Funny, strange Americans…

I’ve often heard people say ‘Americans are pretty weird’. I can see why now.

This is my second time coming to the US but I can hardly remember my impression of America the first time (I was eight) so pretty much everything was new and fresh for me this time round. I’ve been here for just over a week and this week has been like an acclimatisation period.

The term ‘weird’ is relative so I guess different would be more acceptable. Things are done ‘differently’ in the US. Every country is in various aspects (some more than others) different and unique in it’s own way but America- America is very unique.

Here are a few reasons why:

1) America does not use the metric system. I arrived in LA on the 19th and as we left the airport en route to down town, the driver mentioned the distance we had to travel. I didn’t realise till after that he was using miles. I still have no idea how far a mile is. Feet, inch, yard and Fahrenheit are also completely useless units to me. Pretty much everywhere else uses the standard Celsius but here, most weather forecasts are given in Fahrenheit.

2) Price labels don’t have the tax included. How are you supposed to know exactly how much you have to pay? During the first few days I kept forgetting that tax is excluded in the price and thought people were overcharging us. I know that tax is different among the States, but would it really be such a pain to display prices as exactly what you would actually be paying??

3) Tipping. This took me ages to get accustomed to. How much to tip? Who to tip? Do you wait for the receipt at your table? Also, Americans have a very trusting and blasé attitude towards credit cards. You hardly need to use pins and only after they swipe your card do you put down how much you want to tip.

4) I don’t know if it’s just me but a lot of toilet seats are unusually low. There is also a lot of water in the bowl. The flush seems way more forceful. I don’t even know how to explain this without sounding bizarre but I swear the toilets are different here.

5) There are words that mean slightly different things over here (I guess this one applies to many English speaking countries). The number of people that don’t understand what a rubbish bin is, is just shocking. No one uses a bathroom cubicle, they use a stall. A girl thought I was referring to driving when I mentioned a ‘fullstop’. I also still refuse to replace my ‘s’ with a ‘z’.

So I’m feeling a bit like a FOB right now but hopefully I’ll get adjusted soon. There is so much to see and do and I can’t believe tomorrow is our last night in New York and also my last night of ‘vacation’ before I’m off to college. Being an international student will be an entirely new experience for me. I’m sure that as an international student I will come across many more unusual things that Americans do. 😛

Talks with Strangers

Today I was reminded to not be afraid or reluctant to talk to strangers.

 

While I was waiting in line at the US embassy to get through security (that place is not joke), the man in front of me asked me whether I had a job visa interview. My first impression was he is eloquent, well dressed and has a professional yet not over bearing demeanour. Within minutes, I learnt that this was his fourth time at the US embassy here in Auckland (it never stops being a serious hassle), as he has to come in every time to renew his working visa. Most people that come in for interviews are students and he’s seen the same security guard here for the last 10 years. He works as a member of the cabin crew, which mostly flies to San Francisco and before that he was based in Japan for several years. He studied law at Auckland University but despite enjoying the course he knew he would never practice law. He enjoys his itinerant lifestyle which was a mid life change. In turn, I told him of my study plans in the US. He left before me after his visa appointment and on his way out he kindly wished me luck with my future studies.

 

This occurrence was reminiscent of another experience a couple of months ago when I was sitting at a McCafé in Zhuhai, China. I was writing in my journal and as a western looking man walked past he stopped and simply stated ‘You’re writing English’. I explained why I was in China and he told me that he is working in the Chimelong ocean kingdom as a jet boat performer for the next 6 months. Coincidentally that weekend I was actually going to the Chimelong theme park. Turns out he is originally from Australia and of course I had to let him know I’m from the neighbour country!

 

Although nothing ground-breaking came out of either conversation, it was strangely pleasant to talk to a stranger. I think its because there’s no baggage. You converse for a few minutes, your paths cross for a brief moment and that’s it. There is neither build up nor follow up.

 

These encounters remind me that the next time I’m alone in a public place, I’ll tell myself to find that small bit of courage to talk to someone new. Striking a casual conversation with a stranger might allow you to learn something new albeit trivial, it could be an interesting time filler or just through a brief shared moment with someone new you can be left in a good mood.