5 Things They’ll Tell You About the U.S. … That Aren’t True

Ah, I get it. You are returning to the United States, and you are preparing for the much-feared reverse culture shock. What to expect?

You should expect to find it weird when people address you in English, that the grocery store has about three hundred different types of cereal, and people want to talk to you while standing in line. Yeah, okay, I feel ya. I see how that could seem weird or odd for a while after you return home.

But let me tell you something, sometimes I wonder if I grew up in an alternate universe, if perhaps my experience of the US has been different from many expats who write on the Internet, because some things I just don’t see. Some stereotypes just don’t fit my experience. I write this to see if I am alone.

1. Americans are always in a hurry

I live in Madrid, so everyone seems to be in a hurry, especially on my morning commute. But my experiences in Madrid aren’t extended to the rest of Spain. Thus, I find it hard to believe Americans are always in a hurry, because most of my family and friends don’t ever seem to be in a hurry. Where are all these hurrying people you’re talking about? New York City? Where?


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Learning to Live in Spain

Have you all read my interview over on Expats Blog? If not, head on over to read my interview and leave a comment on my profile page if you’re so inclined.

Other people to visit: Erik, Erin, Hamatha, Lauren, Cat, and Christine.

One of the questions I was asked in my interview was “If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?” It’s a difficult question for me, because I’m not one to give advice, at least not without advising you to take whatever I say with a large grain of salt. You see, everyone is different, and I don’t think my experience is the only one, or that you’re like me, or anything of the sort.


Maybe you don’t like garlic. But why would you come to Spain then?

But when I first came to Spain, to study abroad in Toledo in 2008, I was very unprepared for what was ahead of me. I was excited to travel and to see Europe, but I had no idea how it would be to live in a culture that is like your own but unlike it in so many subtle ways. Perhaps it’s silly for me to say that it might be less shocking to go somewhere in Asia or Africa, because at least then you’d be expecting big culture shocks.

I had to learn to live in another culture, a culture that feels more and more familiar every day, but that will never be truly my own. I had to learn to embrace it for what it is—and not what I wish it could be. I had to learn to stop blaming Spain or Spaniards in general when something went wrong.


They’re not so bad, Spaniards

Right now I’m tetchy about the numerous and unending strikes—huelgas—in Spain. So far we’ve had three transportation strikes, a general strike, a health-care workers’ strike, and now we’re set for an Iberia (the airline company) strike for Christmastime. I understand that things are tough in Spain right now, but messing with my Christmas plans? Understandably, I’m irked. Everyone needs to be home for Christmas (if they want to), am I right?

Before this year, I would have readily and easily placed the blame on Spain or Spaniards in general, forgetting that many Spaniards don’t agree with the strikes and dislike them as much as I do. In the past, I would have let that negativity overwhelm me and color my view of Spain for a good long time. But this year, this year I’m trying something new and difficult: not placing the big bad blame on Spain. Someone’s to blame, sure. But nothing bad has even happened yet!

Learning to live in another country is easy for some, not so easy for others (me). It has taken me four years, but I’m finally getting the message: you’re in Spain, Spain’s not home, and that’s just fine. Take it as it is. After all, we all know: Spain is different.

Interview with Mario

Mario has been to the U.S. before, but I still loving seeing things with his eyes. I remember the first time we saw a big yellow school bus, a mail truck, and the Bean. You know, typical stuff.

He’s fun to listen to when he’s talking about the U.S. to his family. Just today, he was explaining things to his father and I want to laugh because, well, it’s kind of adorable. (His dad is probably the nicest man in the world. And funny…his jokes may be corny at times, but I still laugh.)

Thus, I decided to take a leaf out of Lauren’s book and interview my Spaniard.

        • What was your first impression of Indiana? It was February, were there corn fields? I would say there were fields, vast, acres and more acres of corn fields. People driving large trucks. Cold…since it was February. Nice people. People have been really friendly to me.

          • What did you expect, food wise? Was it what you expected? [Back when I first came to the U.S. in the 1990s] I expected poor quality food, like junk food, pizza, hamburgers. It wasn’t what I expected. At all. My host mother was a great cook. We ate vegetables, a varied diet, fairly healthy. As far as with Kaley’s family, it’s the same – healthy, a good variety, and of course lots of desserts made by Kaley and her mother.

        • What were some things you just had to see? I would like to see the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park. I liked seeing New York City, which is a place most Europeans want to see. (He saw this back in the 1990s when he stayed with a host family in upstate New York.)
        • What do you like most about Indiana/the Midwest? People are friendly and honest, plus nature in general is very nice.
        • What would you miss the most about living in Spain? My family and friends.
        • What is one food you would miss if you moved here? I would miss salchichón, but not just any salchichón, the kind made by my parents.
        • Do you think Americans are like how they are portrayed on TV and in the movies? Eh, so contrary to what appears in Pedro Almodóvar’s movies, Spaniards are not like that, but many American movies reflect the way people live here (i.e., people living in houses and driving because everything’s not within walking distance). The Simpsons can serve as a good “USA for Dummies” book. This is where I first saw tailgating, yellow school buses, and yard sales.

        • Will you continue to use the term rucksack for backpack and call the movie theater “the cinema”? Why? I would still be using rucksack, but I will say movie theater. The first one to annoy you. The second one, I like it better.
He would also like to emphasize that he likes football. Both kinds.