It’s hard to imagine people experiencing culture shock in your own country.
But it happens.
We took a look at a Quora thread that asked, “What facts about the United States do foreigners not believe until they come to America?”
Answers ranged from tipping customs to the need for healthcare to the lack of public transportation.
Put yourself in a tourists’ shoes and take a look at some of the highlights from the thread below.
1. Customers can return almost anything they buy.
Quora user Aniruddh Chaturvedi is originally from India and couldn’t believe how lenient the return policy is in many stores in the US.
Chaturvedi pointed out that in some cases, shoppers don’t even need to cite a problem with the product in order to return it and receive a full refund.”Most stores actually have a ‘Buyer’s Remorse’ category under Reason for Return options while returning the product.”
2. Americans have a strong sense of patriotism.
Chaturvedi also noticed that the American flag is on display almost everywhere in the US. According to Chaturvedi, the Indian flag is not displayed nearly as prominently in India. “I was surprised to see that the US flag is displayed in schools, on rooftops of houses, etc. India has very strict rules governing the display and use of the national flag.”
3. The US is a pretty clean country.
Quora user Dan Holliday had a friend visit from Spain who commented on the fact that, compared to Spain, America was relatively litter-free. The friend was especially surprised when he saw a police officer give someone a ticket for littering.
4. Healthcare is expensive and necessary.
Quora user Aditya Lesmana – who is from Asia – thinks the cost of healthcare in America is insane. “It seems that all aspects of healthcare are designed with a ‘patient must be insured’ assumption. Any uninsured small procedure will leave a lasting impression in your financial health for many years to come.”
5. Cabs aren’t cheap.
Shubhojit Chattopadhyay , a Quora user from India, was shocked that, for the most part, Americans don’t use cabs for their everyday commutes. “Here, cabs are expensive enough to be called only when you don’t have a car or cannot get a ride or if there’s no public transport. In India, a cab is public transport and cheap enough to use for everyday commute.”
6. People who work in customer service are actually helpful.
Riona MacNamara is from Ireland, but has been living in Seattle for 17 years. According to MacNamara, the service customers receive from sales associates in the US is much better than the service received in Ireland. “In Nordstrom, when a sales assistant says ‘Can I help you?’ she or he actually means ‘Can I help you?’ and not, say, ‘You’re distracting me from my phone. Can you please leave?'”
7. Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, so not many Americans pay with cash.
Quora user Triya Bhattacharya is from India, a place she says requires cash since most establishments don’t accept credit cards. Bhattacharya encountered the opposite in the US. “Every place accepts credit cards. Even a small picnic I went to, which had an entry fee, had some sort of mobile app and a device attached to accept credit cards. It was amazing.”
8. Americans tip for most services they receive.
Bhattacharya also mentions her frustration at almost always having to leave a tip. She says she doesn’t really understand the concept. “So I pay you for cutting my hair. And then I tip you because you were gracious enough to cut my hair?”
9. Public transportation isn’t always available.
According to Quora user Natalia Rekhter – who is from Russia – unless you live in a big city in the US, you probably need a car to get around. “There is almost no public transportation except in a few large cities. People actually have to have cars to get places. Cars are a necessity, not a luxury.”
10. A good part of the population is religious.
Quora user Olof Åkerlund is from Sweden, and was surpised by the number of Americans who believe in creationism. “The role of religion is much stronger here than in other Western nations. Things like creationism are usually believed by a handful of people in other places, but here it seems to be at least a force to be reckoned with.”
11. Americans love sports, and they care about their overall fitness.
According to Quora user and Toronto native, Lana Kolupaeva , Americans are obsessed with living an active lifestyle. “Everyone runs or rides a bike or skates or does yoga in the park. Public tennis courts and pools are full all summer long, not to mention fitness clubs.”
12. The US is a huge country, so distances between places are vast.
Quora user Candace Dempsey describes herself as Italian-American. Although she is originally from the West Coast, she has Italian relatives, all of whom can’t believe how far American cities are from each other. “My Italian relatives come here thinking they can visit me in Seattle, plus also see New York City, Miami, the Grand Canyon and Hollywood all in a week – by car. I can’t get them to understand that it’s 3,000 miles from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts.”
- Nobody talks about grades here.
- Everyone is highly private about their accomplishments and failures. Someone’s performance in any field is their performance alone. This is different compared to India where people flaunt their riches and share their accomplishments with everybody else.
- The retail experience is nowhere near as fun/nice as it is in India. Because labor is cheap in India, there is always someone who will act as a “personal shopper” to assist you with holding your clothes, giving suggestions, etc. In America, on the other hand, even if you go to a Nordstrom or Bloomingdales, there is almost nobody to help you out while you’re shopping. Shopping in America is more of a commodity / chore than it is a pleasurable activity
- This may be biased/wrong because I was an intern, but at least in the tech world, nobody wants to put you under the bus for something that you didn’t do correctly or didn’t understand how to do. People will sit with you patiently till you get it. If you aren’t able to finish something within the stipulated deadline, a person on your team would graciously offer to take it off your plate.
- The same applies to school. Before I came to the United States, I heard stories about how students at Johns Hopkins were so competitive with each other that they used to tear important pages from books in the library just so other students didn’t have access to it. In reality, I experienced the complete opposite. Students were highly collaborative, formed study groups, and studied / did assignments till everyone in the group “got it”. I think the reason for this is that the classes are / material is so hard that it makes sense to work collaboratively to the point that students learn from each other.
- Strong ethics — everyone has a lot of integrity. If someone cannot submit their completed assignment in time, they will turn in the assignment incomplete rather than asking for answers at the last minute. People take pride in their hard work and usually do not cheat. This is different from students from India and China as well as back home in India, where many students collaborate to the extent that it can be categorized as cheating.
- Rich people are thin/ well maintained, poor people are fat. This stems from the fact that cheap food is fatty, rich people don’t eat cheap food — they tend to eat either home-cooked food which is expensive or eat at expensive / healthy places. Unfortunately, it is expensive to be healthy in America.
- Fat people are not respected much in society. Being fat often has the same connotations as being irresponsible towards your body. If you’re thin (and tall, but not as much), people will respect you a lot more and treat you better. You will also receive better customer service if you’re well maintained. This extends my previous point which mentioned that if you’re thin, you’re statistically likely to be rich. Reason why I know this is that I went down from being 210lbs to 148-150lbs. The way people started treating me when I was thin was generally way better than the way I was treated when I was fat. As a small example, the Starbucks baristas were much nicer to me and made me drinks with more care / love.
- Girls are not very promiscuous, contrary to most Hollywood films
- Almost every single person in America has access to basic food, clothing, water and sanitation. I haven’t been to states like Louisiana and cities like Detroit, but from what I can tell, nobody is scrambling for the basic necessities required for sustenance.
- Dearth of African Americans in technical fields. This probably stems from the fact that they aren’t given enough opportunity, broken families, etc. I’m pretty sure you can extend upon this if you’d like.
- It’s expensive to have brick houses in America, contrary to India where brick houses are the norm. In America most houses are built of wood.
- Emphasis on physical fitness / being outdoorsy — this is more of a California thing but I noticed families going on biking trips, boat trips, hiking, camping, barbecuing, etc. Americans take pride in the natural beauty of their surroundings and tend to make the most of it
- Americans waste a lot of food. It is very easy to buy in bulk because it’s so much cheaper and as a result a lot of wastage occurs.
- Obsession with coffee — Starbucks, Dunkin’ etc is crowded with office-goers and students every morning. I don’t understand why they can’t drink or make coffee before leaving for work. Such a waste of money! ($5/day * 5days / week * 52weeks/year)!
- Split families, not having married parents, etc is not seen differentlythan the contrary.
- Support towards the LGBT community — it’s fairly normal to be part of the LGBT community; it’s not considered a mortal sin if you like someone in your own gender or if you aren’t comfortable being male/female/etc. Proof of this is the LGBT Pride Day held in every city etc.
- Smoking weed is seen the same as smoking cigarettes.
- The way that stores price their products makes no apparent economic sense, and is not linear at all.
For example, at a typical store:
– 1 can of coke : $1.00
– 12 cans of coke : $3.00
– 1 Häagen-Dazs ice cream bar : $3.00
– 12 Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars : $7.00
Americans are encouraged to buy in bulk, which often leads to a lot of waste.
- The return policy on almost everything:
None of my friends back in India believed me when I told them that you can literally buy anything, including food, and return it within ninety days for a full refund even if you don’t have a specific reason for doing so (most stores actually have a “Buyer’s Remorse” category under Reason for Return options while returning the product).
- The pervasiveness of fast food and the sheer variety of products available:
The typical supermarket has at least a hundred varieties of frozen pizza, 50 brands of trail mix, etc. I was just astounded by the different kinds of products available even at small gas station convenience stores.
- Soda being cheaper than bottled water
It makes no sense that carbonated and flavored water with HFCS are cheaper than regular water, but hey, that’s just how it is.
- The fact that there are full service rest stops with decent chain restaurants and big supermarkets every couple of miles on interstate highways
- Fruit and vegetable prices, as compared to fast food prices:
– Bag of grapes : $6.00
– Box of strawberries : $5.00
– 1 lb tomatoes : $3.00
– McChicken : $1.00
– McDouble : $1.00
- Unlimited soda refills:
The first time (and one of the last times…) I visited McDonalds in 2007, the cashier gave me an empty cup when I ordered soda. The concept of virtually unlimited soda refills was alien to me, and I thought there was a catch to it, but apparently not.
Slightly digressing, I’ve noticed that the typical fountain machine has a huge selection, including Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Sprite, Sprite Zero, Hi-C, Powerade, Lemonade, Raspberry Lemonade (and/or their coca-cola counterparts)… The list goes on. This may not seem like much, but it is actually a lot more compared to the 3-4 options (coca-cola, sprite, fanta, limca) that most Indian soda fountain machines have.
- Serving Sizes:
American serving sizes are HUGE! Let pictures do the talking:
The largest size of iced coffee in Cafe Coffee Day India
I honestly don’t understand why anyone would ever drink 32oz of iced coffee a day, but hey, to each his own.
If you’re not convinced, perhaps this would do a better job of showing the contrast:
^That’s the standard size of a packet of Lays in India.
^ Yes, this is not a typical size, but I’ve seen similarly sized packages of chips being sold at Walmart and Costco.
I’ve noticed that entree sizes are huge as well. I am by no means a small eater, but it usually takes me at least 1.5 meals to finish the entree.
- US Flag displayed everywhere
I was surprised to see that the US flag is displayed in schools, on rooftops of houses, etc. India has very strict rules governing the display and use of the national flag. Also, something that struck out to me was how it was completely normal to wear the US flag or a US flag-like pattern as a bikini.
- Over-commercialization of festivals
I’m not denying that festivals like Diwali and Eid aren’t extremely commercialized in India, but America takes it to a whole new level. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc., and an almost year-round sale of Christmas, Halloween, Easter, etc. items.
- An almost-classless society
I’ve noticed that most Americans roughly have the same standard of living.
Everybody has access to ample food, everybody shops at the same supermarkets, malls, stores, etc. I’ve seen plumbers, construction workers and janitors driving their own sedans, which was quite difficult for me to digest at first since I came from a country where construction workers and plumbers lived hand to mouth.
Also, (almost) all sections of society are roughly equal. You’ll see service professionals owning iPhones, etc. as well. This may be wrong but part of it has to do with the fact that obtaining credit in this country is extremely easy. Anybody can buy anything, for the most part, except for something like a Maserati, obviously. As a result, most monetary possessions aren’t really status symbols. I believe that the only status symbol in America is your job, and possibly your educational qualifications.
That being said,