First-Time Visitors to U.S. Surprised by 'Convenience Culture,' Poverty, Lack of Ross/Rachel Drama

Illustration for article titled First-Time Visitors to U.S. Surprised by 'Convenience Culture,' Poverty, Lack of Ross/Rachel Drama

The Atlantic's Max Fisher compiled a bunch of observations from first-time U.S. visitors, gleaned from both his own international friends and Quora users, and the results are both amusing and depressing. A few things that surprised foreigners:

  • Ridiculously well-stocked supermarkets ("A South Asian friend specifically noted the "variety" in the groceries, and some have asked me, incredulous, what happens to all the produce that doesn't get sold.") and vast portions of junk food. (Several Indian Quora users described their awe at the mass and accessibility of American food. Several were surprised by the free refills. "Even most of McDonalds, KFCs etc outside the US don't have that," one wrote.)

    Love of God and Country: Fisher said he's noticed that study-abroad students often find our fervent passion for pledging our allegiance surprising and creepy. One Quora user from Brazil wrote that he was surprised by "the amount of US flags you see around, from every spot, in every city I've been to." An Irish Quora user noted "Prayer breakfasts in the White House. Educated people believing in creationism. The number of churches and denominations. People actually going to church."

    Magical 'convenience culture': "Everything one knows about American convenience culture: 24 hour shops, fast food, 'have a nice day,'" one Quora user said. Fisher wondered if he was "associating 'convenience culture' a bit more closely with 'American culture' than might be flattering."

    Poverty: One Quora user wrote, "[San Francisco] is presumably one of the wealthiest cities in the wealthiest state of the wealthiest country in the world. I expected to see wealth. I didn't expect to see poverty like this. It seems a little worse each time I visit."

    The sad reality that American life doesn't quite resemble a Friends episode. This is my personal favorite:

    The U.S. is about as famous as a country can get. People around the world experience it through the American films and TV shows that dominate global entertainment. But those media portrayals can sometimes add more confusion than they dispel. A Chinese friend once insisted that of course 20-something Americans all get new boyfriends and girlfriends every single week: she'd seen it on Friends, and Seinfeld, and Sex and the City, and a half dozen other TV shows. They couldn't all be lying.


Do travel guidebooks detail how to say "We were on a break" in various languages?

Read the rest here.

The Land of Big Groceries, Big God, and Smooth Traffic: What Surprises First-Time Visitors to America [The Atlantic]


Jenna Sauers

As someone who moved here at age 18, these things all ring very true. It's a cliché, but I remember standing in the toothpaste aisle of a big, Midwestern supermarket — one of those fluorescent-lit low-rise palaces of commerce and consumption — and being astonished by the variety of brands and formulae available. There were, like, 90 different toothpastes! Girls at my college carried handbags by brands that, in those pre-Net-A-Porter days, weren't even for sale in New Zealand. But there were homeless people.

It happens less often now, but occasionally I am reminded just how unusual a country the U.S. is.