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19 October 2015

5 Things That Surprise Me About (Re)Living In The States | Expat Musings



Sometimes, it's hard to believe I've been back in the States for over a year now. After twelve years living as an expat in Scotland and New Zealand, there are days when I feel like a foreigner in my own country. I'll watch something on TV, overhear someone's conversation or read something in a magazine and think to myself, "How bizarre that they do that in this country." Then, I remember that it's my country too, even though I'm just here on a temporary basis.

I remember when Scott and I first moved to Scotland. We would wander around the streets of Glasgow in wonderment, oohing and aahing over the historic buildings and the men wandering around in kilts. Even though we were all speaking English, we often couldn't understand what many of the Scots were saying to us, especially taxi drivers. It seemed exotic, strange and enchanting all at the same time. It wasn't a huge culture shock moving to Scotland, but there were a few surprising moments - like eating haggis for the first time. (Which is delicious, by they way, as long as you don't think too much about what it is you're eating.)

The same thing happened when we next moved to New Zealand. Again, not a huge culture shock - another Anglophone country with many cultural similarities to the US - but there were things that surprised us (like lolly scrambles). And there were plenty of ooh and aah moments. Realizing we were living in a city strewn with volcanoes left, right and center was pretty cool. And there weren't enough oohs and aahs to describe what it's like to sail in New Zealand or see the Southern Alps. Is it really possibly that one country can be so drop dead gorgeous? 

Now that I'm back in the States for a while, I've been experiencing a kind of reverse culture shock. It's America which seems strange and exotic at times. There are things that still surprise me, even after a year of being back here. Some of them bug me a little bit too, truth be told. Fortunately, there's also plenty of ooh and aah moments to make me forget those few moments of irritation (like seeing so many wonderful National Parks on our USA roadtrip). 

Anyway, here's a few of the things that surprise me about (re)living in the States.

1 - Putting the "public" in public toilets.

I remember being at my first office Christmas party in Glasgow and having a colleague say to me, "What's up with the public toilets in the States? There's absolutely no privacy!" At first, I thought he had had one too many pints, but after he went on about public toilets a bit longer, I realized that he did have a point. Toilets in Scotland usually offer much more privacy.

Have you ever noticed how there is often a gap around the doors in many toilet stalls in the States? If not, just head to any nearby Walmart and have a nosey. There's enough room for everyone to have a look at what you're doing. Of course, adults avert their eyes and don't glance in the toilet stalls (generally), but little kids have no such compunctions. I know because I've looked up to see one staring in at me, then turning to her mommy and screaming at the top of her lungs, "Look at the lady in there! She's going pee-pee too. She's a big girl like me. Will she get some candy too?" I can only assume there was some potty training going on here. Let's hope.

I know it isn't the biggest deal in the world. After all, it's not like you're crouching down over a hole in the ground for a pee (been there, done that), but why American toilet makers can't construct a door that fits snugly against the door jamb is beyond me. We did send people to the Moon didn't we? It shouldn't be too hard to address this issue. 

2 - Ask your doctor if this purple pill is right for you.

I rarely watch TV, but whenever I do sit down in the TV room at the marina, I swear five minutes doesn't go by without an ad for new drug that you just have to rush right out and ask your doctor if you should be taking it. Even if you don't suffer from the condition that the drug is supposed to treat, you probably still want to ask your doctor about taking it. At least that's my takeaway from the commercials.

The best part though is when they have a voice over listing all the possible side effects. Usually, there's attractive people smiling and holding hands and usually a cute kid or puppy is running around. It's a good distraction from a list that reads like this - you may experience side effects including cough, headaches, blurred vision, blistering of skin, confusion, difficulty breathing, sweating, decreased interest in sex, nausea, trouble sleeping, drowsiness, inability to swallow, memory loss, migraines and many more. Sign me up for those purple pills immediately - sounds fabulous.

Do other countries show this many drug commercials, not to mention all the advertisements in magazines, or is this just particular to the States?

3 - When in doubt, sue their socks off!

Americans have a reputation as a litigious bunch. Your neighbor built a fence two inches over the property line - sue him! You spilled McDonald's coffee in your lap and burned yourself - sue them! You took a drug that promised to be a miracle cure for your condition and now you have all sorts of horrible side effects - sue those bastards! I'm not sure how true our reputation for being the most litigious nation is, but I certainly get surprised when I hear people talk about taking folks to court as if it was a routine thing.

Usually, right after they show an advertisement for a new drug on TV, it's followed by an advertisement for a class action law suit, often for a drug or medical device. The irony cracks me up. One of the things I liked about living in New Zealand is their accident insurance scheme - ACC. It's run by the government and everyone has no-fault coverage for all injuries caused by an accident, whether at work or not. People aren't suing each other left and right when an accident occurs, because they know it will be taken care of. It doesn't mean there aren't lawsuits for other things, but it just seems sensible to me and a lot more friendly to deal with accidents this way. Maybe, that's why New Zealand is such a chilled out place to live.

4 - Happy talk, keep talking happy talk.

People are so darn cheerful in the States. Even people you don't know - like waiters, baristas and the guy hocking t-shirts on the side of the road. Sometimes, it's a little Stepford Wives kind of happy. Is it possible that everyone in the service industry is so happy or do they have a chip inside their brain instructing them to say things like - "Have a GREAT day!" "I LOVE that scarf you're wearing!" "Oh my god, that color is AWESOME on you!" "You're just going to ADORE this apple crumble topped latte with organic soy milk. It's to DIE for!!" 

The outgoing nature, cheerfulness and effusiveness of Americans is one thing that always catches me by surprise when I'm back in the States. I'm sure most of the time it's genuine, but not everyone can be that happy, can they? I get a little dubious when, right after you pay your bill, you're asked to fill out a short, online survey about your experience with the service.

5 - It's never to early to run for President. 

Did presidential campaigns always start well over a year before election day? I can't believe how much time and money goes into deciding who is going to be the nominee for each party. The election is over a year away people! It's kind of like how the stores have Christmas decorations up already and we haven't even had Halloween, not to mention Thanksgiving. To be fair, I haven't been in the States for a full election cycle in 12 years, so maybe this is just par for the course. But, I would have thought there would have been far more important things to show on TV rather than presidential debates - like ads for drugs you should ask your doctor about.

For those of you who live in the States, what surprises you when you visit other countries? For those of you who have traveled in the States or are expats here, what would you add to the list?

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30 comments:

  1. Ha .. I totally agree that these things are not our best feature! I can't wait until the Presidential election is over .. and we still have a year to go! The amount of "ambulance chasers" and "little pills" advertised is an embarrassment. Um ... I'm surprised your list is so short .. LOL!

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    1. There were probably more things that surprised me at first, but now I've (mostly) gotten used to being back. But these are the ones that have stuck with me since I've been back.

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  2. I still love living here and we are way messed up for sure.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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    1. The States has its own little foibles and wonderful positives, just like any other country. I loved our USA roadtrip because it was a chance to see how amazing this country is, except for the public toilets that is :-)

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  3. I agree that the election process is ridiculous. I can't believe we're going to hear this crap for another whole year! When traveling outside the US I'm amazed that so many people are smoking. Haven't they heard that it can kill you?! I love the outside cafes but hate breathing in smoke.

    I'm also keenly aware that people have preconceived notions about Americans. I'm embarrassed to see the 'ugly' Americans and go out of my way to not be one of them!

    What's up with the toilets that are just a hole in the floor?!!

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    1. Very true about smoking in public places in other parts of the world! It's hard to believe it used to be like that in America. I remember when airplanes had little ashtrays in the seat arms because smoking on flights was just the done thing :-)

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  4. I loved the public restrooms in the UK! They were so private, and there was plenty of water for flushing. Gallons and gallons rushed down the drain and it was no big deal. Some of the low-flow toilets around here (California) flush with a great roaring sound, like a mountain lion. It's very startling, and the force of the flush sends water flying all around and it's gross.

    As for service industry, they have to act happy, or they probably get fired or reprimanded for not being welcoming enough. I generally prefer low-key interactions, personally. I don't expect strangers to be delighted about my presence.

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    1. It's funny because I hear Americans who travel abroad talk about how unfriendly people are in certain countries. It's probably not that they're unfriendly, rather that they're low-key and more reserved. But if you come from a culture where service folk are super cheerful, then it probably seems odd.

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  5. LOL - We go through a lot of this whenever we go back - which isn't too often. Especially the niceness - although we have thought it was just my Dad's building. We have been joking about it since our last visit - how they must be pumping in happy juice somewhere. Is it really the whole country and we just didn't notice.

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    1. I think the level of cheerfulness varies in different parts of the States. I've noticed that people in Portland OR seem super happy. But then again, why wouldn't the be? It's a great city :-)

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  6. I too am surprised your list is so short. In my experience the nice strangers here are usually ones that think they can get something out of you (service industry, favors, whatever) at least in the bigger cities. In comparison I was surprised how nice folks were to us two lost tourists in London a number of years ago. One of the reasons I like the cruising community, people just seem far more genuine than most of my neighbors in the 'burbs back home.

    -Mike
    ThisRatSailed.

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    1. It's such a short list because I live on a sailboat - things are so chilled out when you're not living on land :-) I love the cruising community too because everyone is so down to earth and helpful. Same with the RV community.

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  7. The thing that gets me every time I return to the US from abroad is the number of retail choices. After 3 months in the Bahamas we sailed into Florida and went to the grocery store and found 52 (!!!) different varieties of mustard. Free-market capitalism taken to its logical conclusion? Can they really be that different?

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    1. I know exactly what you mean about overwhelming choices! And the stores are so big so that they can hold all those options that you'll get lost unless you leave a trail of breadcrumbs back to the entrance!

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  8. We're getting ready to head for our boat in FL and then off to the cruising life for the first time. We've lived in the US, but we haven't had TV for over 15 years, so thankfully we miss the drug commercials... but the politics are hard to miss. It frustrates us to no end how much money is wasted on the constant campaigning. How do they ever have time to actually DO anything???

    Our family is VERY much looking forward to cruising and visiting other places. We'd LOVE to visit NZ, but we've heard it is pretty difficult to do so with pets (we have two dogs), so I suppose we'll have to let that particular dream go unless we learn differently. Either way, there are SO many fantastic places to visit, we can't wait to get started.

    Now I'm off to read some of your other posts that caught my eye in the side bar!

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    1. Hi Byn - thanks for popping by! Like you, I've always wondered how people can campaign and manage their current role at the same time. If you're an elected representative, how can you represent your constituency if you're always running around from one campaign stop tot the next?

      NZ is very strict on animals and they have to be quarantined :-(

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  9. I've never been to the States but some of these sound hilarious! I'm interested to see what I notice next time I go back to New Zealand.

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    1. It would be interesting to see if non-Americans think the same thing when they visit the States. I wonder if the same things strike them which strike me. Thanks for stopping by!

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  10. ALL of the choices I the U.S. get me every time, I could walk through the grocery store for hours.

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    1. At least it's good exercise walking miles and miles in the grocery/warehouse stores. Then you don't feel too guilty if a bag or two of chocolate chip cookies falls into the cart :-)

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  11. This is hysterical!! I just moved back to the States from Spain and can related to almost all of these things! My friends in Spain never understood the whole idea of litigation and how Americans can sue for almost anything. There's just not as much "liability" over there for everything! And I swear by this time next year I'm going to be so sick of listening to Presidential debates that I might not even vote!! Awesome post :D

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    1. Thanks for popping by Lauren! It's interesting moving back and viewing your own country with expat eyes :-)

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  12. We are about to go to the States for two months on our 1st trip there. Gordon has wondered whether we would note many cultural and day to day differences. Suffice to say that from reading this post, we will. Enjoyed reading this a lot.

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  13. We've been back in the USA for a year, and I have also noticed how public the public toilets are. In Malaysia, there was not a gap around the door, not even at the bottom. I figure the USA ones are designed so you can figure out if the stall is occupied. I much prefer full coverage and the little "Occupied/Vacant" dial that changes when you lock the door. (I always assumed haggis was horrible. I may give it a try after all.) Thanks for linking up with #WkendTravelInspiration.

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    1. Yes, that's what we need - those nifty occupied/vacant dials. Would make things so much easier (and private)!

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  14. I do find some of our American ways perplexing!

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    1. We do do some perplexing things, that's for sure!

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  15. That's interesting!!! It also surprised me! :)

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    1. Interesting how the same things surprised you too. Thanks for popping by :-)

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