13 Thoughts a Foreigner May Have When Visiting the USA
Whenever you travel to a new country, you’re going to inevitably make comparisons – to your own home country, wherever it is you happen to now live or other places you’ve travelled to.
Personally, I love visiting the United States. I’ve been a bunch of times now, each trip has been enjoyable in its own way and I hope to have many more in the future. Yet, it’s one of those countries that really throws me. This is because it seems very familiar (thanks to pop-culture and the fact that most Western countries do share a lot in common), but there are still many subtle differences that spin me out.
These are all thoughts I’ve had at one point or another when visiting the USA. Have you had any similar?
1. “Tipping… I wish I understood it better.”
Coming from a country where tipping is not really a thing, this is a source of constant confusion.
What’s an acceptable amount to tip when eating out? How much should you tip when the service has been horrible? Where the hell is the calculator app on my phone?! These are all questions I’ve had to ask myself at restaurants and cafés across the United States.
The first time I visited the US I knew I’d have to tip at restaurants, but had no idea that tipping was required in other scenarios too – from taxis, to getting my nails done. Sometimes it’s blatantly obvious and comes up as an option at payment, other times not so.Why is there so much food on my plate? - and other thoughts when visiting the USA. Click To Tweet
2. “Why is everyone being so nice to me?”
Some of the nicest people I’ve met whilst travelling have been American, but I’m also consistently blown away by the generosity I encounter within the United States.
Particularly in NYC, which I’ve always expected to be like other big cities, where no one talks to one another and it genuinely feels like a dog-eat-dog world. Yet, I’ve encountered acts of extreme goodwill in this city more than anywhere else in the world.
Take 2013, when I left my phone in a taxi and the driver not only came out the next day to return it, but refused money in return for doing so. Or my most recent trip to the city, where a lady gave me her Metrocard at the airport, which still had three days worth of travel on it, coincidently the amount of time I was spending in the city.
It’s random acts of kindness like this that make the world go round.
3. “The US is like Europe… each individual state feels like a different country.”
If you were to pick one word to sum up travel in the United States, you might pick “diversity”. I’ve stepped foot in eleven states (twelve if you count stopping for petrol in Mississippi… no. I guess that’s cheating) and travelled through around five more and have been blown away by the difference in the vibe, accent, landscape and often general attitude of each one.
I can sort of understand why many Americans don’t travel outside of their own country… why would you when there’s so much to see on your own doorstop? I also realise that’s not the whole reason many within the States fail to leave their own backyard – this blog post is not the place for that discussion.
4. “I have been defeated by these portion sizes.”
You certainly get a lot of bang for your buck when ordering out in the USA. I don’t exactly have the appetite of a sparrow, yet I regularly fail to finish everything on my plate. The portion sizes are so big and it’s no wonder that 30-40 percent of the country’s food supply goes to waste.
The second time I visited the US, I thought I had the upper hand on how it worked. I was sat at LAX during a layover and hungry, so I went to a restaurant and ordered a “cup” of soup rather than a mug and an appetiser of nachos. “Ha ha,” I thought. “I am clever.”
Not really as it would turn out, when the cup was a regular bowl size and the plate of nachos as big as my head. I stuffed myself full and suffered from terrible indigestion the entire 15 hour flight back to Sydney.
5. “I wish travelling between States was less upsetting.”
Speaking of flying, it’s pretty easy to be left traumatised every time you do this domestically within the States.
I know there is a very obvious reason for all this security… but it’s a lot to deal with. From the full-body scanners, to the effort of having to nearly strip yourself bare when passing through – there was even a new rule last time I flew, dictating that all food had to be pulled out of your bag for security.
This is particularly irritating when the person in front of you has seemingly bought up the entire confectionary section at the local Walmart.
6. “Why do the taxes get added on at the till?! I hate surprises.”
This is one thing I have never been able to wrap my head around. WHY DOES IT SAY ONE PRICE ON THE TICKET IN THE SHOP ONLY TO JUMP UP IN PRICE WHEN YOU GO TO PAY? WHY CAN’T THE FULL PRICE JUST BE PUT ON THE ORIGINAL TICKET, SO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE SIGNING UP FOR? WOULDN’T THAT MAKE MORE SENSE?!
I’m sorry, but I’ve been caught out by this so many times and it upsets me.
7. “Why is everything so much cheaper here? We get bloody swindled at home.”
It would be perfectly justifiable to travel to the USA just to shop. Everything is inexpensive compared to that at home… particularly the electronics. Want a comparison? The new filter I want for my camera lens is $210 in Australia and $50 in the States. This is why I cry into my pillow every night, particularly after looking at the state of my bank account.
My favourite trip ever was when I travelled over during the very short period when the Aussie dollar was stronger than the USD. Oh man, that was great fun. I arrived with one pretty much empty suitcase and returned home with two filled with tack from antique stores in Seattle and shoes from ALL THE SHOPS.
8. “This is such a pleasant place to be a tourist in.”
The USA is a great place to travel to, because there is just SO MUCH TO DO. There’s something quality to see in every city – art galleries, local sights, the most obscure and interesting museums. I find the National Parks to be very accessible. Every State you go to has a different experience on offer, which is something to be appreciated.
9. “How is this country so gosh-darn beautiful?”
And it is an undeniably pretty country. The States have taken my breath away time and time again. Sprawling desert, gorgeous beaches, snow-capped mountains, urban jungles. And that’s just the mainland – Hawaii is so pretty it makes my heart sing and Alaska is at the top of my “desperately want to travel to” list.
10. “At least there is another country that’s kinda failing at public transport as badly as Australia.”
United we stand, right? Just like my home country of Australia, the USA is car-centric and it can be very difficult to get around certain parts of the country without one. Public transport is necessary in cities like New York (and seems to work moderately okay and there is Wi-Fi in the subway, a novelty I will never get over), but is largely abandoned in other cities, even if it is pretty half-decent. One example of such is the MARTA in Atlanta, which costs a ridiculously cheap $2.50 to travel on and seems to remain largely unused throughout the day.
11. “Why are people so funny about germs?”
Just an observation as a grubby Australian, but the USA is definitely a lot more obsessed with cleanliness than other parts of the world. There are hand sanitisers everywhere and I’ve noticed people are funny when it comes to handling money (refusing to touch it, wearing gloves, etc) – particularly in Florida, oddly enough.
When paying in Australia and England, you just jam the change into each other’s hands, without batting an eyelid. I tried to do the same to a guy in Fort Lauderdale when going to the cinema there and the attendant actually backed away from me.
Money is covered in germs, so it makes sense, I guess!
12. “This country is very wheelchair accessible.”
An understated fact that doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves. This is an issue that affects someone who I love very, very much and as such, I find I’m always unconsciously sizing destinations up, to see if they meet the requirements for travel there. The USA often goes above and beyond to makes sites accessible, with wide pavements, wheelchair lifts and decent-sized hotel rooms.
…Maybe that’s just me.
What thoughts have you had when travelling around the USA?
Pin me baby one more time.