6 things I will never understand about the US of A

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While I’ve come to slowly appreciate certain peculiarities about the American lifestyle and culture, there is still a number of things I fail to comprehend and adapt to. Probably for life. Here’s my top 6 – in no particular order, really…

1) Americans queing for Starbucks. And Starbucks only. 
There is a queue of maybe 12 coffee cravers in front of the coffee shop with the ubiquitous green coffee logo, but nearly nobody waiting in line right across, even though the competitor serves… Starbucks coffee. Can you really be so stuck in your ways to prefer waiting in line?

2) Parking spots wasting space
Despite all the technological advancements that mostly come to life in this very country, curbside parking is still regulated by posts with coin slots (ofr, the more “advanced” version: posts with credit card slots), one for two spots, with spots so large that two of them could easily fit three vehicles. But no, you can’t make use of that space, as the posts will blink madly at you if you dare try… What a waste of precious parking space!

3) Plastic bags so weak that you need two for an average load
I think one can still claim that Americans by and large don’t care too much about the environment. Take supermarkets. The plastic bags that are used for packing are typically so weak that the staff is forced to use two-in-one! Like, always! Even when just putting eggs and bread in. Talking about waste…

4) Flight attendants showing you how to buckle up
Granted, this is not only an American thing, but… Really? Do you really have to show how to use a seat belt? I’m wanting to approach a flight attendant next time I fly and ask how that buckling up thing worked again – just after they showed everyone. I really am wanting. 

5) Rooms cooled down so much…
…that people start putting heaters under their desks in offices. This is one I’ve come to experience shortly after I started traveling the US. There almost seems to be a reciprocal relationship between outside and inside temperature. Rather than making it warmer inside the hotter it gets outside (obviously at a lower overall level), Americans love to cool down their offices more and more the hotter it gets. Such like when you’re outside you wanna be naked, and wearing a winter coat when you’re inside. I mean think about it. That’s like a movie theater turning up the volume of the movie so much that they decide to hand out headsets to everyone to protect their ears. And when wearing, the volume is suddenly so soft that people start turning up the volume of headset again. And to protect from that volume, …

6) Coffes filled to the rim
So you ask your barista to “leave room for milk”. You’ll get maybe 5mm less coffee than the cup’s rim. You ask him or her to “leave AMPLE room for milk” and they throw in another mm. Ask to “only fill the cup 2 thirds” and they might leave out just enough coffee so you can carry the cup over to the milk counter without spilling, where you end up emptying the rest of the coffee you never wanted into the trash can/bag. Yep. Happening all the time. The smallest size at SB is “tall”, which is 12 (!) ounces. That’s a LOT of coffee…

Can anyone relate? I could probably go on if I thought about it more. But hey. Don’t get me wrong, I still like living here. It’s just that… AAAARGHHH!

Why I like living in the US

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I think I know now why I like living in the US. Above anything else, it’s the casualness, the informality that permeates everyday interactions the same way as business life. It’s partly due to the language: there is, e.g., no distinction between a formal “Sie” or an informal “Du” as in German and many other languages. There is this unfamiliar usage of words like “guys” when addressing a group of (sometimes unknown) people. (There is also this admittedly disturbing tendency to overuse the f-word, which inspired some volunteers to contribute an article worth reading on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuck.) But it’s more than that.

I see people tell strangers in the elevator how they like something they’re wearing, or their hairstyle. I can address someone by their first name, even if they’re 20 years older and I just met them for the first time, say at a business trade show. I find myself talking more openly about personal preferences, cravings, experiences, as I see others do the same. Sometimes it’s in simple things, such as mentioning to the person taking my order at a fast food restaurant how I love their fries. Sounds stupid? Well, it’s a little human interaction at the most unlikely place that can sometimes make the difference between an uplifted spirit or a “meh” type of afternoon. Who knows how they’ll react? You can’t know if you don’t say it.

The style I see people writing business email in, the style of presenting new ideas at conferences, the style of talking to a sales prospect about your products. It’s casual. It’s normal. It’s the opposite of stuck up. It’s what I can identify with. It’s where I can be myself, even though I’m at work.

Waiters come to my table at a restaurant and introduce themselves by name, tell me how they’ll be “taking care of me tonight”. And lately I actually catch myself calling my waiter by their name half way through the restaurant and asking them for a free refill of my soda or a free side order of that delicious sauce of theirs.

Cashiers at the supermarket checkout ask me how I’m doing. I tell them I’m doing great and how about themselves. Now you might say that’s that typical American superficiality and they don’t REALLY care about how I feel or do. But you know, I’d take superficial friendliness over genuine rudeness ANY time.

There is a “can do” spirit in the air, mixed with occasionally child-like curiosity, that is simply inspiring. I see people driving the weirdest and most exaggerated cars or trucks, probably pimped by their own hands’ work. Man how much fun that must be! Sure, these vehicles might not be the most environment-friendly things out there, but maybe the same people are making up for that in ways I can’t currently see? I don’t want to be judging. Which, by the way, is another thing that Americans teach me.

I see people pursue the weirdest sports and hobbies. I see people try out things, fail, and try again. I see people not ask questions. I see people find the most exotic reasons to come together and celebrate, have a party, enjoy life. A “blocktoberfest” in October that claims to have something to do with Germany? Silly, but sure, why not! (FYI: the original Oktoberfest only happens in one of the 16 states of Germany, and it’s in September.) A “Dos-XX-Mas Party”? Uh-huh, happening. “Drinko de Mayo”, remotely – strike that: entirely NOT – related to a Mexican celebration in early May? Why yes please!

Now you might think that life where I come from is the opposite of everything I’ve described. Hell no. That would make it an exceptionally boring place, which it isn’t. But the combination of all of this, in an eclectic mix that distorts most of what it’s original European heritage is, together in one big place that doesn’t take life all too seriously, is what I find myself drawn to in ways I couldn’t imagine before I came. I like living here. And I don’t want to leave, just yet. Thanks, my American friends, for letting me be a part of this adventure.

And if you could now please excuse me, I have to put the turducken into the oven.