6 culture shock when moving to America | Getting Married Multiculturally

My 6 culture shocks when moving to America

personal adventures

After growing up in Serbia, living in Hungary and Italy I moved to America. Which was a pretty big jump for me! Physically and culturally. So yes, I experienced plenty of culture shock.

I left Europe 10 years ago, so I kinda forgot most of these cultural differences. I had to sit down and look at some pictures to relive my memories. At the end I made a list of 6 things that were culturally different from my experiences I had previously in my life. I would also like to say that these culture shocks are from a viewpoint of somebody moving from Europe to the US. Because I’m sure those of you coming from other countries or continent may experience something different.

Back in GMM podcast episode #14 I was talking about my immigration to America and Green Card process. So this is kind of a continuing story as I got married and started my life here.

This country is so big, and there are many various areas, so I wanted to outline that most of my experiences came from west coast. (Washington State, Idaho, Oregon…) Now we live in Arizona, but I’d like to believe that my culture shock has worn out by now. After 10 years I don’t think that you can shock me with anything anymore. Haha!

Culture Shock 1. Everything is so big and there are so many options to choose from!

I’m not only thinking about grocery stores and food, but everything that surrounds you. I remember the first thing I’ve noticed when I came out of the airport and Adam was driving me how big everything felt. The streets, the highway, the cars. Everything was so open and large, so you can really tell how huge this country is and has a lot of space. I remember when we walked into our apartment seeing how big the sink was in the kitchen and the fridge, especially in those tiny little apartments that we rented.

// At the grocery store I would constantly be taking pictures because I found something new and unique at every aisle. There where ton of variety, flavors, sizes, textures…Cereals, big gallons of milk, tons of different cheese, soda and chips… I was so overwhelmed with options and variety that was given to me.

Speaking of food.

I’ve quickly noticed that Americans love to rely on fast food, and not just restaurants, but also purchasing them at the grocery story. And it’s really true that lots of Americans would actually use this convenience and time saving, even if they know that it’s not the healthiest option.

//As we had children I noticed in the restaurant how they have a separate kids menu, so they can choose a different food from what the rest of the family is eating. They can also draw and do some activities on the menu which was pretty cool. And the funny thing is that no matter what kind of restaurant you go to, the kids menus are almost always the same. You can choose from mac and cheese, corn dog, pizza, chicken strips… Oh let’s not forget about fries! So this was another culture shock for me to see how differently they are treating the kids, because in Europe the whole family eats the same food.

//Let’s not forget about the free water that always comes with ice.

Kennewick,WA 2008

Culture Shock 2, Everything is based on convenience and saving time, and everything is really fast paced!

//Most of the things you can find here are disposable. Like paper plates, which was really interesting for me to experience. We don’t have them in our house, because I don’t think I would ever get used to it, but everywhere else we go they use them. So they don’t have to do the dishes. It’s easier and saves time.

//Lot of things are packaged. Little bags in big bags. Which also goes for convenience and practicality. So people won’t throw food away so often.

//You can find drive thru almost everywhere. Not just at fast food restaurants, but ice cream and coffee shops, banks, pharmacy, also have the options to get things done from your car.

//There is no (or very little) public transportation.

Culture Shock 3, People are extremely friendly and polite.

My parents notice this every time they come to visit, because it’s just something you can’t get enough of. People passing by on the street would smile and you, wave. Strangers would chit-chat with you at the elevator, restaurant or the cashier at the store. People would let you in at the door, give up their parking spot. So when you come to America that’s really a culture shock in a good way, because they make you feel like you really matter!

But can friendliness from a stranger be too much? When I would go to the cashier at the store or restaurant, sometimes they would ask me ‘What are your plans for today?’ or ‘What have you been doing today?’ which I find very personal and uncomfortable to answer.

//’How are you?’ ‘How is everything?’ Really just means ‘Hi’  and they don’t actually want to know how are you doing. I know it’s a little bit weird thing for foreigners to understand.

Washington State, 2009

//What drives me crazy with my husband is when he gets into this ‘politeness-zone’, especially when it’s a situation with big crowd, we need to find a seat at an event, or get in line at the grocery store. I’m more like a fighter-for-my-spot type of person, which in the same time drives Adam crazy. Yep, we drive each other crazy pretty often! Haha!

People in America don’t really feel the pressure for fighting for their place.

They tend to give each other more space and to be more distant, polite and respectful. Because we don’t do that in Europe! Especially in Italy. There is no line, you just have to get in front of the war zone and get what you want.

//I’ve also noticed that people here are not so connected and close to their family. This may be because of large distances and moving from one state to another, but Americans like to keep their life more private. Despite the distance, I talk with my mom almost every day and that’s normal for us. My husband finds it weird that I share everything with my family and I consider that as a cultural difference between us.

//The word friendship has a different meaning. In Hungary I had friends with much deeper connection then what I was able to develop with anybody here. This may also be because people don’t really like to talk about their personal life, put themselves out there, or get to close. Even physically. While here in America you greet your closest friends and family with hugging, in Europe we kiss on our cheeks.

Culture Shock 4, Gatherings and parties means playing games

This was a funny culture shock for me. When I started creating friendships here, they were surprisingly surface based for me. Like I’ve mentioned already, the meetings where mostly short chats. Deep and meaningful conversations were rare in my experience. (And I hope this wasn’t because of the lack of my English knowledge.)

//Most of the gatherings are about doing some type of activity together. Watching a game, playing a game…Americans have lots of games to play. Board games, video games, sports or drinking games. Watching movies. Watching games, if they are not playing it. So most conversations go around that game and goes with that activity. In Europe we just sit down with a bottle of wine or coffee, and just hang out and talk for hours.

//Every party, event, wedding, birthday party, and celebration is organized, structured and scheduled. Everything is timed. For example every birthday party or wedding would have the same timeline, same activity and it’s expected from everybody.

Culture Shock 5, There are so many rules, laws and expectations and everything works and functions perfectly!

There are also lots of rules and signs everywhere. Which was also a fun culture shock for me and I especially enjoyed photographing them.

//Speaking of expectations: Americans expect you to have perfect teeth! That’s something very important for them. They put lot of time, effort and money into making sure they keep their teeth perfectly lined up, clean, and white.

Culture Shock 6, There is no such a thing as saying ‘I Love You’ too much

American couples would tell each other ‘I love you’ like you are saying hi or goodbye to somebody. It was a bit strange for me in the beginning, because in other cultures it’s not something you throw around easily. But now I don’t even notice it. It’s just part of our conversations and every day talk. The bigger culture shock for me was when I noticed that friends would often tell each other ‘I love you’ or ‘I miss you’. It was especially hard to hear, because you don’t do that in Hungary, especially if it’s the opposite sex. This was something I had to understand as part of the culture.


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