How you know you are not American

Contributing Writer

If you would have asked me five years ago, “Where do you see yourself in the future?” I would have probably said, “Well, maybe working or studying somewhere near my hometown, where I can visit my family and friends very often.” Now, five years later I am here, in the land of boundless opportunities – America. My house in South Tyrol, Italy, is exactly 8,238.57 km from here, which is about 14 hours by plane, not considering the time change. Not only did I end up on a different continent, but I also entered a new culture and way of living.

Since I have been here I noticed in many situations the difference between the American culture and the culture of Italy and Europe. For others considering studying in America, I will try to explain, with the help of my friends, in which situations Americans are different from us.

Americans tolerate the cold. Do Americans have thicker skins? I do not know it, but I assume so. Americans have air conditioning in every room. In every single room. I had to wear a winter jacket during my classes, because it was just so cold inside. I was sitting in class, and I felt like I was on an expedition in the Antarctic! While everyone else was enjoying the little breeze that came from the air conditioning, an icicle started growing out of my nose.

In addition to the coldness here, Americans enjoy their drinks with ice! When I entered a restaurant in America, I ordered my soda without ice and the first question that the server asked me was, “Where are you from?” Note to myself: drink your soda with ice if you want to seem American!

Americans enjoy pumpkin spice anything. In Europe, when we reach the month of October, we can start thinking about Christmas presents because there are two more months to go until Christmas. Not here, oh no! In America, October means that you do not even pronounce the word Christmas. The only thing you have to think about are pumpkins. People here are excited about every new pumpkin creation, such as pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin spice ice cream, pumpkin spice cookies, pumpkin spice cheerios, pumpkin spice yogurt, pumpkin spice cake doughnut, pumpkin spice Irish cream and many more.

Americans wear socks with their sandals. While it is “cool” in Europe when you do not see your socks while wearing shoes, here in America it is a MUST to see your socks while you are wearing shoes. The more you see them the better! “As a Not-American it took me some time to get used to it, but I have to admit it is comfortable not to hide half of your socks in your shoes,” says Luca Simonetti, an international student from Italy.

Americans give tips. Every American knows it: you have to give tips in a restaurant. As a European, I was surprised the first time a waiter asked me for a tip. I felt embarrassed when I did not give him one. I was told afterwards that, in America, you have to give tips. In Europe you do not give tips. Only sometimes if a waiter was very nice and did a good job. Otherwise it is inappropriate. The food in Europe in general is a little bit cheaper than in America because we do not have to add taxes to everything we buy. While it would be nice to give tips from time to time, it is not customary in Europe.

Americans stand in line. Europeans do not know what this is. As Americans, you do. In the school cafeteria, you can see from miles away who is American and who is not. International students most of the time see a queue and walk by until they arrive at the top of the line, whereas American students stay patiently in the queue and wait until it is their turn to get some food. If you do not want to out yourself as a non-American, just stay in the queue and wait.

Americans use public restrooms. When you are walking along the streets and suddenly Mother Nature calls you, the first thing you do is search for a public toilet and use it – in America. In Europe, first you have to find money to pay for using the bathroom. “I was surprised when I realized for the first time that I do not have to pay for that here!” said Simonetti.

Americans do not stare. As a European, you are used to staring at people. You stare at someone if he or she has a nice outfit, you stare at them if they laugh in a strange way and you want to know why they are laughing, and you stare at people when they stare at you. In America, people do not stare! I asked a friend of mine from America, and she told me that it is very ill mannered if you stare at someone because you make them feel uncomfortable. This was an important thing for me to learn.

Americans have a different time and date system. I cannot even remember how many times I had to look up in my dictionary what A.M. and P.M. means. Thank you Google! Without it I would have arrived 12 hours too late or too early to every single appointment. The next thing that shows that you are not American is the way they write the date here. “First the day, then the month – no wait, it was the other way round,” says Serbian international student Milica Sostarec. “This happens to me so many times. The only thing I have to look up at someone’s other test during class is the date. It happened that I was searching for the 14th month of the year instead of the 14th day of the month.”

These are only some of the differences you, as an international student, may discover when you go to America. Your first month in the land of boundless opportunities will scare you! But it is an amazing place, so try to adapt as well and as quickly as possible.

Milica Sostarec and Magdalena Knapp during their first class at school in America. Photo credit: Magdalena Knapp

Cover photo: Luca Simonetti, Milica Sostarec and Magdalena Knapp trying to find the road back to campus. Photo credit: Magdalena Knapp

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