Going abroad almost always stuns you when you’re suddenly forced to adapt to an entirely new culture. Not to make it sound too simple but things are different elsewhere. [Gasp.] I know. But we tend to underestimate just how different life really is in other countries. And the experience can be truly jaw-dropping for some.
People who went to the United States reported back the weird and hilarious things that they noticed while there, in response to redditor Daleelab’s thread on r/AskEurope. The redditor from the Netherlands wanted to know what the biggest culture shocks were for their fellow site users. And, wow, did they respond in detail.
Their answers paint a very interesting (not to say comical) picture of the United States, from peculiar bathrooms and mega cars to huge drinks and friendly strangers. Check them out below and upvote the answers that made you smile or chuckle. American Pandas, let us know what you think in the comment section. And we can wait for all the Pandas who’ve been to the US to share their own culture shock moments.
The author of the thread, redditor Daleelab, revealed to Bored Panda more about their first trip to the Western United States back in 2014 that inspired their post in the first place. "I was 13 at the time. I presumed the US to be like Europe only bigger. Then when we arrived, it was nothing like Europe, especially the Netherlands. Somehow, I got reminded of that and I wanted to know other people’s experiences going to the US," they said.
As a German the patriotism is very scarry. I worked in a camp for kids in the woods of North East and the first thing we did in the morning was to gather at the flag and sing the anthem. Every morning! I can't even remember when I sang the Germany anthem the last time?! One time the boys of my group, who were the oldest group in camp, randomly stud up after lunch and started singing the anthem again. All the kids joined in and after they were finished the chanted "USA USA..." And hit on the tables in rythm. I sat there with a guy from South Africa and we both were paralyzed. I guess for someone with a history that made it necessary to reflect critically on patriotism the American patriotism is super scary.
Police are the rudest and most aggressive I have experienced anywhere in the world (and I say this as someone who's dealt with some famously prickly regimes). I go up to ask directions and they put their hand on their gun. If I have more than a single question they are basically telling me to back off and move along. I always read about conflicts between American police and citizens; with that attitude, no wonder it's a problem.
I witnessed a mother opening several packs of sugar and sprinkle it in their kids Coca Cola. I’m still speechless.
I also can’t comprehend how people think private health insurance is a threat to their freedom or that private prisons could be a good idea.
Lastly, the gap in the toilet doors. WHY
According to the original poster, Daleelab, the biggest difference between the United States and the Netherlands that they found was how many Americans had an "utter obsession with 'patriotism.'" In the redditor's opinion, too much patriotism can lead to "dangerous nationalism."
They said: "I love the Netherlands and I’m happy to be privileged to live here and to be Dutch. But the nationalism in the US is blinding people to the huge faults in their country anyone could see if not for that nationalism. Another big difference is that almost everyone there is a Christian."
Another thing that Daleelab was shocked to see on their visit to the US was that "people would shoot the 'Welcome to [State]' signs." They also were surprised by the road signs: "Everything on the street was spelled out instead of it being symbols. It’s a sign that says 'one way' while a simple arrow would do fine in Europe."
In an interview with Yale News, Sterling Professor of Political Science, Ian Shapiro, said that the trust in politicians, parties, and democratic institutions has become eroded. The cause of this? The transfer of political power to the grassroots. As such, there has been a rise in divisive and populist politics in the US.
“Many people are concerned about the damage Trump has inflicted on America’s political institutions. What they are missing is that Trump is a product of bad political institutions. The main infirmity is that the United States has very weak political parties. They are weak because they are subject to control by unrepresentative voters on their fringes and those who fund them,” Shapiro said.
Having to say the ”Pledge of allegiance“ every single day, not gonna lie I found that really strange because it kinda gave off North Korea vibes to me, that’s just something that would be unheard of in German schools
I saw more obese and morbidly obese people than I ever had seen before in my life. Literally, before I visited NYC, I think I only once or twice saw a morbidly obese person.
The poverty. I had been to the US a lot, but always along the costal cities. Sure, I saw homeless people around LA and New York, but I’ve seen homeless people in Sweden too and figured it probably had to do with addiction or mental illness. Then a couple of years ago I decided to travel across the US. I started in Los Angeles, then Nevada and then just moved on throughout the southern parts of the country. There were places that looked like a third world country. Homes barely holding together, people with dirty clothes, just horrible horrible poverty that I’ve never ever seen in a developed country before.
The Dutch redditor who created the thread in the first place shared their own experience with going to America for the very first time.
“I went to the US in 2014. We landed in San Francisco and had to rent a car. We thought, ‘We're in America, let's rent a big car.’ So we rented a ‘big’ car. Then we joined the I101 and we were the smallest car on the road... So with our redefined car, we went to the Golden Gate Bridge but we were hungry,” they wrote.
When I was a young child I went on holiday to Florida. I remember going to a museum and seeing a ‘non guns’ sign at the entrance. My mum has to explain to young me that in the US people regularly carried guns around, which blew my mind. Still does today.
The prices. Deals were extreme. Like you would get 12 donuts for the price of 2.5 single ones. I didnt want to overpay for a single donut, but i couldnt eat 12. So i didnt bought anything.
Healthy stuff was 2x-3× the price Im used to. Unhealthy stuff was half the price.
How hard it is to walk in smaller cities. Everything is designed around cars. Want to go to the mall across the street? There’s a 6 lane road, good luck crossing that! If you somehow manage to do it, you still have to cross a gigantic parking lot that is like 10% full.
“So we stopped at a diner. My brother ordered a burger and a small 7 Up. He got a liter of 7 Up. He wasn't even halfway and the waitress came to ask if he'd like a free refill (!). To quantify the bigness would be an insult of the bigly bigness that is the American lifestyle. Certainly a shock for me,” the redditor shared their experience and just how huge everything seemed once they arrived on the West Coast.
Everything is sugary and sweet. I swear even bread was sugary instead of salty.
Any time I’m in the States I’m always shocked by the amount of homeless people. Especially in San Francisco and Los Angeless.
Obligatory (not-really-but-yes-totally-obligatory) tipping
Plenty of people have heard a lot about American culture without having delved into the culture firsthand because of how prolific movies, TV shows, books, video games, and other forms of media from the US are. So it’s only natural that some individuals have a skewed understanding of how things in American society work, basing a lot of their knowledge on stereotypes.
I went to Miami for a day when I was 11. I was just so shocked and disgusted by the slums, the country acts like they’re so far ahead but their poverty is indescribable. Every country has their poor and underdeveloped areas, but wow man. Miami gave my system a shock.
Extremely sad to see people freak out about having to get medical attention and/or illness at work. Also going through the trouble of verifying my travel insurance indeed cover me in the states. I have been less concerned going into literal war zones.
But in reality, the United States is such a huge country that it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that even Americans can experience culture shock. Somebody going from the West Coast to the East Coast or from Texas to Minnesota might encounter a host of differences. Though one doesn’t have to travel far: just going to a metropolis or visiting the countryside is enough to show you that the way that you live might not be the norm elsewhere.
All the waste and no concern for the environment. It really irks me.
And how the 'greed is good' mantra has taught many people how they shouldn't give a sh*t about others.
The loudspeaker announcements about how much we love the soldiers. What the hell? It sounds so fascist.
In hotel rooms: We didn't watch a lot of TV, but when we did, I was very taken aback by the amount of commercials. I watched Cartoon Network as a kid and I remember the screen faded to black and immediately back to whatever I watched like every 10 minutes maybe (usually during an exciting part, for dramatic effect). I realized those blackouts were meant for commercials, but my home country didn't do that.
And also commercials for booze. And just in general the intensity of them. Some were hilarious though.
Like other countries, the US is multifaceted. You’re as likely to find someone who’s willing to give you the shirt off their backs as someone who’s rude to you. Incredibly wealthy and startlingly poor? Check. Socially backwards (which can mean drastically different things depending on your point of view, of course) while also incredibly progressive/traditional? Double-check. It’s a country of contrasts. Like most (if not all) nations are.
Said it before, and I’ll say it again. The gaps in toilet stalls.
I’d heard of them before I visited but they still shocked me. Literally like 2cm of space between the partitions, for literally zero reason at all. People can look right into the stall. Goodbye privacy! Why? Whyyyyyy? Baffling.
How religious the US is. Pretty much everyone attended a church and the churches were a big part of everyone's life. Weekly attendance was a thing. One of my teachers was very progressive (gay democrat philosophy phd literature teacher in a Bush worshipping area) and he was asked by his students about which church he attended. I felt that was weird thing to ask in the first place.
So many overweight people. I'll see more alarmingly obese people in 15 minutes in an American airport than in a year living in Amsterdam
Nonetheless, there are certain features that make America, well, America. Founded on the ideas of liberty and justice for all, the United States very much values freedom of thought and expression, as well as the drive and ambition to succeed. After all, the pilgrims who were some of the first colonists escaped England because they were persecuted for their religion.
I went to the US in 2014. We landed in San Francisco and had to rent a car. We thought: "we're in america, let's rent a big car" So we rented a "big" car. Then we joined the I101 and we were the smallest car on the road... So with our redefined car we went to the Golden Gate Bridge but we were hungry. So we stopped at a diner. My brother ordered a burger and a small 7up. He got a liter of 7up. He wasn't even halfway and the waitress came to ask if he'd like a free refill (!). To quantify the bigness would be an insult of the bigly bigness that is american lifestyle. Certainly a shock for me.
The prices not including tax so you never know how much you're gonna pay because you can't multiply by 1.08875 in your head
Swiss are famous for the love of cheese and putting cheese on and in things, but America takes that to another level...even if the cheese is less good tasting. They think they have Swiss cheese, but what they call Swiss like a really sh*t version of Ementaller cheese. They are surprised that we have like 400+ kinds of cheese, none of which we call Swiss.
However, that’s not to say that there’s no conformity in the US. Quite the opposite. It’s a very human part of our nature to seek out those who think like us, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that in America speaking out (especially on polarizing topics) isn’t always met with respectful listening.
The amount of "fakeness" from people in the service industry: waiters, receptionists, bar staff, store employees etc
Everyone greets you with a fixed totally artificial smile, they speak in standard scripts, everything will be "their pleasure" and they will do it "for you". You just feel they are acting out a part but actually not listening to what you say and they certainly never do any of the things they promise. You just wish (a) they would start acting like human beings rather than pre-programmed service bots and (b) they would treat you like an actual human being rather than a visiting emperor.
The portion sizes. The price of petrol is ridiculous.
So many whackos around. People just standing in the middle of the pavement with a huge "Jesus is coming" sign or similar
Friendly yet fierce, incredibly individualistic but still very tribal. That’s the US for you, representing some of the best and some of the worst qualities of the human experience. But what do you think, dear Pandas? What’s your experience with America and Americans been like?
My experience was that Americans act or seem to be more friendly and personal. But it always feels like they don’t actually mean it. Don‘t get me wrong, I met great people in the US. But Europeans, especially Germans, seem to be more reserved at first or second contact.
How divided everything is. There are only extremes, no in between. I thought this was mostly the case on the internet.
On the drive from the in Florida airport I saw an "the NRA is a terrorist organization" billboard right next to one advertising semi automatic (assault) rifles.
I was also surprised how many churches there were in rural Florida. Most seemed to have advertising unlike anything here in Europe. Some seemed to wage war against each other.
Educational system sucks and is made to print money and throw the youth under the debt bus. Professions that don't make any sense to spend years in uni for (nurse for example) instead of doing an apprenticeship course.
Extremely dirty and old public infrastructure - NY subway feels unsafe to use at times, some of the stations look like they're collapsing any minute now
How difficult it actually is/how much knowledge is required just to not get fat
To be honest, the flag salut in school. I could not comprehend it. I had flashbacks to videos seen in history class.... Made me feel super uncomfortable.
Extreme friendliness to you when you're a customer. Too much in my opinion, it made me feel uneasy
The sheer distance between everything and the fact that most americans consider an 8 hour drive no big deal
On the first night of my first trip to the USA we ended up in a restaurant where pretty much all the customers openly carried handguns. That was quite shock.
The water level in the toilets, I walked into 3 different cubicles in JFK that where all seemingly blocked, until I realised that in the states the water level in the toilets is much higher, like half the bowl, where as here in Europe theres just a bit of water at the bottom.
Homeless and drugs ins the street, it is incredible.
I feel like this is a deeply splitted society, either you serve or you are served. Or you die in the street.
Strangers talked to me for no reason. I could be walking on the street and a total stranger would come up to me and say "nice jacket" or something similar.
I went for the first time in 1999, to Washington DC, it was the first time I had ever seen truly obese people, I grew up in Ireland and yes we had some overweight people but nothing comparable.
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