The USA Like I’ve Never Seen it Before

“It’s so surreal! I feel like an alien! I feel like ALF!”

All this in response to… a parking meter.

Sunday at 3:10 sharp my friend Emily and I stood in the agitated crowd of Megabus riders watching the orange-and-blue coaches roll in, holding a bubble-lettered sign on the back of my own ticket. We were waiting for a friend who speaks at least four languages passably, but had never been to the United States before that Friday. Apparently three days in the U.S. can be so overwhelming that it makes you jump straight back to the tv shows you watched growing up in Spain.

A Yoohoo was exciting… until nutrition facts were read.

If you’ve never welcomed a friend to your home, even to your city, I highly recommend it. This friend is one of the best kind of travelers: with a genuine desire to dig into local life and enough exuberance to make a -21 degree (-5 F) post-ski walk home feel like a trip on the Polar Express. Things that seem 100 percent commonplace to me, such as street mailboxes, newspaper bins, and gigantic ketchup dispensers, were a cause for exclamation. I somehow felt flattered that he was so amazed by the Philadelphia nighttime skyline or an elevator to the 24th floor, and watching him take pictures of brown squirrels suddenly made my life seem more… exotic.

Things you cannot find in US bars or coffee shops.

It was also a lesson in how to explain the United States, and our way of life, in a way that genuinely inspires interest and nips stereotypes in the bud. For example, how should I answer the question  “You know what else I think is weird? How come there are no kids in any of these bars?” I know that in Spain bars and cafés are much more social, and you can often get a coffee as well as a glass of wine, but the idea of seeing a woman in a Baby Bjorn on a barstool in the States melted me into giggles. But I don’t think the reason is Americans are “conservative” and “uptight,” as I’ve read in French guides.

The best answer is simple: it’s different everywhere. But if you give it a shot and ask why there are no kids in the bar, or why everything is bigger in America, you might find out that you appreciate the differences a lot. And end up giggling, too.

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2 responses to “The USA Like I’ve Never Seen it Before

  1. ALF! My friend’s mom suggested this nickname, and it’s actually true. I am overwhelmed by the stupidest things. And today, I went to a supermarket for the very first time. Oh la là, je ne peux pas décrire ça en mots. I need to fix my blog and try to explain it there. Great post, Rebecca. Je veuz dormir, je suis zombie, mais see you soon 🙂

  2. It’s so much fun to see your home town or culture through the eyes of a visitor. It’s funny that your friend asked why there were no kids in the bars – when I got to Spain I asked why the bars were full of them!

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