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17 Cultural Clashes This European Had in America

United States
by Benny Lewis Apr 21, 2014
1. Americans are way too sensitive.

Sometimes I wonder if political correctness is in your constitution. Speaking your mind to individuals is a major taboo. You can’t tell a friend straight when he’s fucked up, nobody will ever tell you that you look fat, and there’s way too much euphemism to avoid the hard truth.

To a certain extent, I can understand it — America generally does a great job of preventing people from singling out ethnic groups and toning down hate speech. But it waters down criticism far too much at the individual level. Constructive criticism is what friends are for.

I found out very quickly in my first visit that I had to bite my tongue pretty much all the time, and (more annoyingly) that nobody was ever straight with me. The one time in my entire last three months that I got the unadulterated truth from a friend was when Karol Gajda gave me some tips to improve my presentation in future after I gave a TEDx talk, while everyone else was massaging my ego. It was really useful advice, but it caught me off guard because I was used to months of…

2. Everything is ‘awesome!’

This is the stereotypical American cheesy word, and I heard it until my ears bled.

Excessive positivity waters down meaning, and positive words become neutral. Then what do you do when you need to express true positivity?

When you ask someone, “How are you?” the answer will inevitably be, “Great!” even if they’re far from it. Of course, when someone says they’re “OK, I guess,” then you know things are pear shaped! I don’t think “bad” is in America’s vocabulary.

But nothing beats America’s over-positivity more than this:

3. Smiles mean NOTHING.

When I meet Americans abroad, their biggest complaints are along the lines of, “Nobody smiles on Prague’s trams!” “That waitress was so rude to me! She didn’t even smile!”

Goddamnit America — I have the opposite complaint for you. You guys smile way too much. It’s fucking annoying!

When people smile in Europe it means something. For example, because Germans don’t go around looking like an American toothpaste commercial, when they smile, it lights up the room — you know it’s genuine, and you can’t help but smile back.

But all the time? When you smile all the time in public it means nothing. Apparently a smile releases endorphins, but if your face is stuck that way I’m sure your dreams of a natural high will fade soon.

4. Tipping is annoying.

It was terribly annoying to be in restaurants and have servers interrupt me every three minutes asking me if everything was okay. I’d have to feign a smile and thumbs up to make them go away, since my mouth was always full. I really don’t see the point — if you’ve given me the wrong order, or if I suddenly realise I’m dying from an allergic reaction to your food, you’ll know it long before those three minutes are up.

Once again, one huge complaint I hear in other countries is how rude servers are, and Americans claim it’s because they aren’t tipped. Apparently not pestering you every minute and not smiling like you’re in a Ms. World competition means you’re ‘rude.’

I think the basic concept of tipping is nice — but I just see it as a complex system of tax evasion for both restaurants and workers in the States. Some people ludicrously suggest it allows restaurant to charge less, but you’re paying the difference anyway. What it does contribute to is clear, though:

5. There are false prices on everything.

Tipping is just the peak of the iceberg. Apart from tipping, you have to of course pay taxes.

Now, taxes are things you simply have to pay on items you purchase — it’s how governments work all around the world. So why hide it from us? It boggles my mind that places refuse to include the tax in prices. The price they state is pretty much useless. How much money…do you want me…to hand to you? Do I really have to spell this out?

One great way to get people into more debt is to make them feel like they’re spending less but add the rest when it comes time to hand over the cash. This is one big part of another problem:

6. There’s too much cheesy, in-your-face marketing.

I feel like scraping out my eyes with toothpicks when I’m forced to endure advertising in America. Make it stop.

I decided to watch an episode of House one evening on TV. Up until then I’d only really seen American shows online with advertising removed or back in Europe with European advertising inserted.

Holy shit.

Every few minutes you get torn out of the show and bombarded with irrelevant spam and ‘awesome’ images of people who practically experience orgasms as soon as they buy product X.

And here’s the thing: Americans are marketing geniuses. Every time I went to buy just a carton of milk, something about the supermarket that’s different to what I’m used to gravitated me towards some expensive garbage I didn’t need, and I almost bought it, or didbuy it, feeling very stupid as I walked out.

In Las Vegas you’ll see how skilled they are at this manipulation by how they design the casinos. No windows, no clocks, impossible-to-find exits, no way to get where you want to go without walking through slot machines with lots of shiny lights and bouncy music to entice you. You feel like you’re being hypnotised. They know exactly what they’re doing and have the billions of dollars to prove it.

7. America loves wasteful consumerism.

The best example I can think of by far is Apple fanboyism. So many Americans waste so much cash to have the latest iteration of Apple’s iPhone, iPad, or MacBook. When you buy one that’s fine. The problem is when you replace your iPhone 4 with an iPhone 4S, along with millions of other sheep, for no good reason. It’s pointless and wasteful consumerism.

I actually took advantage of this while in America. The day the iPad 2 was announced, as I predicted, there were 20 new ads per minute on Craigslist: Austin from desperate fanboys trying to sell their iPad 1. Since my laptop is so big (I consider it a portable desktop), it was worth my while to invest in a tablet, and I convinced one idiot to sell me his with a bluetooth keyboard case for $250. He was so desperate to have the latest version that was ever so slightly thinner and faster, and with a camera that makes you look like an idiot when you point your iPad at something, but otherwise basically exactly the same.

The gobshite I bought my iPad from sighed when I told him what I do, and he said he wished he had the money to travel. I wish he had the common sense to realise that if he stopped wasting his money he’d have plenty left over.

8. Americans have idiotic stereotypes of other countries.

Many of us have seen videos online of Americans arsing up basic questions of international geography. Now, I know there are 300 million of you, but I’ve had this exact same conversation on both the East and West Coasts, and in the Midwest and South:

    “Hi, I’m Benny.”
    “Awesome! I’m X. Where are you from?”
    “Wow! You guys certainly know how to drink!”
    1. “Actually,

I don’t drink

    “Oh, you’re not really Irish then, are you!”

They demanded to see my passport, said that I’m the only Irish guy they’ve ever met who doesn’t drink (and very stupidly then admitted that I was the ONLY Irish guy they ever met!) or had visited Ireland and spent all their time in Temple Bar (not even leaving Dublin), confirming that all Irish people are drunkards.

This is just one of the many idiotic things they would say, which of course annoyed me the most. A few others I’ve gotten include:

  • “How was the boat ride over here?” [Surprised that we have airports in Ireland — I must have arrived in rags in New York harbour of course.]
  • Too many people insisting that Ireland was part of the UK. They actually argued it with me!
  • Did I have to check my car for IRA bombs when I was growing up? (There are so many things wrong with this.)
  • Surprised that I knew more about technology than they did. Aren’t we all potato farmers in Ireland?

Whenever someone said anything about Ireland, I’d always try to change the subject immediately or they’d quickly find out how blunt I can be.

9. Americans are annoying about their ‘heritage.’

Every American you meet is not actually American. They are a fourth Polish, 3/17 Italian, ten other random countries, and then of course half Irish. Honestly, I don’t really care if your great grandfather’s dog walker’s best friend’s roommate was Irish. I really don’t.

The amount of “Oh my gaaawwwd, me too!” retorts I heard when I said I was Irish was quite silly. I finally learned that “I’m from Ireland” means what I wanted to say to them better than “I’m Irish” does.

I don’t want to say I don’t respect people’s rich heritage (a nice mixture makes a country more interesting; the melting pot of cultures and skin colours is one reason why Brazil is my favourite country, for example), but when people start talking about it as if it were genetics, and their Italian part makes them more passionate and their Irish part makes them good drinkers, I really do have to roll my eyes.

10. America has obnoxious ID checks and stupid drinking laws.

Seriously, I promise I’m not 12. Please let me into the nightclub!

I find it incredible that the drinking age is 21, but you give 16-year-olds licenses to drive cars and you can buy a rifle at age 18. And you can’t walk around outside with an open drink in most states (but apparently putting it in a brown paper bag while you drink it makes it okay). I don’t even drink, and I find these laws nonsensical.

11. Religious Americans are too in your face.

Look, I grew up in a religious town in Ireland, went to an all-boys Catholic school, and some of my friends in Europe are religious. I find religious people in Europe to be NORMAL.

But I can’t stand certain Christian affiliations of religious Americans. It’s Jesus this and Jesus that all the bloody time. You really can’t have a normal conversation with them. It’s in-your-face religion, and they replace hard science with scripture in the classroom. They really need to tone it down.

12. Corporations win all the time, not small businesses.

I was in downtown Chicago one day and wanted to simply get a bite to eat, but after walking around for an hour the only affordable option I could find was Dunkin Donuts. There are plenty of excellent cheap places to eat in Chicago, but you need to drive to them, or be in a specific part of the city with lots of restaurants. There’s too much competition between the big guys for a large number of little guys to sprinkle themselves conveniently throughout cities.

If you plonk me in any major city in Europe, I’ll find food in minutes. If you do the same in America, even downtown and presuming it isn’t a specific restaurant district, and don’t give me a cell phone or a car, I could starve to death.

And this is a major contributor to what I feel is one of the biggest problems in America:

13. America is a country designed for cars, not humans.

One of my biggest issues in the States has been how terrible a place it is for pedestrians. It’s the worst place in the entire world to live if you don’t own a car.

It’s rough relying on sub-par public transport (which is at least workable in certain major cities, but almost never first-world standard in my opinion). You can’t do anything without a car in most cases. With rare exceptions (like San Francisco), all shops, affordable restaurants, supermarkets, electronics, etc., are miles away. You rarely have corner shops (and if you do they’re way more expensive than supermarkets).

What struck me as the most eerie thing of all is that I felt very much alone when walking in any American city. In many cases I’d be the only pedestrian in the entire block, even if it was in the middle of the week downtown!

14. Americans are always in a hurry.

So many things in America are rushed far too much for my liking. Fast food is something we have all around the world now (thanks America…) but even in a posh sit-down restaurant, your food will usually come out in less than five minutes after ordering! There are also obsessions with get-rich-quick and lose-fat-quick schemes, pills that solve all your problems after a single swallow, people cutting to the chase in casual conversations far too quickly (after the customary, empty, “How are you? Great!”)

Despite all the false positivity, I find Americans to be generally the most stressed out and unhappiest people on the planet. This rush to the finish line consumes their lives. It’s something I find really sad.

15. Americans have an obsession with money.

I met far too many people who were more interested in their bank balance than their quality of life. People richer than I can possibly imagine, who are depressed. More money seems to be the only way they understand of solving problems. They don’t travel because they think they need tens of thousands of dollars, and they don’t enjoy their day because they may miss out on a business opportunity.

16. The portions in America are unhealthy.

“Small” means something completely different to me than it does to Americans. If you sit down in most places and order anything but an appetiser or a salad, you will eat more than you should.

I was brought up being reminded of starving children in Africa, so I feel guilty if I don’t clear my plate. This has been disastrous over the last few months, and I’ve put on weight because of it!

17. Americans think America is the best.

Finally, one thing I find annoying is the warped view of America’s situation in the world.

Americans ask me all the time if I’m scared to be traveling in South America. I found it way scarier to walk around certain parts of downtown San Francisco or Chicago at night than I did even in downtown Recife (apparently one of the most dangerous cities in South America) — because at least there are people there. And I find it pretty scary to be in a country where pretty much anyone can legally buy a revolver.

I keep hearing about America being the land of the free — it certainly was…200 years ago. Most of Western Europe is as free or more free, with opportunities for people at all levels. America is indeed a better place with a higher standard of living than most of the world, but free speech and tolerance for all is the norm in the Western world as a rule, not just in America.

There is no “best” country. Those who go on about how America is #1 tend to be those who’ve never traveled, or only lightly traveled. We should all be proud of where we were born. But nationalism (believing other countries are inferior) is a terrible quality. This post was originally published at Fluent in 3 Months and is reprinted here with permission.

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