Foreign visitors and immigrants have a lot to say about the amenities of American life and the economic conditions here.
Amenities in Our Homes and Public Buildings
Foreigners are amazed at things that we take utterly for granted in this country, such as the fact that it is perfectly all right to drink the tap water in the vast majority of places in the U.S. Sure, there are some places where the water isn’t very tasty, and there are more and more places where the practice of fracking is making the local water undrinkable, but for the most part, we can drink the water. As many uninformed American tourists have found out the hard way, this is not possible everywhere you go in the world. I think that’s probably one reason why ice cubes are not used much in beverages in other countries. I’ve heard that some American tourists were careful not to drink the tap water, but they forgot that some ice was made from the local tap water, so they got the “tourista disease,” anyway.
Many Africans, especially, cannot believe how much water we waste in this country. Their attitude makes sense when you consider that some of them walk a mile or more for fresh water. Water is heavy, folks. Hard to carry! Here, we take showers, rather than baths, and we leave perfectly good water standing in our toilet bowls. We leave the water running while we brush our teeth.
Another thing that astonishes foreigners is the fact that the power is always on, that unless there is a big storm that downs power lines, electric power is something you can pretty much take for granted, here. In places like Nigeria, for example, having a private power generator in the home is not a luxury, but a necessity, because pubic utilities cannot be counted on. Here, you only need a power generator if you live way out in the boonies and can’t always depend on the power company to fix a problem right away.
“Everything works,” here, and that’s something you can count on in very few places in this world. Here, when something doesn’t work, it means one of two things: either there has been a huge storm with downed power lines, in which case the power company will get right on the problem, or you have blown a fuse, in which case you can find the fuse box in your home or apartment and re-set the switch. When the power does go out, foreigners realize that even here in America we are at the mercy of Mother Nature. It seems a shock, though, when it happens in the richest, most prosperous country in the world. That’s the power of Mother Nature.
In American cities where the climate is hot, foreigners comment that the air conditioning is turned on all the time. In fact, both central air and central heat are something that you only see in North America. In many places of the world, air conditioning is a luxury reserved for the very rich, and people heat only one or two rooms in the home at any given time in the winter.
Remember the Christmas poem about the mama being in her kerchief and the papa being in his nightcap? Well, there’s a reason for that. People who heated their homes with fireplaces had to bank the fires at night, and it got pretty cold. In Japan, even today, although they don’t use fireplaces, gas and oil room heaters are turned off at night, for safety. While I lived in Japan, I started to wear scarves on my head at night in the winter. Americans may turn down their furnaces and air conditioners at night, but they rarely turn them all the way off.
When shopping, foreigners notice that the stores are well-stocked, that they rarely run out of anything, and if they do, the store will often offer a “rain check.” Also, stores are open consistently, during posted hours.
Public services are reliable here. Garbage is picked up every week on stated days at about the same time of day. Streets are kept quite clean here compared with streets in other countries, and litter is kept off the highways. One person from India commented that you might find more dust in an average Indian home than you find on the streets in America. While pollution is a problem in certain areas, visitors from China have commented that the sky is blue here, most of the time, which says more about the prevalence of pollution in their country than the lack of it in ours.
What are some amenities we lack here? Immigrants from places where there is always a “public square” miss a central place to meet people. Of course, it may not occur to them that we meet people in different places, such as the local mall. We also invite friends into our homes more often then people do in other countries.
Europeans miss the tax-funded childcare available in their home countries and bemoan the cost of childcare here. Some corporate employees have the benefit of paid childcare, but most of us have to find our own.
Some people can’t believe the fees we have for tire removal and sewage disposal. Well, it’s a dirty job, and somebody has to do it. For a living.
Economic Conditions in the U.S.A.
Just as they are shocked when the power occasionally cuts out, so also are foreign visitors astounded to realize that poverty and homelessness in this country. Visitors to some of our largest cities are amazed to see how many people there are on the streets, especially in winter.
People who come here to work are pleasantly surprised at how little they have to work to earn enough money to survive and pay their bills. They wonder at the audacity of Americans when we complain that we are “overworked.”
The fact that people don’t carry much cash, if they carry any at all, is a surprise to people whose countries still function on a cash-based economy. Here, one’s credit rating is everything, and foreign immigrants are shocked to learn that they have to go into debt at least a little bit to “build a credit rating” so that they can buy a house or a car. They are surprised at how much debt Americans are willing to carry at any given time.
The whole concept of “Black Friday” as a Christmas Shopping day when stores finally go back into the black after being “in the red” pretty much all year is a revelation for a lot of foreigners. Nobody mentioned this, but I wouldn’t wonder that some foreigners are probably also surprised to see that our stores start selling holiday merchandise so far in advance of the actual holidays. 🙂