m sure there will be the obligatory “it’s all in your head,” or “lighten up” type comments from people that think racism in the US is dead because hey, they’ve never experienced it. Or the whole Asians don’t experience racism shtick. Or the classic “if you don’t like it, go back to where you came from!”

Perhaps this isn’t the type of response you were hoping for or expecting, but that’s the first thing that came to mind in terms of “warnings” about the US for non-White foreigners.

Not me, but I know someone who wishes he’d known that being in the back seat of a car in which the person riding shotgun had an open beer could get him (the back seat kid) sent back home, losing the money the year abroad had cost his family. Mind you: he went there to “re-take 12th grade” because he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to study Politics or Economics, and that incident decided him (Politics) so it wasn’t all wasted.

I got lucky in that my first visit to the US was with an organization dedicated to bringing foreigner visitors there for short work/culture-exchange stays, so we got a lot of information on things from race relations to religion or the banking system. It still was weird verifying that things we’d thought to be exaggerated topics were real: no, not every American thinks Jographie is a town in Kansas, but there are actual ones who do think it.

One thing I wasn’t told on any of my moves there was “how to behave with the police”. Well, with government officers in general… considering how little contact I had with any, it’s pretty absurd how many of them had attitudes that ranged from “John Wayne is my biatch” to “fuck you foreigner”.

That it’s so bloody vast and that a “short trip” can take hours.
That people take their religious views seriously.
That people take their political views seriously.

The only inaccurate warning I had was about all the ‘have a nice day’ fake stuff and how insincere Americans were. I found (and still find) Americans to be the exact opposite.

On my last visit to America, I was frequently complimented on my clothes and my handbag by complete strangers who genuinely meant it. (I tend to dress a bit vintage. The handbag was bought new for the trip and yes, it was an awesome handbag.)

Any shop or tourist place we went to, we were immediately greeted as we entered, and the people were more than happy to answer our stupid questions.

I came away with a really warm feeling about the US and the people who live in it. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the US has its share of dirtbags, but the overall culture is very warm and welcoming.

This. Within hours of starting my job here, I was asked what church I go to. Saying “none” was seen as a challenge.

I was also surprised by how polarized politics seems to be, at least among the people I’ve worked with. It’s Team Red or Team Blue, no matter what good or evil either Team may be up to. Go Team!

I do wish I’d been more aware of how un-walkable the suburbs are. We have walking paths and lovely parks, but I can’t really walk to a coffee shop or the library. I need a car for almost everything.

When I was stationed in Germany and again when I went over there for training some years later I had basically the same briefing. “You know how back on the block you would give shit to the cops if they told you to something? :nods of assent: Well don’t try that shit with the Polezei. You talk back you are liable to get a spring baton to your head then your First Sergeant will have to pick you up at the hospital.” The more things change, the more then stay the same.

I’m not a non-US doper, but I spent a number of years outside the country, and I was seriously surprised how much the above things had changed during my time away. I remember at my first job how someone I had trusted suddenly started ranting about how the Clintons were “evil” and out to destroy the country, and even more surprised how many of my co-workers completely agreed with her.

I could blame certain elements of the media for this change but this is not Great Debates.

I think this is regional. I’ve never had this happen to me in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Yes. The friendliness was something which has to be seen to be believed.

Indeed. In the more progressive parts of the country the subject (church membership) is never broached, let alone brought up in the early part of the acquaintanceship.

Now that I think about it, do small town southerners ask this of locals when traveling to, say, Philadelphia? What kind of responses do they expect and what kind do they get?

that a frigging $100 bill looks much the same as a $1, $5, $10 and $20 note and you can easily be short-changed without knowing it. :mad:

and that banks in a city with an Ivy League university and loads of foreign students have trouble converting foreign currency into US $. :smack:

That the price marked on an item in a shop is (very often) quite a bit less less than what you will actually have to pay for it at the till (due to sales tax not being included in marked prices).

Yes. 46 years and counting and never asked this in the northeast. I have lived in the south but that was on army bases so it doesn’t really count.

The good news is you don’t need a wallet the size of a dinner plate.

Also, that a self-service gas station, you are expected to pay for the gas before you pump.

When you go to American city,
You will find it very pretty.
Just two things of which you must beware:
Don’t drink the water and don’t breath the air!

Two things non-Americans typically notice about America:

  • Super-friendly and attentive service is the norm.

  • HUGE portions in restaurants. Don’t even think about ordering an appetizer, a main, and a dessert at a typical mid-range-type place. At least, not for just one person.

Don’t. Just- don’t.

Yes, it’s regional. I spent most of my childhood in the South, then was in the Midwest for quite a few years, and moved back to a smallish college town in the South for a job. When we get new hires from other parts of the country I try to give them a few “What to expect” tips based on the things that made me go “Oh right, the South” when I moved back here. The “What church do you go to?” question is usually the first thing I mention, because I think it could easily be mistaken for a veiled “You’re not a decent Christian, ARE YOU, SINNER?” But in my experience, people who ask this really do just want to know what church you go to. In a small town the answer to this question could give them a fairly good idea of where you live and what mutual acquaintances you might have.

FWIW, my answer to the question is always “I don’t really go to church”, and so far no one has had a problem with this. I don’t say “I’m an atheist” because I know when not to push my luck, but my lack of church attendance in and of itself doesn’t seem to bother anyone.