There’s no getting around it: the USA is a foreign country. They’ve got different norms to us, different ways of interacting with each other, different expectations of life and different ways of viewing the world. Here are just some of the things I’ve picked up, usually daily occurrences, that drive home how although the prime spiral the same language, I’m definitely not at home.
- The animals are big, unfamiliar and scary.
- People, especially in Florida, have a much more proactive, positive way of being friendly. “Have a great day!”Everyone’s always wishing me a “Be careful out there.”
- Politics look very different from over here. I’ve heard intelligent people give perfectly rational reasons for voting for Donald Trump.
- This country is BIG!
- Passenger trains are virtually non-existent. Freight trains on the other hand are regularly over 100 coaches long.
- There are no bus shelters here – which for the long distance cyclist is a shocking loss of one of our primary means of shelter!
- I might stay in the same road for several days at at a time – I created a GPS track to follow for every day through Europe but here I mostly haven’t bothered
- Guns are available next to the camping kit and sunscreen at Decathlon-style sports stores
- Everyone self-promotes more. Again, this was probably more of a Florida thing than a Deep South thing.
- Contemporary Christian Music can occasionally be heard in public places such as shops, cafes etc.
- People can greet you with a “God bless you” our similar without sounding like the button they would in the UK.
- Similarly, you can fly a national flag without looking like a racist.
- The churches themselves are everywhere. It possibly helps that while in England we have a state church the Americans have gone fully free market, so you get different ‘brands’ or denominations sited right next to each other, and there are more of a Mic of styles that don’t blend into the background as really as some classic British church architecture – our perhaps it’s just about what I’m used to.
- In as least some parts, those churches are either all-black or all-white.
- In Alabama particularly, it was noticeable that the black people were doing all the crummy jobs. I spent a lot of time in fast food joints and can hardly remember being served by a white face.
- The Democrat self-victim culture is a bit like the UK’s equivalent left wing ‘oppression olympics’ but it’s tied into the American Dream, so people running for office spend a out of time convincing everyone that they’ve overcome a out of problems in life, to show how self-made they are.
- Most of the drivers don’t know what to do with bikes. This isn’t necessarily dangerous, as most are courteous and hang behind me, but it to a lot of ‘kerb crawler’ incidents where I frustrated waving at the car to just get on with it and overtake, there’s plenty of room.
- The cars are huge. Not all of them, and I’ve been going through a lot of rural areas which she’s my perspective, but massive build-up double cab pickups are particularly common. The biggest seemed to be in the North of Florida, just before I got to Georgia and Alabama. They were towing everything, from felled trees downwards, but was there really that much stuff that needed crying around? It felt a bit like the Florida rich boys were showing how rural-manly they were, carting around big heavy objects in their big powerful trucks.
- Some of the cars are in a terrible state of repair. I don’t know how stringent the DOT are meant to be but it seems that with the increased distances here, the car is seen as even more of a right and a lifeline than in the UK and do anything that can move is kept on the road far post the point when it should be retired – and with such a big country to hide it in, when are the cops going to find it to crush it?
The freight trains are bigger too: the usual length is over 100 cars.
- I need to go to a big city and find a very hipster coffee bar to stand a chance of getting real milk. Most of the time of I’m lucky I’ll get little cases of UHT, if I’m unlucky I’ll get powdered ‘creamer’.
- There’s a lot more junk lying around. It’s not uncommon to see a tumble down house or a rusty truck dating from the 1960s. While in the UK or most parts of Europe this would be a obvious sign of deprivation, with the rubbish moved away and the land repurposed if there was even the tiniest bit of economic activity in the area. Out here however, I think they’ve got so much space that they just leave stuff and rebuild somewhere else.
- Many people aren’t even a bit embarrassed to know nothing about the world outside America, and don’t really want to know. For example, I had one guy running a ‘sports bar’ who was incredibly hard work top convince that ‘soccer’ had a world cup, it was happening now and it was showing on Fox (and could we watch it please). I just kept getting “I dunno, I dunno … “. The idea that the rest of the world had sports that would naturally have their own major competitions was beyond his ken. As for the existence of the biggest sporting competition on the planet after the Olympics … let’s not even go there!
- More than one person so far has not only thought that Europe is over-run with Muslims but has been confident enough to contradict me on this point.
- A policeman asked me for “State ID”, didn’t know what my passport was, didn’t knew what the US visa stuck inside my passport was meant to be either and wasn’t sure which one I was meant to be travelling on. You can bet he’d never seen either before, and this was someone with a good job!
- As an extension of that, many people will consider themselves well-travelled, and will have journeyed extensively all over the US, without ever having been abroad or holding any desire to do so.
In the end, it comes down to this: the USA it’s a BIG country. The US and the UK are united by a common language but divided by a sense of scale: live in Britain and you have to struggle to avoid falling off into the sea, live in America and you can travel widely without ever leaving your own borders or meeting someone who lives abroad. It’s possible to see the world through American eyes in a way that I hope is ameliorated to an extent in Britain by most of us living only a few hours drive from a country full of people speaking French.
I’ve hardly got started yet though: all this post is from my experiences in Florida and the South. I’m now entering the Midwest, then I’ve got the West, California, Alaska; I’m sure they’ll have their commonalities but also their differences. I’ve already got my suspicions about what those will be, based mostly on stereotypes gleaned from the TV, so it will be informative to see which ones match up to real life. Watch out for future posts.