American vs European Culture
After the Natives, no group of people has influenced the United States of America greater than the many different cultures of Europe. Europeans were and have been instrumental in the foundation of the Country. Although, the demographic outlook of the United States is far more mixed today than ever, Europeans were still the primary instigators in this thing called America. Even though many Americans can claim heritage and connections to somewhere in Europe most will say that they are no longer European. It’s true. Most of the European-Americans, are vastly different today culturally than their European counterparts. Strangely, although from common origins, we just drifted apart… no pun intended.
I have come up with this quick list of things that Europeans need to know about America and Americans. These are things that I have found to be in contrast to Europe in particular, but this article could also be applied to other foreigners besides Europeans who are experiencing the US for the first time.
- Finals Prices – When you see a price next to something that you want to buy, it is NOT the final price. American marketers constantly scheme at ways to make something look cheap or like a “better deal” in the end the price will inevitably increase. For example, something that costs $99.99 dollars will be at least $8-10 more because taxes are not included.
- As one reader, Eric, pointed out “It is actually illegal in most states and in most cases (exceptions I know of are gasoline and tickets and concessions at theaters and stadiums and airline tickets upon searching – but not actually paying for – fares) for the price to be quoted with the tax included. The purpose is so that we are constantly aware of the tax burden we place on ourselves and to do something about it if we don’t like it. Here is an example of the law from New York https://www.tax.ny.gov/pdf/publications/sales/pub34.pdf. Also, the vendor is actually only collecting the tax on behalf of the government(s). From an accounting perspective it’s correct to do it this way. It’s called a Sales and Use Tax, so if an item is purchased in another state and the vendor has no presence in the consumer’s state and therefore doesn’t file sales tax with the consumer’s home state, the onus is on the consumer to pay the equivalent use tax in his or her home state where the product is used.”
- Tipping– If you have ever eaten at a restaurant in America and then been run off or been to a bar and not received good service, then there is a chance that your tips weren’t cutting it. Tipping is an expected service in America. Waitresses/waiters, Bartenders,Bellhops, and more all work for tips. They are not paid normal salaries because itis expected that their tips will exceed minimum wage.
- Not all Americans are the same – This is a pet-peeve of mine, but then again I realize where foreigners get it from. Americans are not the same. America is a very diverse nation, people can be quite different from state to state and even within a city. It is true that there are states that typically lean one way politically, but people are still people and have their individuality. Please do not assume that just because you have watched a few American movies or read something that all Americans fit into one category.
- Gas Prices – Gas prices in the United States are relatively inexpensive in comparison to other developed nations. Sure, gas prices in the United States might not be as cheap as Venezuela (~$.45), but they are quite cheap in comparison to Europe.
- Gallons vs Liters – America had to be different. Imagine that. America had to create another measuring system that few others understand just to keep the world interesting. Remember that if you start telling people how far something is in meters or how fast you were going in kilometers, you are probably going to get some blank stares. Especially if you start talking about weight in kilograms.
- Public transport isn’t that good – Outside of the major cities, public transportation in the United States is just not that good. New York, Boston, Washington D.C., and a few others have nice subway/metro systems where one can get around. Most other places though have nothing. Perhaps city buses, but few use them. Be sure to plan for your outings and realize that you may have to drive, or find a ride at some point.
- You can use the bathroom without paying – This point specifically points out Europeans (More specifically western Europe; most specifically Italy, France, Spain, etc). In Europe, you have to pay in many places just to use the bathroom. The prices range, but you can expect no less than $1 in most Western European destinations. Obviously, I am referring to public restroom services and not any hotel or private arrangements that you may have. In every place that I have been to in America, I can say that I have never heard of someone having to pay to use the restroom. Not even in NYC. There are some places that are not big fans of non-customers using the restroom, but a determined soul can always find a place.
- We drive… everywhere – Unlike many European cities, the United States is not very walker friendly. You may live in one city, but you cannot easily walk to the things that you need. In most cases, you will need to drive at some point.
- Most Americans don’t have passports – I am not sure of the actual figures, but a small percentage of Americans have passports. The majority of the passport holders tend to be in the more cosmopolitan states and cities such as New York or Miami. States like Mississippi have an extremely low percentage of passport holders. Traveling abroad is just not an embraced concept in American culture.
- There are other cool things to see besides the big stops – In my opinion, there are some really cool things to see and do in the United States, that are not on anyone’s list. I completely understand the draw to see place like New York City, which is amazing, or Chicago and Miami. Those places are really nice to see, but real heartland America has some amazing places as well. You can also really get the feel for America by traveling to its interior.
- English is not the universal language – This is one of those random facts about America. Contrary to popular belief, there is no official language of the United States. Without a doubt, English is the most widely spoken and accepted business language in America. That being said, I have actually met people who have lived in the United States for many years that cannot speak English and function just fine. Moreover, in some places in the United States it would be better to know Spanish, Russian, or even French to get by.
- Fast food is not the cool thing to eat – Not all Americans love fast food. Yes, fast food is easy and everywhere, but fast food is not the cool food that everyone thinks it is.
- American universities are quite different – The university experience in America is quite different from others that I have experienced. In Europe, the universities are spread out within a city. In America, universities are like a city. Most Americans show great pride in the universities (referred to as their Alma mater once a graduate). It is not uncommon for them to wear shirts, shorts, shoes, hats, rings, and even have bumper stickers on their cars all representing their university.
Tell me what you think!
Did I miss anything? Have you had experiences with any of these things?
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