Culture Shock Therapy

What expats really think of the U.S

Culture Shock Therapy

Although probably one of the most widely commercialized countries in the world thanks to its major exports of Hollywood and music: the United States of America can be a really strange place to visit. This is particularly true for expatriates, whose whole world view can be questioned before they’re even through customs. Whether expats arrive in the U.S as kids or as adults, or they’re in La La Land or the Bible Belt, here’s what shocks them the most about the U.S.A.

1. Crazy, colourful food

It begins at breakfast: Froot Loops, Cap’n Crunch, and Lucky Charms. For most people, seeing an array of that much colour on the breakfast table can be a little shocking. Breakfast cereal is supposed to be brown, right? Many expats are initially taken back by eating all that sugar before 9AM. Then we have lunch time - why is the cheese so orange? And during Thanksgiving they put marshmallows in potatoes! Compare that to England’s beige Sunday Roast and the brown Senegalese thiebou, it might take a while for expats to get used to.

2. “Hi, can I help you?”

Although we all expect a good level of customer service, Americans take it to the next level. From friendly cashiers to welcoming waiters, you can’t step inside an American establishment without being instantly greeted. Whether these happy helpers actually care about how your day is going or what your weekend plans are is debatable, but expats from more socially reserved countries tend to be a little wary of the enthusiasm.

3. Everything is huge

Europe has its hidden, winding streets… the U.S has sheer size. When you think of places like New York City, you probably expect to be surrounded by skyscrapers, but it doesn’t just stop there. Everything in America is gigantic! Supermarkets that go on for days, high schools that look like universities, malls that resemble whole towns… the mantra “go big or go home” has never been more true. And don’t expect to be able to walk anywhere, even the roads are colossal here, meaning a car is definitely a necessary investment if you plan to survive life in the states.

4. Everything is new

It’s not just big, but new too. In the grand scheme of things, the U.S.A is a brand new country, only officially gaining independence from the British Empire in 1776. Because of this, their idea of history is a little different from the rest of the world. Whilst expats from Asia and Europe might be used to thousand year old churches and ancient monuments, Americans are equally as impressed by the 264 year old Liberty Bell. If you’re an expat who’s used to artefacts sprawling across thousands of years, maybe stick to natural wonders like the Grand Canyon instead.

5. Keep it informal

Respecting your elders is a common practice all around the world, but America is a little more lax on this than some other countries. Using first names is pretty usual here, and English doesn’t have any language differences for levels of formality. What is considered polite in America may be completely different back home. So if you think an American is being rude, don’t! Just go with it and you’ll be making friends in no time.

Keep calm and carry on

The U.S.A. can be a very stressful place, with 44% of the country reporting an increase in their stress levels . If you combine this with the usual expat stress AND add in culture shock, it's no wonder expats in the U.S might feel a little overwhelmed at times.

It’s important to keep track of your mental health as it can end up affecting other aspects of your health. If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, there’s lots of home remedies you can try to keep things under control. Yoga, exercise, and writing in a journal are popular activities loved by expats. Talking about your experiences can help to overcome your problems when moving to the U.S.; international health insurers Cigna Global  include 5 counseling sessions per period, making it easier to adapt to like in the States.

Despite all the weird and wonderful things about the this country, it’s still an amazing place full of great natural wonders and even greater people. If you’re lucky enough to live in the U.S - take a breath, go outside, and experience life in this crazy country.

Further reading

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