“Hmmm” of the Day

I was reading the NYT during my quiet time this morning (which is still going on, by the way, since the Js wore themselves — and me — out last night), and came across something that made me giggle. You ever have those moments? In this entertaining op-ed, there were several.

The writer’s father is Russian. She remembers drinking only room-temperature beverages as a child, so she called up Dad in Ukraine to ask him why he hated ice. His response:

‘Ice? I don’t hate ice,’ he began. ‘It’s just that when these Americans hand you a can from the freezer, and it is already so cold that just touching it practically turns your hand into a claw, I don’t really see the need to add ice.'”

You know, he’s got a point there.

It got me to thinking, too…what other uniquely American traits drive people nuts, and what about other cultures makes us crazy? And please — I’m not talking about the US’s gross disregard for our planet or a failed political system or infamous American capitalism and greed. Save those more serious opinions for Usenet, or Facebook, or whatever. Please and thank you. :-)

Rather, I refer to idiosyncrasies that make us decidedly different from our non-North American counterparts. Like the “we put ice in everything, even if it’s already freezing cold” thing. Although I have not been to a non-European country outside the US, I have noticed (or have been informed of) several differences that made me smile, cringe, or scratch my head:

  1. Europeans seem far less worried about “personal space.” Ride a city bus in Rome and you’ll see what I mean.
  2. Americans seem much more preoccupied with time management, and not having enough time. In Europe, no one is in a hurry.
  3. Teenage years are not “celebrated” with dances, proms and sports as much in Europe as they are here. I think someone from France would ask, “What’s a pep rally??”
  4. When a teacher walks into an American student center lounge, no one notices. When it happens in Korea, students stop what they’re doing, put out their cigarettes, and stand up to greet her.
  5. Even if the choices are not popular, America has a fascination with all things European/Asian, and the reverse is true as well. I guess the grass is greener and all that…

I know many who read RtB are well traveled. What have you noticed?

8 thoughts on ““Hmmm” of the Day

  1. Will

    I’m friends with a few brits via a message board I post on. Among other things I learned from a meet-up in Chicago this past year, we tip our waiters and waitresses as opposed to all that just being built into the check. Also, our food is apparently over-seasoned and in huge portions. In addition, there’s something innately wrong with crispy bacon.

  2. BoomR

    I remember when I was traveling in Europe my first time with the AC (now AU) choir. McDonalds had somewhat-recently introduced America to: The Drive-Thru! I remember having a long & interesting conversation with our bus driver & tour guide. They were simply dumbfounded as to the concept of not only eating a meal in the car while driving, but the ability to order it & have it served to you w/out getting out of the car.

    In EU and in many other parts of the world, a meal is a time for the family to gather around the table & enjoy each other’s company. Drink wine, eat great food, bond, catch up, learn, share, etc. The meal is not simply about re-fueling the body, it’s the experience with friends/family, etc.

    Our recent trip & time in Barcelona & Paris reinforced this big cultural difference in spades!

  3. Suzanne

    While in Alpe d’Huez we played the “Spot the American” game. Look for (mostly) overweight people wearing sweatshirts or t-shirts announcing their last vacation spot (COLORADO! FLORIDA!), white tennis shoes, and talking loudly in that annoying nasal-y tone. Ugh.

    Most of what’s been written is what I experience. Americans spend too much time being busy, as if Being Busy is a sign of being really important. “What? You took a nap? Who has time for a nap! I am busy so I am important!” While in A d’Huez (no I don’t have a t-shirt…) the resort shops closed down from 12:00-16:00 (that’s 4:00pm :) ) and I can’t speak for Spain but I am sure they have their siesta time there, too. Meals are definitely more of An Occasion. Personal space is smaller here both with people and driving — lots of tailgating here.

    HOWEVER. That’s all slowly changing. Drive-ins (McDonald’s mostly) are popping up all over. Obesity, especially in children, and diabetes are beginning to be a problem. Portions in restaurants are growing (I’ve noticed this in the 13 years I’ve been here). The youth are starting to be out-of-control with no respect for other people (could be the influence of soft alcohol being legal at age 16). Everyone is in more of a hurry, less patience, give me that thing NOW because that’s what TV and the internet have taught me!

    One thing I miss with Harold is that commonality of knowing about Prom and Friday night High School football games and halftime and dances afterwards, graduation, band, choir and sports IN SCHOOL, driver’s ed (lessons here are private, very difficult, and when someone gets their license it’s a HUGE deal — cards of congratulations are often sent — I got one!)

    I actually prefer my drinks room temperature now except if I drink a REAL Coke — then I need ice. Ice cubes in drinks are becoming more common but still on the scant side.

    And you are right. Lots of people are interested in knowing about America. Most of what they know about the US is from movies. “Do the paperboys really throw the paper in the yard?” (unheard of here — it goes into the mailbox). They like to know what kind of car I had, what High School was like, why Americans love their flag so much, etc etc etc. And the same is true when I go “home”– what’s it like living in Europe? Do you have wooden shoes? (yes :) )

    Garsh I am sure there are more things. There are definitely lots of differences but that’s what makes the world go ’round! Vive le differénce!!

  4. Greg

    I recall asking for some ice with my water during a meal in England. The waiter returned and dropped a single cube about the size of a postage stamp into the glass! Meal portions tend to be smaller and more expensive BUT not necessarily better! Buffet meals are not common in Britain with the exception of “The Carvery” restaurants which are quite good but the price constantly grows. Pub grub is still usually a good buy–a Ploughman’s Lunch of crusty bread, cheese and pickled onions washed down with REAL cider might make some Americans blanch but it’s a fantastic taste experience! Native “bitter” is served at “cellar temperature”–cool but not cold. Lager on the other hand is chilled. I’m getting hungry now and must have a snack!

  5. Greg

    Oops, forgot something! Our British friends are not quite the “refrigeration” type as we are here in America. We’re almost fanatical about bunging things in the fridge after a meal. One of the staffers at our school over there came out of the “larder” on evening, chowing down on rice pudding. The larder is an unrefrigerated room with louvered openings to the outside–similar to the pantries we used to have here. That pudding must’ve been sitting in there for two days–I fully expected to take the guy to the hospital for food poisoning but there he was the next day, hale and hearty, ready for breakfast!

  6. PKPudlin

    I am decidedly NOT well-travelled, but can still contribute to this conversation. I know that in Japan, it is considered rude to answer right away. Americans barely wait until the other person is finished speaking before we barge in with our own 2-cents’ worth. The Japanese wait at least 10 seconds before answering – an ETERNITY by American standards, but it gives the speaker time to finish a thought and the answering party time to consider what has been said.

    The other thing is a personal experience – I attended the convocation ceremonies for the School of Fine Arts when graduating with my MM. We had several exchange students from the Ukraine and they were there too. Parents were in the stands and we were on the stadium floor in our caps, gowns and hoods. I knew these students so we sat together and they were amazed at the ‘hooplah’ of graduation – the ceremonies, robes and parties, etc. They told me that in their country, graduation from college was no big deal; no presents or cards of congratulations and certainly no big school ceremonials.


  7. Rat Fink Post author

    All very interesting! Especially the food issues, and the drive-through conversation. It’s amazing to me that the exact same species can be so polar opposite on so many fronts.


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