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What does American culture "feel" like to you?

 

We just got back from 6 weeks in the states visiting our family. As an American, my culture is just who I am and I don't "sense" it the way I do here.

 

When I am in Malaysia I am bombarded with Malaysian culture. The sights, sounds, smells... The language, the food, the architecture, the music... Etc, etc... Everywhere I go I am consciously and constantly aware of Malaysian culture.

 

But I didn't feel that way really when I was in the states, most likely because it is my own culture.

 

So it made me wonder... When non-Americans visit or move to the states, do THEY feel bombarded with American culture the same way I do here? And if so, what does it feel like?

 

 

.

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It is the same as you describe: architecture, language, food....

 

Some of the things I noticed most when I first came:

 

the buildings (coming from Europe, I was used to stone buildings which last centuries. Seeing the way houses are built here was very strange, and churches in strip malls are odd - to us, a church is big and has a spire and the bells ring at every hour.)

the layout of cities and the traffic. Everything spaced far apart, huge parking lots, in most locations you can't walk anywhere, scarcity of public transit . No people on the street.

food shopping. Big supermarkets. (Back home, supermarkets are much smaller. There are small butcher shops, vegetable shops, and of course bakeries on every street corner) But, people in stores tend to be much friendlier in the US.

the food. Most of all, I was missing good bread, and the bakeries. And good cheese. The number of fast food restaurants is overwhelming.

 

These are the first things to notice. Only after living in the US for some time, you notice all the other cultural differences, such as attitudes about germs (antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers everywhere), nudity (back home, city run nude public pools are normal), religion (I was not used to the rampant proselytizing I encountered), law suits (so many things done or not done for fear of being sued... very strange to me), protectiveness in child raising (back home, first graders walk themselves to school, and 5th graders use public transit across the city), eating dinner at 5pm (as opposed to 7 or 8), the different school system... the list is very long, but these are not things noticed by a tourist.

 

As a friend once put it, and that is very true:

when you first come from Germany to the US, you think everything is different. After a while, you think the differences are superficial and it is pretty much the same. And after a long time living here, you realize that the differences are really huge.

Edited by regentrude
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I think DH feels fine here, and the other two countries he has lived. He feels like home when in Europe too, but then again there is family there and he lived there nearly half his life. I feel like a total foreigner. Even though I speak the language, I am not a native. I don't know how to explain it. All the people are warm and friendly to me though so I think it's just how I perceive myself there.

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Once we befriended an older English couple at a restaurant in Arizona. They were vacationing. The husband was somewhat disabled and his wife waited on him. She was completely bemused at the number of choices in this small local-chain breakfast/lunch place. She went on a long discussion/rant about how hard it was to make a decision anywhere...grocery, drugstore, restaurant. And also how incredibly large the portions were when they ate out. Another family we met in Florida (co-incidentally also from England) talked about just how generally large everything was. Oh! And the curious dearth of cowboy boots. Somehow they thought they could walk in anywhere and get western style cowboy boots. Luckily there was an old westernwear store in Palm Beach county that I knew of and they got their cowboy boots.

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I think it has something to do with similarity to your own culture. When I came to the US from a very similar culture (in many respects, at least) I did not feel it was a big adjustment. A few little things perhaps but nothing major.

 

However, if I were to move to Malaysia, I would probably feel it's very different, like you do. I also feel Arab countries are very different and their culture hits me as a big change.

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I think the sheer number of choices is mind boggling. I've gotten sort of lost and overwhelmed in places like Target, and just left after not being able to find the soap aisle.

 

I also find many things are somewhat impersonal. People in the US are often reluctant to help or "don't want to get involved." Whereas when visiting my in laws, a random woman on the street once told my husband he was carrying my kid wrong, people tell you what food to eat (as in, you MUST eat this, it's so healthy!) or comment directly on your weight, neighbors stop in to visit all the time, people adjust your clothes for you, and random people will hold your kids for you. In the US, everyone assumes you want privacy and/or to be alone. Even my mom thinks that when I go to visit my in laws, I have lots of time alone with my husband. Quite the contrary. And if I go into my bedroom, people think I'm sick or angry. It's not normal to be alone in many other cultures, but it's often the norm in the US.

 

Also there is an expectation of decent customer service. Your electronics item breaks within the warranty period, it should be fixed. In some other countries, there is no real accountability.

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OT: Heather, you addressed this thread to non Americans, so I won't post a list of observations, but I once read that the "culture shock", when Overseas Americans return to the USA, to live, is much greater than the "culture shock" they experienced, when the moved from the USA.

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Oh boy...when I first visited the States(Ohio) 10 years ago(moved from Mumbai, India), I was astounded at a couple of things:

 

1- The size of a bag of chips

2- The Size of the refrigerator

3- That we have to 'drive' to the grocery store.

4-No people on the road.

5- The HUGE portion sizes.

 

I got used to all of the above within 6 years, so much so that when I moved back home, My eyes and stomach had to readjust to the smaller sizes in almost everything.

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I also find many things are somewhat impersonal. People in the US are often reluctant to help or "don't want to get involved." Whereas when visiting my in laws, a random woman on the street once told my husband he was carrying my kid wrong, people tell you what food to eat (as in, you MUST eat this, it's so healthy!) or comment directly on your weight, neighbors stop in to visit all the time, people adjust your clothes for you, and random people will hold your kids for you. In the US, everyone assumes you want privacy and/or to be alone. Even my mom thinks that when I go to visit my in laws, I have lots of time alone with my husband. Quite the contrary. And if I go into my bedroom, people think I'm sick or angry. It's not normal to be alone in many other cultures, but it's often the norm in the US.

 

 

I live in an area where everyone talks to everyone. Just while shopping at Costco tonight, this man asked me if I had tried an item in my cart. We were chatting for a couple of minutes about it. I talk to everyone. Funny, because I don't have many friends here at all. I just find that people are "friendly" for the most part. Besides the nasty ones of course LOL.

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in a word .... BIG :lol:

 

Every single serving from every single place was enough to feed a family. The size of the pizza slice had me wondering how big the oven must be. THe "single" serve of lasagne was enough to drown a family. And gosh, even the mcdonalds stuff was BIG. Even hubby (notorious over-eater) couldn't eat a single serve of anything.

 

The shops & streets were somewhere between sydney & england in look and feel. Kind of dark/grey/morose feeling for streets/outside, with the inside of the stores all "sterile" and open (just display, not much stock noticable)

 

In hawaii, the shops/mall looked and felt sterile (missing emotions) and the landscape was.....picture perfect, which made me realize picture perfect is not perfect after all (it too looked cold, everything in its uniform place)

 

I actually liked US for shopping, and just general looking

 

I loved Bali & Fiji (off the beaten track AND resorts, so all of it) it felt homey, very cultural, down to earth/nature-y. My mother went on that trip, she had major culture shock. Only thing I didn't like about that were the horses (nasty looking flea-bitten, stubborn un-horse looking things)

 

But these are the sort of views I am use to :D So people from US may get culture shock coming here too:

 

Kangaroo on Beach

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Evil Emu's

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Backyard of old House

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Atlas Petting the Kangaroo

th_PICT0138.jpg

Chaos' Wombat Friend

th_DSCF1122Medium.jpg

 

:tongue_smilie:

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I found a whole website of comments like that once, it was really interesting . . . i'm drawing a blank right now. I remember my husband (canadian) was surprised how many drug stores there are.

 

 

My Canadian dh has said the same thing. That, and how enormous portion sizes were in restaurants. He still talks about the "trough of fries and burger" they served him at a Chili's restaurant 12 years ago. :lol:

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We visit down there regularly and it does differ slightly from area to area but in general, I find the food portions ridiculously large. I have also found many of the people to be more demanding. They seem to feel entitled to better and more. The way people even talk often came across as a little pushy and rude.

Now not everybody is like that, and I have some very close friends throughout the US that are amazing people, but it does seem to be a common thing. I also find people to be fairly vocal about their likes and dislikes.

 

Oh and the whole biscuits and gravy thing for breakfast was almost enough to make me sick. :D I watched them being made and had to excuse myself from breakfast. I did manage to swallow the grits. lol

Edited by Dory
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OT: Heather, you addressed this thread to non Americans, so I won't post a list of observations, but I once read that the "culture shock", when Overseas Americans return to the USA, to live, is much greater than the "culture shock" they experienced, when the moved from the USA.

 

I agree with this. I remember having to choose a toothbrush for the first time after moving back to the US and being totally overwhelmed. In Germany, we had a handful of toothbrushes, not half an aisle. It really is crazy.

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I agree with this. I remember having to choose a toothbrush for the first time after moving back to the US and being totally overwhelmed. In Germany, we had a handful of toothbrushes, not half an aisle. It really is crazy.

 

When I first arrived in Malaysia I was frustrated by the lack of choice in almost anything. After I adjusted to it I realized how much more simple it is and grocery shopping is fast and easy.

 

Back in the states this summer it took me FOREVER to buy groceries because I could not choose!

 

I definitely still miss a lot of things that we don't get here but nothing I can't live without.

 

But the cars. Oh, the cars are so nice in the US. The cars here are pitiful. :glare:

 

.

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When I first arrived in Malaysia I was frustrated by the lack of choice in almost anything. After I adjusted to it I realized how much more simple it is and grocery shopping is fast and easy.

 

Back in the states this summer it took me FOREVER to buy groceries because I could not choose!

 

I definitely still miss a lot of things that we don't get here but nothing I can't live without.

 

But the cars. Oh, the cars are so nice in the US. The cars here are pitiful. :glare:

 

.

 

Ah, the cars in Germany are nice, lol.

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The first thing my Euro family wants to do when they arrive is go to Target. lol They like the little restaurants (and avocado!) and ice cream places here, and the cute shops. They also like stores such as Savers, although they would *never* admit to 'used' items back home. :001_smile:

Edited by LibraryLover
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I agree with this. I remember having to choose a toothbrush for the first time after moving back to the US and being totally overwhelmed. In Germany, we had a handful of toothbrushes, not half an aisle. It really is crazy.

 

 

I try to stay out of regular markets as much as possible. I can't deal with choosing from an array of 10,000 toothbrushes! And the bath gels! That's nuts!

 

The bath gels/soap I get from a local health food store. Sometimes my dh gets a grand desire to go buy certain things in bulk; toilet paper, dish washing detergent, dog food, garbage bags. I let him do that all by himself. It's too much for me. I only like small stores. I cannot deal with regular markets, so forget about Costco or Walmart. I simply cannot do it. I need a new pair of workout tights. I know I can get them at Target for $10 bucks, but I hate the place. It's crazy to consider paying the Title 9 money... yet such large stores make me consider jumping off a cliff!

Edited by LibraryLover
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My biggest cultural shock was the lack of people on streets. After 18 years I still can't get used to American cities that are really "urbanized areas" and not what I would consider a city. I long for cobblestone narrow streets and small shops for meat, bread, apartments on top of stores, people on the streets ..... I don't like that my shopping requires a special trip to the shopping center. I am still stumped when faced with a choice of 40 different kind of vinegars. I miss huge family gatherings, crazy relatives who ridicule your weight or anything else that would be completely inappropriate. I thing the biggest difference between cultures is personal boundaries.

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I don't think there was a lot of culture shock coming from Australia but I was certainly overwhelmed with:

 

Choice -so much available of everything and HUGE portions of it - DH and I shared meals and DH is an overeater. Going to buy cereal was like :001_huh: - way too much to choose from.

 

Entitlement - people could be overbearing and pushy and got upset over the smallest thing (like a pickle on a burger). In Australia you can't really request things exactly how you like it. If you don't want a pickle on your burger you take it off and get rid of it yourself - no one here is going to treat you like a special snowflake :lol:

 

Tips (which was probably why you can special order). We don't tip here so I kind of resented it there (although I understand why it is done). I also really hated getting great service :lol:

 

In Australia the servers bring your food and unless you are in a super classy restuarant -you never see them again. In the US it's like every freaking 2 seconds someone is asking "How's the meal, can I get you anything, can I refill your drink?" and it annoyed me because I couldn't eat the darn meal to know if it was any good because of all the interuptions

 

Plus you drive on the wrong side of the road :tongue_smilie:

 

And here is one especially for you LDS -

 

we stayed in Utah for two weeks. It was weird :D and the people seemed a little over the top and waaaay too smiley and perfect to be real people :001_unsure: I kept feeling like everything I did was being watched because it was guaranteed there was another LDS in in the same vicinity :D

 

In Australia the only time you run into other LDS people is at church on Sunday or engaged in church activities. And the lessons that were prepared -holy cow - it would take me two months to do all the effort and work they did. We go by the less is more motto here :lol: I was really glad when we left and got back out into normal LDS world.

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I had a friend who was from Germany and her mother (also native German) always used to say, "America is the most patriotic country in the world. Every building has a flag on it." In my husband's country too (the Dominican Republic) the flag is only displayed on government buildings. People just don't have a flag waving off of the roof of their houses there the way they do here.

 

A lot of Cuban exiles that come here to Florida absolutely break down when they see a typical American grocery store. To come from there where people have so little to here where there are just so many choices is just overwhelming.

Edited by Ibbygirl
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My biggest cultural shock was the lack of people on streets. After 18 years I still can't get used to American cities that are really "urbanized areas" and not what I would consider a city. I long for cobblestone narrow streets and small shops for meat, bread, apartments on top of stores, people on the streets ..... I don't like that my shopping requires a special trip to the shopping center. I am still stumped when faced with a choice of 40 different kind of vinegars. I miss huge family gatherings, crazy relatives who ridicule your weight or anything else that would be completely inappropriate. I thing the biggest difference between cultures is personal boundaries.

 

Sounds like you need to move to an Italian neighborhood in NYC. :p hehe

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I noticed the flags too. It seemed (forgive me) as if the US was trying too hard, perhaps because of a short history. I was used to countries that were more relaxed about their nationhood.

 

I remember how chaotic the roads felt (overtaking on both sides, as opposed to just on one side in the UK).

 

Grocery stores were a disappointment: lots of choices, but not of the kinds of things that I was interested in. Lots of versions of packet goods.

 

I noticed the dominance of cars. It felt as if towns were designed around cars. I remember going to a 'nice' shopping centre (Highland Park Village) in Dallas and it seemed like a sea of cars with the odd shop inserted into it.

 

I also (in Dallas) noticed how few people walked. My mother in law (fit at the time) would, even in cool weather, always take her car out rather than walking in her safe neighbourhood. She would drive her car to the mall to walk.

 

ETA: All the above was negative. I loved the landscape in the US and I also loved Husband's old friends.

 

Laura

Edited by Laura Corin
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I am/was American, but immigrated to NZ 15 years ago. After my visit last month, I noticed that everything seemed BIGGER.

 

The streets

The lawns

The houses

The refrigerators

The stores

The packaging

The portion sizes

The cars

The people

and the personalities.

 

more friendly, but also often bigger than life. Louder, more animated, less constrained. People here sometimes refer to Americans as "social lubrication." :001_smile:

 

Ruth in NZ

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:iagree:

 

Just, big! The houses, the highways, the cars, the shops, the food... everything - HUGE!

 

:iagree: And the country itself. One thing we took note of this summer was how big the country itself is. We live on a small island and you always have this feeling of "smallness."

 

But when we were in the states this summer it felt like I could drive for days and days and never run out of road.

 

I actually really miss the good customer service in the US and it amuses me when people complain about it not being good enough. They should see what it is like here! :lol:

 

The patriotism is the same in Malaysia, though. Flags EVERYWHERE and it is a LAW that you have to have a picture of the king and queen hanging in full view at your place of business (but not in your home).

 

.

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I'm agreeing with everyone else who says that everything is just big. Bigger houses, bigger roads, bigger buildings, bigger cars, bigger portion sizes (an understatement!). For me, it's all just too much.

 

I also noticed the flags - I actually quite like that sense of national pride, but agree with Laura that in some ways it could be a bit false? Again, I suppose it just feels a bit much.

 

And I know I've heard you ladies complain again and again about customer service, but I can assure you that it is really much better than most other places I have been to! (I am pretty well travelled and have lived long term in a number of countries across the world).

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And I know I've heard you ladies complain again and again about customer service, but I can assure you that it is really much better than most other places I have been to! (I am pretty well travelled and have lived long term in a number of countries across the world).

 

We complain about everything. :D hehe When I'm out of the country and come back home, that's the first thing I notice, is how grouchy and complainy everyone is here, well, in Miami International airport at any rate. :tongue_smilie:

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Have you been to London?? If there was an Olympic medal for grumpiness, the UK team would win gold, silver AND bronze!

 

:lol::lol: I have been to some countries in Europe, but they were all non-English-as-a-national-language countries. :) I've been to the Caribbean and the people I encountered there were all super friendly and nice.

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I'm American, but as a third culture kid growing up overseas I remember feeling overwhelmed by the size of things and the focus on consumerism when we visited the States. Walking through an American shopping mall after living in Bolivia was an overwhelming and kind of sickening experience--so much excess.

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Yeah, continental Europe is pretty different. Much more relaxed, much better weather (I blame lack of sunshine for many, many things), better food, slower pace of life. It also helps if you can't understand everything people are saying! There was a tension in the air in one small town we visited in Sicily, but we didn't speak enough Italian to get into any trouble!!

 

I used to be so patriotic, but having lived in other places now I just can't get happy about the UK anymore. It kind of links in to Heather's OP - I have culture shock in my own country. All the things I never used to notice, now irritate me to no end - and I'm permanently thinking 'such and such was soooo much better elsewhere'. Thankfully we're currently in the north of England where people are still friendly as long as you're not in a big city. We're just dreaming of our next trip to sunnier climes.........

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Yeah, continental Europe is pretty different. Much more relaxed, much better weather (I blame lack of sunshine for many, many things), better food, slower pace of life. It also helps if you can't understand everything people are saying! There was a tension in the air in one small town we visited in Sicily, but we didn't speak enough Italian to get into any trouble!!

 

I used to be so patriotic, but having lived in other places now I just can't get happy about the UK anymore. It kind of links in to Heather's OP - I have culture shock in my own country. All the things I never used to notice, now irritate me to no end - and I'm permanently thinking 'such and such was soooo much better elsewhere'. Thankfully we're currently in the north of England where people are still friendly as long as you're not in a big city. We're just dreaming of our next trip to sunnier climes.........

 

:grouphug::grouphug: You can come down here to South Florida. The people complain in English, Creole, Portuguese and Spanish on a regular basis! :D And it's definitely sunny.:p

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:grouphug::grouphug: You can come down here to South Florida. The people complain in English, Creole, Portuguese and Spanish on a regular basis! :D And it's definitely sunny.:p

 

:lol::lol:

 

Right, I've got to stop messing about on here! Hiding from the kids is not helping the noise level in the house!

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I'm American, but as a third culture kid growing up overseas I remember feeling overwhelmed by the size of things and the focus on consumerism when we visited the States. Walking through an American shopping mall after living in Bolivia was an overwhelming and kind of sickening experience--so much excess.

 

I am and always will be American but I'm generally a homebody and keep a fairly small circle, especially this year. This weekend dh and I went to the "big city" and I just felt overwhelmed by all of it. All the lights and noise and stuff, crappy stuff, so much out there and so much waste. It is amazing what we surround ourselves with as the environment is generally not one I think of aesthetically pleasing or such.

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I lived in Japan for two years (we moved back to the US right before 9/11). We hadn't been back for the entire two years we lived in Japan so when we got back everything felt so foreign to us. I had as much culture shock coming back as I did when I got to Japan. I remember feeling like everything was moving in fast-forward (in the US). Nobody seemed to just be, everyone was always in such a hurry for everything. I also felt that although people were friendly there wasn't respect. My kids had a lot of trouble adjusting to the fact that they couldn't just wave their hands in the air and cars would stop for them to cross the street!

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I had a friend who was from Germany and her mother (also native German) always used to say, "America is the most patriotic country in the world. Every building has a flag on it." In my husband's country too (the Dominican Republic) the flag is only displayed on government buildings. People just don't have a flag waving off of the roof of their houses there the way they do here.

 

A lot of Cuban exiles that come here to Florida absolutely break down when they see a typical American grocery store. To come from there where people have so little to here where there are just so many choices is just overwhelming.

 

When I was in Denmark (Almost 15 years ago) the Danish flag was everywhere. Also (if I remember correctly) just before sundown everyone rushed around the lower or take down the flag.

 

My Mom often takes proudly of the Danish flag saying it is the oldest flag in the world. (Note I am not saying it is, I'm not sure about that. I just know my Mom is always saying that)

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I was born and raised in the USA. When I came back from my time overseas (Belize, Malawi) the thing that shocked me was the toothpaste aisle.

 

In Belize or Malawi, we were happy to FIND toothpaste. One brand, happy to have it. Or soap, one brand, happy to have it. Here, it's 47 varieties of toothpaste!?!!?!?! Thirty-nine choices for soap? It really is mind-boggling, even to me.

 

The other thing that stood out to me was the shallowness and exorbitant wealth of the American churches.

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