And our “five very (nationality) things” series continue! Today, the list is about the United States! What habits do you consider as characteristic of Americans? Tell me if you agree or disagree with the list below!
MAKING A CONVERSATION OUT OF ANYTHING
I had already realized this before I ever moved to the US. I have a few American friends and I was always amazed by how they could turn a not-so-awkward silence into an exciting conversation. Could be about the table cloth, the salt shakers, the weather or a funny past story – they would tell it in such a manner that you never thought you would be so enthusiastic about that random topic. I guess it´s no wonder that the biggest story-telling industry, Hollywood, is in the US.
When I moved there, I lived this on a daily basis but, this time, not with friends – with strangers, which makes it a bit weirder. I remember once I was crossing a street in the city center of Santa Barbara, California, and a guy started to smile at me, coming from the opposite direction. I immediately started to panic, because we all know how terrifying it is to meet somebody at the streets that knows you while you have no idea who that person is. I was still not used to the American way of doing things by then so, of course I thought he had recognized me from somewhere, probably the university.
When we were getting closer, he looked at my shoes and said “I love your shoes, they are so cute!”. I was caught completely off-guard. I was expecting anything but…that. In the end, he was just a stranger that really likes shoes with little cats printed on it.
After this episode, a thousand more happened. A girl I never saw before turned to me at a store and asked if I thought she should buy the dress she was holding, a guy at 7-Eleven gave me a speech about how normal Coke was better than diet Coke, a woman at a supermarket asked which kind of cereal I preferred because she couldn´t choose one….and so on. At the beginning, it all felt pretty awkward and I asked myself constantly why were those people talking to me. But, by the end of my stay, these episodes had become so normal that I probably turned into the talkative stranger myself.
ENJOYING BIG PORTIONS OF FOOD
I gotta say, I´m with them on this one, guys. Though many get astonished by the big portions they are served in the US, considering it unhealthy, I have to confess that I love it, lol. I love eating, and there´s nothing more disappointing to me than ordering food at a restaurant and being served two peas on a plate.
I do understand the complaints though – the waste is, indeed, a problem. But I think there are ways to get around it. You can, for example, share meals, something we actually do quite often there. Another idea is to ask for doggy bags and eat the left overs on another day – many hotels are, after all, equipped with microwaves. Another option is to order half portions if you are not that hungry – many restaurants offer this for particular dishes. Actually, even if they don´t upfront, you can ask for half of a portion to eat there and a doggy bag for the other half – this way you can give the doggy bag to someone at the streets you find along the way back.
Keep in mind that this custom applies not only to main dishes, but also to starters and dessert. So…when ordering a starter/finger food at a restaurant in the US, be aware that it might end up being your main meal, lol.
COLLEGE SPORTS ARE A BIG THING
This is something we learn from American movies: college sports are taken (very!) serious! As they should be everywhere, right? I find it awesome that young college athletes are admired and given so many opportunities in the US. They also serve as an example for small kids who will be maybe influenced into following their footsteps, pursuing a healthier life.
When I was studying at the University of California in Santa Barbara, I went to a few soccer games and the atmosphere was great. In the first game I went to, which I think was the opening of the season, we even got free T-shirts to support the team. There were cheerleaders, the mascot, the whole shebang. Though it´s not something I would do regularly, I do think it´s a great experience for foreigners.
In case you are a student in an university there, going to these events is also a great way to create a sense of belonging. Many colleges use, as a matter of fact, collective nicknames under which the athletic teams compete. These names become a way of identification for life, forming a connection between you and other university alumini. For example, at UCSB we used to refer to current and former students as Gauchos, the sports´ mascot.
You will like this one depending on where you come from. Some countries have the habit of tipping, some, don´t. In Brazil, for example, it is common to tip 10 to 15% of the bill, and it normally comes already in the check. Still, if you don´t feel you were treated well as a client, you can refuse to pay it.
In the US, it is very common to not only tip, but to tip generously – I mean, for my Brazilian standards. There are restaurants that even charge a minimum amount of tips. Others suggest a percentage according to your satisfaction with the service, for instance: 15-18% – service was average, 21-23% service was good, etc. I would say that the standard is around 20%. Still, you have to consider the area as well – in the wine valley in California, for example, we realized that the suggested tips were higher.
This is a habit worth getting familiar with, because it is something, indeed, expected. Once at a restaurant in Napa, we were so badly treated by a waiter that we decided to tip him in our European standards, giving him only around 10% of the bill. We honestly thought it was a lot more than what he deserved for what we had to put up with. Still, in the end, he was shocked that that was all he got. Go figure.
We have to keep in mind as tourists though, that in the US many waiter and waitresses only work on a tip-basis. Though I do think it is a high amount to be added to the bill indeed – and one you should consider when deciding to eat out-, I have to say that 99% of the times I had excellent service in the country. Might be a difficult habit to get used to, but it is one of those things you have to adjust to while a guest in another country.
COLLEGE LIFE IS INDEED AN AMERICAN PIE MOVIE
This is another thing we see a lot in movies and, guess what? It is true. I honestly thought the portray of American college parties and life was a caricature of the real situation, but….no. It is the real deal.
Though I was there as a master student and there wasn´t such a thing as “the athlete”, “the cheerleader” or “the nerd” in my class (I think, in this sense, we were actually all nerds lol), I could easily recognize them across campus. There were also the famous clubs, which you could join based on your interests, like the books´club or the animal welfare club. I find these pretty cool as side activities. And yes, they do count in your CV.
The neighborhood where the university is located is normally full of bars, restaurants, sorority and fraternity houses. I actually loved to walk by these houses – they look so pretty and neat. In the first week of classes, at night, there were parties basically in all of these houses and buildings around. You can do some party hopping and delay your stay where you enjoy the most. Though some of my friends had a lot of fun in these events, to me, the opening week was the first and the last, lol. Too many drinks flying around, too many drunk people, too much fishy liquids coming down from windows. No, thanks – I will keep enjoying it only in the movies.