Noticed while in the US

Boston Common (c) Jared C. Benedict
Boston Common (c) Jared C. Benedict

I’ve been in the US for business lately, namely in the Boston area. It’s always interesting going to other countries, and being surprised by the little things that no one thinks to mention before you go. Has this happened to you too? What kind of things did you notice?

Here are some of mine from Massachusetts:

  • Why are the toilets so full of water? It can’t possibly be convenient, rather the opposite. Things splashing and floating…
  • Speaking about water, the tap water smelled like a swimming pool from all the chloride inside, but no one seemed to drink it anyway, so I guess it didn’t matter…
  • There’s so much heavy food! I took to avoiding anything that said “butter” or “cream”  after getting some really heavy dishes in a few places. My stomach just isn’t used to this kind of fat food. I also have yet to find a restaurant that actually served pasta “al dente.”
  • Upside on the food front, I ate so much great shellfish! Lobster! Clam Chowder! Shrimps! Yum, yum, yum!
  • Tips. Argh! My archenemy. I’ m convinced I’m forever giving the wrong amount–too little to some, too much to others, though probably more of the letter because I’m always worrying about giving too little. I hope it evens out in some way or another! Of course, trying to ask my US colleagues what was appropriate, I got all sorts of contradictory information…
  • Air conditioning. The hotels often seem to weirdly have one unit per room instead of a central system. And they’re often extremely noisy! How anyone can sleep with them on is beyond me, but maybe you get used to it after a while. I just turned mine off at night, which worked well considering the season.
  • TV-commercials. I noticed a couple of things. One, they come on about every other minute, or so it feels like. And two, they sometimes bash their competitors! Explicitly!
  • On the TV front, I was also impressed with how virtually everything had closed captions–very useful when jet-lagged and watching TV at odd hours and trying not to disturb the neighbors.
  • Finally, cars. I’ve noticed this before, of course, but I noticed it again now. Unless you’re downtown or something, this is not a place for pedestrians. Even if wherever you’re going is 500 meters away, chances are there’s a road in between, and there’ll be no way to cross it short of throwing yourself defiantly in front of the cars. (One colleague of mind tried that, and managed to live to tell the tale! Needless to say, I did not. Try it, that is. ;-))

That’s all I can think of at the moment–soon time to head back home and get jet-lagged again in the opposite direction. Still, all in all it’s been a very fruitful trip, business-wise, but also full of nifty details I picked up in case I’ll ever place a novel here. 🙂

What kind of things surprise you when going abroad?

8 thoughts on “Noticed while in the US

  • April 9, 2014 at 4:32 am

    Hi Sara! Thanks for the follow on Twitter—followed you back. Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this blog post. I’ve only been out of the US one time; the year after I graduated from high school I lived in Australia for a year, about two hours’ drive north of Sydney. That was such an eye-opener for a smallish town Midwestern girl who had never been more than two or three states away from Iowa. Americans are so American-centric that it’s interesting to hear a “foreigner’s” perceptions of American cities.

    Here are a few of the “weird” things I found about Australia:
    The door handles are up exceptionally high. First night there I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and thought someone was playing a trick on me because I couldn’t find the handle on the door.

    The toilets were in a separate room from the rest of the bathroom. Once I managed to get out of my bedroom, I walked into the bathroom but there wasn’t any toilet–just a shower and sink. By that time I was really confused and pissed off at Australians’ shitty sense of humor, plus I really needed to pee.

    They ate a lot of mutton, and I hated it. Don’t get me started on Vegemite. Although I did come to enjoy Marmite.

    Driving on the “wrong” side of the road. I knew about that before I got there, but it didn’t stop my from nearly shitting my pants when we went around a curve and a huge truck was headed toward us. I screamed, which probably caused my host father to shit his pants.

    The accent where I lived was strong, kind of like a deep southern American drawl, or like a specific accent you may have heard around Boston. For the first week I was there I could only understand about every fourth word. They, on the other hand, couldn’t get enough of me saying “water” (not a lot of “r’s” make it to the end of words there).

    Enjoy the rest of your stay in Boston—hope they’re treating you well. And hope you get over your cold soon.

    • April 9, 2014 at 2:01 pm

      It’s funny the things people never mention because they assume it’s the same everywhere!

      I’ve never been to Australia, but I’ve tried vegemite ad marmite that a friend brought back from there, and it was a very peculiar taste.

      Which reminds me about the American pancakes I had for breakfast the other day–tasted like a mix between (for me) regular pancakes (more like crepes) and bread.

      A friend of mine from the UK visited the US a while back (don’t remember exactly where), and she said most people couldn’t understand what she was saying and vice versa. Frustrating!

  • April 9, 2014 at 5:43 am

    Oh, I didn’t realize you were in the US! I’d have warned you, lol!

    The toilets–one of the first things I noticed when I moved to the UK was how shallow the toilet water was! Let me just say, without being indelicate, that there are times when the full bowl of water is better. Less cleaning, if you get my drift.

    Tap water–I don’t know about in Boston, but what I notice when I go to the US is how warm the water is, right out of the tap! Great for washing hands, not so great for drinking.

    Food–I’m vegan, so I don’t eat at most restaurants in the US, unless it’s Asian or has a vegan menu. So I avoid that issue altogether. There are actually some great vegan restaurants in the US, mostly in big cities, but elsewhere too. So it’s definitely a mix.

    Tips–20 percent. If you knew how little servers make in the US, you’d probably tip more. Most average around $2+ an hour, where minimum wage is $5-7 in most places. There’s an exception for restaurant workers in the minimum wage laws.

    Air conditioning: I hate it, but obviously you can’t live without it in much of the US. You do get used to the noise.

    TV: The thing I notice is the adverts for drugs! You’d think everyone is very ill in the US!

    Closed captions–I think there’s an option on hotel tvs to turn that off. I never have noticed it. Here I think it’s strange that BBC has a newsreader on the screen doing sign language. British sign language is different from American, it’s much more expressive.

    Cars: I notice how big they are, and how old. Most older cars are no longer road worthy here (cost of repairs is too high?) so you rarely see old clunkers, but they’re everywhere in the US. Also, the carpark spaces are huge! And slanted, not straight in.

    I have not been to Boston for any length of time, but we did spend a few days in Western Mass, (where we had great vegan food, different place every day!) and I really liked it. So I hope you do set a book there! I’d love to read it.

    • April 9, 2014 at 2:10 pm

      It’s not the first time I’ve been in the US, but it was some years now since I last went, and all the details came back to me in a rush.

      I hear you on the toilet thingy, but that reminds me of another problem–there are no toilet brushes here! 🙂

      Personally, I like the closed captions, but I think there was a button for turning them off.

      And you’re so right about the commercials! I’ve seen ones for MRI scans, even! Of course, when I got my cold and visited the pharmacy, the first thing I noticed there was that most of the medicine brands were completely different…

      I think I’m doing OK with the tips at the restaurants because, as you say, waiters here virtually have no wage (which is odd to my mind–shouldn’t it be up to the employer to pay the employees?), it’s the other areas that are more difficult. Like when I take a cab, or the hotel shuttle, or when and how much to tip at the hotel…

  • April 9, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    and the funny (sad?) thing–Boston is a far more pedestrian-friendly place than most cities in the US.

    • April 9, 2014 at 2:12 pm

      It was actually possible to walk a bit there–we followed the freedom trail–but elsewhere you might be walking along, and suddenly the sidewalk disappears in the middle of nowhere!

  • April 9, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    When I first arrived in the US from Switzerland, I also noticed a few things:

    – You don’t own a car – you don’t go anywhere. Public transportation is virtually non-existant, except in big cities. I had never driven a car before (and I was 30 when I moved here, sigh), so I had to take lessons and pass my test. I am still stressed out every time I have to go to a big city because I’m not used to the trafic.

    – American breakfast is very different from our continental breakfast. I mean, oatmeal, saussage, eggs, hashbrowns. How do you guys manage to eat it all? I am good with my croissant and coffee.

    – American coffee – erm… yuck? That mud-colored water doesn’t even taste like coffee. Gimme a ristretto, gracie mille!

    – The content of the TV commercials is very different from Europe. I noticed that there are a lot of commercials for debt reduction loans, viagra and anti-depressants. That gives an outsider the wrong idea that the Americans are all in debt up to their ears, have potency problems and are chronically depressed about it.

    – Most Americans have no knowledge of geography outside their country. If I had a dollar every time I said I was from Switzerland and got a blank stare, I would be rich.

    – The price you see on the pricetag is not the price you will pay at the counter. The fact that the tax is added at check out was a surprise for me. In Europe what you see is what you pay.

    I’m sure I’ll think of something else, but those are the things that jumped out at me when I first arrived here. Oh, and the fact that the North Carolinians and I had a lot of trouble understanding each other accents at first.

    • April 10, 2014 at 1:58 am

      I forgot to mention about the tax applied afterwards–you’re right, that takes some getting used to! Fortunately I knew about that before I visited the US the first time. 😀

      I used to live in Italy, and the breakfasts were one of the hardest things to get used to. So small! Just sweet stuff! Give me oatmeal, or yogurt with cereals, or maybe some toast…

      I admit I can’t really stomach bacon in the morning though. 🙂


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