It’s been a year since I relocated to the U.S. I had never visited before and of all the questions I’ve been asked since I got here, the one that seems to stick is this – How different, really, IS the U.S from India?
My answer is always the same, “You’ll have to go there to truly appreciate the difference”. And this response goes both ways for non-Americans wanting to know what the U.S is like. We already know about the major differences in weather, language, culture, food patterns, rules of driving and insurance policies. It’s been covered extensively by the news, lifestyle channels/ magazines and social media and who can forget An Idiot abroad TV series .
But here are some fun facts and subtle differences I didn’t expect and which no amount of preparatory research could have prepared me for.
So, for all my American buddies who asked and all my Indian friends planning to visit the U.S, here are some of the differences less talked about. Depending on which side of the continent you are, you may find it strange, amusing, or absolutely insignificant. Either ways, it’s worth a mention. No judgement, just facts. Here goes.
It’s always iced!
So, I step off the plane, out of the airport and into a fast food joint looking for something to drink – water or maybe a soft drink because, jet lag from a 35 hour flight! It’s January and freezing. When I get my order, it’s loaded with ice! My first reaction is ‘this can’t be right, isn’t it cold enough with winter and the freezing temperature’. It’s just the opposite in India where, unless it’s a beer or alcohol meant to be served chilled, every other drink is served ice-less, unless you ask for it, which again, is rare. But I was quick to realize that’s just how they do it here. Seasons and temperature don’t matter….at all. If it’s a liquid, it will be served with ice. Solution: Every time I order a drink, I always follow it up with “and no ice for me, please.”
Living in a Shopper’s Paradise: Returns, Lay Away and Clearance
This one is a clear winner when it comes to shopping in the U.S. Who knew, at least people from my part of the world , that there was ever a thing as ‘returning’ purchases. At best, they could be exchanged for something of similar value , or higher to the store who would very reluctantly accept the return. But here in the U.S the 30 day return policy, no strings attached, is gold!
And if that weren’t enough, there’s this other little temptation called – Clearance. Almost every retail store including grocery, apparel and furniture have clearance racks and sections dedicated to stock whose price has been significantly marked down because it’s been in the store too long or has even minor defects and the store wants to get rid of it to make way for new merchandise. Try selling this idea to a store in India and they’d look at you incredulously. In fact, the first time I experienced ‘clearance’ I demanded to know how they were going to explain the gap in their ledger when they retailed something lower than the cost price. My husband simply asked me if I wanted my leather boots for $7 and J Crew blouse for $5 (entirely too cheap by Indian standards) and if I did, I should just smile, say thank you and leave after paying for it. Which I did. And so must you if ever you find yourself in a similar situation.
Finally, Layaway. What’s that, right? I didn’t know until Christmas 2016 when the lines for Christmas shopping got too long and shoppers started making their way to the Layaway checkouts. Layaway is a purely philanthropic gesture or service extended by the store to shoppers who are low on finances and cannot pay the full amount upfront but pay in installments. Their purchases are kept aside for them in a designated area of the store that is inaccessible to the shopping public, and when the full amount is paid, they pick up the item.
While all these features make it fun to shop in the U.S, they must be used responsibly or you might find yourself trapped in an endless shopping spree, ending up with entirely unnecessary purchases and shopaholic tendencies you could do without.
Welcome to the world of Gaming and Anime
Yep, I walked straight into that, my bad. But there is literally no escaping something that has American kids and adults hooked. Something that I was never a part of growing up or even through my young adult years. All I heard at home, from husband and kids alike was Mortal Kombat, Minecraft, Call of Duty, FNAF, Mario Cart, World of Warcraft and the list went on and on and on. For the next 3 months I made a very reluctant effort to understand what each of these were. I was introduced to Anime, because I whined too much about the Videogames and my husband thought switching it up a bit would help. Surprisingly though I found myself appreciating the detailed plots and intricate artwork that comes with good Anime. Beserk, Attack on Titan and DeathNote – Animes I should have watched a long time ago with the rest of the American teen population, I was watching only now, in my early 30s. And over the next 6 months I have not only started playing videogames and watching more anime, I can actually have full conversations around this topic. The point I’m trying to make is, be prepared to get used to gaming and anime when you step into the U.S, otherwise you may just find yourself out in the cold when it comes to social bonding.
Cable TV? Not For Me
Not unheard of in the U.S but definitely in it’s last stages. The Cable/ Satellite TV Culture has given way to online video streaming services in the U.S – Netflix and Amazon Prime to name a few. I was on my way out (of India) in January 2015, when Netflix had just made its way in. Amazon Prime is now listed on India’s Google Play Store and Apple App Store, and supports Amazon India credentials for login.
Despite the availability of these online video streaming services in India, what needs to be pointed out is that they have just launched (can’t stress on the word ‘just’ enough) and have a long way to go in terms of every household having access or migrating to this more convenient way of video watching. Americans on the other hand have already adapted. I was speaking to a lady fit enough to be my grandmother in Church this Sunday, who said she’d been watching movies on Netflix! Needless to say, I had a very loud, very clear ‘you go girl!’ thought in my head and had to refrain from saying it out loud.
This past year I learnt new ways of doing things, opened up to a new culture, shared a bit of my own and through it all, added another tiny layer to a personality I didn’t think could afford more complexity. But it’s true when they say nothing stays the same and change is the one inevitable. If you’re the type that travels and loves discovering new places and cultures, I hope my experiences will in some way help you relate on adventures of your own.