Visiting the United States for the first time can induce some major culture shock. While visitors may have watched hours of "Friends" in preparation, there are some things about the United States that you can't prepare for. Some things end up verifying long-held stereotypes (yep, we love big portion sizes) and blowing others out of the water (we're nice here, we promise!). Here are eight things that surprise first-time visitors to the U.S. the most.
The Price You See Isn't the Price You Pay
The price on the can of soda says $1, but they ask you for $1.07 at the register. The clerk isn't trying to rip you off. The price marked on the item you want to buy doesn't include sales tax. Expect to pay between 5–10% more than the marked price depending on what state you are shopping in. You'll get pretty good at doing the mental addition before you get to the cash register, but make sure you have some change in your pocket to cover the tax.
You Have to Drive ... Everywhere
The United States is a very big place, and, unfortunately, there isn't a very good public transportation infrastructure. You'll find the best public transit on the east coast. Places like New York City and Washington, D.C., offer subway systems that can zip you around quickly and affordably. If you want to see more of the United States, though, you'll want to rent a car. The United States is roughly about the same size as the entire continent of Europe. The good news is that the U.S. has a great highway system that makes it easy to get from one state to another. Just make sure you leave yourself enough time. It can still take an entire day to drive across one state.
There Are Gaps in Bathroom Stalls
Americans don't realize how weird their public bathrooms are until they use one in Europe or Asia. Public bathroom stalls in the United States are a little too public, with gaps at the bottom of the walls and doors. Many of them even have gaps alongside the door, meaning people standing outside the stall can see you going about your business. Why do Americans feel the need to be so open about their bathroom behavior? According to One Point Partitions, a company that supplies these bathroom stalls, there are a few reasons. The gaps make the spaces easier to clean and provide better air circulation. The open design is also required by the Americans With Disabilities Act, as it's meant to make moving a wheelchair around the stalls a little easier.
The Options in Grocery Stores Are Mind-Blowing
Visitors who make it to an American grocery store are often amazed at the sheer number of options available for a single product. Looking for peanut butter? There are around twenty different options. You can pick from creamy, smooth, or peanut-free, and all from a host of different manufacturers. Want to pick up a box of cereal? Head over to the cereal aisle. Yes, aisle. Some stores have a hundred different cereal options. In many other countries, you may be lucky to give more than five options in a single store.
They Really Care About Customer Service
The customer is always right in the United States, and nine times out of ten you'll feel that when you are out shopping. Americans care about customer service, so expect a greeting when you walk through the door of a shop. You'll often get an offer of help right away, too. It won't happen once, either. Sales attendants will continue to check in on you throughout your visit. Some visitors can find this a bit smothering, but don't worry, the attendants mean well. Let them help you find exactly what you are looking for and you'll make their day.
There Are so Many Commercials on TV
Visitors often flick on the television in their hotel for some much-needed downtime after a day of sightseeing. What shocks many of them, though, is how much time American television devotes to advertisements. According to Forbes, American television is showing more commercials than ever. There was a 3% increase in advertisements from 2017 to 2018. Meanwhile, according to the Telegraph, Britain caps allowable commercial time to 12 minutes for every hour. Even then, though, most channels average seven minutes of commercials per hour. That's less than half of what you'll find on American television.
Everything Really Is Bigger
Roads are wider. Houses are larger. Vehicles are massive. Even our stores are bigger. The one thing that gets the most attention from visitors, though, is the portion sizes. Both restaurant portions and the food you buy in the shops tend to be larger in the United States than in other parts of the world. WebMD reports that when comparing restaurants in Philadelphia and Paris, for example, the Philly restaurant portions were 25% bigger. Candy bars sold in stores were more than 40% bigger.
Americans Are a Friendly Bunch
Maybe the most surprising thing about visiting the United States is how friendly Americans are to visitors. Headlines might make visitors wary of visiting the United States. Once they interact with Americans personally, those concerns melt away. Americans tend to be very warm and welcoming to foreign visitors. It's not unusual for an American to strike up a conversation with a stranger to learn more about their visit and their home country.