10 things I learned about Americans in 9 1/2 Weeks America

I’ve been in the US for about 9 1/2 weeks now and boy, did I learn some interesting stuff.

For example, you can buy avocados and shotguns in the same store; not to mention that you can do your banking, get a haircut and have an eye examination there, too.

But behold, the revelations don’t end here. The far more interesting part are the American people themselves.

Drawn from close observation of Americans in their natural habititat (America) I proudly present the following list of

Ten things Americans do that are weird, surprising, or weirdly surprising to me:

1. Buying birthday cake. Sorry but that’s just really sad.

2. Paying for everything with credit card. Even if it’s a $2 gas station coffee. You’re all in for a mighty surprise and slight panicking if you ever make the leap over the big pond and find that a plastic rectangle won’t buy you happiness in Europe.

3. Serving free tap water and offering free refills. And you’re still wondering why the economy said bye-bye and moved to China.

4. Using one trash can for everything. You have no idea how much it pains my recycling-loving heart to see a piece of paper and a glass bottle being thrown into the same trash can.

5. Making cocoa with chocolate syrup. What first seemed like a barbaric abnormality turned out to be rather tasty. Good job, America.

6. Using the same tires all year round. Don’t you people know there are summer and winter tires for a reason?

7. Complimenting strangers. I’ll always cherish the time a lady in Walmart shouted “I love your shirt!” at me while she ran past me, or that one time a girl in the elevator just randomly told me I was pretty. Why thank you.¹ ²

8. Making breakfast bacon in the microwave. I think this is the single most American way to use a microwave.

9. Burping in public. It’s like some people were born without a sufficiently working shame-gene.

10. Eating PB&J sandwiches. I don’t know who came up with slapping together two slices of untoasted “bread” (a.k.a. the dough version of a floppy disk) and putting peanut butter and jelly in between but I’m convinced it was part of some sick social experiment and the whole American nation fell for it.

¹ The very real possibility of mockery shall be ignored for the sake of my ego.

² Random Compliment Counter: IIII

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Americans are driving (me) crazy

America, land of the free – free of a traffic code, apparently.

Granted, I’m German and I knew I couldn’t expect the same affinity for rules as back home in my dear land of beer and pretzels.

The reality still came as a shock.

Not only do people lack any respect for crosswalks whatsoever (in Germany, it is enough to point one toe in the general direction of a crosswalk to make cars stop – here they’ll start driving again while you’re still on the street!), pedestrians don’t even seem to mind that much.

If you drove like that in Germany, maybe while some elderly lady is crossing the street painfully slowly, you’d have a walking cane banging on your hood faster than you can say “Autobahn”.

On the other hand, pedestrians don’t respect traffic code very much, either. People just love to cross against the red light. (If you think Germans won’t do that, even if it’s 3 in the morning and there are no cars around, you are entirely correct. If you see a German do it anyway, chances are he is being peer-pressured by Americans, drunk or both).

Unfortunately, sitting in a car next to an American driver is not less stressful than trying to cross the street in one piece.

I blame it on America’s love for automatic cars. They just give your right hand too much freedom without having to shift the stick.

So while the driver is checking twitter on their phone, I’ll politely say, “Please don’t kill us, okay?” and they go “Haha, yeah, sure”.

No. I am serious. I have cats back home waiting for me. Don’t kill me.

The next popular way of endangering yourself and everyone around you is apparently drunk driving. I’ve been here for about six weeks, and how often have I heard, “Oh, I’ll just drink so much that I can still drive” already? Countless times.

Now it’s hard to analyze where this tendency comes from – the refusal to walk? The lack of taxis? The fact that people are allowed to drive five years before they are allowed to drink and the resulting crippling dependency on cars? (In Germany, we can drink before we can drive, so yes, we have figured out how to get back home safely when we’re plastered by the time we turn 18 and our parents hopefully fork over a used Volkswagen).

Considering how easy it is to obtain a driver’s license, this is not very surprising. A short test and a few driving lessons with your parents? Off you go!

One thing I have to admit however: drivers here are indeed more relaxed and friendly. Which is possibly a necessity if both parties don’t know what they’re doing and have to rely on each other instead of traffic code to get home safely.

P.S. If you are wondering whether I’m talking about you, in 7 out of 8 cases I am.