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The Biggest Culture Shocks Travelers Face in America

United States Culture
by Tim Wenger Mar 9, 2018

Here at Matador, we’ve recently taken to Quora, along with our deep well of editorial content, for a dose of crowdsourced insight on a number of topics. We’ve looked at culture shocks faced by Americans in Germany and Russia. We’ve uncovered common tourist mistakes in Paris, and went broad on how Americans are spotted abroad.

It seemed time to turn the table and look at what’s done differently on this side of the pond. What culture shocks do people face when coming to America? We took to Quora and Matador Network’s back catalog to find out.

On our excessive portions of food

Within the States, we say that “Everything is bigger in Texas.” But outside our borders, this sentiment tends to reflect the entire nation, as Raska Soemantoro noted on Quora: “The food portions are HUGE. I had only one plate of pasta for lunch and my stomach was so full I couldn’t eat dinner.”

Joseph Isip added, “Went to a local Buca Di Beppo and ordered a plate of spaghetti. Waiter comes and hands over a HUGE spaghetti plate good for 5 people.”

And those huge cars

“The first thing I noticed here was the size of the cars here,” noted Raska. “When I first arrived in Chicago, I saw the largest vans and trucks I’ve ever seen in my life. The trucks are so big they look ridiculous.”

We love to drive here in the states. Whether it’s a result of a burning passion for the open road, or just necessity because everything is so spread out, is up for debate. But many travelers and immigrants find our car-obsessed culture quite shocking. “Where I come from, we do things differently,” explained an anonymous commenter from Nepal on Quora. “I don’t have a clue how elderly people or disabled people, and even children, who cannot drive by themselves, live in the US. How? I just cannot imagine how hard it must be for them to get around.”

Americans love to chat. And chat. And chat.

“Americans have no problem making chit-chat in line, at the post office, at a urinal (really!) and just about everywhere else we congregate,” said Steven Muzik, an American expat now living in Asia, on Quora. “This doesn’t happen as often in other countries, I find.” A case of reverse culture shock, apparently.

“They will randomly come up to you and say ‘Hey, how are you doing?’” noted Raska Soemantoro on Quora. “BUT sometimes, when Americans ask you how are you doing, they just mean it as a greeting, and sometimes they don’t want to know how you’re actually doing.”

“It seems like a question preceding a longer conversation but it’s actually just a way to say ‘Hi,'” noted Laurent Lemaire on Quora.

“You must find your way to answer this and not explain what you’ve done during your day because that wasn’t really the purpose of the question.”

“They’ll make small talk and talk about anything and everything,” Abhishek Sehgal added on Quora. “Some people don’t even hold back personal details about their family. And after that meeting, they don’t even remember those things. In fact, they would be surprised about the things I recollected from our last conversation. It wouldn’t be surprising if they forget your name also.”

On our undying patriotism

“They have this internal culture that they are the most awesome country on the planet, the most righteous, the most amazing. La crème de la crème,” said Andrei Cimbru via Quora.

“Indonesians love their country, but Americans are on a whole new level,” Raska Soemantoro added on Quora. “Made in USA labels everywhere, flags on t-shirts, pants, and even bikinis!”

And our need to rock out

“I was in southern California and was impressed with the music scene, almost everyone I met was passionate about music and many play in their bands. This was very exciting,” Fay Yang explained on Quora.

On the fact that cars yield to pedestrians

“I was blown that drivers actually STOP to let someone cross the street,” noted Joseph Isip on Quora. “That is so awesome! I even see people chat on their phones while leisurely crossing the street taking their sweet time (to the motorists’ dismay) but they have no choice but to patiently wait.”

“A speeding car has to stop at a stop sign or the walk permits,” adds Tanvee Agrawal.

“And the pedestrian too hand gestures a thank you for the driver’s patience. And this reminds me of pedestrian crossing button on the traffic light poles. When you have to cross a road, you press the button for a walking signal. I have not seen this button in any metro city of India.”

But that never keeps us from being on time

“Everyone is on time for work/meetings/etc,” said Balaji Viswanathan. “They would arrive early rather than arrive late. If the agreed upon time is 10 AM, then it is 10 AM; not 10:05 AM or 10:10 AM.”

On the diversity

“There is so much diversity in this country it amazes me,” said Andrei Cimbru, “And I think this is the foundation of what makes America an interesting country.”

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