What are the most unexpected / shocking / baffling things people encounter when visiting the USA for the first time? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
After living in Zimbabwe all my life, there are a few things that I found unexpected/shocking/baffling when I came to the United States for the first time:
What you thought were biscuits are not called biscuits in America. They are called cookies. And what you thought were scones all this time are called biscuits America. If you do get a chance to visit the states though and it's your first time, I would advise you to trybefore you leave.
The food portions are very big. This was perhaps the hardest thing to get used to and I guess that's why I gained so much weight after my first four weeks in the U.S. Growing up, our mom used to always tell us to finish our food and this mentality was so engrained in my brain when I came to the U.S. that I would actually try to finish all the food I was served in a restaurant. It took me some time to get used to the idea of eating half of the plate. Oh and the doggy bag (they call it 'to go' bag in the U.S.) made that transition a lot easier. Unfortunately, like , I could not find a bar that had the same rules for beer.
Night clubs and bars close at 2am. You can't go clubbing until the sun comes up.
No driver drives past a red traffic light - If you're driving in Zimbabwe, it's advisable to drive past some red traffic lights if it's in the middle of the night - some areas get very dangerous. Also, a lot try get past while it's still amber and fail - usually not an issue if there is no police officer on the other side.
Jaywalking is a crime - In my first couple of days in America, I wanted to get into a shop that was just across the road from me so I just crossed the road in-between traffic lights. A person who was just walking across the road from me actually stopped, waited for me to get to the other side and asked me where I'm from (& I don't know why a lot of people kept asking me where I'm from. Perhaps it was my accent). He then went on to tell me how it's illegal to cross the road where I did and how I would be fined $150 if I was caught by a cop. In my country, most of the traffic lights don't have pedestrian lights (although a few do). I'm also reminded of a joke that goes around a lot about how some pedestrians actually expect to be given right of way at a zebra-crossing line when they are human beings and not zebras.
The prices prices displayed in supermarkets don't include tax - The tax is calculated just before you pay so you need to carry a calculator when you go shopping.
Alcohol is terribly expensive - When you get into a bar, a beer can cost up to ten times the price you would normally pay in Zimbabwe for that brand.
People don't assume you're christian or that you go to church.
If you get a checking account (a type of bank account), you don't pay transaction fees whenever you swipe your card - I'm used to paying $2 or $3 in transaction fees every time I swipe my card. I know a lot of people withdraw all their money from the bank account on payday so that they only pay the $3 transaction fee once.
Poor people have cars - I did some voluntary work for an organisation called Southwest Key and our job was to distribute food hampers to poor people - the food was supplied by an organisation called Capital Area Food Bank. As our lead was giving us instructions before we started he said something which shocked me. He said: "Some of the people will be too old or too weak to carry the food to their cars so you will have to carry the food for them". What shocked me was that these people were being given food hampers because they were poor but they drove cars. Some of them had very nice cars too. In Zimbabwe, poor people don't have cars.
It's not illegal to own a gun in America - The right to own a gun is enshrined in the American constitution.
People actually leave a tip when they eat in a restaurant - You're expected to tip 15% to 20% of the money you spend in a restaurant. Now in place such as D.C., some restaurants and bars will put the tip as one of the items on your receipts (so it's part of your total) - so it's not optional.
The customer service is generally excellent - people who serve you in stores and restaurants are generally nice.
Houses generally have no fences or durawalls - Unless they are very wealthy most people don't employ house maids and gardeners.
Americans don't have a culture of corruption so people in public service generally don't expect you to pay bribes - So in my country, a lot of people have come to accept corruption as a way of life. Many people see it as a necessary evil. Now, in my first week in the states, something got trapped in the earphone jack of my laptop so I went to an Apple store to see if they can fix it. The genius there told me that he would need to first check it in and that I would only be able to come back and pick it up after four working days. I knew there were other computers in line before me and I really didn't think I could survive four days without a laptop and I was also used to the methods we use in Zimbabwe when we get in these situations, so I said to him: " Come on Sir, what if I give you something? Will that speed up the process?" I'm sure he could tell from from my accent where I'm from so he looked me in the eye, lowered his voice and said to me softly : "Sir, you have just offered me a bribe. We don't do that around here. We both laughed as if it was a joke and until today I'm still using Bluetooth headphones - I doubt I'll ever be able to go to go for four days without a laptop. Even those people in public office (the police for example) generally don't expect people to pay them bribes. They don't ask for them either and my theory is that: unlike the part of the world that I'm from, those people are usually paid very well so they need not rely on bribes to survive.
You need an ID to buy liquor. Even if you're 28 years old (or older) - In Zim, I can send my kid brother to buy me a six-pack (and he is only fourteen). Now, you can imagine how my jaw dropped to the floor when I walked in a SevenEleven (& I'm 27 years old) and the person behind the till asked me for an ID and then refused to let me buy some beers because I didn't have any ID. He told me that as long as I look under 35, I still have to prove that I am over 21 (and the legal drinking age in my country is 18). I guess this was because I was in Austin, a university town so there are probably lots of students who try to buy beer before the reach the age of 21.
They don't call it braai. They call it Barbecue.
You don't really need to carry cash because you can use plastic money to buy anything. The exceptions to this should be very few. The only places I've seen talking cash only were clubs that had entrance fees. I don't know why they only allowed you to pay to get in with cash but I suspect it was a way to pay less in taxes. Once you got in though, you could buy drinks with plastic money.
You can buy things (such as cars), without putting any money down. And the more you can pay back, the more you can borrow.
Lots of people have a lot of national pride - A lot of Americans are proud to be American and you can see this in the way they talk about America and the way they dress. I was fortunate enough to be in the U.S. on the 4th of July and this is a holiday everybody takes seriously and it can really shock you when you see everybody wearing the colours on the flag. Especially when you come from a country where many people regard their country as inferior and actually make jokes about that. Most of my stay in the U.S. was in Austin, Texas and people in Austin are even more proud to be from Austin. You can see this on day one with the number of burn-orange t-shirts you see. Most of them will have written sayings like:
- - Keep Austin weird
- - I wasn't born in Austin. But I came as fast as I could.
- - Longhorns
- - Hook'em horns
The sun is still up at 9pm - At the time that I was in the U.S., the sun would still be up at 9pm. If I had grown up there, I probably would not be told to get indoors by 6pm.
In many restaurants, you just buy the cup and you get the soft drinks for free so you can go and refill your cup as many times as you wish. I had never seen this before. Unfortunately I could not find a bar that had the same rules for beer.
Everyone is time conscious - When in the U.S., I got to meet some of the team behind the and because I really wanted to contribute to I ended up sitting in on some of their meetings. They have daily meetings and those meetings are standup meetings (which means you are actually standing up for the entire duration of the meeting) and because of that, they meetings usually take no more than fifteen minutes. The idea is to make the meeting as short as possible. And like most Americans, if we agree to meet at 9 am, we meet at 9 am. Now, in my country (in stark contrast) the meeting room has the most comfortable chairs in the organisation. If we agree to meet at 9 am, people take the 9 am as an estimate of the time we expect to meet so in many cases you're not very late if you get there at 9:15.
The extended family is not as big a deal as it is in Africa.
Americans were friendlier than I expected - I had been told that Americans are not very friendly and are always very busy - boy was I lied to.
You know exactly what time the bus is going to come. And it's always on time.
In most fast-food outlets, people generally clean up their tables after eating and throw the stuff they don't want anymore in the bin. I first noticed this in Austin and thought that this is just a Texas thing but I've seen this is Washington and Florida. In my country on the other hand, people don't do that. Perhaps this is because fast-food outlets employ people to do just that.
They don't all it fuel, petrol or diesel. They call it gas. So you'll hear people say: "I want to put gas in my car".
They call them dishes not plates. So after eating a meal you will hear people talk about "washing dishes".
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