I emigrated to the United States from England when I was in my early 20s. I moved with my family so wasn’t alone, but I still found the move disorienting and strange. That’s because we all grow up watching so many American movies and TV shows that we think we understand the culture and the country well. When you get there, however, it’s a completely different story.
If you too will be emigrating to America, even if it’s decades after I did, here are a few things I found incredibly surprising about the country and the people who live in it, and I’m guessing you may as well.
Americans are incredibly friendly – Growing up watching Kojak and Starsky and Hutch (yes, I’m dating myself), I would never have imagined Americans to be particularly friendly as, on American TV shows of the 70s and early 80s, it all seemed so fast-paced with no time for much personal interaction. So, I was very surprised when I moved to the Midwest to find people went out of their way to say “Hi” on the street, or tell you to “Have a nice day” — something we never used to hear in England.
Even a few decades later, I still find Americans to be much more immediately chatty and friendly than I do people from many other countries, who tend to be more reserved. When you emigrate to America, that alone can make you think you made the right decision as you just feel so darned welcome.
Everything is supersized – My parents’ first meal out in America and they came back astounded that a salad was served in something the size of a mixing bowl, that burgers were three times the size of what we ate in England, and a slice of cake would feed the whole family.
In retrospect, that’s not always a good thing, especially now the United States has such a problem with obesity. If you, however, are used to eating average-sized meals like much of the rest of the planet, you will be astounded by the portions you are served in America.
You will be happy to know, though, that in most restaurants in America it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a “doggy bag”, so you can take part of your meal ‘to go’, and that incredibly large plate of food can be eaten for your lunch tomorrow as well.
Houses are large and reasonably priced – Coming from England, one thing my parents were impressed with was how much house they could buy in America for around the same amount of money they sold our house for in the UK. In fact, the house we bought in the Midwest was three times larger than the house we owned in England and even had its own acreage.
While, of course, this varies depending on where you live (California has one of the most expensive housing markets in the country), if you are emigrating to America from Europe or the UK you’ll likely be very surprised at just how large a house you’ll soon be living in, and how much property it sits on.
Americans are very religious – When you watch the TV shows and movies American movie companies produce, you don’t really expect people to be particularly religious. You will be surprised, therefore, to learn Americans are more involved with their religion (usually Christian) than just about anywhere else you’ve ever been. Once you start to meet your neighbors, you’ll probably be invited to their church and, on Sunday, don’t be surprised to see the lines of cars stretching for miles as church services either begin or let out.
Personally, I found the obsession with the Christian religion in America to be frustrating as I’m not religious and never will be. I learned, however, to just politely refuse invitations to churches or church-related functions and, after various attempts, most people would give up.
Plus, if you do end up living in a major American city and, like me, you’re not religious, you’re nowhere near as likely to be asked about it. If you are Christian and religiously inclined, however, I’m sure you will love it.
You can return anything in America – One thing I always loved about America was you can buy anything, decide you don’t like it or want it for whatever reason, and return it. In Thailand, where I now live, you’d better be absolutely sure you’re going to be keeping whatever you buy as it’s highly unlikely the store will allow a return. Unless it’s completely broken. That too is common in most other countries of the world.
That means, if you’re emigrating to America, don’t worry about buying furniture, clothing, household items, toiletries, make-up, shoes, food — anything you want. If you don’t like it or it doesn’t suit your purpose, the store you bought it from will allow you to return it for a full cash refund, as long as you have your receipt.
Of course, when you emigrate to America, it depends where you are originally from as to what you will find surprising. A young Indian man, for instance, will find some things very surprising about America, while to others they may be somewhat commonplace.
The most important thing, however, is to look at everything with an open mind and realize, as much as you think you already know about America, honestly, you really know very little.