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February 2, 2012

You Know You’re In The USA When…

by Anne Paddock

Forty years of my life were spent primarily in the United States and so the culture of this great nation is at my core even though there seems to be more cultural diversity in the US than any other country in the world. There is the northeast with an abundance of great schools where “cultural elites” – as critics call them – reside, the south known for its hospitality but also where the confederate flag is still flown in places, and the midwest with a concentration of farms where neighbors still help each other out when a disaster hits a family.  The west is known for its prairies; the southwest for Las Vegas as well as Santa Fe; and the west and the northwest for their wine and concentration of internet and computer companies. But somehow they all tie together and form American culture.

The US seemed normal to me and I rarely thought about American culture beyond the t-shirt and flip-flop jokes, until I spent nearly a decade abroad.  Although I was excited to return to living in my home country, I was not expecting culture shock because this was a country I was familiar with.  But there were entry issues and I noticed the US with more clarity when I returned.  I knew I was back in the US when…….. 
  • Gyms open up at 5:00 am (or earlier);
  • The phone rings at 8:00 am in the morning;
  • Gas costs less than half of what we were paying in Europe;
  • In shopping for groceries, clothing, or products, sales clerks solicit donations for a charitable cause (I am shopping, right?..not attending a fundraiser);
  • Jars or bowls marked “tips” are placed at registers for “to go” orders;
  • Children go to school on average 180 days a year (compared to 200-225 in Europe);
  • People work in August;
  • Summer vacation for kids is 3 months long while working adults get 2 weeks off;
  • Cars drive in the left lane instead of adhering to signs that say “Drive on the Right and Pass on the Left;”
  • David Letterman announces on national television that Dunkin Donuts plans to double (yes, double) the number of stores in the US in 2012…and it’s not a joke;
  • Anyone born in the country is an instant citizen;
  • Illegal aliens can go to college and pay in state tuition but out-of-state citizens must pay 3-5 times the in-state tuition rate;
  • Two out of three people are overweight;
  • People use bar soap instead of bottles of gel soap;
  • People still write checks for everyday purchases and pay bills by mail;
  • People spend more time in their cars than walking;
  • People can go to an Apple store 24 hours a day;
  • Nearly anyone can get a gun;
  • People say “excuse me” when they walk in front of you in grocery aisles but walk by in a park without saying a word;
  • A natural disaster occurs and the altruistic side of America emerges almost immediately with donations and disaster relief efforts;
  • People shake hands to say hello;
  • The person or company with the deepest pockets gets sued, regardless of responsibility;
  • Court cases are settled because it’s cheaper than fighting a frivolous claim;
  • People take their kids regularly to McDonald’s, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Subway, Taco Bell and other fast food chains for a meal;
  • Congressmen won’t support a total ban on cell phones and texting while driving because they’re afraid of taking an unpopular stand rather than doing the right thing;
  • A US congressman wouldn’t vote for a ban on cell phones and texting because he claims eating a slice of pizza while driving is just as dangerous (yes, he was elected);
  • Third graders are told they have to pick one sport and commit to it year-round instead of choosing a seasonal rotation of sports;
  • Your child can get a scholarship to a great college for being smart and working hard;
  • You can always find a restaurant open and eat a meal anytime you want;
  • Parents put bumper stickers on their cars announcing their kid made the honor roll;
  • People drag dead Christmas trees down halls in condominium complexes to the trash containers and don’t clean up after themselves (“If you make a mess, clean it up” doesn’t seem to apply);
  • People throw trash on the ground instead of in trash cans;
  • People or companies are asked to “adopt ” a public highway to keep it clean…isn’t this the Sanitation Department’s responsibility or better yet, every citizen’s responsibility not to litter?
  • People donate money to have their name on buildings, schools, hospital wings, museums, and performing art centers – what happened to pure altruism?
  • People have a fit if you bring your dog into a hair salon, restaurant, or store even if it’s on a leash;
  • Post offices are used only for mail;
  • A smoker can be ticketed for smoking outside;
  • You can live wherever you want and you don’t have to tell anyone;
  • People use one dollar paper bills instead of dollar or even two dollar coins;
  • Most stores are open 7 days a week from 9:00 – 9:00 pm and some even 24 hours;
  • Nearly everything costs half of what it would cost in Europe;
  • Grocery stores are twice the size of European counterparts;
  • Grocery stores have staff to pack your purchases and some even take your groceries to the car;
  • People leave their grocery carts in the parking lot instead of returning them;
The culture of the US is as varied as its population:  310 million people of various races, religions, and beliefs and yet the country functions as a healthy democracy. Are there inefficiencies? Absolutely, but there are also vast choices that many other cultures don’t possess. Somehow we all manage to stay together and share in forming an American culture that has more positive attributes than negative.

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