Quirky things about the USA and the Americans

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Differences between the USA and Denmark

I have been fortunate enough to have the chance to closely experience the United States, as I have traveled back and forth, and lived with George in America throughout a year and a half. He lived in Denver, Colorado’s capitol, which was absolutely amazing. During my stay, I heard and experienced a lot of funny, strange, and cool things about the United States and Americans, which I have to share with you. The list is long, so I’ll give you the first 10 quirky things:

1. Toilet booths with an unobstructed view.

When I first used a toilet in the United States, I was at the airport, and I quickly realized that you shouldn’t be too shy there.

I was quite surprised to see booths with so much space around. There was a minimum of 30 cm between the lower part of the door and the floor, and there was also a couple of centimeters of space between the door, and the wall. I could freely look through the cracks and see the people sitting on the toilets behind the doors!

It turned out that the toilets weren’t designed like that at the airport for safety reasons, because they were designed as such everywhere! Toilet booths in the United States were all with an unobstructed view and without the slightest soundproofing.

If you are a private type, you learn to shake it off. Unless you sneak in like a ninja while nobody sees you, you will probably be recognized by your shoes, just because everyone can see them under the door.

2. “On your left” – the answer to the bike bell.

When I lived in Denver, I often biked around in the many parks and bike areas. Several times on my trips I discovered that passing cyclists shouted incomprehensible things to me when they whizzed past me on the paths. At first I did not really know why they shouted at me, or what they said.

After a while, the words suddenly made sense, and I realized that it wasn’t any personal attacks. The cyclist just shouted “on your left” before they came biking to warn me that they would overtake me on my left. In fact, I actually ended up (a bit nervous in the beginning) to chirp “on your left” to others when I came racing on the left, even though I preferred using the bike bell (a must if you’re from Denmark).

3. A long welcoming harangue from the waiters.

When George and I went out to eat at a restaurant, we were always greeted by a long welcome speech from our waiters when they came to our table. A welcome speech that was on the border of being artificial, and had perhaps been practiced too little.

I don’t want to seem rude, but I honestly think that it most of all sounded like they were following a manuscript. They managed to greet us, ask us how we were doing, introduce themselves, and tell us about today’s menu in details – in like, 10 seconds – and all without breathing!

4. Free water and refills in restaurants.

One of the benefits of eating out in the US was that you could always get free water, and we are not talking about lukewarm water, as I have seen a couple of times at cafés in Copenhagen. No – these were big glasses of water with ice cubes, straws, and a continuous refill every time a waiter came by and saw your half-empty glass. In fact, I did not have to order any other drinks (unless I wanted something other to drink). It was really appreciated!

5. You HAVE to leave tips when you’re eating out.

To stay on the restaurant subject, let me add another thing on the list..

When you are out to eat in the United States, it is standard to give the waiters a tip. At least 10% of the bill, gladly 15%, but preferably 20%. For example, if you have bought food and drinks worth $20, you should give $4 in tips. If you do not give tips (maybe you are a lost tourist who does not know the unwritten rule of the golden percentages), then in the worst case, you can be confronted by a very frustrated waiter! Consider yourself warned.

If the waiters did not receive tips, they could barely live off their salary. George worked at a Greek restaurant while he lived in Denver, where his hourly wage was $5.25, which at that time was equivalent to 36 Danish kroner per hour! Luckily, a (good) evening’s worth of tips could easily round the amount up, which would then equate to him getting $22 (150 DKK) per hour.

6. Pickup trucks and huge cars.

I saw absolutely no Kia Picanto, Ford Ka or Suzuki Swift on the streets of the United States – in other words: People do not drive small cars.

Instead, I noticed that the cars were never too big. The bigger the better. There were huge SUVs, pickup trucks, jeeps and cars, which required a ladder to climb on to, and it seemed quite normal to them. Even petite women were sitting behind the wheel of a beast of a car as such.

George drove a nice Honda Accord because sedan models were of course, also abundant. When I first arrived to the United States, I did not understand where all the small city cars were, and why people needed so much space in their vans.  This will all make more sense when you read the next point.

7. Everything is far away. Very far away.

In the US, everything was huge, as were the distances in between everything. Some of the cities were incredibly large, and it could take a long time to get from one place to another. Even a trip to the shopping mall or a short visit to your friend would easily take an hour of driving.

Driving an hour in Denmark is by many, considered to be pretty far away, while it’s rather normal in the United States to have an even longer drive to either work, or school. When George studied his Bachelor’s degree at Towson University in Maryland, he drove an hour each way – or more with traffic!

There are endless highways with four or five lanes that take you from one end of the state to the other. Many people don’t mind going on hour long excursions – hence the need for big cars with big fuel tanks and space for everything!

8. Gasoline prices are ridiculously cheap in the United States.

Due to the fact that things are spread far apart and the Americans’ cars are so big, people quickly burn through fuel. It can be an expensive matter in the long run – unless, of course, the prices on gas are dirt cheap? Well, you’re in luck!

When we had to put gas in Georges’ car, I first thought that the prices displayed were per liter on the gas station’s sign. In Denver, prices last year were around $2, which was equivalent to 14 Danish kroner. It sounds a bit pricey for a tiny liter of gasoline, but here comes a bonus info. It is the price for a “gallon” which equals to 3.8 liters! Try to calculate again now: Yes, it’s 3.70 krones per liter!

Today, prices have risen a bit since our stay in the city, but a quick look at gasbuddy.com tells me that the gas price in Denver today amounts to something like 4.3 kroner per liter. It is still way less than half of what we pay in Denmark (actually, almost a third of the price).

9. Apartments with a twist of luxury.

In Denver, George and I lived in an apartment that was part of a larger complex. They had over 573 apartments, and we got a two-bedroom with a balcony: quickly and easily.The funny thing for me, was that it was normal for ordinary apartments to have many (amazing) facilities attached. With our apartment came the access to two swimming pools, as well as basketball courts, tennis courts, barbecue areas, a 24-hour fitness center, and sauna, among other things.

I don’t know about you, but I have yet to see a Copenhagen apartment with a swimming pool and tennis courts. In the US however, it is normal that apartment complexes offer their tenants a wide range of facilities, including sports fields and relaxation areas. Not bad!

10. You can get an apartment in no time.

I find it difficult to find apartments in the capital area of Denmark at affordable prices. The only way I have found apartments here in Denmark has been through waiting lists. I have been on some of the lists for a number of years now, but it may very well take more than 10 years to get your hands on the best accommodations.

In the United States, it was done in a somewhat different way. There were countless apartment complexes in Denver near the university George attended, and they were all privately owned. We just had to contact the office of the complex and agree on a time for a tour. Quite often, they had demo apartments for display, which they had decorated with furniture, carpets, and pictures. They used these to show off to interested tenants.

Almost all the places we contacted had up to several available apartments. Some of them were obviously expensive, but we managed to get an apartment for around 7,000 DKK / $1,100 a month (and that was in the cheap end). If you had money, a clean criminal record, and a good credit score in your bank, you could pick and choose between several apartments. No waiting list, just moving in right away.

What are your experiences with the United States?

Have you been to America and have you thought about some of the above things as well Are you encountered with other curiosities, which I have not yet listed? Post a comment – I would like to hear from you 🙂

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