Apart from the subway in New York City, there really just is no comparison to the European system. Fundamentally if you want to make the best of your time in the US, you need to be able to drive. The Dc metro goes on fire more than I’m comfortable with considering that it’s a tiny metal capsule running underground. On a larger scale, I never thought I’d miss Ryanair! Low cost flights really just aren’t a thing, and while I know it’s partially because the distances are larger it’s very frustrating considering how much there is to see in the United States.
While this is of course a generalisation, American society has a tendency to be very proud of itself. For starters there are flags absolutely everywhere, and I have never heard a national anthem so frequently. Not to mention freedom, and the requirement that every public speaker say “God bless the United States of America”. It can also extend to a resistance to criticism that can discourage debate or input from outsiders. While countries like Denmark and Israel do something similar, it still grates a little after a while.
There are just so many ads on TV. It’s as if for every 10 minutes you watch of a program, you have to spend the same amount of time on ads (including during the news) with weirdly elaborate storylines like nothing I’ve ever seen. Also, they advertise drugs. At some concert venues they even have big screens that run ads between the bands.
This is a big double-edged sword for me. Why do I need to bring a jumper to the cinema and the supermarket?? I spent my entire master’s year trying to figure out the correct number of layers that I needed to be comfortable in the classroom. Also, I’m emotionally attached to the existence of radiators in houses, so HVAC is a strange concept that took a lot of getting used to. Why is it so loud? And where am I supposed to put my wet shoes to dry when it’s raining?
Queuing for a table at a restaurant that doesn’t allow reservations
There isn’t much to elaborate on here, I hate queuing, and I’m a sucker for planning. Please just let me book a table instead of hovering around the door for 20 minutes!
I think every European who has ever spent time in America is familiar with this one. It’s awkward and weird and involves maths. Mostly I just hate the game that you have to play where we pretend it’s an optional extra, while knowing full well I’ll get chased down the street if I don’t give enough. I’d say please just pay your staff, but in several states now the mandatory minimum wage for servers has been raised and yet the culture persists. Also, I have to tip the hairdresser? Seriously?
Traditional news as I grew up with, just doesn’t really seem to exist. Instead, there are 24/7 panel discussions, where journalists ask other journalists their opinions on local American issues, mostly politics. There’s also a general lack of international news unless it’s a hot button issue. Finally, each channel has a distinct political affiliation and I just hate having to watch three separate channels to try and get an unbiased overview. While it can be more engaging, sometimes you just want a vaguely bland person to tell you what happened, no opinions necessary.
Obligatory small-talk with strangers
While I was aware of this stereotype going in, I had no idea how pervasive it would be. Everyone from the supermarket checkout staff to your Uber driver wants to have a slightly over-sharey discussion about life. I am a somewhat grumpy European, please stop asking me how my day is, you don’t care. Also, I have no idea how to react to your telling me that your estranged twin brother is visiting this weekend. It’s stressful, where are the boundaries? Who knows??
A big pet peeve of mine comes from the intensely work-driven side to the US. I don’t know if it stems from the idea of the American dream, or the vast difference in the social safety net, but it’s everywhere. There seems to be an overall rejection of taking holidays or days off (the tech sector is changing this, but it’s not pervasive). Not only do employers offer less vacation time in the US and limit your sick days, but people feel unable to take them for fear of being outed as replaceable in their absence. Additionally, everything must serve a purpose and so for many, the idea of a casual hobby is considered entirely wasteful. I know several people who, upon realising that they didn’t have any hobbies, got second jobs instead. The idea of rest as fuel for productivity is deeply unpopular, and as you can imagine, it makes things very stressful.
To end on a light note, there is simply no decent chocolate to be found in the US. Though I can’t entirely complain about this because it definitely helped me keep lower my junk food intake. I will never understand the love people have for Hersheys, just no. Why is it so waxy? How can it simultaneously be waxy and dusty? It’s a sad, sad mystery. In fairness though, I grew up in Belgium, so America just never had a chance!