First Impressions of the USA

Reverse Culture Shock (from the Chlohemian side):

FOOD

a) I remember first landing in CZ and trying to get acclimated to my new life in my new apartment. I remember hating the taste of the water – Czech water is very hard and after a little while all hot water kettles will build up white residue on the sides, which I thought was dirty and disgusting, but which is actual just normal mineral residue – vodní kamen or “water stone.” When I came back to NY the first time, I had to readjust, then readjust again in CZ. My first thought this time around was, The water tastes like plastic. Ondra thought the same. Good thing we have a Brita filter.

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“Water stone”

b) It also was a big adjustment – that I initially resisted – that every Czech meal is eaten with a side (potatoes, pasta, rice, dumplings, bread). We may do that in USA but mostly unintentionally (like how a hamburger has a bun). It surprised me to start eating meals again that were, for example, meat-only. (Ondra just had his first barbecue experience- smoked ribs and that’s it. It was a delicious struggle.)

c) Americans eat out a lot more, so we don’t typically take (big) snacks when we go out for the day. In CZ we are in the habit of taking sandwiches, schnitzels (for longer trips), or at least some fruit. Here we always took some food with us not realizing we’d be eating anyway; as if we were in some survival-mode alternate reality.

SHOPPING & MONEY

a) Goddamn, I forgot about sales tax, which is not included in the stated price. It’s 8.6% in NY, but different in other states. You expect to pay one price, and then it’s unexpectedly more – whereas in CZ, price is always shown including DPH tax.

b) The first time I had to use smaller coins again (25c quarters, 10c dimes, 5c nickels, 1c pennies) – to pay for something that was $3.81 – it was like attempting to do math when you haven’t slept in two years.

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c) again, with the tipping problems. Tipping is done separately from paying the bill, and is usually 15-20% (obligatory) on top of your meal/drinks. (Eeeeeeexpensive.)

d) Opening hours: I would want to go to a shop, look at the clock, and say Oh no it’s about to close! at 4:30pm. I forgot nearly everything is open til 9pm here, and even on weekends. (In Tišnov where I live in CZ most shops close at 5pm and have limited, or no hours, on Saturday or Sunday.

MISCELLANEOUS DIFFERENCES

a) No one stared at me when I spoke English, which was a huge change of pace from CZ. 😉

b) I jumped and stifled a scream the first time a toilet flushed automatically. True story.

c) In European metros they usually have screens saying when the next train will arrive. I used to love the NYC subway. It was what it was, unashamedly. Now I hate the “just wait and see” transport mentality 🙄

 ***

Pure Culture Shock (from a Czech guy’s side)

So many sentences since we’ve been here have started with, “Why can’t they just….” 🙂

AMURRICA

a) “Why are there American flags literally everywhere?” The word literally being used literally for once. “I know you’re American. You don’t have to push it in my face.”

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There are American flags on lawns, in windows, hanging from people’s house porches and overhangs, car bumper stickers, shirts and hats, town flyers…

b) “Why is it so hot in the subway?” 95 degrees compared to 85 outside, while the air vents blow exclusively hot air.

c) “Why have beautiful green lawns if you’re not going to use them?” Now that Ondra has questioned our “hands-off” (or rather, “feet-off”) philosophy about lawn appearances, so do I. It’s true… it doesn’t make sense. Lawns we water with sprinklers overnight even when it’s raining (true story, three houses on one block we saw the other day) that we don’t even have any chairs or benches on to sit outside and watch the sunset, for example. You don’t see people sitting outside just greeting the day in the suburbs. Americans have backyards for this, I suppose. Still, Czechs just have more practical gardens – work (planting, growing, building) is always being done in front and back yards.

perfect-image-of-houses-cropped
Via unconditional.co.cz

Also, fewer people have fences in American suburbs than I would have expected, considering the fear of property damage or home invasion, and compared to CZ where seemingly everyone has fences in my neighborhood (and every other one I can think of). Ondra says, ironically, that not having a fence is snobby because we are showing off our vibrant green lawns (as a status symbol). But then, I ask, why do Czech people spend so much time on flowers in their gardens, for people not to see it?

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I thought maybe Czech people like fences because it’s a way of claiming space, of saying “this is mine” now that they have the freedom to, since no private property was safe during the Communist era. Ondra disagrees; he says there are fences because people actually use their front lawns and “don’t want people looking in” (I mean, we still can see) or maybe to protect the work they do.

d) “Why are obvious things written on signs?” Prominent example: the ‘Employees must wash hands’ signs. Ondra doesn’t understand why the legal requirement to show this makes any difference. (I don’t think it’s so bad, but I see the point.)

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As another example, Ondra saw a sign by the escalator that said, ‘Do not sit on the escalator.’ “Does someone have to tell you not to sit on moving stairs?” he asks. If someone’s stupid enough to sit there, we can gladly submit their name for the Darwin Award. (To be fair, we have a saying that if you see a sign telling you not to do something, someone has already done that dumb thing. See HIMYM, the “Disaster Averted” No Boogie Boarding incident.)

A last example is that many street signs for drivers are written out, as opposed to the system of symbols in Europe that is meant to translate over country lines so everyone can understand.

 

Perhaps Americans just need things explicitly spelled out. See the different in our “Do not enter” signs; European version on the right:

e) and the number one complaint, “There are ads everywhere!” – billboards, on buildings, on the highway, etc – and on TV, “There’s more ads than the actual content,” as he walks out in annoyance 🙂

 

New York Yankees jersey with Pepsi ad; Ondra overwhelmed in Times Square

FOOD

a) “Is that apple strudel?” about a disgustingly large diner dessert (hey, it came with the meal!) Middle row on the left.

Our desserts come in one size: big. For example, Martha’s Country Bakery “Very Berry Napoleon” cake.

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b) Artificial sweeteners: “Why would anyone put that in their drink?!” (I never realized how not a thing that is in CZ/Europe as I never used it)

 

OVERABUNDANCE / MONEY

Speaking of food,

a) They don’t show the weight of food as on Czech menus (usually 150-300g for a main course) yet some places portions are too tiny for a lot of $ and some places, portions are huge (relatively for Ondra, everything is too much $$$).

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b) “There are too many choices; I have no idea what to order.”

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c) Going into houses/shops where the air conditioning is blasting, then going outside into suffocating 90-degree weather. (I never thought I’d adjust to live without a/c but now I greatly prefer it.)

d) “Why is there so much water in the toilets you could bathe a baby in it?!”

(I would show you a picture but ain’t nobody wanna see that.)

***

We can both agree…

DIVERSITY OF PERSON AND LANGUAGE

It’s true that Czech Republic is a very homogenous country. There are Vietnamese and Romani minorities, and racism is a problem (also born of post-USSR xenophobia), but it’s nowhere near the level of active vitriol that sometimes rears its ugly head in the USA. Regardless, the US is a place of surprising diversity of opinions, ideas, and peoples, and this is often beautiful.

No smoking sign in English, Russian and Chinese in Forest Hills, Queens.

Manhattan Chinatown, on the border with Little Italy

I missed it while I was away, and Ondra is getting his first exposure – in spaces as boring as the subway or public parks!

12 thoughts on “First Impressions of the USA

  1. This is a very interesting post! I often forget about the sales tax every time I got shopping to the USA, haha. In Mexico we don’t have them either.

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    1. do you not have sales tax at all, or is it included in the price?

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  2. Really enjoyed this. Keep writing x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s so odd how quickly we can become accustomed to things! I used to love sparkling water but after living in Norway where it’s tap water all the way, I can’t stand the taste of sparkling water anymore at all!! I do find it weird to not have side dishes though. Is that even the case in restaurants when you order meat for example?

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    1. it often comes with something, ex. potatoes (think hamburger and fries cuz it’s almost always potatoes :), but when you eat at home there’s not this necessity. also with some specific dishes like barbecue and chicken wings that you’d eat out.

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  4. Hi there – I am enjoying reading your blog (through #wanderfulwednesday) Another Czechpat here also home in the USA visiting fam/friends. Sooo many observations and many that we share, it seems. Paying the bills is tripping me up the most… I think some of my friends just started paying my bill for me because I looked really confused when it came and forgot how it worked after 2 years away… oops… not my intent!

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    1. haha 🙂 I literally had the same experience yesterday! where do you *hail from* in CZ?

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      1. I live in Ceske Budejovice! It’s always rare to hear about foreigners living and blogging from outside of Prague, so I think that’s pretty cool.

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      2. how did you get there? 🙂 i was there in December 2014 for the Christmas markets.

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      3. (and by that i mean did you grow up there or is it your adopted home?)

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  5. Zuzana Pavlovsky August 13, 2017 — 7:57 pm

    Hey girl! I love this one!
    Having lived and in NYC ( Queens, Middle Village) and working in the City (corner of 55th and 6th Ave) for 30 years and then founding myself retiring to Zatec (17 000) in 2011, I can totally relate to most of your observations. Especialy now after we just got back from a 3 months stay in New Mexico where we volunteered in Organd Mountains National Monument. I love how you describe in detail the cultural diffrences. I can’t help but wonder how did you adjust to life in Tisnov ( I grew up in Brno) after NYC? Byw, we stoped there on our way back to CZ to visit our kids and it was overhelming. Too much of everything. Like my husband temarked: At our age NYC is useless for us. And just saying: Everything in USA is bigger and to the extreme. But we still love it . Especially now when we got to really lnow the Southwest. But we love it here in CZ too. Keep up the good work girl. You are a good writer!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thanks for your comment, Zuzana! it means so much to me 🙂 how did you find yourself in Middle Village?I’m a Queens girl; I lived in Rego Park a few years ago. and I can understand what you mean about NYC- for a tiny island, Manhattan is HUGE!

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