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Stuff I‘ve learned the hard way in the US (and some stuff that wasn‘t hard to learn)

By gwblogabroad

Americans love hidden costs

I’m sitting at the Denver airport writing this and looking back at the week of skiing I’ve enjoyed in Colorado, one thing is blatantly clear. Americans absolutely love hidden cost. I already suspected that this was the case, but only through my travels has it become this obvious.

In Iceland we don’t tip. It’s not because we are mean, vengeful people that take pleasure in the troubles of the underpaid working class (we do, of course, but for different reasons). No, in Iceland we actually just have the decency to pay employees appropriately so there’s no need for tipping. This means that going to a restaurant or whatever is a fantastically annoying experience for me. Especially since I’m usually going with people that each pay for themselves, so we invariably encounter problems when calculating each part in the sum.

Knowing that this is a school blog I’ll have to contain my vocabulary for this one, but it is absolutely unfathomably stupid that prices everywhere do not include tax. See, legislation should eventually benefit the buyer, not the corporate hell-machine. Now if we step back a bit and try to view this with unbiased eyes, who does this system really benefit? Is the buyer encouraged to spend less? No, of course not! It’s just yet another way of robbing buyers of their hard earned cash through the sleazy tactics of modern commercialism.

These are the basics but it certainly doesn’t stop there. Upon renting a car here in Colorado we were told we had to pay 200$ extra because we were under the age of 25. Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking that this is just common sense but I assure you, it’s not. Neither of us had ever rented a car and we’ve grown up in a country where posted prices are final. If some company had done this to me in Iceland, believe me, all hell would have broken loose. I actually checked the fine print when I rented the car and not once did it warn us of this ludicrous addition to the price, in fact we first heard of it when we were in the office of the car rental in Denver, Colorado. At that point there’s nothing to do, really, but suck it up and pay the 200$. The whole trip was basically a continuous string of these incidents. The lesson learned here is that I was naïve. Naïve to believe people wouldn’t screw me over. I know better now.

It‘s okay to talk smack about other companies in advertisements

I don’t really watch television so I don’t really care about this at all. Having spent a week in a hotel with a certified TV-addict, though, I saw my share of commercials and one thing surprised me. First of all the commercials could all be put into four different categories; diet and weight loss, drugs, taxes and erectile dysfunction.  I’m not sure what this says about the US nation, and I’m certainly not one to pass judgment. What did stick out though was that companies here see no problem in directly attacking the products of other companies; “I was taking this drug, but it doesn’t actually work so I switched to this drug and now I’m feeling great!” Again, not something that bothers me, it’s just weird for me because this is something that’s forbidden by law in Iceland.

Americans are unable to safely operate umbrellas

I’ve travelled quite a bit through the years and surprisingly enough, many of the places I’ve visited also have weather. This means that from time to time I’ve seen people whip out their umbrellas. Personally I don’t mind getting wet but I can certainly sympathize with those who want to keep dry. That is, if they know how to keep their damn umbrella out of my face. From London to Berlin, Copenhagen to Valencia, even in Reykjavik people know how to keep to the side, lift the umbrella when passing people and tilt it when meeting another umbrella-enthusiast. It’s a system that works, everyone is happy. In America this is not the case. It’s as if people view it as their God-given mission to take up as much space as physically possible with their umbrella. Walking in the middle of the street, pointy metal spikes in eyelevel, making sure to direct the raindrops at everyone around, it’s all cool. I’m not entirely sure what the cause of this reckless behavior is, but if Dr. Sigmund Freud has taught me anything it’s most likely penis envy. It’s always penis envy.

Everyone is caring (but most don‘t care)

This one is a bit different because it’s not really hurting anyone, it’s just a weird cultural tic. Whenever getting into a grocery store or a taxi or just about anywhere you’re always greeted with a “hi, how are you?” or something similar. Everyone seems so nice, all the foreigners notice it. The truth, though, is that no one actually cares about the answer. If I told my taxi driver that I wasn’t feeling to well he couldn’t care less. To my analytical European mind this seems redundant. I’m used to people asking me how I feel when they actually care about the answer. Having to reciprocate with this pseudo-courteousness all the time just feels weird and fake.

American plugs are not like European plugs

I knew this one but it still managed to sneak up on me. When preparing for arrival in the US I thought I had taken care of every detail, and yet when I finally got to my dorm room I came to the grim conclusion that I had forgotten to buy an adapter. My first night was spent in a dark room, staring blankly at the barren wall in front of me, with my plethora of dead electrical gadgets lying tauntingly in front of me. After frustratingly staring at my laptop for a couple of hours I realized that I was hungry as all hell, having been kept alive during the day only by the occasional, stale airport sandwich. I decided to venture outside but not knowing where to go to find food at 10:30 PM I ended up walking in circles. You know how people in snowstorms end up walking in circles when they’re lost, because one foot is stronger than the other? It was exactly like that, except not at all. Eventually I did find a 7-11 (ironically positioned very close to my dorm but not close at all to the circular path I had been pacing) and bought another stale sandwich.

Americans only know one thing about Iceland

As much as I try to convince myself that my English is infallible, people eventually pick up on my accent and ask me where I come from. When I tell them I’m Icelandic they invariably get overly enthusiastic and proceed to tell me the only thing they know about Iceland. The American school system is incredibly efficient in teaching students that The US of A is (obviously) the center of the Universe, but literally the only thing they tell students about Iceland, it seems, is the following: “Iceland is in fact green, whereas Greenland is actually icy. End of lesson.” In my mind this lesson is promptly followed by a timid girl in the back of the class going “U – S – A, USA, USA…” which then breaks out into a full blown, school wide, roaring USA-chant. I could be wrong though.

Everyone loves my name

Americans have a hard time pronouncing my name, which is entirely understandable. There are some weird letters in there, accent marks and other incomprehensible stuff. The sounds required to correctly pronounce my name is just not within the average oral capacity of Americans, so I just gave up on trying. Now whenever someone asks me for my name at Starbucks or whatever, I just tell them my name is Thor. It’s true enough. My name, Arnþór, literally means Eagle-Thor, so my roommates just started calling me Thor.

The love it! “Wow, dude, is your name seriously Thor? That’s so awesome, man. You’ve got the beard going and all!” That’s the typical reaction. I’m certainly not complaining about this one.

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