US Culture Shock: Moving to America

US Culture Shock

I read an article in Vice while completing my morning news-checking ritual before rolling out of bed to face the day. It was about US culture shock of moving to this country.

For the most part, when I’m not whinging about injuries, that’s what this blog is I suppose – a collection of observations on US culture shock.

So, inspired by Serena Solomon and her immigrant friends, here is my list of the things that struck me as strange when I first arrived:

Specialty Food Stores

US Culture Shock meat
Depending on where you move to, you’ll likely be buying your meat from a supermarket

The lack of butchers, fishmongers, delis and bakeries. There are exactly zero of the first three in at least a 20km radius of me, on the peninsula. If you want meat, fish or fancy cheese, you go to a farmer’s market or pick it up in a Styrofoam and plastic-covered container at the supermarket.

All Bread is Sweet Bread 

US culture shock includes the bread in the US.
I can’t even explain what the bread here tastes like. It never goes moldy.

Sliced bread is awful and bread rolls and baguettes are not far behind. I don’t know what flavouring or preservative they add to bread but it has a really unpalatable aftertaste. On a bright note, it makes it slightly easier to stay away from carbs.

Are You Over 21?

US ID Card
You might need your passport to buy booze if you don’t have a US driver’s license

Supermarkets have a policy of carding you for alcohol up until you’re 40-years-old. So I have to take my passport down to the bottle-o, which largely cuts down on any spur of the moment alcohol purchases. It’s also makes it much more disconcerting when they don’t card you. “Do I look over 40 today? I should probably wash my hair”.

Start Writing Cheques

Writing cheques (also known as checks)
If it wasn’t for my mum, I never would have seen a cheque before moving to the US

It’s still 1970 here and everyone writes cheques for everything. Want to buy a car? You need a cheque (spelled check here). Handing over your apartment bond? Get yourself a cheque. You pay for the privilege of electronically paying your rent. Probably the biggest mistake that I made here was declining a personal cheque book when I opened my bank accounts. But it’s archaic and confusing.


Everyone tells you to “have a good one”. A good one what? For the record, I prefer “take it easy”.

Orange Cheese

American Cheddar
Orange Cheese (aka American Cheddar)

This one was already mentioned by Solomon, but it’s diabolical so I’ll give it another go: bright orange cheese (please note Mr M, it is described by both Solomon and I as fluorescent orange… not yellow). That’s the other thing, they call it yellow cheese. Look at it! It’s clearly not yellow by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t care what your cows eat, cheese should not be that colour.

Work Culture

An office setting

Work is extremely hierarchical. The vice president of the department won’t look at me, much less speak to me. And if he has a task for me, he will speak directly to my manager, even though I sit right next to said manager. This might be a universal thing though considering I worked in journalism prior to this job.

The Homeless

A homeless man
The number of homeless people in San Francisco can be confronting

It feels like there are many more homeless people on the streets here than there are in Sydney. Maybe I just stuck to parts of the city that didn’t have a lot of people living rough. In San Francisco there are tents pitched along railway line fences, under bridges and on footpaths. I get the feeling there isn’t a great support system in place here.

3 thoughts on “US Culture Shock: Moving to America

  1. I hear you on nearly all of those things. I know that I found the bread very strange. We couldn't believe how long the bread lasted – clearly the preservatives are great over there !!!!!
    And the cheese – not only the colour but the cheese in a can !!! Who goes to the shop and buys cheese in a can ???????
    K still cannot get used to the archaic banking system and how far behind Australia it is – I think I have written a total of 5 cheques since we got here in Jan 2000 – and they were to RCI because I worked there and knew what their banking system was like and we could be either not charged or charged 5 times for our membership and then it would take 2 months to get a refund except they would only refund 1 instead of 4 times – and so it goes on. Good luck with your assimilation !!! xox

  2. There are situations where checks are still commonly used and even expected: Person to person payments, rent and certain other bills. (Why? There have not until relatively recently been free, ubiquitous p2p payment service. The other option, cards run thru the credit card network, involve a 3-4% fee on the party getting paid. This has changed with services like Square.) Elsewhere, you will be judged silently for paying with a check (grocery store), and finally many more places will not accept a check as payment. It’s a hodgepodge.

    On the color of cheese: Yellow ‘American cheese’ doesn’t really refer to cheddae. It’s pre-sliced cheese-like substance most popularly made by “Velveeta.” And it’s yellow. And it’s not cheese. But you would be served cheddar if you asked for American cheese, instead of the Velveeta, somewhere where they have only the better options.

    ‘Have a good one’ is hilarious. You get to fill in what in means in context, which at least acknowledges the inherent insincerity of this statement (this is called ‘thatic communication’.) ‘One’ usually means ‘day’. It could mean ‘week’. It can even stand in for ‘life’ if it’s ending a particularly final interaction and said with a certain tone!

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