Monday, July 15, 2013

6 Weird Things We Do in the United States

I’m now in my fourth week back home in the good ol’ U. S. of A., and I’ve noticed a few strange customs that we do here in America that would seem rather strange to an alien visitor from outside the States. They’re mainly just silly things, but they prove that Reverse Culture Shock is a very real thing. Enjoy!

Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington, D.C.
American flags at the Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington, D.C.

1) Carpet

carpet
(Source: Jim Mead)
What is this stuff if not wall-to-wall, glued-down rugs? It really is a strange concept but boy have I sure missed being able to sprawl out on the floor with things I’m working on or a movie. The linoleum is much easier to keep clean (and better for allergies), but is hardly an inviting place in which to cuddle up with a good book. Still, given how disgusted I was when I looked in the dustpan after my weekly bedroom sweep, I just don’t want to know how much dirt simply hangs around in the carpet.

2) Dollar bills

Two-dollar bills
(Source: Ken Fager)
To its credit, the U.S. government has tried so hard to encourage use of the one-dollar coin—be it the novelty Sacagawea coins from the early 2000s or the plethora of presidential ones minted most recently. Dollar coins encourage spending (which stimulates the economy, which creates JOBS!!!) but nobody will ever use them like Europe and Canada do because of one obstacle: the paper bill. Until they’re taken out of circulation (which wouldn’t take that long at all since they last only a couple years), they will continue to make our wallets fat.

3) Bank checks

old bank check
(Source: Dystopos)
I could say this is old-fashioned but even in Spain they still use cold, hard cash for most transactions. We think we’re so fancy with our credit cards but then—BAM!—there’s some bureaucratic requirement for a bank check, this fancy official contract explaining You Have Approved the transfer of *ahem* Thirty-Nine and 57/100 Dollars to another person’s bank account, with cute little blanks for messages to leave to your banker and a place to give your autograph. To be honest, I actually enjoy writing checks in fancy, swooping cursive handwriting, but can’t there be an easier way to do this, like an electronic bank transfer?

4) Insanely large street numbers

street address numbers
(Source: Derek Bruff)
This is the biggest nonsense of the whole list. I live on a street with 18 houses on it, yet the numbering starts in the thousands place. You’ll see addresses for businesses like 10000 Lakeview Drive…but it’s the only building on the whole road. Why, why, why America? Can we just start at “1” and go up from there? For example, in Spain I lived on Almadén Street, Nº 2 because my apartment complex was the second building on the street, with a Nº 1 to the north and a Nº 3 on the other side.

5) Produce weighing at the cash register

produce section
(Source: Carl_C)
When I first moved to Spain, it really threw me for a loop having to weigh and price my fruits and veggies in the produce section; the cashiers merely scan a plastic baggie with a barcode on it and throw it down the line. It actually makes a lot of sense, though, as it makes the check-out lines much speedier and lets the cashiers focus on scanning your items instead of having to look up some obscure root vegetable. Plus, in the smaller grocery stores, the people who work in the produce section will often bag your tomatoes and peppers for you! For a country that prides itself on efficiency, I don’t know why the U.S. hasn’t shifted this responsibility off of cashiers yet. (I have seen a small, barcode-printing scale in Walmart recently, however.)

6) Non-metric measurements and Fahrenheit

thermometer
(Source: Tom Magliery)
(This is just a personal vendetta of mine, to be honest.) America is one of THREE countries left in the world (the other two being Burma and Liberia) that do not use the metric system of measurements—an inter-related system based on simple units and powers of ten. And she is also one of four countries that haven’t adopted Celsius for measuring temperature. The vast majority of the global population measures how tall you are in meters, how much you weigh in kilograms, and how hot it is in centigrade…but not the U.S.! It really defies belief that we continue to confuse ourselves with all those teaspoons, tablespoons, ounces, cups, pints, quarts, gallons, and bushels when we could simplify everything with the glorious liter. </soapbox>

What other customs or traditions does the U.S. have that might seem strange to the rest of the world? Have you ever experienced “reverse culture shock” upon returning to your home country after a long time away? Comment in the discussion below!
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