Strange Things You Had to Adopt to in Coming to the United States

Inspired by TellMeI’mNotCrazy’s thread, Strange things I have to adapt to in a new country, I decided to start this one.

What things do non-US dopers find strange about this country? What sort of things did you find hard to get used to?

“Adopt” should be “Adapt” :smack:

Right turn on red.

Political television ads.

The strange mix of far more small government regulations and yet far more competition and free enterprise across the board.

Drywall everywhere. Initially I was nervous about touching the walls of my apartment, lest I fall through them. I’m used to brick everywhere.

More when I think of them :wink:

Be adventurous - try a left on red! :slight_smile:

Have to answer for my wife, who came here from Japan many years ago. As they drive on the left like Brits, she was in constant terror every time I made a turn at an intersection that we were on the wrong side of the road.

We hauled my car out of storage in California and drove all the way across the country on old Route 66 & others. She was mystified at the size of the U.S. Also, she still recalls the strange colored pennants flying at the outskirts of every city we drove through. Later she realized they were all used car lots. :smiley:

Mostly she was amazed at how friendly and outgoing Americans were and how kind.

The racism was a big surprise to me. Crappy customer service, being able to shop for whatever I want just about any time I want. The banking system here is also different. I’ve been here long enough (3.5 years) that I don’t really think about things anymore, but those things stand out.

The racism was a big surprise to me. Crappy customer service, QUOTE]

I found the all-pervasive racism and concept of racial identity really disturbing. And the crappy service in shops, as well! The driving on the wrong side of the road thing. The absence of the metric system (constanly dividing by 5, multiplying by 9 and adding 32!) . The fact that your government deems fit to execute it’s citizens. One odd little thing that rattled me in NYC was that every two sets of lights you seemed to be in a different neighbourhood and frequently a different world. Here in Australia we have space, distance between things.

Thing is, it’s easy to list the disturbing things but not to list the good things you had to adapt to… still, it was a year in the greatest city in the world so I guess the best thing I had to adapt to was that home just wasn’t home anymore - I could go elsewhere and survive


The fact that there is a race issue in the first place. I never had to think about it in Canada.

How prevalent religion is. I also never had to think about it in Canada. Here, it’s inescapable.

Billboards for churches and lawyers and doctors.

Television and radio in a small, isolated market. Where I lived, it was one of the largest TV and radio markets in North America, and everyone was sharp and professional. Here, these are training stations, for people just learning their craft. It looks like it, and sounds like it.

The Southern Accent ™. I’ve heard a few people with accents so thick I can’t make out anything they’re saying. Combine that with ebonics, and it sounds like a different language altogether.

The biggest shock was how it is in the US, as opposed to how, how it is in the US is portrayed in the Canadian media. It’s not an armed camp. It’s not full of uneducated loudmouths. It’s not falling apart. It’s not going to harm your children or desensitize you to violence. It’s people, living, doing their stuff. Just like anywhere. Neighbors. People at the mall. Just people.

Don’t know if I qualify, but I spent virtually all of my formative years (until 14) in the UK. I have to raise an eyebrow about the shocking racism that posters have mentioned. Racism, at least in England in the 1970s-1980s, was pretty rampant. I was called much more inventive racial slurs as a young Black kid in the markets of Bury St. Edmunds or at Spiceball Park in Banbury than I encountered here in America. I know First Nation folks from Canada that have a lot to say about rampant racism directed towards them as well.

Not to excuse American racism, of course. I think for me, the biggest shock was reading about MLK and the civil rights movement, believing that racism was A Very Bad Thing That We’ve Fixed Now, and realizing that no, in fact, racism is doing quite well, thank you very much.

The other biggest thing? How telly shows would show the titles, maybe even a joke or two, and then GO TO A COMMERCIAL. The show’s barely started, and it’s already time to sell something?

Televangelists were also a shock. I mean, we had Songs of Praise, but I don’t recall finding shows where people would tell you that you were going to hell. And before you think I’m referring to cable TV, this is the stuff on the regular channels on Sunday morning in Texas.

I was 4 when I came over. I don’t remember it, but my parents said I had a huge difficulty with all the “ghosts” (my word) everywhere - white people. I also said lots of things like, “Mama, Woh aurat nangi kyon hai?” Mom, why is that lady naked? And the food! I literally had to be chased down and forced to eat from age 4 to 11, as I hated the bland taste of most foods.

Obviously not real exciting, but cute. :slight_smile:

Would you believe it is legal in MA?

Going from a one-way to a one-way… :rolleyes:

You’d wonder why they need a traffic light there.

Ever since I moved back to the U.S. from Mexico it never ceases to amaze me how people insist on building every structure (well, not every structure but you know what I mean) less than 100 ft. high out of wood. No wonder everything gets knocked down in an earthquake or blasted away by a tornado or hurricane. Here in SoCal the most common natural disasters are wildfires and yet they always rebuild their houses out of what are pretty much giant matchsticks.
In Mexico almost no buidlings are built out of wood; cinder blocks, adobe bricks and regular red bricks ar the most common materials.

These stores are really interesting…great topic :slight_smile:

Can you guys, who haven’t done so already, tell us where you moved to America from?

I don’t keep up enough with Doper persona to recall where everyone was born :wink:

Coming back into the States after a year in Europe, the biggest “strange things” I encountered were crossing state lines without having to exchange all my currency to make a purchase and realizing that everyone still spoke trhe same language. (And since in my yout’ I travelled a lot, it took me nearly as long to get over those feelings after I returned as the time I had spent in Europe.)

I’d imagine it’s legal in many US states. A left on red was legal from a one way to a one way in Florida, where I lived until recently. Haven’t tried it in Georgia though …

Some very interesting replies. Like someone else mentioned, it would be good if people could mention where they came to the US from.

I, too, am a bit surprised at those who mentioned racism being worse in the US. I’ve seen much more blatant racism when travelling/living outside the US than in it. Admittedly, all my travel is limited to Europe and North America, so maybe it’s not as bad out of those places. I will say that we TALK a lot more about race in the US – truly the American obsession.

I’ve lived out of the US for a fairly large part of my life (Germany and the UK, mostly). Whenever I came back after being gone for a while, the “reverse culture shock” things that surprised me most were a) everything seemed a lot bigger and dirtier, b) the convenience of 24-hour shopping, c) the need to use a car for EVERYTHING.

This is the cool thing I learned from traveling. People seem to be people everywhere. When I went to Japan I was told about how different the culture would be. You know what? Maybe, but if you look you’ll see how alike it is too. They were just people. Kind, friendly people most of the time.

I’m a 'merkin. After 3 years oveseas in the military I returned to the US. I was really struck by two things:

1: The vastly greater selection of stuff in stores. 27 kinds of cereal? How can I ever decide? I’m used to seeing 5, tops.
2: The incessant inescapable muzak. This was back in the 80’s; it’s gotten worse now. Pay attention retailers: There’s nothing about music not to my taste which encourages me to buy stuff in your store.

Oh yes! The God People! At home, people just don’t talk about religion; our leaders don’t discuss their beliefs, I don’t know if my neighbours are Muslim or Hindu or Mormon or Anglican or whatever. Here, my neighbour proselytizes to my 11-year-old son! AGH!

And the accent. Funny story, sort of. My parents (from Southern Alberta, but both have lived all over Europe as well due to Dad’s military service - these aren’t bumpkins) were here for Christmas last year. As is our wont, Mom and I went shopping. When we didn’t find what we were looking for, I asked a salesperson. She thanked us and we went on our merry way. After we were at a sufficient distance that she couldn’t hear us, Mom asked me just what the heck the girl had said, because she didn’t catch a word of it. The salesgirl was a black girl from West Baltimore, where the ebonics + accent make it difficult for a newcomer to catch.

And also something I didn’t mention: the sheer number of PEOPLE. I lived most of my life in Alberta and the Northwest Territories; not real huge with the population density. There are crowds everywhere, and the traffic! There’s as much traffic at night here as there is in the day. Surprised the heck outta me. Often at home you could be out til 2:00 or 3:00 am, then drive home on deserted streets. Yes, even in Calgary and Edmonton. Not here!