The most surprising things about America, according to a Silicon Valley engineer who moved from India 7 years ago

Aniruddh ChaturvediAniruddh Chaturvedi in 2011.
  • A LinkedIn software designer named Aniruddh Chaturvedi moved to the US from India in 2011.
  • In an email to Business Insider, Chaturvedi listed what he found to be the most surprising things about American culture.
  • They include a love of road trips, the price of soda, and Americans’ tendency to display the US flag everywhere.

Sometimes you don’t realise what makes your country unique until you hear it from an outsider.

Aniruddh Chaturvedi, a senior software designer at LinkedIn, came to the US from India in 2011 and was immediately surprised by certain aspects of American culture. He now lives in California.

In a Quora post, Chaturvedi explained what he found most surprising about the US, drawn from his experience at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and from his time working at various Silicon Valley tech companies. He emailed additional thoughts to Business Insider.

Here are the highlights, from the apparent high integrity of American students to the outrageously low price of soda:

In America, “everyone is highly private about their accomplishments and failures.”

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“Someone’s performance in any field is their performance alone. This is different compared to India where people flaunt their riches and share their accomplishments with everybody else.”

Shopping in America is a chore.

“The retail experience is nowhere near as fun/nice as it is in India. Because labour is cheap in India, there is always someone who will act as a ‘personal shopper’ to assist you with holding your clothes, giving suggestions, etc.”

“In America, on the other hand, even if you go to a Nordstrom or Bloomingdales, there is almost nobody to help you out while you’re shopping. Shopping in America is more of a commodity/chore than it is a pleasurable activity.”

American students love to collaborate and support one another.

“Before I came to the United States, I heard stories about how students at Johns Hopkins were so competitive with each other that they used to tear important pages from books in the library just so other students didn’t have access to it.”

“In reality, I experienced the complete opposite. Students were highly collaborative, formed study groups, and studied/did assignments till everyone in the group ‘got it.’ I think the reason for this is that the classes are/material is so hard that it makes sense to work collaboratively to the point that students learn from each other.”

But students seem to know where to draw the line.

“Everyone has a lot of integrity. If someone cannot submit their completed assignment in time, they will turn in the assignment incomplete rather than asking for answers at the last minute.”

“People take pride in their hard work and usually do not cheat. This is different from students from India and China as well as back home in India, where everyone collaborates to the extent that it can be categorized as cheating.”

“Unfortunately, it is expensive to be healthy in America.”

“Rich people are thin/well maintained, poor people are fat. This stems from the fact that cheap food is fatty, rich people don’t eat cheap food – they tend to eat either home-cooked food which is expensive or eat at expensive/healthy places. Unfortunately, it is expensive to be healthy in America.”

And overweight people have it harder in society, too.

Trae Patton/NBC

“Fat people are not respected much in society. Being fat often has the same connotations as being irresponsible towards your body.

“If you’re thin (and tall, but not as much), people will respect you a lot more and treat you better. You will also receive better customer service if you’re well maintained.

“Reason why I know is that I went down from being 210 lbs. to 148-150 lbs. The way people started treating me when I was thin was generally way better than the way I was treated when I was fat. As a small example, the Starbucks baristas were much nicer to me and made me drinks with more care and love.”

There is a “dearth of African-Americans in technical fields.”

“This probably stems from the fact that they aren’t given enough opportunity.”

Americans place an emphasis on nature and the outdoors.

“This is more of a California thing, but I noticed families going on biking trips, boat trips, hiking, camping, barbecuing, etc. Americans take pride in the natural beauty of their surroundings and tend to make the most of it.”

In American restaurants, the serving sizes are huge.

John Greenough

“I am by no means a small eater, but it usually takes me at least 1.5 meals to finish the entree.”

And Americans tend to ‘waste a lot of food.’

“It is very easy to buy in bulk because it’s so much cheaper, and as a result, a lot of wastage occurs.”

Americans are obsessed with buying coffee.

“Starbucks, Dunkin’, etc. are crowded with office-goers and students every morning. I don’t understand why they can’t drink or make coffee before leaving for work. Such a waste of money!”

Single-parent households aren’t unusual in the US.

Shutterstock/Page Light Studios

“Split families, not having married parents, etc., is not seen differently than the contrary.”

Americans support the LGBT community in great numbers.

“It’s fairly normal to be part of the LGBT community; it’s not considered a mortal sin if you like someone in your own gender or if you aren’t comfortable being male/female/etc. Proof of this is the LGBT Pride Day held in every city.”

Supermarkets in America have a strange way of pricing their goods.

“The way that stores price their products makes no apparent economic sense, and is not linear at all.”

“For example, at a typical store: “- 1 can of coke : $US1.00 “- 12 cans of coke : $US3.00 “- 1 Häagen-Dazs ice cream bar : $US3.00 “- 12 Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars : $US7.00”

Somehow, in America, soda is “cheaper than bottled water.”

Scott Olson/Getty Images

“It makes no sense that carbonated and flavored water with HFCS is cheaper than regular water, but hey, that’s just how it is.”

And fast food is cheaper than healthy food.

“Fruit and vegetable prices, as compared to fast food prices:

“- Bag of grapes: $US6.00 “- Box of strawberries: $US5.00 “- 1 lb tomatoes: $US3.00 “- McChicken: $US1.00 “- McDouble: $US1.00”

Americans may not realise “the sheer variety of products available” at stores.

“The typical supermarket has at least a hundred varieties of frozen pizza, 50 brands of trail mix, etc. I was just astounded by the different kinds of products available even at small gas station convenience stores.”

And Americans get to take advantage of amazing return policies.

“None of my friends back in India believed me when I told them that you can literally buy anything, including food, and return it within ninety days for a full refund even if you don’t have a specific reason for doing so.

“Most stores actually have a ‘Buyer’s Remorse’ category under Reason for Return options while returning the product.”

In the US, you get unlimited soda refills and lots of soda options.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“The first time I visited McDonalds in 2007, the cashier gave me an empty cup when I ordered soda. The concept of virtually unlimited soda refills was alien to me, and I thought there was a catch to it, but apparently not.”

“I’ve noticed that the typical fountain machine has a huge selection, including Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Sprite, Sprite Zero, Hi-C, Powerade, Lemonade, Raspberry Lemonade (and/or their Coca-Cola counterparts) … the list goes on. This may not seem like much, but it is actually a lot more compared to the 3-4 options (Coca-Cola, Sprite, Fanta, Limca) that most Indian soda fountain machines have.”

American flags “are displayed everywhere.”

“I was surprised to see that the US flag is displayed in schools, on rooftops of houses, etc. India has very strict rules governing the display and use of the national flag.”

“Also, something that struck out to me was how it was completely normal to wear the US flag or a US flag-like pattern as a bikini.”

Holidays in the US are “over-commercialized.”

Rob Stothard/Getty Images

“I’m not denying that festivals like Diwali and Eid aren’t extremely commercialized in India, but America takes it to a whole new level. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc., and an almost year-round sale of Christmas, Halloween, Easter, etc. items.”

Americans seem to live in an “almost classless society.”

Joe Raedle/Getty

“I’ve noticed that most Americans roughly have the same standard of living. Everybody has access to ample food, everybody shops at the same supermarkets, malls, stores, etc.”

“I’ve seen plumbers, construction workers and janitors driving their own sedans, which was quite difficult for me to digest at first since I came from a country where construction workers and plumbers lived hand to mouth.”

“Anybody can buy anything,” thanks to credit.

Thomas Cooper/Getty Images

“Obtaining credit in this country is extremely easy. Anybody can buy anything, for the most part, except for something like a Maserati, obviously.”

“As a result, most monetary possessions aren’t really status symbols. I believe that the only status symbol in America is your job, and possibly your educational qualifications.”

In America, “it’s very difficult to tell who’s wealthy and who’s not.”


“The wealthy people usually don’t have many material possessions. Every millionaire I know drives old cars, wears Levi’s jeans, etc. They tend to spend more on experiences.”

“A lot of people I know who have fancy stuff usually go into credit card debt in order to fund their lavish lifestyle. It’s strange! Perhaps expensive material possessions are simply a form of validation that rich people usually derive from their work, their family, friends, etc, which may not necessarily be the case for the average consumer.”

“I’m almost certain that the 1% isn’t the main clientele for any luxury brand in the US.”

The US is very spread out, and Americans don’t mind driving long distances.

Shutterstock/Gualtiero Boffi

“This is something that was a reverse culture shock for me. Back in India, we didn’t road-trip much between cities. I got used to the distances between cities here (six hours between SF and LA? Not much – let’s go!).”

“Also, there isn’t much of a change in climate, culture, shops, etc. Compare that to Europe or India, where driving 4-5 hours to get somewhere is a ridiculous thought – people would much rather fly or take the train.”

Many major US cities are “riddled with homeless people.”

Spencer Platt/Getty

“It’s unfortunate, and the worst part is that the homeless here will come up to you and misbehave. I know of numerous cases where my friends have been heckled, assaulted, etc.”

“I’ve been called racist expletives by homeless people who asked me to stop gentrifying the city. That never happened in India where the homeless were generally polite and knew that they’d face immediate consequences if they talked back or misbehaved with you.”

“San Francisco, New York, LA, and other cities in the US are really glitzy and glamorous from the outside – cities with a lot of money, amazing infrastructure, the best minds and industries. While this all holds true, nobody talks about the homeless people other than the people who live in those cities (and surrounding areas).”

American infrastructure isn’t up to par.

“Honestly speaking, there’s a dearth of modern infrastructure in the United States. All the hallmarks of American infrastructure are now crumbling and at least 100 years old.”

“LAX, for example, smells of sweat and tears from people whose flights have been delayed for the fourth time. Compare that to India where the airports are modern, roads are wide and clean, there’s new and shiny metro systems everywhere, etc.”

In much of the US, “most people think of it as a very big deal to leave the country.”

Aila Images/Shutterstock

“I don’t know why they think that, especially given that it’s usually cheaper to fly to the EU or South America than it is to fly to a city in a neighbouring state!”

This is an update of an article originally written by Gus Lubin.

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