What Surprises Foreigners About the USA? PART 2

diversity Today is Wednesday, September 11, 2013.

Continuing from yesterday, I’m going to summarize more comments from foreigners about what surprised them about the United States.  Diversity is a big part of the United States.  In many ways, we are a microcosm of the world.

Racial and Cultural Diversity

In the big cities, the amount of racial diversity sometimes surprises foreigners because white people are actually a minority in many cities.  On the other hand, the lack of diversity astounds others who visit rural areas, particularly in the Midwest.   Many people have commented that in both types of places, racism is still very strong here.

Culturally, we are not at all homogeneous.  Some Europeans have commented that the cultural differences from place to place are often larger within the United States than country-to-country differences in Europe.  Many people are astounded to realize how many different regional accents there are, and how differently the language is used in different regions.  Two people might be drinking Coca-Cola, but one calls it “pop” while the other one may call it “soda.”   The same two people might go to a Subway restaurant, where one will order a “submarine sandwich,” while the other orders a “hoagie.”   In one American living room, you will be invited to sit on the “couch,” while in other living rooms, you might be invited to have a seat on the “divan” or the “sofa.”   In cities such as New York and Los Angeles, you can hear any number of languages spoken as you go through your day, and it often surprises foreigners how few people speak English on a regular basis.  It is possible here to live your whole life speaking Spanish, Chinese, or Hmong in certain American cities.

In the cities, especially, it often seems that certain races of people tend to fill certain jobs.  In Minneapolis and St. Paul, it seemed that all the kids who worked at one fast food restaurant were Latino, while all the kids who worked at another one were Black.  Lots of Middle Easterners drove cabs, and it was hard to find a nail salon that wasn’t operated by Vietnamese.  I suspect that part of this may have to do with the fact that these are all pretty much minimum wage jobs, and another part might simply be that people like to work where their friends work.

Diversity in the States

Another thing that surprises people is the diversity in the way things are regulated in the states.  Many people who have come to the United States to work are shocked to realize that just because a person has a license to teach in the K-12 public schools, practice medicine, do hair, or sell Real Estate in Minnesota, that doesn’t mean they can cross into Iowa, Wisconsin, or South Dakota and work there legally until they get certification in that state.   Americans know this as “license hell,” and it applies to driver’s licenses, as well.  Once you move to another state, you have to get another driving license.  This totally astounds people who are from countries where there is national certification for everything.

Diversity of Climate

The United States has just about every type of climate there is, from tropical in Hawaii to arctic in Alaska, and everything in between.  Much of the country has a temperate climate, but the upper Midwest tends to be on the cool side.  The Southeast is hot and humid, the Southwest hot and dry.   Lots of folks are shocked at our weather simply because the place they are visiting here is different from their homeland, but they forget that there are probably places in this country that are pretty much like their own.  The problem is that not all visitors, or even immigrants, are able to do that much traveling.   A visitor to one of our Northern cities who came from a warm country couldn’t believe how cold it was in the winter, even though the sun was shining.

Foreigners have commented how American cities cope with heavy snowfall, flooding, tornadoes, and hurricanes.  Frankly, a person born and raised in Minnesota would be as astounded at how people in Miami prepare for a hurricane as the Miami folks would be astounded at how quickly Minnesotans can plow the streets and highways after a major blizzard.   🙂


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