The U.S. has historically had a huge immigrant population. But what makes American culture different from the countries immigrants are leaving?
Foreigners, as well as others who happen to know people who are new to the U.S., have been using this Quora thread to share what they think makes America unique. Their answers to the question “What facts about the United States do foreigners not believe until they come to America?” were pretty fascinating.
We’ve picked out some especially interesting tidbits.
America is so huge that it would take weeks to see all of its major cities.
“Foreigners cannot believe how vast the United States is. I am from the West Coast of the U.S. and my Italian relatives come here thinking they can visit me in Seattle, plus also see New York City, Miami, the Grand Canyon and Hollywood all in a week–by car. I can’t get them to understand that it’s 3,000 miles from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts.” — Candace Dempsey
“So much space. My god, America seems like such a BIG country. Look at the Netherlands: we are smaller than the state of Georgia. And in this country, land is expensive. It’s a basic principle: if something is scarce, and many people want it, then it will be expensive. But in America, we have amazing amounts of land available and for such a low price.” — Chrys Jordan
In fact, everything seems bigger in America — especially portion size.
“Food portion sizes which are ridiculous to my view. When we eat out with my husband or friends, we usually share. Not because we can’t afford, but just because we do not need THAT much food. On the other hand I like the can-I-please-have-it-to-go thing for everything that left on the table, which is not so common in Europe, and especially in Eastern Europe, where I am from.” — Lana Kolupaeva
“It is easy to find obese people in USA. Some people are so obese that they require a special electric scooter to carry them around. This sighting can be seen easily in Walmart where obese people use scooters to shop more … food. And yes, typical food portion in America is humongous. I can easily share one meal with another guy and do not feel hungry for hours to come.” — Aditya Lesmana
Still, Americans seem to be obsessed with sports and fitness.
“Public tennis courts and pools are full all summer long, not mentioning fitness clubs. Downtowners are crazy for health and fitness in the positive sense and are generally in the good shape. However, the farther from downtown you get, the bigger people get. In suburbs you barely notice anyone walking.” — Lana Kolupaeva
“I saw loads of people running/jogging on the sidewalks. A lot of people I knew cycled or ran marathons for 50 miles plus. This was a stark contrast though, to the average person I saw who was usually overweight.” — Triya Bhattacharya
The variety of goods sold at American supermarkets, especially Wal-Mart, was unbelievable to many foreigners.
“I knew it was big. I just didn’t imagine it would be this big! The astounding variety of pretty much everything is just overwhelming.” — Triya Bhattacharya
“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.” — Aniruddh Chaturvedi
A lot of things go to waste, especially food.
“My grandma to this day remembers a story about when she came to teach in California in the 1970s. The students used to get apples along with their lunch. Nobody ate them, so they’d just throw them away or leave them at the tables. My grandma was shocked at how they were able to just throw out good food like that, and that no other teachers cared.” — Britt Smith
“I was aghast at the amount of stuff people wasted every single day. Food, electricity, water, paper……in India, we reuse stuff until it can only be thrown away. But on the positive side, recycling is big there, so I guess it is mitigated in part.” — Triya Bhattacharya
Americans rarely carry cash and instead depend on credit cards to make purchases.
“Coming from India, where we just need cash because cards are not accepted at most places, I was really surprised by the cashless system in the US. Every place accepts credit cards. Even a small picnic I went to, which had an entry fee, had some sort of mobile app and a device attached to accept credit cards. It was amazing.” — Triya Bhattacharya
Foreigners were amazed by the return policies that are standard at stores across the country.
“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 90 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).” — Aniruddh Chaturvedi
Outside of big cities, everyone has a car.
“It’s a big country and public transport is lacking. Hence, everybody owns at least one car and uses it for the smallest distances. It’s like people forgot how to walk or bike. Although I saw many people bike, it was to do sports, not for day-to-day transportation.” — John Levingster
Overall, Americans tend to be much more friendly than expected.
“Every cashier will greet you with ‘How are you today? You find everything ok?’ with a smile, and you’re quite thrown off the first few times.” — Triya Bhattacharya
“Nicest people in the world, even in New York which is supposed to be one of the rudest cities in the world.” —
And Americans love America.
“The flag was everywhere. Literally. I came to know students are supposed to pledge allegiance to their flag since Kindergarten! (I can’t fathom how they pronounce allegiance).” — Triya Bhattacharya
“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.” — Aniruddh Chaturvedi
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