When was the last time you were really puzzled about typical American behavior? For example the obsession over the greenest lawn, cheese everything or the mysterious gap in bathroom stalls. I notice stuff like this all the time and while it’s sometimes frustrating (see 70 degrees), most of the time it’s just amusing. We do live in a different culture and that comes with a ton of differences. I listed some of the mysteries, that I have a theory on, but haven’t really solved yet below. Enjoy!
The Public Bathroom Door Gap
This is something that really puzzles me. And I believe not even Americans know the answer to that. Whenever you’re using a public bathroom there is this pretty wide gap (almost an inch) between the door and the stall. I thought Americans are known for being prude. So why are they allowing such clear insights into their privacy in a public bathroom? Is it to let more air in or just sloppy but very consistent engineering?
The Perfect Lawn
I noticed a lot of Americans who are very passionate about having a perfect lawn. Some people even spray green paint on it to give it the perfect shade of green (not just on St. Patrick’s Day!). No weed doesn’t go untreated and they mow, fertilize, aerate and water their lawn like crazy. When we moved into our first house here in Charlotte, I thought I had to keep up with all the watering and maintenance, but I quickly figured it’s a battle that you can only win by pumping lots and lots of water and money into the soil. Not worth it to me, because that stuff is expensive. And why do I see so many sprinklers running during the rain? Is water so cheap that they just don’t care about it going to waste?
Imagine it’s the middle of summer with temperatures in the 90′s and you’re wearing a sweater at work, your fingers are almost freezing off and you develop a cold from the stiff breeze of the A/C fan, that always seems to blow exactly at you. 70 degrees seems to be the default temperature in offices and some co-workers even go below that. Sweating is a the big NO-NO in the American work culture and they rather freeze than sweat. It doesn’t matter if some colleagues are so cold, that they bring in a mini heater to put below their desk. And if you dare to mess with the thermostat and set it to 72, it’s just a matter of seconds until the first person says “Whew, it’s kinda toasty in here”. Same with malls and stores in general: they are equally cold and if you forget to bring a warm layer to throw on, you’re in for a nice little cold – in summer.
Whenever I hear the name Nickelback during conversations with Americans, I don’t hear a single nice word about them. Americans seem to hate Nickelback with a passion, but the exact reason remains a mystery to me. Some say their music is just not good, but frankly I enjoy quite a few songs of them and there’s way worse out there. I can’t speak for all of their songs, but the ones that made it into the charts in Europe are usually pretty good. So what’s the deal with Nickelback, America? Please enlighten me, because I can’t figure it out!
Triple cheese on pizzas, orange cheddar cheese on salad and spray cheese on sandwiches. What’s the deal with cheese, people?! And it’s not even good cheese! There’s literally cheese on EVERYTHING. Most disturbing to me is when there’s this awkward orange cheddar cheese on the salad that I ordered for lunch. I usually end up having to scrape it off.
My daughter started to eat her pizza the American way a few months ago, because she must have picked it up from her buddies in school. And that is eating everything but the pizza crust. I immediately called her out on it and asked her to eat the entire pizza. I’m not really sure what is wrong with the pizza crust and why they can’t just eat it. It’s usually pretty good when it’s not oily and fatty like the rest of the pizza. The only exception I would make is when you had a cheese stuffed crust from Pizza Hut. I noticed the same behavior with German style cheesecake at some point when I was having American friends over. They only ate the filling and not the crust, which frankly tastes like a cookie. And I thought Americans love cookies!
My number one complaint about any burger in the U.S. is the lack of good bread. It always comes in this sweet, soft bun that tastes like a sponge. Any burger would be so much better in a nice European style bread roll or Ciabatta roll. It seems like the headquarters of all fast food restaurants must be in the Southern part of the U.S.
I know a few people who use a hand sanitizer after every contact with another person, an item that is not theirs or something else that they fear could be loaded with germs. Wherever you look, there are anti-bacterial soaps and wipes, hand sanitizer pump stations and small handy sanitizer bottles for on the go.
I get that Americans just don’t want to get sick, because being sick usually means you’re not getting paid after you used up your very few sick days (if you even have any). However, this obsessive fear of germs is kind of ridiculous and in the end just counter-productive.
In many American households the TV seems to always be on, starting early morning. Some even have multiple TVs spread out in the living room, kitchen, man cave/garage and even bathroom to never miss anything. There are TVs in restaurants, doctor’s offices, airports, the DMV… the list goes on. In short, TVs are EVERYWHERE and people can’t seem to get through the day without staring at a TV. Sometimes I wonder if the TV is primarily for the staff, so that they won’t miss anything. Or is this a service to the customer? They now stare at their cell phones anyways and don’t even pay attention.
Check any statistic about vacation days worldwide. America is always amongst the countries with the lowest amount of time off. Why is that? Are Americans workaholics? Do they really rather work than spending more quality time off? Or are companies just exploiting their staff by sticking to the American “norm”? I really miss my 30 days of paid vacation, that I had in Germany. Here in America, I had to start with 5 days including sick days.
College and Daycare Cost
One of the biggest financial shocker to me was how much daycare charges for their service. It’s just as expensive as a good college, but you can’t tell a 2 year old to start waiting tables to help supplement the tuition. While this one is totally up to the parents, college doesn’t have to be. Many students are working several jobs on the side in order to pay college tuition and when they don’t have their parents to help out financially, they usually have to get a student loan, which will haunt them for the next 5-10 years after getting their degree. And still Americans are so proud of the college they’ve been to, that they sometimes even hang up pictures of the building in their work space.
15–20% tip on every meal in a restaurant. And people pay it without hesitation and with a smile on their face. They are so used to that being the norm, that they keep tipping waiters in other countries the same amount. Much to the joy of the waiting staff, who immediately starts treating you like a royal family. Maybe that is the true intention of generous tipping. Anyways, restaurant owners are laughing their butts off, because they get away with paying their waiting staff a ridiculous salary and have the customer make up for the rest. Increased profits for the restaurant and more expensive meals for the consumer. It works in America, but why?
America is the technologically most advanced country in the world, but a lot of people still pay with old fashioned paper checks. People are maintaining check books and holding up the line in the grocery store by filling out a paper check instead of just handing over cash or a card. But wait! Some smart innovators finally realized that bringing paper checks to the bank is too time consuming. So, banks started to offer apps that let you scan your paper check and deposit it to your checking account with your cell phone. Way to go, America. Let’s just toss the paper checks altogether and with it the imperial system.
Okay, this is not teeth envy, America, but you really make our European teeth look so much worse. It really stands out that Americans take a lot better care of their teeth. They have to be super straight and whiter than white. Not sure if you get bullied in school for not having straight teeth in America or what the deal is. But everyone who can afford it seems to strive for that Hollywood smile.