I've been living in the USA for a little over a year now, so it’s a good time to reflect on being a foreigner in this great land. I’m a ‘true blue’ Aussie, so please bear that in mind while reading through my observations.
The first thing I noticed was the trucks that barely fit in car lanes. The highways are chaotic too and although I got my driver’s license early on, I've only recently been willing to take them on.
Being Australian, you have to get used to people assuming that you’re from England, which isn’t particularly new as it often happens when I’m in Europe. It’s always fun to figure out the differences in the language too. “I’m looking for a carton of beer?” you might ask at the beer store. When met with a blank stare, you adjust your question to “Pardon me, case of beer.”
I knew that the US is a religious place, but I didn't realize how ‘in your face’ religion would be. I’m not going to go into details, because I’m not political at all and stay away from the news channels.
As for friendliness, people in the US are usually willing to have a chat and help you out. However, I’ll never get used to being called “Sir” or calling others “Sir” or “Ma’am”. It’s just too weird. When we bought our car, the salesman called me that at the end of every sentence. Here’s an example of the cultural differences:
Aussie phrase: “Hey mate, there’s a bloke over there who needs something.”
US translation: “Excuse me Ma’am, that gentleman over there is asking for help.”
Gentleman, really? I used it once and felt dirty straightaway. These formalities are just a form of politeness and it’s actually kind of nice.
In some countries, the customer isn't always right and is treated with disdain. At a gift shop once in Switzerland, we bought a fragile souvenir and asked the cashier if they had any wrapping paper. He looked at us with such utter contempt and bewilderment, before casually reaching under the counter for said wrapping paper. Thanks for the effort, buddy!
Anyway, in the US the customer IS ALWAYS right. Broadly speaking, if you buy something and want to return it, no questions asked. If something you bought a year ago is faulty, you can still return it and get a replacement. Now that’s service indeed!
Real cable television. For most of my life, I never had any such thing in Australia. Cable (or satellite) TV and fast internet in the US leaves Australia’s pale imitation in the dirt. And my beloved sports…oh so many sports. It sure helps for conversation around the office and football season is crazy. Not just the NFL, but college football too. Why doesn't the NFL schedule Friday night or Saturday games, I hear you ask. Well Friday night is reserved for high school football and you guessed it, Saturday is college day. In fact, every other car you see driving around will have their college emblem on the back windscreen or bumper. Around our neighborhood, college flags with appear on front lawns during game time. Speaking of flags, when some public holidays roll around, US flags also appear in front of houses and commercial areas.
All in all, the USA is not that different to other places I’ve lived. It’s just a lot bigger and more diverse. My work life here is pretty good. Compared to Norway, people work longer hours and are definitely more helpful. And it’s always fun being the token Australian in the office. You may hear others as you walk the aisles and hallways, but dare not speak because there can be only one!