15th November 2015
Today marks one year since my wife and I moved to the US (California)! It’s certainly flown by. A year ago we sold our house, had nowhere to live, and started living temporarily in a small Airbnb apartment in Palo Alto, then managed to quickly find somewhere more permanent to live in Foster City.
It’s been both amazing and strange living over here, and a while ago I decided to make a note of some of the differences and things we’ve learnt about the US compared to the UK.
So, in no particular order…
Most supermarkets bag your items for you
And talking of supermarkets, they just give you brown paper bags – no plastic bags!
Everyone seems to have a gun
Top loading washing machines everywhere. Seriously, they’re crap.
Fuel costs about 45p a litre, or if you live in Texas it’s about 30p a litre! So cheap
For some stupid reason, crossing the road at the wrong place (jaywalking) is a crime
Each town has its own separate police force
Many foods still have MSG and trans fats – have to check the labels. Unless you shop at Whole Foods (equivalent to Waitrose), where they don’t include nasty things!
Getting used to the stupid date format (m/d/y)
Learning what Fahrenheit, lbs, etc. means
Pharmaceutical companies advertise all their drugs on TV “Ask your doctor about…” followed by “Side effects may include nausea, stomach cramps, mild death” etc.
There are more TV adverts, and they’re usually poor quality (cheap)
HBO TV channel is amazing – no adverts, and they show lots of films, great programmes, including Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
Drive thru everything. Drive-thru ATMs, drive-thru pharmacies, drive-thru post offices…
Tipping at restaurants
Mixer taps instead of separate hot/cold taps
If you go out for the day in California, you’re 99% guaranteed to have great weather
Electronics are a lot cheaper
Sales tax varies by town/area, but is normally around 9%
Prices on shelves don’t include sales tax
Houses don’t normally have radiators, instead they use forced (circulated) air
People bring their dogs shopping with them, and put them in the trolleys (oh, and they call trolleys “carts”). Even in department stores, and food stores.
And they usually dress their dogs in coats. In California. Where it’s sunny and warm
There are massive gaps around nearly all toilet cubicle doors. You can actually see people sat on the toilet through the gaps. What the hell? You managed to build a space shuttle, but you can’t work out how to properly design a toilet door
And they never seem to call the toilets “toilets”; it’s “men’s room”, “bathroom”, “restroom” etc.
There’s a lot more free parking compared to UK towns
No chip and PIN payments. Have to sign for credit card payments in shops/restaurants, and no one checks your signature. Most of the time I just leave a complete mess as a signature
Halloween is very popular in the US. Shops fill up with so many decorations, and Halloween cards – yes, you can send someone a “Happy Halloween” card. Probably won’t be long until the UK starts doing the same!
Elf On The Shelf – some weird toy that you hide somewhere for your children to find at Christmas!
Rear indicators are mostly red, instead of orange
There are stop signs everywhere, and you have to come to a complete stop even when no traffic is coming, otherwise you get fined for a “rolling stop”. And junctions are called “intersections”
Long queues at drive thrus, but empty restaurants – I’m guessing people are too lazy to park their cars and walk inside
And queues are called “lines”. You just get weird looks if you use the word “queue”
US flags everywhere, and I mean everywhere – outside schools, car dealerships, shops, restaurants, houses. That would never be allowed in the UK, it’d be perceived by some as being offensive to minorities…
Huge choice of fresh fruit and vegetables, and quality is amazing
Amazon offers same day, and two-hour delivery!
Huge pickup trucks. Why so big?
No letterboxes on front doors. Instead, there’s either a mailbox outside the front door, or at the end of the driveway
Need to post some mail? Simple – just place it in your mailbox and the postal service takes your mail for you, amazing!
Sirius XM satellite radio is great. FM radio stations are full of adverts
Large garages on most houses
Absurd house prices in the Bay Area
Hershey’s chocolate is not nice at all – not creamy or rich like UK chocolate
Waiting up to 4 minutes at crossroads for the lights to change. Get some damn roundabouts!
World Market shops are great – they sell lots of international food items like Salad Cream, HP sauce, Heinz Baked Beans, Galaxy chocolate
So many amazing restaurants, and food is cheaper. But you leave 20% tips…
Cheesecake Factory. So amazing… I’ve probably tried 20 of their 40 or so selection of cheesecakes! The food menu is also huge – they give you what is basically a book of choices (250 dishes apparently!)
People drive in whatever lane they feel like, but usually the middle lane
Benefits of working for a Silicon Valley tech company – free lunches, snacks and drinks every day
A lot of companies still do physical pay cheques by default, unless you ask for direct deposits
“Historic” places aren’t very historic
Police in airport terminals ride Segways!
There are multiple “ice rooms” located on each floor in hotels. Why do they need so much ice?
Can buy a gun at age 18, but can’t drink alcohol until 21. Makes sense…
Oh, and a parent could in theory give their child a shotgun or rifle as a present – no minimum age in most states
You can start learning to drive at age 15
Cars beep briefly when you lock them. No idea why
I often face difficulty asking for water at a restaurant. Just get blank looks. Have to ask for “warder” (don’t pronounce the “t”), or I give up and order something else.
There are electric sockets in bathrooms
The US doesn’t have a mandatory minimum number of paid vacation days, but seems like a lot of companies give 10 days paid time off, including any paid sick time. I’m a bit luckier in the number of paid days off, plus I get slightly more public holidays off compared to in the UK. But still, it’s bad – if you get sick, it comes out of your paid time off allowance
Most people eat with one hand; sometimes they use a knife and fork to cut up the food, and then go back to just using the fork to eat with
Streets are normally laid out in grids, which makes it very easy to navigate!
People leave lots of things on their front porch, like chairs, BBQs, and it never gets stolen! In the UK, all that stuff would have been nicked, and listed on eBay the same day
I’ve never seen one, but there is such thing as a 2 dollar bill/note
A lot less drunk people on Friday/Saturday nights!
Drug stores that sell lots of groceries, like CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens
Most, if not all cars are petrol
Petrol pumps have a lever on the nozzle, that lets you walk away from the car while it fills up with fuel, allowing you to do other things like wash the car windows with the provided buckets of soapy water!
Hardly any manual “stick shift” cars
Don’t see many roundabouts
Milk is sold in gallon bottles (about 8 pints)
Huge (wide) roads, and big parking spaces, for all the huge pick-up trucks
Pedestrian crossings count down how many seconds you have left to cross the road, which is handy!
More bike friendly – lots of bike paths, cycle lanes and trails. And bikes are always called “bicycles”, and cyclists are called “bicyclists”
Scones are called “biscuits”. And they come served with gravy. Err…
Staff seem happier and more helpful in shops and restaurants. Much better customer service, in general
People don’t tend to walk far from their cars
Cheques are still commonly used by customers in shops
Most junctions allow you to turn right on a red light, assuming no traffic is coming your way!
“Aluminum”? No, it’s called aluminium…
Americans are generally more open and talkative
Free drink refills in most food places
Doggy bags at restaurants. It’s common to take home leftovers, and you need it when visiting Cheesecake Factory – huge portions!
You don’t ask for a “bill” in restaurants. You ask for the “check”
Medical insurance is a must. So expensive. But at least it’s possible to get an appointment at a time that suits you, normally the same week, and specialists can be seen quickly too
Sports are an integral part of society and school life. And so many huge stadiums everywhere
So many Toyota Priuses in California!
If you ask for cider you’d get a non-alcoholic drink. Need to ask for “hard cider” for the good stuff
I often get asked “Are you Australian?” Really?!