I moved from Argentina to the US almost 12 years ago. Here are 5 things that still surprise me about living here.

A woman smiling in front of a bridge leading into a city.
There are a lot of things I still don’t fully understand about the US, and I am constantly learning new things about the culture. Conz Preti/Insider
  • I moved from Argentina to New York in 2010 for grad school and ended up living here permanently.
  • After almost 12 years, I’m still learning how to navigate American culture.
  • These are the things that gave me the biggest culture shocks, and sometimes still do today.

I first moved to the US when I was accepted to grad school.
A woman wearing a graduation cap and gown.
I moved to the US to attend graduate school in New York City. Conz Preti/Insider
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and grew up moving around Latin America because of my dad’s job, including seven years in Colombia and six years in Brazil. 

But in 2010, with an acceptance letter from a university in New York City, I boarded a 12-hour nonstop flight to move to New York.

I had visited the US several times before for family trips, which included Disney World and a couple of ski resorts in Colorado, but this was my first time staying longer than a couple of weeks. The experience felt totally different.

I ended up staying in the US after school too when I was offered a job that sponsored my visa. Years later, I met my now-husband, fell in love, got married, and had three kids.

Now, I’ve been in the country for 11 years and moved from New York to Maine. But these are the five things I’ve found to be the most surprising about daily life in the US.

In the US, I was surprised that you can order anything online.
A woman laying in the grass.
I became an avid shopper after discovering I could order anything online. Conz Preti/Insider
One of the first culture shocks was being able to order everything online.

While I was familiar with Amazon while living in Argentina, and had ordered books and CDs in the past, being able to get groceries, meals and pet food delivered to my doorstep blew my mind.

I became an avid online shopper. I would order groceries, clothes, dog food, and even pregnancy tests online.

But now that I’ve been here long enough, while I still enjoy getting things delivered regularly, like diapers for my twins, or groceries in a pinch, I’m back to enjoying in-person shopping for things like clothes and gifts.

The vast variety of food at supermarkets blew my mind.
Grocery store shelves with boxes of cereal.
I was surprised by how many categories and options there were at the supermarkets. Conz Preti/Insider
I remember walking into the supermarket near my first apartment, ready to buy the essentials, and feeling absolutely paralyzed by how many categories and options there were for everything.

For example, the cereal section blew my mind. I was used to choosing from maybe three options, but now I was standing at a wall of all different kinds of cereal without knowing which to choose.

There was definitely a lot of trial and error in finding things I liked in the grocery store, but I also bought many things by mistake when I didn’t know what they were, like diet coke that is caffeine-free.

Now, I live with my family in Maine and the feeling is the same. The other day, I went to get a couple of things we needed for the kids and stood in front of all the milk with my mom, laughing, while we tried to figure out which was the one we actually wanted. Usually, my husband is the one in charge of grocery shopping because I often feel overwhelmed by all the options.

I’m still shocked by how safe I feel living in the US.
A man, woman and three children standing in front of a Christmas tree.
I have never felt safer than when I lived in New York. Conz Preti/Insider
I grew up between Colombia and Brazil and never truly felt safe.

We lived in Bogota in the early 90s, which was the peak Pablo Escobar era. To this day, I have trouble sleeping in complete darkness because I’m transported to one night when a bomb went off mere blocks away from our apartment, shattering the glass windows.

In Sao Paulo, I had a gun held against my head when I was 13-years-old because a man wanted to steal my Swatch watch.

As a result, I am used to looking over my shoulder to make sure no one is following me, even now that I live in a small town near Portland where nothing ever seems to happen.

But I never felt as safe as I did in New York. It was the first time in my life that I let my guard down and wasn’t constantly paranoid. I was so comfortable with my surroundings, I rarely locked my apartment door. I remember when my then-boyfriend came to visit from Buenos Aires and we left without locking the door — something I’ve since stopped doing — and his look of panic caused me to laugh. I felt so safe, I hadn’t given it a second thought.

More recently, my parents visited over the holidays and would obsessively lock my house, leaving me and my husband locked out on several occasions, because we don’t even have keys to our front door. Our neighborhood in Maine is so safe, the people who sold us our house lost the keys and we never bothered to get a new set because they never locked it anyway. This level of safety is unheard of for my parents.

I’m always surprised that I am able to pay for everything with a credit card.
The people posing in front of a concert poster.
Being able to pay by card removed the stress of going out with friends. Conz Preti/Insider
When I first moved to the US and hopped in a yellow car with my parents to go from JFK into Manhattan, the first thing I noticed was that I could pay the taxi driver with a card.

Coming from a city where still, to this day, cash is preferred and sometimes the only option, this absolutely shocked me.

Over the years, I’ve also found it surprising that most places don’t have a minimum for paying with a credit card, or that you may often split a restaurant bill with as many cards as you want. These were all things that removed the stress of going out with friends.

Now, I rarely carry cash. I have yet to encounter a situation where I can’t pay by card, except for tolls on highways, and even that can sometimes result in a bill sent in the mail to pay later.

One of my biggest culture shocks of all has been that people in the US follow the rules.
A woman smiling in front of a bridge leading into a city.
There are a lot of things I still don’t fully understand about the US, and I am constantly learning new things about the culture. Conz Preti/Insider
Recently, I had a friend visiting from Buenos Aires. We were on our way to pick up my kids from school and an ambulance showed up behind us.

I pulled over, as all the other cars around us did, to let the ambulance pass. She was shocked and said that while it made sense on paper, she couldn’t believe people actually followed such rules.

While this might not be the case everywhere, in my experience, people in the US seem more inclined to rule following, doing things by the books, and not trying to get ahead of others with little things like cutting lines or sneaking ahead in a parking lot.

Things like moving your car for alternate side street parking, like in New York, are unheard of in Argentina.

There are many things I find surprising about the US, but after almost 12 years, I don’t think I can move back to Argentina.
Conz and her children
With my children on vacation in the US. Courtesy of Conz Preti
There are a lot of things I still don’t fully understand about the US, like how insurance works for example, or why there’s an electoral vote in presidential elections.

I’m constantly learning about the culture, and why things are the way they are, even after nearly 12 years here, which makes for a lot of interesting conversations with my American husband.

While I miss being close to my family and friends, I don’t think I’ll be moving back to Argentina any time soon. My parents even joke that I’ve already become too American to go back. But that doesn’t mean I’m not still surprised by life in the US on a daily basis.