Amberica #1: Surprising Things About the USA

amberica

As you may or may not know, back in March I travelled to the United States of America to visit one of my best friends. I was going to vlog the experience, but gave up a couple of days in because I felt fairly awkward walking around with the camera, and also we got up to so. much. that I didn’t want to take my eyes off of anything and get distracted by filming. Instead, I have decided to wrap up my trip in a few blog posts, because I want to let you all know what I got up to during the ten days I was over there.

To kick start this mini project of mine, I am going to be talking about the things that surprised me about America. I decided to narrow it down and convert my thoughts to a list format, because who doesn’t like lists? Believe me, I was surprised by a lot of things over there, and chipping away at the list was hard to do. Here you go, though. Here are the top most surprising things about the USA.

1. Americans are a friendly bunch

Dee (the friend I stayed with/who put up with my presence) lives in a “small” town in Virginia, so it’s probably different in the cities, but everyone there was so lovely! We took a stroll through town a couple of times, and I was shocked by how friendly everyone was. I was convinced that Dee and her sister, Laila, were friends with all of the people who were wishing us a good morning and talking about their day, but no. These people just wanted to chat and share the love! I think this was particularly surprising to me because I am English, and my countrymen are the type to speed walk past you with their eyes glued to the pavement rather than say good morning to you. In Dee’s town, however, everyone was lovely and open and welcoming. (Aside from the guy at the courthouse, but I’m ignoring him.) And I had never been called “Ma’am” before visiting the USA, nor had I heard the word so many times before in my life. The children are really bloody respectful!

2. Everyone doesn’t walk around with a gun

I blame this on the movies and the media, but I was fully expecting to turn up in Dee’s town and see everyone walking around town as though they’re on The Walking Dead. The thought that guns are legal over there scared me (and it still does), but I was pleasantly surprised to find that people don’t walk around with them and show them off. In fact, the only guns I saw were the ones in Dee and Laila’s house (because I was curious and asked to see them), and the one that the not-sheriff was carrying. Which brings me onto surprising thing #3…

3. Not every town has a sheriff

I KNOW, RIGHT?! I thought these were, like, a thing over there, but apparently not! Dee’s town has a Chief of Police Guy (an official term right there) instead of a sheriff. I feel like my whole life has been a lie. Tying in with #1, the Chief of Police Guy in Dee’s town is bloody lovely. He came strolling up to us as we were walking through town, and asked how we were doing. Obviously, when this happened the first thing I thought was that I was about to be thrown in jail for being an overly curious foreigner. Well, wouldn’t you think that if a 6 foot 5 cop with a gun and sunglasses made the effort to take time out of his day and ask you what’s going on? I swear, my heart nearly stopped. But then Laila told him that I was visiting from England and I got a photo with him next to Benjamin Franklin.

4. Those guys pay a lot of tax

I hadn’t realised this before I went over there, and was totally shocked when my first bill at a diner didn’t amount to what was on the menu. The reason for this is because tax gets added onto every (? I think it’s every but I don’t know, I’m not an expert) purchase. Go into Barnes and Noble and buy two books for $9.99, and instead of the total coming to $18.98, it will be slightly more and you will have to dig into your purse for more notes. For those of you not in the know, here in the UK this does not happen. The price on the restaurant menu is the price you will pay at the till. It really threw me off.

5. Portion sizes aren’t any bigger than over here…

… at least in fast food places. I went over to America expecting mountainous amounts of food on my plate, but the reality is that you get about as much food for your money as you do over here. I didn’t go to any fancy restaurants, so I can’t speak for every eatery, but places like Taco Bell and Dairy Queen offer the same amount of food as your British McDonald’s.

6. You have to drive everywhere

In my village, I’m used to walking everywhere I go. I even walk over to the next towns to get the train, because my local bus service is pretty bad. Prior to visiting Dee, while we were planning, I had mentioned that we could walk into town if the weather is nice. She must have thought I was being stupid because, in America, everything is so bloody far away. You can’t just walk to the corner shop to grab a late night snack if you’re feeling peckish, and you certainly can’t walk to the next town to check out the shops there. One day we were driving through Newport News, and Dee pointed out that we had now crossed over to Hampton. It was actually unusual for her to see two towns placed right next to each other! This was all very daunting for someone who had never left Europe, where everything is so close together. America just has so much space!

7. American toilets are strange

Story time. Laila and Dee picked me up from an airport in Washington DC, and a couple of hours into the trip back down to Virginia we stopped at a petrol gas station. I needed to pee, so I sought out the toilets and locked myself in a cubicle, only to discover that the loo appeared blocked. The water in the toilet bowl was almost overflowing. I was convinced that this was one of those nightmare restrooms that you hear about in road trip novels, and that some heathen had blocked it with toilet paper. So, I did the only thing I could do in this situation, and squatted over the toilet, making sure my backside didn’t touch anything because I was convinced that the water carried all sorts of diseases. It was only when we got to Dee’s house when I realised that all of the toilets over there are like this, and I felt a bit foolish and very weirded out about the difference in the loos. I mean, the water almost touches your butt! British toilets would never be designed to be so unhygienic. I have included a diagram for you to use as reference.

toilets

8. Coffee Mate is a gift from the gods

Seriously.

31 comments on “Amberica #1: Surprising Things About the USA

  1. christinamofranke@gmail.com 21/05/2014 10:09 pm

    DYING OF LAUGHING. The toilets bit kills me. Ahahahaha, I am looking forward to more of this, because omg the best. Also, you are adorbs!

    • Amber 21/05/2014 10:27 pm

      I WAS SO CONFUUUUUSED. I don’t think my friends think I’m adorbs after all the weird questions I was asking them XD

  2. Angie F. 21/05/2014 10:24 pm

    Very interesting! Especially the toilet bit! I think I would prefer the toilets in England, because yeah, the water being that high is kind of gross.

    • Amber 21/05/2014 10:37 pm

      Haha, even the way the toilets flushed freaked me out!

  3. Kara @ Great Imaginations 21/05/2014 10:37 pm

    I love this! I love hearing about your perspective on everything that has always been a part of my life. And yes, Coffee-Mate is definitely a personal lifesaver for me. 😛

    • Amber 01/06/2014 6:21 pm

      For some reason my reply isn’t here, but I DID reply to you, I promise! Although I can’t remember what I said. Coffee-Mate, though >>>

  4. Tatum 21/05/2014 10:38 pm

    i still don’t understand this toilet thing. why is america the way it is

    • Amber 23/05/2014 8:25 am

      This is what happens when you break off from the Empire. It all goes down the drain.

  5. Jamie 21/05/2014 10:38 pm

    Thank you for the laugh today! (Also, I really just liked listening to your thoughts and your adventure!)

    Philly is TOTALLY not friendly like people in VA. Most people keep to themselves and don’t say hello to everyone they pass.

    I rarely see guns. Like my dad, who lives out in the middle of nowhere, had hunting guns growing up but I never saw anybody really with a gun until the other day when my friend and her boyfriend came over and he’s like do you care if I put my gun down? And I’m like WAIT WHAT? (OMG THERE IS A GUN IN MY APT)

    I’m American and sometimes I still forget OH EFF tax on this dinner. It always happens when you go out to eat with a group of people becuase everyone is all “mine is only this much” and nobody remembers about the tax. Or at least my friends never do until we are short money haha.

    I’m surprised to hear you say that about the portion size! My friend Carla (idk if you know her? She used to blog back in the day but idk if she quit before you started) but she came over for BEA in 2011 from England and she was shocked at the portion sizes in restaurants. But like you said..maybe it’s just the fast food kind of places.

    LOLOL to the toilets.

    Thanks for sharing! Can’t wait to read other posts!

    • Amber 23/05/2014 8:31 am

      Haha you’re welcome!

      To be honest, I kind of expected the people living in the cities to be a lot less friendly. It’s like that in my village unless you know the person, in which case you have a good old gossip about EVERYTHING.

      Guns are scary. I can’t imagine what it’s like to casually carry one around.

      Hahaha, really? I’d have thought it would be ingrained! I’m so glad we don’t have to worry about it here in England, and to be honest it’s one of the things that would put me off moving to the USA if the opportunity ever came about. I like being able to work out my total as I’m ordering/walking around the shop xD

  6. Kristen@My Friends Are Fiction 21/05/2014 10:48 pm

    I love this post!! Having only been in the US my entire life I love seeing how it is different than other places. If you have more post! <3

    • Amber 23/05/2014 8:37 am

      Ha, thank you! I have a few other ideas for posts, so they should be up soon 😀

  7. Rachael @ Rachael Turns Pages 22/05/2014 2:05 am

    Every state is different. People in South Dakota are pretty friendly. The taxes bit is interesting I didn’t know that. The toliet bit cracked me up. I think I would probably prefer the toliet in England.

    • Amber 23/05/2014 8:38 am

      I don’t blame you, those American toilets are freaky XD

  8. Miranda @ Tempest Books 22/05/2014 5:47 am

    Oh my god this is hilarious!!! Love this post. I can’t wait for more!

    #1: Only parts of America are really friendly like that…mainly the South. People in other places don’t call you “ma’am” and wave hello on the street. That’s not really the “norm.” I spent a year in the South for my first year of college and their politeness surprised the heck out of me, too, even though I’m just from the Northeast.

    #2: Nope. No, we do not. That’s so funny that you thought that! We do have a LOT of gun owners in the US, but it’s illegal to carry them around with you unless you have a special permit. So mostly the only people you will see with guns are, like you mentioned, police officers.

    #3: Is that a thing…that people actually know and can recognize their Chief of Police/Sheriff? Maybe that’s a Southern thing. I’ve never known that information in any of the towns/cities I’ve lived in lol

    #4: Taxes depend on which state you live in. Like, for example, in New Hampshire, there is no tax! At least, sales tax…not sure about property/vehicle/etc. taxes. But where I live, in Rhode Island, you have to pay an 8% sales tax on prepared food (grocery store food is tax-free! As well as clothing…because they’re deemed “necessities”), books, toiletries, etc.

    #5: I’m not surprised that the fast food places’ portion sizes weren’t any bigger. But I bet that if you’d gone to someplace like a diner or family friendly restaurant, you’d have thought the portions were pretty big.

    #6: Yes, isn’t it annoying? I’ve never lived in a city before, so it’s not weird for me that I have to drive everywhere, but it’s definitely a convenience that I notice a lot when I go to NYC or someplace like that, where public transportation is so available and there are shops around every corner. But there are also definitely perks of the suburb lifestyle. It can be very quiet, you get a yard, you actually know who your neighbors are, etc. But sometimes the amount of driving that I have to do is still frustrating, although eventually you just get kind of used to it.

    #7: I’ve been to Europe multiple times and have never noticed that before!! Maybe I’m just forgetting? I wonder why we do it so differently!

    • Amber 23/05/2014 8:54 am

      Thanks Miranda!

      #1: Their politeness was both surprising and adorable! I wasn’t expecting it at all, and since the people around here are likely to just ignore you… I don’t know, but it was fantastic!

      #2: It’s the media’s fault, I’m sorry! Haha. Over here we’re told that the US is the place where they ride horses and carry guns. Since they’re illegal over here – and have been completely since a tragic school shooting in Scotland – it freaks the hell out of me to think you can get permission to carry them (or use them in the event of someone breaking into your house!) over there. But it was interesting and surprising to see that people aren’t walking around with them and showing them off.

      #3: Oh, we didn’t recognise him! Well, Laila and Dee didn’t. They were convinced their town had a Sheriff but then this guy came up to us and told us he was COPG 😀

      #4: Oohhh, interesting! Over here we pay VAT (value-added tax), but that’s already included in the price on the label since it’s paid by the business/seller, and isn’t added when you get to the checkout, and books and basic food and children’s clothes are all tax free. I don’t know if you wanted to know that, but there you go XD

      #5: Yeah, I imagine if I went to a more fancy place then the portions would have been larger. I’ve seen Man vs. Food!

      #6: YES! Well, I wasn’t the one driving, but I felt sorry for Laila who had to take me everywhere in the car.

      #7: Haha, possibly! Or maybe you’re more adaptive and those things don’t phase you XD

  9. Mel@thedailyprophecy 22/05/2014 9:33 am

    Hahaha, the toilet! The American one is so strange, I think I would have thought something was wrong too. It’s the same with some of those French toilets you have beside the road. There is just a hole in the floor where you stand on top of.. very messy and stinky and uugh :p

    • Amber 23/05/2014 8:58 am

      I’ve never peed in a French toilet on the side of the road, but I’ll take your word for it XD They sound like the toilets in Ancient Rome!

  10. Rinn 25/05/2014 6:54 pm

    I bet we seem SO moody to many Americans – everyone I know who has visited there has said exactly what you’ve said, that they’re so polite and cheerful. I like the idea of strangers greeting each other even if they’re just passing in the street, especially in a small town. That gives a real sense of community 🙂

    That’s really cute that the chief of police took some time to talk to you! I kind of assumed that chief of police and sheriff were interchangeable over there, but I guess not 😛

    I’ve noticed that (I don’t know how, not having been, perhaps it was from an online shop?) about the tax. Every time we buy something the tax has already been added, so what you see is the price you pay. Sometimes if you look on receipts in this country they’ll list the item price which is slightly less than what you pay, then the tax – and the overall price is the one on display. So I guess it’s just more obvious there?

    I can’t imagine having to drive everywhere! I happily walk to the next town, four miles away, if it’s a nice day. I guess four miles is nothing in a country like that 😛

    I NEVER KNEW THAT ABOUT THE TOILETS. Weird. Why is there so much water?? And in reply to Mel’s comment above, those French motorway toilets are horrible D:

    • Amber 01/06/2014 6:24 pm

      Definitely! Of course, in the cities people probably don’t talk to each other, but I live in a town that’s about the same size as Dee’s and everyone here is grumpy. Or, rather, they just don’t talk to you xD And I like it that way. If they suddenly started greeting me on the street I would be a bit worried.

      Yep, here it’s already included because the business has to pay the tax. So their prices already include that. The tax being added on at the till is WEIRD and off-putting!

      Four miles would probably take you to a middle of a field haha. We drove past so many farms when I was at Dee’s, and her sister drove us around all the time like it was no big deal!

      I DON’T KNOWWWW, it’s scary!

  11. Rita @ Weaving Pages 06/06/2014 8:44 pm

    Ahhh, it sounds like you had an amazing time! I would love to go to America one day, and hopefully one day I will! I love the facts- some of the things you said I never expected, and the toilet bit made me laugh! Great post!

    Rita xx

  12. Asti 07/06/2014 1:51 pm

    Oh my! I just have to comment on this because of the toilet thing. I just moved to London in September for my degree and I had the SAME ISSUE, but reversed! I got to the UK and went to use the toilet and was like… what the hell?! WHERE IS ALL THE WATER?! It’s so WEIRD! So it’s funny to me to see someone giving the SAME reaction but for the opposite reason, haha. But really, I feel like having water closer makes it less dangerous. I mean, I feel like the splash effect for the UK toilets is much more… everywhere. You know, since it’s so far away? lol. I can’t believe I even just typed that. But yes! They’re different, but I think it’s more weird the other way around 😛

  13. Judith 02/08/2014 6:38 pm

    Where I live people will also go out of their way to ignore you. It’s very annoying and it sounds like America wins this round.

    NOT EVERYONE HAS A GUN WHAT?!?!

    I’m stil disappointed the sheriff’s (chief of police w/e) son isn’t evil and hot and older than twenty

    The tax thing is SO weird and so are the toilets but we’ve discussed this

    It would be strange to have to drive everywhere. I go everywhere by foot or bike or train and only sometimes by car. I’d rather walk.

    Do you like my random useless comment?

    You are welcome.

  14. lisaxcollins@gmail.com 24/10/2014 7:55 am

    I know you wrote this a long time ago, but oh my goodness. I had so much fun reading this post. The toilet thing? Hahahahah. It totally ISN’T almost touching your butt. Come on! Lmao.

    But yeah, for the other things I guess it depends on where you are. You’re not the first person I’ve seen say we’re really friendly. I know some of the Americans posting here are saying it’s only in small towns, but I don’t completely agree with that. It’s probably more likely in smaller or Southern areas, but basically everywhere I’ve been has been full of the same basic “Hello, how are you?”, “Please”, “Thank you”, etc type of things. We are a small talk nation, too. Or so I’ve been told. Lol.

    Also, meeting the Chief of Police on the street must be a small town thing, because I don’t even know who ours is. Oooops. Haha.

  15. Yuri 21/01/2015 6:42 pm

    Aaaand that’s the reason of the back splash they always talk about.

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