Those Weird Americans

I promised myself when I did the move to California that I would keep a journal of the culture shock I feel while reacclimating to America. This post is that journal. I will keep it updated as the adventure unfolds.

Things I've found shocking about moving from the US to Bavaria and then back to the US:

  • It's spelled "shocking," not "schocking."
  • I am outraged to pay $3 a gallon for gas, but I'm overjoyed to be able to fill my tank for only $40.
  • What Germans consider pleasant silence, Americans consider an awkward moment. Americans feel compelled to fill every moment of silence with conversation.
  • The food here tastes odd. There's some flavor that I can't quite put my finger on, but it's in everything, from meats to vegetables to the bread. Maybe it's partially hydrogenated soy bean oil, or maybe it's that food in the US is targeted for a longer shelf life than the food in Germany. I don't know, but it's really starting to bug me.
  • I am having serious carbonated water withdrawal. I may have to invest in a carbonator.
  • Real Mexican food is worth the trouble of moving 7000 miles to the left. The Mexican food in Europe is terrible.
  • Americans really don't know how to drive. I think I have figured out why the American highways and interstates are so messed up, though. Because there is a relatively low speed limit, there is a priority inversion among the drivers. Drivers who are traveling at high speed are doing so illegally, i.e. they have no right to do what they're doing. Drivers who are driving more slowly are usually just observing the speed limit, i.e. they do have the right to do what they're doing. The result is that the drivers who are staying within the speed limit take precedence over the speeders, and so they have no remorse about doing 20mph below traffic speed in the left lane.
  • It's not all the fault of the drivers, though. The American roads are bad. The markings are confusing. The flow is often very bad. The only thing I like better about the American roads is that the color of the lines inidicates whether the street is one-way or two-way. My biggest complaint is that I miss the little blue arrow signs which tell me on what side of a median to drive.
  • I hate stop signs. They're everywhere over here! In Germany, stop signs are pretty rare. The lesser street normally just yields to the greater street.
  • I am very excited that I can finally buy cilantro (Koriander) at the grocery store again. In Germany, it was a pain to find.
  • The weather here is amazing. Bavaria was fun for a couple of years, but I suspect I would go mad if I had to give up summer for the rest of my life.
  • No one says goodbye to me when I leave a restaurant here. Even in fast food places in Bavaria, someone always acknowledged me when I got up to leave.
  • I am shocked at how many places accept credit cards here. There's an ad on the radio right now about how McDonald's now accepts credit cards! I have $0.07 cents in my wallet, and because I have plastic, that's been enough for over a week.
  • Did I mention that the Mexican food here is really good?
  • I'm surprised that I'm not more shocked about seeing so many huge cars on the road. I just can't seem to find it strange, even after living in the land of the Smart.
  • I don't know how to use commas anymore. In German, every little phrase is separated, by a comma. In English, there are some archane rules, that no one really understands.
  • Banking in this country is absurd! What's with these paper paychecks? In what century are we living? And why the heck does it cost me $25-$40 to send a wire transfer?!? Wells Fargo is even charging me $10 to receive a wire transfer!!! My kingdom for a TAN list!
  • Turning right on red is a terrible and dangerous thing. It should be illegal. (In Germany, it is.)
  • Being able to shop at any time of the day or night is as liberating as the right to vote!
  • I'm shocked at how friendly everyone is. I've had more invitations to lunch and dinner in the last week than I did the entire time I lived in Germany. That's not to say that Germans aren't nice folks. They're just a little more reserved than Americans, especially about inviting people into their homes.
  • I am absolutely ecstatic about the stove in the house we bought here. It's gas! I am so sick of the electric stove we had in Germany that I could scream. I will miss the convection oven, though.
  • Americans may be bad drivers, but Californians need to be shot! Even Italians are better drivers!
  • Dear, God! Alcohol in the US is expensive! Next time I fly to Germany, I'll be coming home with a suitcase packed full with booze.
  • I can't believe how friendly people are here. We've been here about 3 weeks, and we already know our neighbors, we've already been to a party, and we've already received a bunch of lunch and dinner invitations.
  • I really miss the meats in Germany. I think whatever room is left in my suitcase after filling it with booze, will be filled with proscuito, Schwarzwälderschinken, and Südtirolerschinken.
  • I am constantly shocked at how overweight Americans are. A favorite hobby of mine in Germany was girl-watching at the mall. Here, though, it seems like every girl who's old enough to have a figure is significantly overweight. The guys are no better. Lay off the french... er... freedom fries, guys!
  • I have trouble with American grocery stores. So much of what's in there is loaded with artificial ingredients and/or massive amounts of sugar. I struggle to find anything aside from meats and veggies that I actually feel comfortable buying. Sun-Maid Goldens & Cherries are absolutely the bomb, though. They're dried cherries and golden raisins with no added sugar, and I could eat them by the truckload.
  • Shopping in the US is an adventure now. I may never get used to the pitiful selection at the deli counter and in the bakery department. Something I found very interesting is that the smallest bag of sugar I could find here in the US was twice the size of the largest bag of sugar I could find in Germany. Also, the largest bag of flour at the local grocery store here in Palo Alto is half the size of the largest bag I could buy at the local store in Regenstauf.
  • In the grocery stores, I can't believe how huge everything is. In Germany I got used to buying in small quantities. In the US, there is no such thing as small quantities. One of the most painful products to buy here is baking powder. In Germany it comes in small (~1 tbsp) packets. Here in the US, the smallest container I've found is about a half cup (~125mL). How can one use up a half cup of baking powder before it starts to go stale? (Especially when the bags of flour are so small!)
  • More to come...

you know, one thing that I could never come to terms with in the US was banking. Why do all the bills come every month? Why do they want paper checks? Why do I have to pay a premium to do online bill payment? Why do I have to pay to take money out of ATMs? Why is free banking something so unique the banks make a fuss of it? Even in the EU something needs to be done about international ATMs and money xfers; EU to US hurts in either direction. Also, you forgot to mention the joy of being able to buy groceries at 7pm on a sunday evening. Or have you got so used to shopping-ends-at-midday-saturday that you still get up at 9am on saturday, finish your kaufing by noon and then sit around all weekend. Have you also phoned up the police to complain that someone is mowing their lawn on a Sunday?

Posted by Steve Loughran on October 11, 2005 at 05:15 AM PDT #

Congratulations for the successful move. I hope you stayed long enough in Germany to notice that Bavaria has nothing to do with the rest of the country ;-) I wish you all the best over there. Of course I am wondering that your list of annoying things in the states does not include the quality of news broadcast. It always astonishes me what I missed from daily world news after one week of conference in the US.

Posted by Peter on October 11, 2005 at 05:02 PM PDT #

Hi, I like your comments about America and want to discuss you letting me use them for a website I'm setting up that will gather global perspectives on America. Will you please email me? Thanks.

Posted by Carrie on February 06, 2006 at 12:11 AM PST #

If Americans were to comment about you, I don't think you'd like it. Go back to your country.

Posted by guest on November 29, 2006 at 05:50 AM PST #

Carrie's comment above is indicative of how hyper-sensitive Americans are to the slightest criticism of their ways. This may be the result of having so little experience with the rest of the world, that they've hardly experienced true cultural differences, much less discussed them openly.

Posted by The Anit-Carrie on March 27, 2007 at 05:39 AM PDT #

I meant the ANTI-Carrie, not the "Anit" Carrie.

Posted by The ANTI - Carrie on March 27, 2007 at 05:40 AM PDT #

I know how you feel. I basically grew up in Germany as a military brat. No matter what is said everybody will complain about one thing or another and someone will get mad. I was as confused as you were trying to transition back to US customs on my last move back. There are good and bad in any country and we all have to accept that. By the way, you forgot to mention that the autobahn has no posted speed limit, taxis are usually bmw, volvo, audi, mercedez, and it is not uncommon to be passed by a vw bug in the hammer lane while your driving what is considered a sports car here i.e. porsche.

Posted by lisa on August 12, 2007 at 03:18 PM PDT #

Every Country has good and bad Things.I noticed that almost everything you found is "bad".Why the Heck did you move here?Because of Mexican Food???

Posted by Tony on August 04, 2008 at 10:16 AM PDT #

Haha...i think the reason we have big boxes of Baking Soda is because people use it for more than just cooking...people brush their teeth with it to whiten the teeth, put it in our shoes/refrigerators to absorb odors, and even wash clothes with it.

Posted by Domininque on July 10, 2009 at 04:47 AM PDT #

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