What surprised you about visiting the United States?


Yesterday I pointed out a post on Reddit that asked Americans what surprised them while visiting Europe. Today, let’s switch it around. If you’re a traveler who has visited the United States, what did you find surprising? Comments are open.

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8 Comments on "What surprised you about visiting the United States?"

  1. Coming from Ghana (West Africa), it was the Internet. 4G compared to our 300 KB/s 3G Connections; and FiOS compared to our 400 KB/s Broadband. Also, Wi-Fi on buses and airplanes.

  2. Andrew Baker says:

    Having visited the United States on two occasions, I managed to see a few different parts of the country, although almost exclusively on the west coast. The first time we spent a few days in Seattle, visiting Boing Field, and the Aviation museum (My brother is training as a pilot and has wanted to be one since he was 6). One of the biggest differences really is in hospitality. Given that so many of these jobs are driven by tipping in the US, individual staff seem to make a much greater effort to actually please their customers because it will help their pay. Coming from Australia this was quite unusual, since tips are not seen as ‘mandatory’ here.

    The second trip we had was both our best and worst experiences of America. We went to Las Vegas so that we could see the Grand Canyon, and in the process got to visit what I’ve described on numerous occasions as the ‘epitome of what is wrong with our society’. It was shockingly opulent and downright disgusting walking through Las Vegas, seeing the rampant commercialisation and constant badgering by people attempting to sell various (mostly sexually implicit) services. However, despite my scant regard for Las Vegas, our trip ended up being fantastic, thanks to the time we spent skiing in Telluride, Colorado. The village of Telluride was absolutely beautiful, and full of surprisingly sweet shops. The bookshop was possible the most amazing bookshop I’ve been to in my life! We also got the opportunity to go for a drive to a friend’s house just near Telluride, and in the process saw some beautiful landscapes.

    So essentially, despite the confrontation that is arriving in America via Los Angeles (Which is such a horrible airport), once within the countryside, there really is some astounding beauty to be seen, and some positively wonderful people as well.

  3. Dave Caolo says:

    Karan, that’s interesting. I wouldn’t have thought of that.

    Andrew, America is a capitalist society, and sometimes to a fault. Unfortunately, you visited one of the shining examples of that weakness. I’m glad it turned out well, though!

  4. Visiting from Australia, I was impressed with the level of service provided in cafes, stores, etc. Coming from a country without a tipping culture offset by high wages, I can see the benefits that people ‘working for their tips’ has in terms of customer satisfaction. Although the overall hassle of always having to remember to tip, etc I think I still prefer the Australian model… just.

    I was also surprised by the sameness of the food. While generous in size, there was a distinct lack of vegetable availability, and ‘interesting’ food. I realised that I take Australian multiculturalism for granted, and that it is not common in other places to be able to choose food from a diversity of origins. Of course, US burgers were awesome!

    Finally, the friendliness and openness of people was great. Random people willing to talk to you was a real – and enjoyable – change from what I am used to.

  5. Alex says:

    My first and so far only visit to the U.S. was to NYC.
    I made a point of exploring the city by foot as best as possible, walking through four of the boroughs.

    In Manhattan I was surprised by the decadence on the one hand and by the amount of life and culture packed onto this little island. I loved the AMNH and its on the top of my list for the next visit.
    Brooklyn surprised me because it was quaint by NYC standards, very bourgeois, yet a bit grey.
    Queens was impressive because it was all over the place and very multi-cutural (the Indian food was killer!).
    The Bronx I didn’t expect to be as bad as its reputation. But getting off at a subway stop in the middle of the Bronx walking back towards Manhattan I saw a lot of desperation and extreme poverty.

    Apart from that I went to Liberty Island and Ellis Island and was hit by the sense of hope these two islands must’ve engendered by the people trying to immigrate into the U.S. all these years ago.

  6. Henry Webb says:

    I have visited the States on a number of occasions.

    Many of the things that surprised me are the counterpoint to the things mentioned by Americans visiting Europe. In particular, everything appearing so large (cars, hotel rooms, food portions). The tipping culture is very difficult for many Brits to understand. Although in London (though often not the rest of the UK) we do tip in restaurants, this would rarely be more than 10%. The notion of tipping a bartender seems very odd to us. That said, the second time I visited the States I started to appreciate the difference that tipping makes to the service received. Most of our restaurants and service positions are staffed by 16 year olds or recent immigrants. I’m sure most Americans must be quite shocked at how unhelpful and downright rude waiters etc can be in London.

    Whilst walking through the airport in Cleveland, just after arriving, I was surprised at the extremely sweet smell coming from some of the fast food outlets. You could almost collect the sugar in the air! We have fast food, but you guys seem to take unhealthy heating to another level. I’m sure it’s not like this for those actually living in the country, but it can appear to tourists that the only food available is steaks, burger and chips etc.

    One final thing, I’ve found that most American cities seem to inhibit walking around, and many of the attractions for tourists (outside New York) pretty much require the use of a car. That said, I did spend a lovely day wandering around downtown Denver.

  7. Steffen Nork says:

    I have only been to New York City (I’m from Germany). I admired the cool professionalism from Police officers or metro staff when asking for directions, the enormous level of service in every shop we went to. We hardly have that that clerks look up from what they’re doing, smile and ask “how are you” or “may I help you?” (the only exception in Germany being Apple Stores). This was really one of the biggest impressions and you had that not only in expensive shops but also in supermarkets etc.

  8. Marcus says:

    I posted this on reddit a while back, thought it would be relevant here, too:

    You think the US is bad when it comes to strangers’ behavior to each other? Come to Denmark. We might be the “happiest people on Earth”, but fuck it if we’re not gonna keep that happiness to ourselves. I was in California in August, and I have never in my life experienced so many strangers randomly starting conversations with you out of sheer, genuine interest. Even clerks in convenience stores who thought my driver’s license looked funny. I had genuine conversations with more strangers in public places in those 2 weeks than I’ve probably had in the last 5 years in Denmark. It was so depressing coming back home.
    One specific situation that really impressed me just came to my mind. I was in the Bay Area Metro, and some skater dude with tattoos all over stood next to some business men. All of a sudden he just goes “I fucking hate my life” to one of the guys. Yes, it took the business guy by surprise, but they then had a genuine conversation about what the skater guy could actually do to better his life. I have never experienced something like that in Scandinavia.

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