Welcome to AMERCIA!
June 20, 2012 3:05 PM   Subscribe

"What facts about the United States do foreigners not believe until they come to America? In the episode "True Urban Legends" [originally aired 4.23.2010] of This American Life, Mary Wiltenburg asks refugees to share the rumors they'd heard about America but didn't think were true, only to discover on arrival that they were. Examples include homelessness and Christmas lights." Quora members weigh in.
"Portion sizes."

"Spray cheese"

"Dependence on personal automobiles and poor public transport services."

"Beef is more expensive than chicken, wow! "

"Drive-thru everything! (Especially ATMs!)."

"The frequency of clapping."
posted by ericb (472 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite

 
The overwhelming pride in ignorance.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:11 PM on June 20, 2012 [29 favorites]


The overwhelming ignorance of pride.
posted by OmieWise at 3:13 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


/Debord
posted by OmieWise at 3:13 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Portions and drive-thrus, absolutely.

And flags! You all (well, not all) have flags outside your houses! Giant, tasselled flags! I found it fairly intimidating, like you're all ready to assemble into formation at the slightest provocation.

On the other hand, you can post a letter from your own letterbox! That's seventeen different kinds of amazing, and should probably go above democracy on the 'export to the world' list.
posted by twirlypen at 3:13 PM on June 20, 2012 [31 favorites]


Most of these don't seem to be facts legends that foreigners didn't believe until they got here; they're just things that they find kind of unbelievable. Do people in other countries really hear fables and stories about our cheap beef and our frequent clapping? In my limited experience in other countries, no. I don't think anybody in the other countries I've been to even made any connection whatsoever between Americans and clapping, but I might be wrong.
posted by koeselitz at 3:14 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


legends
posted by koeselitz at 3:15 PM on June 20, 2012


*golf clap*
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:16 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, what koeselitz said.

If we're talking about misconceptions foreigners have about the U.S. that are then discovered to be incorrect upon visiting the U.S., they're doing it wrong on quora and we're starting off doing it wrong here, too.
posted by The World Famous at 3:16 PM on June 20, 2012


Horrible driving standards: my friend lived in Montreal until her mid 20s, then the Czech republic, now eastern France, where she recently got her first driver's license. When she's in the car with me she spends half the time commenting (not unfairly) about how, um, optional rules of the road are. "How can you pass on the right?" Well, I can pass on the right because there's an idiot driving very slowly in the left lane, and also everyone does it for definitions of "very slowly" that range from speed limit less 20 kph to speed limit plus 30 kph. After she mentioned this a few times, I started noticing and feeling very slightly guilty every time I did it.

I feel guilty about this quite often.
posted by jeather at 3:16 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think 'didn't believe' and 'kind of unbelievable' are pretty close, no? It's not that people flatly refuse to believe that American's have large portions, but that the reality of it exceeds what you'd expect.
posted by twirlypen at 3:17 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, you can post a letter from your own letterbox!

You... you can't do this?

(This is going to be like that time I found out that drive-through ATMs were unknown except in the US)
posted by curious nu at 3:17 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


"Beef is more expensive than chicken, wow!"

Can anyone explain this one to me? Outside of a handful of countries that are big beef producers (like Argentina), isn't beef more expensive than chicken everywhere?
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 3:20 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


That This American Life tells a really heartbreaking story of an immigrant seeing a homeless woman and calling 911, presuming she needs help. "Is she homeless?" the 911 operator asks. He asks her. Then he goes back to the phone. "Yes, she's homeless."

He honestly expects that this will be treated as an emergency.

And he's right. It is an emergency. It's a fucking emergency. These are Americans who desperately need shelter and aid. And they need it right now. You should be able to call 911 and the person on the other end will say "What? They DON'T HAVE A HOME? Somebody is on the way."

It's our national shame. Not just the homelessness, but the fact that we aren't ashamed by it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:20 PM on June 20, 2012 [270 favorites]


When she's in the car with me she spends half the time commenting (not unfairly) about how, um, optional rules of the road are. "How can you pass on the right?"

What's wrong with passing on the right? As far as I can tell, there are no laws against it (at least not in Massachusetts). And I never learned any reason why I should avoid it when I took drivers ed in Texas.

I'm assuming you mean passing on the right on a major road with multiple lanes in each direction. If the driver in the left lane is moving slowly, why shouldn't I pass in the right lane? (I fully appreciate the dangers of passing on the right when someone is stopped on a two lane road and the "right" is either a narrow shoulder, bicycle lane, or ditch.)
posted by fremen at 3:21 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


twirlypen: “I think 'didn't believe' and 'kind of unbelievable' are pretty close, no? It's not that people flatly refuse to believe that American's have large portions, but that the reality of it exceeds what you'd expect.”

I guess what I mean is that I'm kind of more interested in the things people in faraway countries hear about us, and then discover to be true, than I am in the things people find surprising when they first get here. It seems like kind of a commonplace somehow to talk about the stuff that people were shocked at when they first got here at this point, but I'm intrigued to know about the various unbelievable yet true stories that get passed about us abroad.

Call it American narcissism, I guess, but I'm already well aware that we're weirdos. I'd just like to know what everybody else is saying about our weirdness.
posted by koeselitz at 3:21 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


We've discussed this in AskMe, haven't we?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:23 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Drugs everywhere
Shootouts in the street
Televangelists
Gun nuts
Hostility to the metric system

On the other hand, you can post a letter from your own letterbox!

I just recently moved into a house without a mail slot. So I went out and bought an old-fashioned letterbox with the flag and everything. I left a note inside the box asking my mail carrier if this was possible and she wrote a note back with a smiley face on it. I now mail stuff ALL THE TIME just because I can. I mail stuff I used to send electronically or take care of by phone when I had to use a mailbox across the street. I go out my front door at 3am to mail things that don't even need to be mailed. In all other respects I am a conservation-minded euro but I use the fuck out of my mailbox and salute the post-master general every time I open the damn thing. I am considering installing a flag pole as well, because I can.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:25 PM on June 20, 2012 [70 favorites]


As far as I can tell, there are no laws against it (at least not in Massachusetts).

Not now. In MA, it used to be illegal, and technically, it still is except on limited-access highways.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:25 PM on June 20, 2012


I don't think anybody in the other countries I've been to even made any connection whatsoever between Americans and clapping, but I might be wrong.

You're wrong.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:26 PM on June 20, 2012


This reminds me of a radio piece that features a teenager who was adopted from Ethiopia as an elementary-school-aged child. It's primarily about his brief reunion with his birth mother and other relatives, but there's a portion toward the end where he explains what he expected America to be like before he arrived. He starts by saying, "I expected it to be, like, a little nicer than Ethiopia?"
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:26 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


On the other hand, you can post a letter from your own letterbox!

Okay, that is amazing! I can barely get mail addressed to me delivered into the box. Getting the mailman to take stuff out sounds like supersciencemagic.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:26 PM on June 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


What's wrong with passing on the right?

The person you're passing is, presumably, driving their car from the seat on the left hand side of the car, so they can't see you when you pass them on the right. Furthermore, if they know how to drive, they are more likely to be watching out for cars passing on the left than on the right, since that's what you're supposed to do.

If you pass on the right, the driver of the car you're overtaking cannot see you until this happens.
posted by The World Famous at 3:27 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


"but I'm intrigued to know about the various unbelievable yet true stories that get passed about us abroad"

Perhaps that's where we're getting our wires crossed - portions, flags, cheese and drive-thrus ARE the unbelievable yet true stories that get passed around abroad. I honestly thought that all of these things were exaggerated in the same way that Australians living in the bush with snakes or the French all wearing berets are exaggerated. I presumed that the cheese and portion sizes and all those things would exist, sure, but be far less common than they were.
posted by twirlypen at 3:27 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


I am fairly sure it is (nominally) illegal here to pass on the right on a multilane highway. I have never heard of someone being pulled over for that (alone). You shouldn't pass on the right because in general it is less safe and less predictable to do so.
posted by jeather at 3:27 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Distances, yes.

'No, you can't just 'pop down' to Disney for the day from NYC.'

etc.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:28 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Okay, that is amazing! I can barely get mail addressed to me delivered into the box.

I understand the frustration, but with a name like yours, it's no wonder there's mixups!
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:28 PM on June 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


Furthermore, if they know how to drive, they are more likely to be watching out for cars passing on the left than on the right,

If I have to pass them on the right, they don't know how to drive.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:28 PM on June 20, 2012 [52 favorites]


More than a few times, I've found myself having to explain how the federal-state division works to friends across the pacific and atlantic. What seems to surprise them is that, yes, we do not have standardized or clean hierarchy for education, no, what you think our news is saying about changes in American law is not actually possible, that is just Texas doing its thing.

Also, all the condiments on the table without anyone asking, just ketchup and mustard and Tabasco just there, right there for immediate use at every table.

This is probably the most positive manifestation of American narcissism. We are looking at our reflection in the pool. But we are studying that growth, and noticing no one else has such a mole, and certainly none so reminiscent of cauliflower, and maybe we should have it looked at, and maybe we really aren't eating too well.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:30 PM on June 20, 2012


If I have to pass them on the right, they don't know how to drive.

If you pass them on the right, you don't, either.
posted by The World Famous at 3:30 PM on June 20, 2012 [52 favorites]


I'm assuming you mean passing on the right on a major road with multiple lanes in each direction. If the driver in the left lane is moving slowly, why shouldn't I pass in the right lane?

In countries where you're not allowed to pass on the right, you're not really supposed to use the left lane except for passing and in cases where you're the fastest vehicle on the road.
posted by atrazine at 3:31 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


The single thing that everyone from non-EFL countries who has visited me has commented upon is the actual legitimate existence of people who speak with what to their ears sounds like an almost comically exaggerated regional accent as their normal speaking voice.
posted by elizardbits at 3:32 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's wrong with passing on the right? As far as I can tell, there are no laws against it (at least not in Massachusetts). And I never learned any reason why I should avoid it when I took drivers ed in Texas.

That POP y'all just heard was the sound of my head exploding.

Televangelists fell in this category for me. You see it in movies but I thought they were exaggerating. Haha. Also newspaper boxes that allow you access to all the papers for the cost of one.
posted by fshgrl at 3:36 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


'No, you can't just 'pop down' to Disney for the day from NYC.'

You, sir, have not met my in-laws.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 3:38 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


That and the, um, largeness of people in the Midwest. Particularly the women who have reasonably normal upper bodies that expand suddenly to 3' wide buttocks. It's literally hard not to stare because you do not see that bodyshape anywhere else, and its like every other person in some areas.
posted by fshgrl at 3:40 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, all the condiments on the table without anyone asking, just ketchup and mustard and Tabasco just there, right there for immediate use at every table.

But where is the complimentary fish sauce, pickled chilis, and crushed peanuts that you get in Thailand?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:40 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dear Massachusettsians, do not talk as if the way people drive in your city is an American phenomenon. It is not.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:42 PM on June 20, 2012 [15 favorites]


More than a few times, I've found myself having to explain how the federal-state division works to friends across the pacific and atlantic. What seems to surprise them is that, yes, we do not have standardized or clean hierarchy for education, no, what you think our news is saying about changes in American law is not actually possible, that is just Texas doing its thing.

Here's a map of all the unitary states in the world to whom you might have to explain that. Note that the only federal countries in Europe are Germany and Switzerland (which is very federal - the cantons have virtually all the power).
posted by atrazine at 3:43 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


If a big part of your plans involve taking public transit a long distance, especially outside of the Northeast Corridor, you're going to have a bad time.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:43 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


We had a couple of exchange students stay with us in CA. The Swedish girl found Christmas lights on houses to be hysterically funny. The French girl had a sheet of paper telling her not to be surprised how many times her American hosts might take showers and wash their hair (EVERY DAY!), and to expect that when she ordered a sandwich, there might be "a small salad tucked inside."

I still don't know what's so funny about Christmas lights.
posted by OolooKitty at 3:45 PM on June 20, 2012 [32 favorites]


Here's a map of all the unitary states in the world to whom you might have to explain that.

Looks about right.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:47 PM on June 20, 2012


Oh here's one: how much state law matters. On some issues it's like you're in a whole different country. I had a hell of a time explaining to friends in London why some states have capital punishment while others have medical marijuana.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:48 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Drive through cash machines! I had heard about those as a hilarious "US folk are lazy buggers", but I still did a double take where I first saw one.

Chocolate that tastes like crap! I had heard this quite a few times, and it turns out to be true.

Also, literally a dozen or more varieties of everything. But I've never heard about posting a letter from your own postbox, that just seems strange and a little inefficient. But I dunno.

Oh, and some other countries far outdo the US in how many flags they have around. I think Thai folk would wonder why there were so few...
posted by Jehan at 3:51 PM on June 20, 2012


the things people in faraway countries hear about us, and then discover to be true,

You use red plastic cups for drinks at house parties. I always thought this was a movie convention to say 'hey look they got alcohol there' and then I go to a house party and they pull out red plastic cups and I'm like HOLY SHIT LOOK ITS A MOVIE. I still think this every time I see them.

The homeless military vets.

How huge portions are. Like you hear that, then you get to a restaurant and eat part of it and look at the plate and you're like 'holy crap, I'll never finish that!'.

That people really like guns (no, I mean REALLY) and own guns and honestly believe that there is some fundamental good reason to have guns everywhere.
posted by jacalata at 3:51 PM on June 20, 2012 [33 favorites]


Gangs, you really do have gangs on street corners. Me and a friend got lost and drove into inner city Baltimore by mistake in a hire car about five to ten years ago. Absolutely blew our minds that there were actually houses that decrepit with people living in them, and that there were actual stereotypical blue jeans/white vests gangs on street corners. We're both from just outside London.
posted by MattWPBS at 3:54 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've never heard about posting a letter from your own postbox, that just seems strange and a little inefficient.

But the postman is going to be right there anyhow, giving you your mail. How is this inefficient?
posted by jeather at 3:55 PM on June 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


That people are obsessed with what college you went to and how that college ranks. Being here from Canada is like being completely status or class-inscrutable to a lot of people.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:57 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think the most delightful (but initially alarming) thing about Americans is how they love to argue passionately about politics - it's possible for people with completely different political views to argue argue argue and still be friends, and continue arguing the next time they meet up.

I can't say that I talk politics with people in Canada or Japan, unless I know them really, really well.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:58 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I recently was on a trip to London, and when I returned I was on the same flight as a load of college kids on their way over for summer jobs in the US. I listened in as we landed, watching all of them with their faces pressed to the windows like excited puppies and talking about what they were seeing.

The kinds of things they were remarking on were "Oh my god, there's pools in the back of so many houses!" or "the houses are huge!" One kid said he was surprised how "green" everything looked.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:58 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


In Japan I've been asked if every American woman has large breasts. I'd always say yes, of course. Why burst their bubble?
posted by Blue Meanie at 3:59 PM on June 20, 2012 [20 favorites]


But the postman is going to be right there anyhow, giving you your mail. How is this inefficient?

I guess it's because the postie doesn't have to go to your house unless they have mail for you. But when you add in that they have to collect mail too, they then have to go around checking every house.
posted by Jehan at 3:59 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


You use red plastic cups for drinks at house parties.

I read about this at some other site -- apparently you can make a bazillion dollars running a black-market company smuggling in red solo cups for European party kids to marvel over. In the US, it's not a tradition or a requirement or anything; that's just what we've got to work with (plus, they come in other colors too, particularly in college towns to match the local team's uniforms)
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:00 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


I guess it's because the postie doesn't have to go to your house unless they have mail for you.

Ah, but thanks to junk mail there is always mail for you.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:00 PM on June 20, 2012 [17 favorites]


I am a canadian. I cany cycle to washington state in under an hour. I've made a regular habit of heading south for work related reasons. Some things that have astonished me and continue to do so: Things that maybe only a Canadian could find surprising:
posted by mce at 4:01 PM on June 20, 2012 [17 favorites]


I read about this at some other site -- apparently you can make a bazillion dollars running a black-market company smuggling in red solo cups for European party kids to marvel over. In the US, it's not a tradition or a requirement or anything; that's just what we've got to work with (plus, they come in other colors too, particularly in college towns to match the local team's uniforms)

In Britain every house has at least two cupboards full of pint glasses stolen from the pub
posted by dng at 4:02 PM on June 20, 2012 [25 favorites]


I guess it's because the postie doesn't have to go to your house unless they have mail for you. But when you add in that they have to collect mail too, they then have to go around checking every house.

No, you have to flag them to let them know there's mail to pick up, they don't have to just check all the boxes.
posted by jeather at 4:05 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


At least, that is how it worked when I lived somewhere which had a mailbox like that. It was awesome.
posted by jeather at 4:05 PM on June 20, 2012


I guess it's because the postie doesn't have to go to your house unless they have mail for you. But when you add in that they have to collect mail too, they then have to go around checking every house.

Classic US letterboxes (e.g.) have a flag to let the carrier know that there's outgoing mail to pick up. Other mailboxes I've had require you to have the outgoing mail stick out of the flap or get clipped to the outside of the box.
posted by stopgap at 4:06 PM on June 20, 2012


This one got a laugh from me: as a canadian moving to pennsylvania, I was a bit surprised to discover that cold medicine is controlled more tightly than sniper rifles
posted by dancestoblue at 4:06 PM on June 20, 2012 [54 favorites]


Things my Canadian wife still marvels about:

Drive-through everything

Flags! Flags everywhere!

The fact that everyone we know has either been to jail or knows someone currently in jail (maybe I just have shady friends)

That every business meeting starts and ends with 15 minutes of idle chatter, usually involving sports, the weather, and/or mutual acquaintances (may just be a Southern thing)

Jesus! Jesus everywhere! (also a Southern thing)

What really amuses her, though, and I'd never really noticed it until she pointed it out (and this is definitely a Southern thing), is how, when giving directions, people here use what USED TO BE THERE as landmarks. As in, "Remember where that old carpet wholesalers warehouse used to be? Well, go two blocks past that and turn left. Then keep going until you see that empty building where the beauty supply shop was and merge right. The place you're looking for is just past the lot where that old guy used to sell Christmas trees."
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:07 PM on June 20, 2012 [28 favorites]


Really? I mean really?

I get the urge for America flagellation and self-flagellation, but what country are these people coming from where homelessness is unknown? I mean, come on.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:12 PM on June 20, 2012 [17 favorites]


Classic US letterboxes (e.g.) have a flag to let the carrier know that there's outgoing mail to pick up. Other mailboxes I've had require you to have the outgoing mail stick out of the flap or get clipped to the outside of the box.
Aaah! I've seen them in pictures, but never really knew what they were for. I supposed that they were so the postie could tell you if you have gotten mail. That makes a lot of sense now. Even so, I'm not sold on the idea. It's easy to get to a postbox for most folks. Maybe we could have the service for disabled people though.
posted by Jehan at 4:13 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


(and this is definitely a Southern thing), is how, when giving directions, people here use what USED TO BE THERE as landmarks

I'd never even thought about this. When I ask my mom how things are back home, she very often explains where new businesses and such are by referencing "the old Wal-Mart" (it moved probably 15 years ago). How funny.
posted by junco at 4:14 PM on June 20, 2012


That every business meeting starts and ends with 15 minutes of idle chatter, usually involving sports, the weather, and/or mutual acquaintances (may just be a Southern thing)

Has she commented on the other Southern thing* where, when you get up to leave, that doesn't actually mean you're leaving, it just means the conversation is going to move to the front door, then onto the porch, and then perhaps out to the car, before the leaving person actually leaves?

*At least I think it is just a Southern thing because some of my Yankee friends have commented on it being a Southern thing.
posted by vibrotronica at 4:14 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Quick list of things that are legit crazy about the US that don't happen in other places:

Guns
Bad health care
Flag-waving*

That's about it, as far as I can think.

*though certainly not unique, see also France
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:15 PM on June 20, 2012


the shockingly jingoistic hero worship of the american military personal. Esp considering the lack of political will to do any better by them.

I think that is partly motivated by guilt at a) the lack of political will and b) lingering guilt at how badly people treated veterans of Vietnam. It's easy to tell the soldier that they're over in Iraq protecting our freedom (somehow) and we love them for it than to properly take care of them once they get home.
posted by chimaera at 4:15 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Bad health care

We have great health care, if you can get it. That's really the rub.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:16 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh and I guess the large food/drink portions.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:16 PM on June 20, 2012


We have great health care, if you can get it.

Well yeah. "Bad" as in inefficient for the money we spend, and hard-to-get for far too many.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:17 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


One kid said he was surprised how "green" everything looked.

On a flight from Los Angeles to Detroit, I sat next to a father and his son who was probably around 9 or 10. On approach, the kid looked out the window and said "what do they do here, water their lawn every day?"

It makes sense that people whose primary exposure to the U.S. is via television shows and movies would think that the U.S. is not very green, given that the shows are mostly filmed/taped in either urban areas or in Southern California.

the fractured banking system. What do you mean this bank card will only work in 1 out of 3 shops on this street?

what is this i don't even

The righteous entitlement to cheap gasoline.

It's a major component of most Americans' cost of living, so volatility in that cost - and increases in it - have a huge effect on our day-to-day personal economics.

I get the urge for America flagellation and self-flagellation, but what country are these people coming from where homelessness is unknown? I mean, come on.

They might not realize that the U.S. has extremely strict housing codes and building standards for occupied structures that make it illegal for people to live in the sort of housing that the rest of the world's poor call home.

The fact that everyone we know has either been to jail or knows someone currently in jail (maybe I just have shady friends)

Yes, you just have shady friends. I'm a lawyer and I know maybe five people who have ever been in jail, most of them by way of my profession.
posted by The World Famous at 4:18 PM on June 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


Has she commented on the other Southern thing* where, when you get up to leave, that doesn't actually mean you're leaving, it just means the conversation is going to move to the front door, then onto the porch, and then perhaps out to the car, before the leaving person actually leaves?

You know, she hasn't mentioned it, but I swear this happened to me just this afternoon. I wouldn't have thought it remarkable until your comment brought it to mind.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:20 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's easy to get to a postbox for most folks.

Not in the suburban/rural US.

It's a bit like public transit / cars. Ecosystems build up around a certain way of doing things. Those blue mailboxes you see on streetcorners in urban areas don't exist outside of cities. You either have to drive to the post office or use your personal mailbox. There is nowhere you can walk to and mail a letter, the nearest post office might be tens of miles away easily.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:20 PM on June 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Drugs everywhere
Shootouts in the street
Televangelists
Gun nuts
Hostility to the metric system


I live in one of the largest cities in the United States and none of these are true in my experience. OK, I do know a few people who are gun nuts, but they all live in Alaska.
posted by The World Famous at 4:20 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


the fractured banking system. What do you mean this bank card will only work in 1 out of 3 shops on this street?

Yeah, the banking system is fucked, but it's tough these days to find a store that doesn't take at least Mastercard and Visa. Amex I think is still a toss up some places.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:21 PM on June 20, 2012


BitterOldPunk -- Jesus! Jesus everywhere! (also a Southern thing)
Last month I drove from Austin to the Chicago area and back; across Arkansas and esp Missouri the Jesus thing is just huge, it's major, and Missouri also big signs "supporting our troops" and going on about abortion is death, and shameful, and disgusting; on I55 is a large field covered in white crosses and signs about how Jesus doesn't like abortion or whatever, big billboards to that effect in both states. Not once did I see any signs about Jesus not loving war though -- Onward Christian Soldiers!
posted by dancestoblue at 4:24 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm from Texas. I've found that even within the United States, people don't realize just how BIG the state of Texas is. (Especially true for residents of those itsy-bitsy, anemic little statelings of the northeast!) I've had some version of this conversation countless times:

Q: "Where's your hometown?"
A: Near Midland, Texas.
Q: "Hey, Texas! Wait, where?" (It's okay, no one ever knows where this is without help.)
A: Friday Night Lights: the book, not the TV show? George Dubya Motherfucker Bush? Baby Jessica down the well? The corner where the pointy-outy bit meets the other pointy-outy bit?
Q: "Ohhhh yeah! Hey, I have friends in Houston, how close is that to you?"
A: About nine hours.
Q: "Nine miles?"
A: HOURS.

Plus the visiting tourist friends who've planned out 1-2 days to visit the Alamo, the Austin music scene, the Dallas-Fort Worth shopping, and the beaches of Galveston. Um. Guys? Little problem here?

I can never visit Alaska or even think too much about its vastness, because my brain will explode. Then there's Russia, over their just loooooming over everything.
posted by nicebookrack at 4:25 PM on June 20, 2012 [20 favorites]


Russia over THERE with THEIR looming
posted by nicebookrack at 4:25 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I live in one of the largest cities in the United States

I think that's the real crux of a lot of this. Many of these things are pretty idiomatic to rural/small town places, I think. Things like ubiquitous flags, soldier worship, huge portions, drive thru joints - all seem to be more common to the chain store laden, rural and suburban parts of the country. At least that's my experience. Even shootouts used to be more frequent in the small midwestern town I grew up in than they are in the Northwest city I now live in. And there are a lot more Joel Olsteen fans in nowhere Iowa than I've found in Portland for sure. And a lot of folks back home would get actively angry at the metric system, like it was an affront to their freedom. Here it's not an active hostility as much as just a thing we don't use. Public transportation is obviously generally better in urban areas.

Clapping though, yeah. Americans everywhere really like clapping.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:29 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


people don't realize just how BIG the state of Texas is.
Driving from Chicago to El Paso, when you hit the Texas line at Texarkana, you're still not half way to El Paso.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:31 PM on June 20, 2012 [34 favorites]


I live in one of the largest cities in the United States and none of these are true in my experience. OK, I do know a few people who are gun nuts, but they all live in Alaska.

Lucky you! I've seen more than one driveby here, and I have often been surprised at how far complete strangers will go out of their way to market illegal drugs to me. I actually had a crack dealer follow me down the street once calling 'I know you want some, white boy!' And there are indeed televangelists on TV on a regular basis. That just doesn't exist where I come from.

I dunno, maybe people present differently to foreigners or something?
posted by anigbrowl at 4:34 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess it's because the postie doesn't have to go to your house unless they have mail for you.

Most mailboxes have a little flag that you raise if there's outgoing mail. So they don't have to check every box.

I think this is something that dates from a time when America was more rural and less suburban -- if you put post boxes on corners here and there as you do in big cities and (urban?) Europe, it might be miles and miles before locals came across one.
posted by Sara C. at 4:35 PM on June 20, 2012


hings like ubiquitous flags, soldier worship, huge portions, drive thru joints - all seem to be more common to the chain store laden, rural and suburban parts of the country.

I've spent my time in the USA almost entirely within the Seattle/Redmond city limits, and I've noticed all of these. Perhaps you mean there's more of it outside cities, but even in Seattle, there is enough of all these things to be surprising to me as a foreigner.
posted by jacalata at 4:35 PM on June 20, 2012


anigbrowl, San Francisco's not really in the U.S. ;-)
posted by The World Famous at 4:36 PM on June 20, 2012


i.e: I probably define 'gun nut' veeeery differently to you. As in, a person who owns a gun and keeps it at their house.
posted by jacalata at 4:36 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Driving from Chicago to El Paso, when you hit the Texas line at Texarkana, you're still not half way to El Paso.

You've also added more than 100 unnecessary miles to your trip.
posted by Etrigan at 4:39 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


I've never heard about posting a letter from your own postbox, that just seems strange and a little inefficient.

Your mind will be blown for real when I tell you I can leave coins on top of my letter in my mailbox and the postman will buy the stamp for me so I don't have to drive into town to do it myself. Yes. Really. (Nota bene: I like in a very rural area, this may not work in your particular case.)
posted by 1f2frfbf at 4:39 PM on June 20, 2012 [27 favorites]


i.e: I probably define 'gun nut' veeeery differently to you. As in, a person who owns a gun and keeps it at their house.

Ha. Yeah, I think a gun nut is someone who owns one of those big gun safes and has it in their living room and has a shell for a key chain and wears camo just because. But like I said, I'm from Iowa.

But yeah, I'm not saying it doesn't exist in cities, because it certainly does, but that it just seems less prevalent. But then again, I went from a small conservative town to a city, not from Europe to an American city, so I was surprised at how much less of these things there were by contrast.

I've heard from many of my European friends that they think Seattle is the most like a European city in America, fwiw. I haven't spent that much time in either place, but I've gotten that from several different folks.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:42 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your mind will be blown for real when I tell you I can leave coins on top of my letter in my mailbox and the postman will buy the stamp for me so I don't have to drive into town to do it myself.
As someone who's lived in big (U.S.) cities most of my life, I was wondering whether the flagging the mailbox thing was still done outside of extremely rural areas -- but this is crazy-talk.
posted by smidgen at 4:45 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Drjimmy11 asked: I get the urge for America flagellation and self-flagellation, but what country are these people coming from where homelessness is unknown? I mean, come on.

It's certainly not unknown, but it's at a much, much, much lower level and people can be oblivious to it. I mean, there are annual charity campaigns directed at raising public awareness of the problem because otherwise most people wouldn't even think about it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:47 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your mind will be blown for real when I tell you I can leave coins on top of my letter in my mailbox and the postman will buy the stamp for me so I don't have to drive into town to do it myself.

I saw a thing online a couple years ago where a guy literally taped 39 cents in change or whatever it was at the time to the envelope and they took it.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:49 PM on June 20, 2012


It's certainly not unknown, but it's at a much, much, much lower level and people can be oblivious to it. I mean, there are annual charity campaigns directed at raising public awareness of the problem because otherwise most people wouldn't even think about it.

The U.S. has quite strictly enforced building codes and standards that make it illegal for the very poor to live in the sort of structures that most of the world's poor call home.
posted by The World Famous at 4:50 PM on June 20, 2012


The overwhelming pride in ignorance.

The immediate and reflexive self-loathing.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:51 PM on June 20, 2012 [21 favorites]


Joe in Australia was talking about attitudes in Australia, which probably has quite similar building codes.
posted by jacalata at 4:52 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Re: red solo cups---back in the days of ChatRoulette, my roommates and I connected with a group of Australian guys. The first thing they said to us was, "You live in California? Do you have those red cups? Like in the movies?!" We did! Alas, as my roommate rushed to get the stack of cups from the kitchen, she tripped on the computer cord, and the laptop fell off the table and slammed shut. We'll never know how cool the Australian boys might have thought we were for having red cups. And they never got to show us their jar of Vegemite.
posted by book 'em dano at 4:52 PM on June 20, 2012 [14 favorites]


The World Famous: I don't think that London, Geneva, Paris etc. have massive shantytowns surrounding them. I think they just do a better job of providing housing to their poor and of preventing people from becoming so destitute as to be unable to afford housing.
posted by Scientist at 4:53 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


I remember when pen-pals of mine from England wrote to me describing their upcoming vacation - their first visit to the US: they were going to Boston for some sort of convention, then renting a car and driving to California to visit Disneyland. All in one week. "Are you sure?" I asked. "That's a very long way to drive." "Oh, we both know how to drive, we'll take turns, this way we can see America." They ended up driving as far as Chicago, then turning in their rental car and buying plane tix to LA. His oft-repeated refrain in his next letter: "We had no idea how vast America is!!"

Another difficult concept to explain to most foreign visitors is "blocks", as in when directions are given "just up the block" or "drive three blocks then turn left".
posted by Oriole Adams at 4:53 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The immediate and reflexive self-loathing.

Indeed.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:54 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The coin thing is real. If there is one thing I miss in the city it is definitely the having of a mailbox with a flag. For whatever reason, there are no more post boxes on the streets of California. The closest one is further than the local post office, and the local post office is open at esoteric hours and requires the sacrifice of a half hour. Oh, if only I had something besides a mail slot.
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:54 PM on June 20, 2012


The World Famous: I don't think that London, Geneva, Paris etc. have massive shantytowns surrounding them. I think they just do a better job of providing housing to their poor and of preventing people from becoming so destitute as to be unable to afford housing.

I've seen more homeless people camped out in doorways in London than I've ever seen in Detroit or the metro area.
posted by Oriole Adams at 4:55 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


No statistics, totally just my observation: my impression of the number of homeless in London and Paris was about the same as my impression of the number of homeless here in DC.
posted by downing street memo at 4:55 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I remember when pen-pals of mine from England wrote to me describing their upcoming vacation - their first visit to the US: they were going to Boston for some sort of convention, then renting a car and driving to California to visit Disneyland. All in one week. "Are you sure?" I asked. "That's a very long way to drive." "Oh, we both know how to drive, we'll take turns, this way we can see America." They ended up driving as far as Chicago, then turning in their rental car and buying plane tix to LA. His oft-repeated refrain in his next letter: "We had no idea how vast America is!!"

This seems so...weird. Do they not have maps?
posted by downing street memo at 4:58 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


The World Famous: I don't think that London, Geneva, Paris etc. have massive shantytowns surrounding them.

But do they have occupied buildings with lousy plumbing and no heat or electricity? Seriously, U.S. building codes and inhabitable building standards are really, really strict. I'm not talking about shantytowns.
posted by The World Famous at 4:58 PM on June 20, 2012


It's a bit like public transit / cars. Ecosystems build up around a certain way of doing things. Those blue mailboxes you see on streetcorners in urban areas don't exist outside of cities. You either have to drive to the post office or use your personal mailbox. There is nowhere you can walk to and mail a letter, the nearest post office might be tens of miles away easily.
That makes a lot of sense. Everything is so compact here that walking to a post box isn't a big deal. I suppose if you're more spread out then it creates difficulties for that kind of thing. It must be kinda weird living so far away from everything, as I can't think of many parts of England where you can be so cut off from services like that. It's surprising that a postal service is even a realistic proposition in such circumstances. They must have to cover so many miles to deliver so few letters.
posted by Jehan at 5:00 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not to snark, but is there any way we know that this particular This American Life is actually based on factual reporting? Or is this just another exercise in, as previous poster put it, American self-flagellation?
posted by KokuRyu at 5:03 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


They must have to cover so many miles to deliver so few letters.

Thus making fuel cost a bigger deal than it may be elsewhere. Don't get me wrong, I'm as against the soccer-mom, SUV, non-thinking consumption culture as much as anyone but the way things here have developed around a sheer scale and size that other countries often can't match combined with the often complete lack of public transit here means that when people get upset about gas prices it's for a more understandable reason than you might think.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:05 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's why, if you read old westerns or really any fiction that takes place in the rural US before about 1920, everyone's always going on about the Pony Express, or the railroads coming to town, or the general store on Main Street with the post office inside, or whatnot. A lot of the nineteenth century history of the US was about figuring out how to provide industrial-era infrastructure to vast swathes of lightly inhabited wilderness.
posted by Sara C. at 5:08 PM on June 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Not feeling much American pride at this moment, reading this thread. I hope people don't get the impression that we all really like the way things are because we think they're great. It's just that we don't know better and I think the momentum to change things is greater because it's such a big place.
posted by bleep at 5:08 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


But do they have occupied buildings with lousy plumbing and no heat or electricity?

Energy giant Detroit Edison (DTE) has cut off service to 200,000 households in southeast Michigan in the past year, including hundreds of families a day in distressed Detroit neighborhoods. DTE counts 476,000 regional customers in arrears; no law protects these residents from shutoff in the winter.
posted by jacalata at 5:10 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


The US Postal Service is amazing. They will deliver anything, anywhere in weather that would stop most services in their tracks. I've never had them lose or damage my mail (in sharp contrast to the Irish and UK postal services which seemed to have a special machine for chewing things). I had one letter follow me around for a year, to 7 different addresses before they finally tracked me down. On a boat, on the ocean. I've mailed car tires general delivery and they didn't bat an eye.
posted by fshgrl at 5:15 PM on June 20, 2012 [32 favorites]


Energy giant Detroit Edison (DTE) has cut off service to 200,000 households in southeast Michigan in the past year, including hundreds of families a day in distressed Detroit neighborhoods. DTE counts 476,000 regional customers in arrears; no law protects these residents from shutoff in the winter.

Yay! America is finally rising to the standards of the rest of the world in dealing with its homelessness problem!
posted by The World Famous at 5:16 PM on June 20, 2012


Yeah, I've got to admit, the self-flagellation here is slightly exasperating. The term reactionary has a negative connotation for a reason, and it's not just because it's frequently applied to the far-right. It's because it means having a knee-jerk connection between seeing a common contentious topic (impressions of the US) and yelling a corresponding reaction ("har, har, guns n' shootouts n' drugs n' fatties") that doesn't allow the brain to interject.

That said, what these reactions reveal is that America is not all once place. It's too big to provide one universally true experience. So many of these reactions are based in what San Francisco is like, or the South, or the Northeast Corridor, and they don't really hold true for the rest of the country. Or hell, even the rest of the metropolitan area in which these impressions were formed.

You can make this same point could be made for all countries. Seoul is not like Busan, and Busan is not like Songtan. Rome and Sicily might as well be on different planets. India and China aren't even united on a common language. The US can be deceptive this way because we drink deep from the font of our own cultural firehose, but there are major regional differences here as well.

Everyone's right about the portion-sizes though. That's unilaterally true here.
posted by workingdankoch at 5:19 PM on June 20, 2012 [26 favorites]


Seriously dude, what's your point? That foreigners who arrived in the US and were surprised by the visible homelessness were wrong or lying about their surprise? That USA #1? That NUH-UH?
posted by jacalata at 5:19 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


It feels pretty good to know the flag on my porch is freaking out foreign visitors! (note to self: buy more flags. I only have Finland and USA currently.)
posted by vespabelle at 5:24 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Previously.

As an American, the most unexpected part of that thread was the repeated mention of yellow school buses -- "Just like in the movies!" Having grown up taking a yellow bus to school, I never thought of it as a "just like the movies" thing. I'm having a similar reaction to seeing the comments about red plastic cups in the current thread.
posted by baf at 5:24 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I seriously envy your Postal Service right now.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:26 PM on June 20, 2012


I think it's so weird that utterly mundane trash culture of day to day life in the us becomes glamorous and/or exotic because Hollywood happens to be here.
posted by empath at 5:34 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Seriously dude, what's your point? That foreigners who arrived in the US and were surprised by the visible homelessness were wrong or lying about their surprise? That USA #1? That NUH-UH?

That the highly-visible homeless problem in the United States is not an indication that the U.S. is unique in that it does not take care of its poor (see, e.g., the comment above about calling 911), but that it is unique in that its poverty problem is merely visible in different ways than that of other countries, due to unique and complex legal and regulatory schemes that are are actually intended to serve exactly the opposite purpose than what they actually accomplish.

So, I suppose my point is "NUH-UH" to those here suggesting that the U.S. homeless problem is an indication that their country takes care of its poor better than the U.S. does. How's that? I mean, I wouldn't say "NUH-UH," but it seems like you want to lower the discourse to that level so that you can understand my point, so in this particular instance I'm willing to use language that you've proposed so that you can get it.
posted by The World Famous at 5:34 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


As for the whole homelessness argument, that we have homeless people on our streets is really more of an indictment of our healthcare system than it is of our anti-poverty programs. People who are just poor can generally attain a level of housing that will keep them off the street (at least to a level that matches other countries). People who are poor and suffering mental illness or drug addiction are the ones who end up sleeping on the steam grates. Not that it makes it any better. Repeat, not that it makes it any better.

If we could find the political will to rebuild our mental health institutions, I think we could resolve our homelessness problems. Judging by how well the last round of healthcare reform went, I'm not holding my breath.

How's that for self-flagellation?
posted by workingdankoch at 5:36 PM on June 20, 2012 [19 favorites]


Re Red Plastic Cups and Yellow Schoolbuses -- there are totally things about other parts of the world that scratch this same itch for American. For example, there really are Elephants in India! And the double decker London buses! And Pizza in Italy is actually really amazing! And in Turkey everyone really eats kebabs! Just like in the movies!
posted by Sara C. at 5:43 PM on June 20, 2012 [16 favorites]


But yeah, I'm not saying it doesn't exist in cities, because it certainly does, but that it just seems less prevalent. But then again, I went from a small conservative town to a city, not from Europe to an American city, so I was surprised at how much less of these things there were by contrast.

I grew up in a medium-sized city in Iowa, and the first time I spent any time at all in big cities was when I toured Europe with my high-school German Club. As a result, there are many common big-city things that I thought of for some time as very European. (E.g. those little wheeled baskets for taking home your groceries, pedestrian shopping areas, outdoor dining areas at restaurants, kiosks*, parks without any play equipment for children, etc.)

* In my German class, puzzling out a reading passage: "'Kiosk?' What does 'Kiosk' mean?" "I dunno, look it up in the dictionary." "The dictionary says, das Kiosk, noun, kiosk." "What the hell is a kiosk?" "How the hell should I know?" (Where we are from, you post notices on telephone poles.)
posted by BrashTech at 5:49 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


For what it's worth, I would be very surprised if Australian building regulations were significantly weaker than USAn ones.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:52 PM on June 20, 2012


The American flag/veteran thing and the clapping thing came into conflict at my high school. Some World War II vets came to give a somber presentation to the whole student body one Veterans' Day. The presentation began with us rising for a recording of the National Anthem. The veterans saluted the flag or placed their hands over their hearts, and the students remained silent until "home of the brave," whereupon a large number of students began clapping and cheering loudly, as if they were at a ball game. The veterans were appalled, and we were all summoned to a second school-wide assembly the next day for a lecture by the principal on proper Star-Spangled Banner etiquette.
posted by Knappster at 5:55 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Has she commented on the other Southern thing* where, when you get up to leave, that doesn't actually mean you're leaving, it just means the conversation is going to move to the front door, then onto the porch, and then perhaps out to the car, before the leaving person actually leaves?

Sounds like you're describing Ireland here.
posted by knapah at 5:57 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I haven't travelled to the US since I was a kid, so this is all second-hand, but a collation of comments from friends (Australian, so we of course get heaps of exposure via US films and TV) in recent years of things that they'd heard about, but not truly believed until they visited was:
  • security theatre at airports etc
  • general crappiness/surliness of bureaucracy
  • quality of service culture everywhere else
  • how run down the infrastructure was, how derelict some inner cities were
  • portion size
  • lack of walking infrastructure - no footpaths
  • willingness to jump in a car to walk 1 block
  • friendliness (at least surface) of so many people, curiosity about Aus, wanting to visit there (but no one ever had)
  • visible homelessness (and, TheWorldFamous, I assure you that this is nothing to do with housing codes)
  • begging
  • the astounding natural beauty of the Rockies.

  • posted by wilful at 5:58 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    visible homelessness (and, TheWorldFamous, I assure you that this is nothing to do with housing codes)

    It's interesting to me that Australia is the common counterexample on this point.
    posted by The World Famous at 5:59 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I once tried to explain to my Italian host brother that one summer, we took a cross-country road trip across the states and spent five and a half weeks in the car.

    He just flat out refused to believe that it could take four or five days to get across the country. It was extremely adorable.

    On the flip side, many of these things are kind of a regional thing-- I guess I'd sort of known you could flag for mail, but the mailbox we had in DC was on total lockdown, so I didn't get to see that in action until I moved to PA. I'd also never seen the AMAZING PNEUMATIC TUBE SYSTEM at my partner's hometown drive-through bank before and yeah IT IS STILL SO COOL. TUBES. MONEY TUBES.

    I can't drive so I've never gotten to use them myself but sometimes I make him get deposits just so I can see it in action. It is a source of hilarity on his part.
    posted by jetlagaddict at 6:00 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


    You use red plastic cups for drinks at house parties. I always thought this was a movie convention to say 'hey look they got alcohol there' and then I go to a house party and they pull out red plastic cups and I'm like HOLY SHIT LOOK ITS A MOVIE. I still think this every time I see them.

    What I never understood is why no one ever uses the blue plastic cups for drinks.
    posted by madcaptenor at 6:04 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I have to admit that I got stopped in my tracks at the idea that the postman wouldn't typically have mail for me. SO MUCH MAIL. Horrendous amounts of mail. I can't unsubscribe myself from mailing lists fast enough to keep up with the mail that comes, plus I get all of the "free" flyers/coupons/etc. that are delivered to every single mailbox in my (admittedly urban) building, no matter what I might do to try to stop the deluge. I cherish the idea that it would be out of my postman's way to check my mailbox for something outgoing.
    posted by argonauta at 6:05 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Also, according to this Wikipedia page, Australia's homelessness rate is twice as high as that of the U.S., and Canada's is even higher than that. I can't vouch for the accuracy of those statistics, though.

    I wonder whether the high visibility of U.S. homelessness to visiting foreigners is due in part to the fact that tourists to the U.S. tend to visit areas that also happen to have a higher visibility of homelessness.
    posted by The World Famous at 6:05 PM on June 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


    "Ah, those fat, lazy, crazy Americans" wrote the non-USers on the internet, using computing devices and discussing things they've seen on TV thx to satellige tech, or observed after flying here on planes. while perhaps listening to American music, and referencing US films.

    All the while being free to do this because they're not living in the 70th year of the Third Reich.

    If only those Americans weren't so weird, fat and lazy and unduly proud about - well, what have they ever done right anyway?
    posted by NorthernLite at 6:06 PM on June 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


    Yes, you just have shady friends.

    Easy to say, but doesn't answer the question.

    "It isn't just that we have the highest incarceration rate in the world, we have created a situation over the last 30 years where about one in eight men is an ex-offender,”

    "Within three years of being released, 67% of ex-prisoners re-offend and 52% are re-incarcerated, according to a study published in 1994.[26] The rate of recidivism is so high in the United States that most inmates who enter the system are likely to reenter within a year of their release. "

    Check out this map of incarceration rates by state.

    The South in general has higher than average incarceration rates. Does that mean that everyone has shady friends? No, but it does mean that you might not have to move too far to find yourself circles where there are lots of ex-inmates.
    posted by sneebler at 6:06 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


    It's certainly not unknown, but it's at a much, much, much lower level and people can be oblivious to it. I mean, there are annual charity campaigns directed at raising public awareness of the problem because otherwise most people wouldn't even think about it.

    I think it should be pointed out that Australia (and Canada) have higher rates of homelessness than the USA. Which is not in any way to excuse the USA's deplorable treatment of its homeless population.
    posted by junco at 6:07 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Definitely the accents. You hear them on television but somehow it's different in real life. My sister would call me from college in her first year and go, "OMG THEY REALLY TALK LIKE THAT. ALL THE TIME!" Yep. I love it.
    posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 6:11 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Sounds like you're describing Ireland here.

    The more I learn about rural/small-town culture in Britain and Ireland, the more I understand how Southern culture developed.

    Not that Northerners aren't also culturally descended from Irish and British traditions, of course, but in a lot of the South you have pretty much unbroken lines of very rural cultures that never dealt with the industrializing, urban, or cosmopolitan influences that were a fact of everyday life in most of the North, all the way back to seventeenth and eighteenth century Britain/Ireland.

    Any of those cute Rural Britain TV series (Doc Martin, Kingdom, maybe Vicar of Dibley though I haven't actually seen that one) could pretty much take place verbatim in a small Southern town, and the only thing you'd have to change would be the accents.
    posted by Sara C. at 6:12 PM on June 20, 2012 [19 favorites]


    One thing to note is that the homelessness comments seem to primarily come from people who spent a lot of time in San Francisco. This is significant for two reasons:

    (a) The whole 6th and Market area almost certainly has the highest concentration of inner-city homelessness in the country. It's not exactly a representative sample.

    (b) That area (and the Tenderloin) are right next to all of the touristy SF areas, so they're highly, discordantly visible. It's easy to go jaunting around Union Square, walk a few blocks south, and suddenly be asking yourself what the hell just happened?

    It's certainly caught me off guard, and I'm from Philadelphia, so it's not as if I'm unfamiliar with the problems of homelessness in this country.
    posted by workingdankoch at 6:14 PM on June 20, 2012 [16 favorites]


    We could also note that Australian homeless figures include people living in trailer parks.
    posted by jacalata at 6:15 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


    twirlypen: "You all (well, not all) have flags outside your houses! Giant, tasselled flags!" <joke type="consipracy"> Only if you want to be subject to an Admiralty Court.

    vibrotronica: "Has she commented on the other Southern thing* where, when you get up to leave, that doesn't actually mean you're leaving, it just means the conversation is going to move to the front door, then onto the porch, and then perhaps out to the car, before the leaving person actually leaves?"

    Also applicable in Minnesota.
    posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:16 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


    In Britain every house has at least two cupboards full of pint glasses stolen from the pub

    It's not that we don't own glasses, it's that you don't give potentially sharp objects to drunk stupid college students.
    posted by octothorpe at 6:16 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    If I have to pass them on the right, they don't know how to drive.

    If you pass them on the right, you don't, either.
    posted by The World Famous


    clearly the correct behaviour is to pull up alongside the person driving 80km/h in the left lane and clearly explain to them that they should speed up or change lanes by shouting through your open window. right? this was your point, was it not?
    posted by tehloki at 6:16 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Your mind will be blown for real when I tell you I can leave coins on top of my letter in my mailbox and the postman will buy the stamp for me so I don't have to drive into town to do it myself. Yes. Really. (Nota bene: I like in a very rural area, this may not work in your particular case.)

    I kid you not, as an extremely small-towner I once paid for lunch at the town's restaurant with a literal song and a dance.

    I'd forgotten my wallet at home. They totally wouldn't have made me pay but I went by the next day with cash. Because that's how we do things.
    posted by six-or-six-thirty at 6:16 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


    Wow, some real defensiveness here. FYI, in Australia homelessness is broader than being on the streets, it includes those in shelters/caravan parks etc. People "on the streets" is closer to 14,000 per night.
    posted by wilful at 6:18 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Clapping? Ha.. When I went to my first movie theater in Canada (Montreal) and it turns out everyone claps at the end of the movie? Now that's some odd clapping..
    posted by mbatch at 6:24 PM on June 20, 2012


    Wow, some real defensiveness here. FYI, in Australia homelessness is broader than being on the streets, it includes those in shelters/caravan parks etc. People "on the streets" is closer to 14,000 per night.

    The Wikipedia article I linked to also defines American homeless as those in shelters, etc. And the corresponding article on Australia doesn't mention anything about trailer/caravan parks. The methodology appears to be comparable in both countries.
    posted by junco at 6:27 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Also, a note about New England (and ME in particular).. We have churches -everywhere- that look like lots of money is spent keeping them looking emaculate.. But there aren't really many church goers. When I went to Cleveland recently I was surprised at how completely run down almost every church I saw was.
    posted by mbatch at 6:27 PM on June 20, 2012


    I can leave coins on top of my letter in my mailbox and the postman will buy the stamp for me so I don't have to drive into town to do it myself.

    Rural postal rules are actually different from postal rules in other more urban parts of the country and this is one of the things I love about living in a small town. When I lived way out in the boonies [in a town of 150 as opposed to this huge metropolis of 4500] I'd get packages delivered and the postman would just leave it inside my house since he knew the door was open. Some time later when I had been locking my door for a while, he left a package inside the car in the driveway and left a sticky note on the front door saying they'd tried to deliver a package and it was "in grandma's car" since he knew where I'd gotten the car from. When we had the big floods and some roads were out for months, they post office would designate deputy postal delivery people and give all the mail for a certain street that was now more like a riverbed to one neighbor who was responsible for delivering it all. I think they paid him with the extra snacks they regularly get from all the post office appreciation people around here.
    posted by jessamyn at 6:28 PM on June 20, 2012 [31 favorites]


    clearly the correct behaviour is to pull up alongside the person driving 80km/h in the left lane and clearly explain to them that they should speed up or change lanes by shouting through your open window. right? this was your point, was it not?

    It was not.

    We could also note that Australian homeless figures include people living in trailer parks.

    Without a comparison of the counting methodology for both the U.S. and Australia, that assertion doesn't tell us much.

    Wow, some real defensiveness here. FYI, in Australia homelessness is broader than being on the streets, it includes those in shelters/caravan parks etc.

    The definition of homelessness for the purpose of U.S. statistics also includes those who are sheltered. Again, without a comparison of the statistics using equivalent methodologies, there's not much point in arguing about it.
    posted by The World Famous at 6:29 PM on June 20, 2012


    nicebookrack: I've found that even within the United States, people don't realize just how BIG the state of Texas is.

    Yeah, I find the same thing in Ontario if you have to drive through it East-West.

    As a point of curiosity, I've just discovered that in time terms, the drive from my hometown to where I live now is comparable to driving from Madrid to Bucharest.
    posted by Decimask at 6:30 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Anyway, my last comment was pointless. I found, when I moved from Australia to the us that homelessness here was far more visible and confronting. I do believe that homelessness in Australia is not as bad as the USA but that's not the point here and I could be wrong.
    on preview: agreed, tWF. The mention of trailer parks ws from homelessness.org.au I think, should have linked but now on my phone.
    posted by jacalata at 6:33 PM on June 20, 2012


    As an American, the most unexpected part of that thread was the repeated mention of yellow school buses ...

    And yellow taxis really do dominate in NYC!
    posted by ericb at 6:37 PM on June 20, 2012


    OK, except for a few (like 4...out of my 22 or whatever years of life) years where I lived in Canada and Korea because my dad was in the military, I've lived in the US all my life...and some of these are blowing *my* mind.

    Mailing stuff from your own mailbox still seems unbelievable to me, even with the little red flags. I always drove into town (even though we lived outside of town, so that could be a few miles away) and mailed my stuff at the post office, or I put the mail in a blue box when I was doing errands.

    I used to live in Oklahoma, and but now I live in Texas. The immensity of Texas is still staggering. The town I lived in in Oklahoma was also next to a military base, so I always imagined that Dallas Fort Worth would be similar...but then, my Dallas friends and Fort Worth friends informed me that no, you don't just drive between the two places in 15 minutes or whatever.

    Then, there was the time I went to a fencing tournament in Lubbock. Let me put it this way...it took me only 6 hours to get from college in College Station, TX, to home in Lawton, OK. It should not take longer to get to another location *within the same state* than it does to travel to a different state. I shouldn't feel compelled to take a plane to another location in the *same state* because the drive will functionally wipe out an entire day.
    posted by subversiveasset at 6:38 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Far more to the point, The World Famous, your wah wah wah it's all due to our restrictive building codes point bears no relationship to what was being discussed, which is that there is a strong and consistent view that homelessness is far more visible in the US than in several other countries, and that this is a surprise to visitors. You're trying to defend the honour of the US it seems, I'm not sure why.
    posted by wilful at 6:40 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Texas is bigger than France. El Paso, Texas is closer to Los Angeles, California than it is to Houston.
    posted by TSOL at 6:42 PM on June 20, 2012 [17 favorites]


    people here use what USED TO BE THERE as landmarks.

    I do this, but restricted to two situations:
    1) I know that the person receiving the directions know the reference.
    b) I want the person receiving the directions to get lost :)
    posted by achrise at 6:43 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I defy anyone who has spent any time at all in both Australia and the US to assert that Australia has more homeless people. I'm generally against anecdotal evidence, but a simple walk on the streets of Sydney (Australia's homeless capital, fyi, taking the crown from Canberra of all places recently) compared to a similar stroll in any US city I've been to puts paid to that notion immediately.

    The discrepancy is huge. I couldn't believe how many homeless people I saw in America.
    posted by smoke at 6:45 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    TSOL,

    STOP TALKING. MY BRAIN...*dead*
    posted by subversiveasset at 6:45 PM on June 20, 2012




    The World Famous: I don't think that London, Geneva, Paris etc. have massive shantytowns surrounding them. I think they just do a better job of providing housing to their poor and of preventing people from becoming so destitute as to be unable to afford housing.


    Um, say what? When you visit Paris, one of the things you notice is that some of the people sleeping outside along the Seine and the Canal Du Midi are well kempt and seem to have their lives together.

    That's because they're gainfully employed and still homeless. That waiter who brought you dinner? He might be sleeping rough.

    Then there are the huge numbers of homeless who are sleeping rough and destitute, in varying degrees of mental illness.
    posted by ocschwar at 6:46 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Actually smoke, you been to Darwin? the "long grassers" there are pretty severe/amazing - though that has some pretty specific cultural drivers.
    posted by wilful at 6:49 PM on June 20, 2012


    your wah wah wah it's all due to our restrictive building codes point

    OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD
    posted by The World Famous at 6:49 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    All the while being free to do this because they're not living in the 70th year of the Third Reich.

    Discovering that the "Well, we kicked your ass / saved your ass in WWII" trope is actually a real thing, not a comedic exaggeration. And despite how many times I'd been warned, learning that "Fuck you Jack, I've got mine" really is the prevailing attitude was a huge shock.
    posted by ceribus peribus at 6:49 PM on June 20, 2012 [37 favorites]


    Far more to the point, The World Famous, your wah wah wah it's all due to our restrictive building codes point bears no relationship to what was being discussed, which is that there is a strong and consistent view that homelessness is far more visible in the US than in several other countries, and that this is a surprise to visitors. You're trying to defend the honour of the US it seems, I'm not sure why.

    I don't want to speak for The World Famous, and I think his assertion that US homelessness is due to restrictive building codes is specious, but as an American living abroad -- in a country that I think does a lot of things very much better than does the US -- it's frustrating that many people, particularly Canadians and Australians, in my experience, are blinkered to the massive social problems in their own countries -- particularly racism and homelessness -- through a blind faith that "of course we're better than the US".
    posted by junco at 6:50 PM on June 20, 2012 [15 favorites]




    Re Red Plastic Cups and Yellow Schoolbuses -- there are totally things about other parts of the world that scratch this same itch for American.


    No, yellow school buses are bizarre. Buses devoted only to making two trips a day and only carrying children? In most of the world children ride public buses along with their parents. It's very strange to discover that American towns really work like that.
    posted by ocschwar at 6:52 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    it's frustrating that many people, particularly Canadians and Australians, in my experience, are blinkered to the massive social problems in their own countries -- particularly racism and homelessness -- through a blind faith that "of course we're better than the US".

    Of course. However, not really anything to do with this thread.
    posted by wilful at 6:52 PM on June 20, 2012


    El Paso, Texas is closer to Los Angeles, California than it is to Houston.

    Per Google Maps, El Paso to Los Angeles is 802 miles, whereas El Paso to Houston is 747 miles. Still, though.
    posted by The World Famous at 6:53 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    "We had no idea how vast America is!!"

    But Americans the the 'ignorant of geography' ones...
    posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:53 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


    No, yellow school buses are bizarre. Buses devoted only to making two trips a day and only carrying children? In most of the world children ride public buses along with their parents. It's very strange to discover that American towns really work like that.

    For what it's worth, I grew up in an area with three levels of public schooling: elementary, intermediate, and high school. They all had staggered start times so that the same buses could be used for all three levels. That's six trips a day, each one taking about an hour. Public transport was nonexistent. I don't mean that it was bad, I mean that it literally did not exist.
    posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:00 PM on June 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


    One of the things I like to do here in Boston, when I meet foreigners, is see if they intend to travel west, in which case I tell them about the Northwest Ordinance and that all of IL, IN, MI, OH, and WI are one Cartesian grid of roads spaced one mile apart, and that they should notice it as they fly over.

    Blows their minds.
    posted by ocschwar at 7:01 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


    Texas is bigger than France. El Paso, Texas is closer to Los Angeles, California than it is to Houston.

    For another reference, someone mentioned Midland-Odessa upthread. These are two towns close enough to one another by Texas standards to be considered one small-to-midsized town.

    And the distance between them is comparable to the width of the state of Rhode Island.
    posted by Navelgazer at 7:03 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Buses devoted only to making two trips a day and only carrying children? In most of the world children ride public buses along with their parents.

    I'm not saying this is normal all over the world, I'm saying that we Americans have our own "Just Like In The Movies" moments, too.

    The schoolbus tradition came about -- not too dissimilarly from the mailbox tradition -- to serve areas that were much more rural than most of Europe. At first, the notion was that the parents were working at home, on the family farm, and thus wouldn't necessarily be making a trip anywhere near the school. There was also a strong possibility that the family wouldn't have a vehicle, or at least not one that could be spared from farm chores solely to schlep a child several miles to the local school (and if your vehicle was a horse or a boat, several miles might be a day's journey).

    The schoolbus concept was developed to enable more kids to be educated, not because Americans are lazy or insane or whatever. If half the parents in the area are keeping their kids home with the excuse that it's impossible to get them to the school, starting up a bus service is a hell of a lot better than just allowing rural people and the poor to remain uneducated.
    posted by Sara C. at 7:03 PM on June 20, 2012 [25 favorites]


    In most of the world children ride public buses along with their parents.

    Yes, in most parts of the world there are public buses, and schools aren't located a thirty or forty drive away in the opposite direction of commutes. Many American cities do utilize the public systems as a part of their busing plans.
    posted by jetlagaddict at 7:05 PM on June 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


    I had some German acquaintances visit my partner and I when we were living in Salt Lake City, and the thing they seemed most shocked about was the churches everywhere--not just the number, but the variety. And that was in Salt Lake CIty--they didn't quite believe us when we told them that was nothing compared to where we grew up in North Carolina.
    posted by rhiannonstone at 7:05 PM on June 20, 2012


    I'd also never seen the AMAZING PNEUMATIC TUBE SYSTEM at my partner's hometown drive-through bank before and yeah IT IS STILL SO COOL. TUBES. MONEY TUBES.

    I've seen these all my life at the bank and they are still THE COOLEST THING OH MY GOD TUBES! I use the drive-in to conduct all possible business just to get the Star Trekkish Tube WHOOSH. In my dream home I will install them as dumbwaiters.

    I have also always wondered what would happen to hamsters traveling by tube, but never hated hamsters enough to risk it. Apparently some idealistic 19th century(?) chap wanted to construct a pneumatic tube subway system, which I am SO SAD failed.
    posted by nicebookrack at 7:06 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]



    The schoolbus tradition came about -- not too dissimilarly from the mailbox tradition -- to serve areas that were much more rural than most of Europe.


    I didn't say it was bad, Sara C. Just that to foreigners, the concept is bizarre, up there with radio schooling in the Australian Outback. And apropos, single family farms sized by the square mile is also a mind blowing concept.

    And the way it's implemented in the suburbs, it's bizarre and bad. Make the kids ride municipal buses, and it will help civilize them. Make them ride suburban school buses, and it will turn them into vile little savages.
    posted by ocschwar at 7:07 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Per Google Maps, El Paso to Los Angeles is 802 miles, whereas El Paso to Houston is 747 miles. Still, though.

    The numerically correct version of this fact (derived from the wikipedia article and addition) is that it's 799 miles from Los Angeles to the Texas/New Mexico border on I-10 and 881 miles in Texas. Basically, there's some Texas east of Houston.

    And it's 780 miles from the Texas/Louisiana border to Jacksonville, the eastern end of I-10. So there's more I-10 in Texas than either east of Texas or west of Texas.

    (By the way, if you're ever driving through I-10 eastbound in Van Horn, Texas, don't think "fuck, I'm not hungry yet". Get some food. You will be really damn hungry by Fort Stockton, the next sizeable town and 120 miles later, if you don't. So hungry that you'll forget you have food in the car. Don't ask how I know this.)
    posted by madcaptenor at 7:08 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    What's wrong with passing on the right?

    Dude, I am German and used to the German Autobahn. But nothing scared me more here than people overtaking me on the right. If there is one thing you can rely on the Autobahn: You won't be overtaken on the right except by really dangerous drivers.

    Overtaking on the right (undertaking) is strictly forbidden, except when stuck in traffic jams
    (German Autobahn)

    One other thing I realized: Hand operated wheel doors are operated much faster in the US than in Germany. The first two times I thought the guy behind me is looking for trouble or is playing a prank on me. A little bit like Subway escalators in Eastern Europe. It is amazing how much faster they run compared to western Europe.

    And one last thing for Americans: Great that you discovered Hefeweizen (Yeast Bear). But please, no lemon with it. I don't know where you got the idea from.
    posted by yoyo_nyc at 7:08 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Re jetlagaddict, keep in mind, too, that in densely populated urban areas, the yellow schoolbus is virtually unheard of.

    In New York, I only see them picking up disabled children who likely go to special schools (or different public schools that might not be in easy walking distance -- don't know exactly how the city handles special ed and access for physically disabled students), or perhaps children who are physically unable to walk even to the nearest public school. It's literally only kids in full-on motorized wheelchairs or with very obvious developmental disabilities. Or both.

    Also, Hasidic neighborhoods have their own dedicated school buses. I'm not sure if it's because those neighborhoods tend to be located far from public transit, or if the kids in Crown Heights and Williamsburg get bused over to schools in Borough Park and vice versa. Or maybe the Hasidic school buses are commissioned by individual parochial schools, which must collect children from a wider radius than public schools? I would actually really like to know how the Hasidic School Bus situation works, having spent half my New York City life trying to avoid getting in accidents with them.
    posted by Sara C. at 7:11 PM on June 20, 2012


    And one last thing for Americans: Great that you discovered Hefeweizen (Yeast Bear). But please, no lemon with it. I don't know where you got the idea from.


    That single individual American who decided to bring Hefeweizen to the US is responsible for the lemon.

    Prohibition annihilated beer brewing in the US, and when it ended, Plzen style lager was the only style of beer that started up. Until the late 80's, it was the only style of beer available in teh US.
    posted by ocschwar at 7:12 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    On the vastness of the country: first time I flew across, I had looked at the departure and arrival times and figured "Ok, ~3 hours, that's not too bad"). But when three hours came around and we were still chugging along and showed not signs of landing anytime soon, I had to ask the guy next to me what was up. Yeah, I'm pretty dense and hadn't figured in the time difference. It's a big country!
    posted by AwkwardPause at 7:15 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


    Re Hefeweizen - I thought it was supposed to be an orange wedge, not a lemon wedge. Either way, total agreement with ocschwar, it's part of the branding of a couple of specific Hefeweizen labels (Shock Top and Blue Moon, I think?). No idea where they got it, but it's pretty obviously not authentic, considering that there's not much citrus fruit in Germany.

    I have a hunch that it has something to do with Corona and lime and some focus group somewhere that claimed that Americans are willing to try "foreign" drinking traditions if there's a ritual involved.
    posted by Sara C. at 7:16 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


    Passing on the right is, in my experience, a state-to-state thing. It happens constantly here in DC because DC has the worst-designed traffic system in the civilized world and no one would even notice so small a transaction in the lord-of-the-flies chaos that is entailed in going from literally anywhere to anywhere. But I know it's illegal in an increasing number of states, like Oklahoma, which are making a bigger deal out of it.

    One other thing I realized: Hand operated wheel doors are operated much faster in the US than in Germany. The first two times I thought the guy behind me is looking for trouble or is playing a prank on me. A little bit like Subway escalators in Eastern Europe. It is amazing how much faster they run compared to western Europe.

    I've just read this over and over and have no clue what this is talking about. Wheel doors?

    Wait, do you mean revolving doors? I think I just got it.
    posted by Navelgazer at 7:16 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


    What's with all the blowback on school busses? Is the US really the only country with suburbs? Is it that odd that just in one little hamlet there's about 1,000 kids that need to get to and from specific places at specific times? Is it so mind-blowingly strange to have come up with a dedicated system to make sure they all get there in one piece?
    posted by bleep at 7:20 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Sara C.: some focus group somewhere that claimed that Americans are willing to try "foreign" drinking traditions if there's a ritual involved

    Oh, shit... I bet that's exactly what it is! That's probably why tequila and absinthe drinking traditions are so bastardized here, as well.
    posted by gilrain at 7:22 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Also, passing on the right, sometimes you have to do crazy things to make your exits.
    posted by bleep at 7:23 PM on June 20, 2012


    The level of complexity and effort devoted to household holiday light displays in certain New Jersey towns still delights and confunds my English SO.
    posted by The Whelk at 7:23 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    There are two lanes going in my direction. I am in the left lane because I am passing people in the right lane. What should I do when someone is driving 40mph in the left lane when the limit is 65 and they don't move over when I come up behind them? If the right lane is now clear, I move into it. Most of the time, they are in the left lane because they are making a left turn in sometime in the next 20 miles.
    posted by soelo at 7:25 PM on June 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


    The immediate and reflexive self-loathing.

    QFT.

    First day of class in an American Studies class in high school (n.b., in a pretty liberal area) and we are asked to list things that we think of when we think of America. Every. Single. Word. Was. Negative. I felt compelled to try to make the point that maybe, you know, America had some good points. It was weird, I found myself being the least cynical person in the room, and that doesn't happen.

    Conservatives aren't entirely wrong when they say liberals hate America. Certainly it was cool among my peers to be very negative about the country. Not just the government; not just George Bush. Patriotism was just Not Cool.

    I sort of have the attitude of an immigrant, though, because America is my family's adopted home, even though I grew up here and hold citizenship.
    posted by BungaDunga at 7:26 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


    re: red cups -- Was it on MeFi that I learned about the secret meaning of the lines on a Solo cup?
    posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 7:26 PM on June 20, 2012


    potsmokinghippieoverlord: the secret meaning of the lines on a Solo cup

    Note the update to that:

    "The lines on our Party Cups are designed for functional performance and are not measurement lines. If the lines do coincide with certain measurements, it is purely coincidental."

    Hehe, "functional performance". I suppose that means "grip".
    posted by gilrain at 7:28 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Conservatives aren't entirely wrong when they say liberals hate America. Certainly it was cool among my peers to be very negative about the country. Not just the government; not just George Bush. Patriotism was just Not Cool.

    I've said here before that cynicism is where idealism meets frustration. I don't believe liberals "hate" America, but rather have a view of what it could and should be and are frustrated by the fact that it isn't there in reality.
    posted by Navelgazer at 7:29 PM on June 20, 2012 [29 favorites]


    My guess is that in Western Europe -- especially small countries with huge megacities like for example Britain -- so much of the country is densely developed that it's not really a thing. Either you live in walking distance to the local school, or there's a public transit system that lots of people rely on for their daily commute.

    I also wonder if it doesn't have to do with the way educational systems developed, but I don't know enough about how rural Europe's schools came into being.

    I know that, in the 19th and much of the 20th century in America, a school might not directly serve one town, in a logical walkable sort of way. There might be one school that served everyone within a 10 or 20 mile radius, and it might not be in "town" at all but on the property of whoever had the resources to support something like that. So even if there was public transit from the countryside into the village or whatnot, that might be totally irrelevant to where the school was located.
    posted by Sara C. at 7:29 PM on June 20, 2012


    gilrain: Sure, sure... that's what they CLAIM.

    Never believe THE MAN.
    posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 7:31 PM on June 20, 2012


    There are two lanes going in my direction. I am in the left lane because I am passing people in the right lane. What should I do when someone is driving 40mph in the left lane when the limit is 65 and they don't move over when I come up behind them?

    Use the big pedal in the middle. Then maybe pull on the lever to the left of your steering wheel a couple of times.

    Most of the time, they are in the left lane because they are making a left turn in sometime in the next 20 miles.

    Ah, you're not on the freeway? That changes things a little, but only a little.
    posted by The World Famous at 7:31 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]



    What's with all the blowback on school busses? Is the US really the only country with suburbs? Is it that odd that just in one little hamlet there's about 1,000 kids that need to get to and from specific places at specific times? Is it so mind-blowingly strange to have come up with a dedicated system to make sure they all get there in one piece?


    It's part and parcel with putting that school in a big lot on the edge of town that is nowhere near anything else, and building the school to look like prisons, and cocooning the kids there until they're 18, at which point they are kicked out into the world for which the school has done little to prepare them.

    There are places (including past and future incarnations of American towns) where the schools are in the civic center along with lots of work places, and teh kids commute along with adults. I love the corner of the US I immigrated to and settled in: the left bank of the Charles River in Massachusetts. But American suburbia is unreal.
    posted by ocschwar at 7:33 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I'm an genuine all smiles balls to wall let's all hold hands and sing this land is your land blue sky patriots. I love my country deeply, and that is why it makes me so angry when I don't think it's living up to and fulfilling the promises and potentials it has.

    I think the great republic is strong enough to withstand a few student being critical, no?
    posted by The Whelk at 7:33 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


    And I guess the kids and the adults start at the same time? And the adults were all lucky enough to find jobs in the town they live in, or live in the town they work in? Cool.
    posted by bleep at 7:35 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]



    I've said here before that cynicism is where idealism meets frustration. I don't believe liberals "hate" America, but rather have a view of what it could and should be and are frustrated by the fact that it isn't there in reality.


    American leftists are just as parochial in their outlook as other Americans. Sometimes even more so. (A redneck who joins the army will see more of the world than an upper class liberal kid who goes and enrolls in Oberlin, after all).

    Their parochialism makes them reluctant to grasp that social dysfunction can be just as bad in other countries as it is in the US, sometimes, often, far more so.
    posted by ocschwar at 7:36 PM on June 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


    I think the deal with school buses is that they're all yellow and many have a fairly antiquated looking design. I don't have any idea if this is actually true and if I visited the US and discovered that it was true I wouldn't be amazed because that's what US school buses look like according to The Simpsons et al.

    Meanwhile in Aus yes we have school buses too. But they're really just the standard modern bus design, and in the livery of whatever company provides the (government paid for) service.
    posted by wilful at 7:38 PM on June 20, 2012


    Boston and the surrounding towns -- probably not too unlike New York and its surrounding towns, and other heavily developed parts of the Northeast -- developed along European lines and thus are a lot more familiar to the European way of doing things.

    In terms of everything you wrote about suburbia and the things you dislike about the American educational system, conflated with school buses, I think you're just radically misunderstanding almost everything about the American experience. Which isn't to say I like the things you listed off or think they are unqualified good, but you're conflating radically different cultural forces and assuming a lot of very negative things about stuff that evolved as just a value neutral answer to the question of how to educate a mostly rural and poor populace.

    I mean, keep in mind that the cultural forces that evolved into the modern Yellow School Bus are a hell of a lot more liberal and forward-thinking than the European equivalent, which was that if someone was too poor to be able to arrange transportation to the village school, well, I guess you don't really need to know how to read, right?
    posted by Sara C. at 7:43 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


    I've never had them lose or damage my mail

    I once got a damaged piece of mail. It was delivered in a carefully sealed plastic bag with an apologetic letter about how the machinery tore it and they had tried to gather all the contents and were sincerely sorry. It was kind of touching really.

    It's certainly caught me off guard, and I'm from Philadelphia,

    Oh, I had a similar experience my first time in SF. People had told me about the large homeless population, and I was all "ppfffft, I grew up with New York City in the 1980s, don't you worry about me," and I was flabbergasted at the numbers.

    Passing on the right: a huge, huge bugbear with me; I've done a lot of long-distance driving in my time, and this is one that really is an awful habit. It's really dangerous, and it seems that most people are totally unaware of that. Someone passing you on the right dwells in your blind spot a very long time, and if you obey the rules of the road, you sure aren't expecting anyone to be there trying to pass you. You might even try to make a quick lange change only to find them creeping up there with no warning. IT's a very bad idea. It's actually controlled in most states, if not on all roads at all times, and certainly is in Masachusetts. The Massachusetts driver's manual from the RMV reads: "Stay to the right and only use the left lane for passing. On an expressway with three or more lanes in your direction, use the far right lane for slower driving, the middle lane for faster driving, and the far left lane for passing."

    And no, you might not hear of anyone ever being pulled over for it; but if you're pulled over for a DUI or other reckless driving or speeding or in an accident in which it was a factor, it is often added to the charges.

    Another little known fact: if you're at an intersection on a one-lane road and the person in front of you is waiting to make a left turn, and you pull around them to go straightwhich essentially means you have passed on the right, you have made a violation. And I actually do know someone who was cited for that and only that, in New Jersey, where it's common as dirt. IT's still not legal.

    What should I do when someone is driving 40mph in the left lane when the limit is 65 and they don't move over when I come up behind them?

    So not everyone knows that there are also keep right laws, which is what is messing you up when you try to pass on the left. In the ideal world, the left lane is always free for passing, and if it's always free for passing, you never have to worry about getting stuck behind a slower driver. The slower driver should always move right. If they don't, you drive behind them for a while. You might want to flash your lights. You might want to tap your horn. Give them some time. Like you, they probably don't know the rules of the road. When this happens to me, I take a couple minutes and give them every chance and every signal that I am asking them to get over. Only if they continue to be totally oblivious for a few minutes straight will I grit my teeth and pass right, and hope they don't come sliding into me while I get by them.

    People really don't know the driving laws of their own state. Especially in MA - it's unholy. I don't know quite why - testing is bad? It was too long ago? They don't care? But I know that most people really don't know what they're supposed to be doing out there, and have basically no sense of the rules of the road or the right of way. Thank God there are at least a few drivers out there who are alert enough to prevent the many accidents that could be happening daily and aren't.
    posted by Miko at 7:45 PM on June 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


    "The lines on our Party Cups are designed for functional performance and are not measurement lines. If the lines do coincide with certain measurements, it is purely coincidental."

    One time at a housewarming party a stranger and I managed to make chocolate chip cookies using no tools but a spoon and the lines on a red Dixie Party Cup. God bless the Tollhouse Chocolate Chip cookies recipe and the Solo Corporation, that's all I have to say.
    posted by jetlagaddict at 7:46 PM on June 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


    Passing on the right is so normal that everyone should be looking in their right rear-view-mirror and checking blind spots anyway. Assuming that passing happens on the left is not even remotely realistic, at least in Los Angeles. It's completely random which lanes are faster (often the second-to-the-left is moving much faster than the left, because everyone assumes left=faster and moves over.... or something, never figured this out but often true).
    posted by wildcrdj at 7:48 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]



    I mean, keep in mind that the cultural forces that evolved into the modern Yellow School Bus are a hell of a lot more liberal and forward-thinking than the European equivalent, which was that if someone was too poor to be able to arrange transportation to the village school, well, I guess you don't really need to know how to read, right?


    You need to grasp that in Europe, even farmers live in the village. (And commute to their fields. Really!)
    If your kids aren't disabled, they can walk to school.

    In America, the government sold land to settlers by the square mile, in order to stake a claim on the whole continent as quickly as possible before anyone else got the idea to try it. Which is why family farms are these lonely outposts.

    Hence the need for the school bus.

    Hence the school bus.

    Hence the modern day suburban incarnation of the school bus.

    But I'll admit I;ve put way too much bombast into my point here and leave they game while I'm behind. (Overopinionated Mefite? Moi. Guilty as charged.)
    posted by ocschwar at 7:55 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    everyone should be looking in their right rear-view-mirror and checking blind spots anyway.

    Of course they should. However, you can't actuall check a spot - that's why it's a "blind spot." There are times other vehicles are obscured, even if you turn your head. The thing is that while we should all be doing everything we can to drive defensively, following this simple system would reduce accidents. It is not so much to ask, and if things go wrong it is not the fault of the person following the rules of the road.

    often the second-to-the-left is moving much faster than the left, because everyone assumes left=faster and moves over

    Yeah, and that's because no one's applying the system of passing only on the left. If everyone does it, it works. And there are entire regions of the country where just about everyone does it. In fact, the surest way to slow a lane of traffic down is to have drivers popping in and out of lanes attempting to find the fastest one. They gas it, move forward, and when they have to slow down due to cars in front of them, they tap their brakes. This flashes their brakelights, and all the drivers behind them instinctively tap their own brakes in preparation to stop, which starts the lane dragging. Then people try to dip out of the lane that's dragging to a faster lane, and the cycle repeats.

    This is why we'll all be better off with smart cars.

    There are some situations of city congestion where the lanes are pretty impossible to manage, due to volume, frequency of exits, etc. But on freeways where everyone is at the speed limit and moving, there's no reason this should not work.
    posted by Miko at 7:58 PM on June 20, 2012


    Oh, also, if you check your rear quarter with a head turn too often, you increase your chance of running into someone or something in front of you. It's best not to do this too frequently, but alternate it every few minutes and always before a lane change with your regular mirror checks.
    posted by Miko at 7:59 PM on June 20, 2012


    "that's what US school buses look like according to The Simpsons et al."

    I swear I thought this anecdote was from the Simpsons but apparently it's from King of the Hill, regarding having the animation cells colored in Korea:
    "In Korea they have the craft down," Wolf says. "But part of the problem is being able to communicate to them why this is funny. They don't completely understand American culture -- what a Cheerio is, or who is Dick Clark?"

    Usually this matters not a bit. But once an episode of "King" came back from Korea with blue school buses -- because Korean school buses are blue. No one in Los Angeles had thought to mention yellow.
    (Regarding school buses and impracticality and the evils of suburbia, suburban school busing isn't the big expense in my state. It's the tiny rural towns where the town is super-walkable and the school is smack dab in the middle of town, but the school is serving a FIFTY MILE RADIUS; and it's the special ed busing, which is an entitlement, and special ed students constitute ~1/6 of students.)

    I'm always quite pleased when not-Americans visit Chicago and say, "Lake Michigan is so big! You can't see the other side! I mean, I knew it was big, I've seen the map and the satellite photos, but it's just a lake and you can't see the other side!"

    (The first time I visited London I was SO EXCITED about the rooftops and chimneys. Just like in books! Just like in Mary Poppins!)

    All y'all might like this quote regarding nostalgia for America as gleaned from television:
    My friend Mark will serve as a useful illustration of how much has changed since the days of Wilde and Shaw. Some years ago Mark became a devotee of the television show Dawson’s Creek, a coming-of-age drama set in rural Massachusetts. Mark told me that he liked the show because it reminded him of his childhood growing up in America. This might not sound all that strange until you consider that Mark did not grow up in America. Like me, Mark grew up in a small village in the southeast of England. He had not even set foot in the United States until he was well into his 20s. But, like the rest of us, he grew up watching American television, and now he finds that watching shows like Dawson’s Creek makes him nostalgic for the American childhood that he sometimes forgets he never had.
    posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:59 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Want to scare Americans?
    posted by yoyo_nyc at 8:00 PM on June 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


    Has she commented on the other Southern thing* where, when you get up to leave, that doesn't actually mean you're leaving, it just means the conversation is going to move to the front door, then onto the porch, and then perhaps out to the car, before the leaving person actually leaves?

    I've always heard this called, "The Minnesota Goodbye."

    RE: Passing on the right. A lot of it is that about the only thing that most law enforcement (usually the state highway patrol) can really enforce on the interstate highway system is the speed limit. The "rules of the road" aren't really enforced so they're more like "the generally forgotten guidelines of the road."

    In Germany (on which I did some research a few years ago for a paper) if someone was driving slower than traffic in the left most lane and someone passes them on the right, both drivers are supposed to get pulled over and ticketed. There is something about the lack of hard, quantitative evidence that prevents stuff like that in the U.S.

    I don't like when it happens but I don't think it's all that dangerous. I was always taught to check my blind spots before I change lanes so I do it compulsively. If I'm driving on the interstate late at night and I know there aren't' cars within a mile in any direction, I still get a little thrill if I can force myself to change lanes without looking over my shoulder first.
    posted by VTX at 8:00 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    The American Plague of Overtaking on the Right:
    American road safety has been increasing for many years, but statistics show that the downward trend of traffic fatalities has been slowing...The major cause of the recent slowdown can be attributed to America’s use of “regulations over enforcement”. In other words, the United States has been focusing on the safety of the vehicles rather than the safety of driving itself.

    The United States seems to have an inability, or unwillingness, to implement and enforce traffic safety laws other than speed limits. It has become an epidemic where highway patrols are seen by many as revenue collectors from speeding tickets than actual traffic safety enforcers. Most importantly, a law that many developed countries have enforced just as rigorously as speed limits, if not more, is rarely followed and even nonexistent in most of the United States: Keep right except to pass.

    ....Lane-changing is one of the most dangerous maneuvers in driving. In fact, it is so dangerous that more than 250,000 crashes occur every year in the U.S. due to lane-changing errors, which amounts to one crash every two minutes.
    And yet I think you see the American hubris popping up even in this thread. "Oh, nobody does it. Oh, it's not really that dangerous. Oh, it's dangerous, but I'M very safe in the way I do it so I'll never have a problem."
    posted by Miko at 8:04 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I'll also add (since this thread is apparently what I'm doing tonight) another thing I mentioned in that previous AskMe thread, that I thought was awesome once I realized it.

    To American (and probably other non-British) audiences, the TARDIS is about the most British-looking thing one can imagine, up there with the Queen herself. Just absolutely, bright-primary-colored iconicism at its purest. But it's just a police box, and the joke of it is that in the UK these things are (or at least were) the utmost of a mundane object, a shape chosen precisely to not be noticed.

    So when Series 6 of NuWho came out last year, and it started with the gang meeting up in America (something they were hyping quite a bit) I had a bit of a laugh at the cliche that they met up in Monument Valley - a place where few Americans have ever been, almost nobody lives, and one which most Americans probably wouldn't even be able to name. But thanks to John Ford, it's one of two or three places that foreigners immediately recognize as the U.S. (aside from NYC and possibly LA or San Francisco.) So fine, I thought. It's like how Hollywood movies set in Australia are almost always centered in the Outback. Fine.

    But I didn't give a second thought to the idea that Amy and Rory arrived in a school bus, until later. School buses are a fact of life that American children literally grow up with, after all. But now I know that, because of this fact, the bright-yellow unique-yet-ubiquitous school bus is to the U.S. what the bright blue police box is to the U.K.

    Amy and Rory arrived in an American TARDIS. And I love that.
    posted by Navelgazer at 8:08 PM on June 20, 2012 [31 favorites]


    yoyo_nyc, I've seen one of those in a factory here in Seattle. Definitely not common, though.

    Use the big pedal in the middle. Then maybe pull on the lever to the left of your steering wheel a couple of times.

    Ahh, I see, it's a little calming ritual, something you can do to keep from getting bored while you pootle along at a snail's pace for no particular reason... yes? Because one surely wouldn't expect a driver so selfish and/or oblivious as to be cruising along below the reasonable traffic speed to notice your blinker and spontaneously decide to get out of your way.

    You might even try to make a quick lange change only to find them creeping up there with no warning. IT's a very bad idea.

    It's definitely a very bad idea to try to make a quick lane change without knowing for sure there's no other car in the lane next to you, no matter which direction you're going.
    posted by Mars Saxman at 8:09 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    . However, you can't actuall check a spot - that's why it's a "blind spot."

    If your car has blind spots, you need to adjust your mirrors. Hint: they are not intended to show you the entire length of the adjacent lanes.
    posted by Etrigan at 8:12 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    You can know for sure no car is there now. You can't know for sure that someone from the far-right lane is not about to pop left and pass you in the middle lane, or someone from behind you is not suddenly cruising up to pass you. They should simply not be doing it. Of course you should check, but that should be the precautionary failsafe - not your protection against some self-centered leadfoot.

    Because one surely wouldn't expect a driver so selfish and/or oblivious as to be cruising along below the reasonable traffic speed to notice your blinker and spontaneously decide to get out of your way.

    I do this, and I'd say 90% of the time they do, if you can take a deep breath and be patient. People respond to light flashes and to horn taps - they're startling. Chances are you're not so important that you need to be gaining back those twenty seconds.
    posted by Miko at 8:13 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I think the deal with school buses is that they're all yellow and many have a fairly antiquated looking design.

    You can't update the design because then they wouldn't look like school buses. Seriously, since all traffic has to stop in both directions of the road when a school bus stops to pick up kids, it's important that a school bus looks exactly like you expect a school bus to look.
    posted by octothorpe at 8:15 PM on June 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


    For an intra-USA example, I was ...unreasonably excited to see palm trees in LA. look! There they are! Just like on TV! They look fake! But are real! I think! How absurd!
    posted by The Whelk at 8:15 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Brew Thru
    posted by kirkaracha at 8:16 PM on June 20, 2012


    Suburban busing is a comparatively recent development, ocschwar. Which is what I mean when I say you're conflating a lot of things that you clearly don't entirely understand.

    Until the 1970's (or maybe the 80's?) the suburban ideal was that primary schools would be in walking distance to one's home. All the neighborhoods in my small Southern hometown built in the immediate post-war years were designed this way. (Prior to the war and the Depression, it was rural one-room schoolhouses that often required buses to get far-flung farm kids to the school.) In most of them, the elementary school is the focal point of the development, with other family-oriented services located within walking distance.

    Then the civil rights movement happened, and schools had to be desegregated. One solution to this problem -- since elementary schools were tied to neighborhoods, which were often segregated themselves -- was what was called "busing", i.e. putting suburban/townie kids on a school bus and depositing them in a different school district.

    The neighborhood I grew up in was developed in the 70's and 80's, after this introduction of the school bus to settled town life. Our school was a smidge too far to walk to, for reasons I don't entirely understand. (maybe economic factors, maybe desegregation factors, maybe it was just the current trend in property development, who knows?) So there was a school bus. The bus stopped at four or five designated bus stops throughout the neighborhood and then made the short drive up the busy/non-walkable country road to our school. It was no "lazier" than the earlier model, really, since you still had to walk to the bus stop.

    It wasn't until I was in high school in the mid 90's that school buses got converted into this weird form of non-public public transit that came and picked you up outside your house and drove you directly to school like some kind of oversized SUV designed to prevent the poow widdwe baybeez from having any contact with the outside world lest they be kidnapped by child molesters.
    posted by Sara C. at 8:16 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    From some ways up-thread:

    OolooKitty: The Swedish girl found Christmas lights on houses to be hysterically funny. [...] I still don't know what's so funny about Christmas lights.

    Sometimes when the Yuletide power waste is in high gear I chuckle a little to myself in the car as I drive by. There are a couple of houses here there the people really go overboard, where every available surface on their lawn (ground, trees, branches, outbuilds and of course the house itself) sports an iregular yet dense speckling of luminous bulbs, often with an electric Nativity scene in a position of honor.

    I like to call it our yearly Jesus game show.
    posted by JHarris at 8:18 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


    The drive-thru beer store is pretty common in rural PA. The one in the video is in Bethlehem but I've patronized in central and western PA. To be fair, you're only allowed to buy full cases in beer stores here, not six packs and cases are heavy.
    posted by octothorpe at 8:22 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    "It wasn't until I was in high school in the mid 90's that school buses got converted into this weird form of non-public public transit that came and picked you up outside your house and drove you directly to school like some kind of oversized SUV designed to prevent the poow widdwe baybeez from having any contact with the outside world lest they be kidnapped by child molesters."

    You may be interested to know that my district is reverting from this model to the older "a few stops in the neighborhood" model, because it saves us so. much. money in gas, tire wear-and-tear, oil, and in driver time and student time spent on the buses. We were afraid there was going to be massive community backlash when we said, "Look, Susie can't be picked up at her driveway anymore, she's got to walk 3 blocks," but in fact 90% of the community reaction was extremely positive to making kids walk a little (although largely because everyone was like, "they should walk! they're all fat!")

    Kindergarten and pre-K students entitled to busing have to be picked up at their house, but after first grade they can be made to walk to a bus stop; our limit is a 5-block walk, which is a bit over half a mile. 80% of the walks are less than 3 blocks. Special ed students also have to be picked up at their actual house, but it's often fairly easy to arrange stops around kindergarteners and special ed students, so everyone who lives within 2 blocks of that kindergartener just walk to his house.
    posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:26 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


    There's an issue of illusory superiority - we're all better than average drivers, or so we think. I haven't been able to find the source yet, but I've found multiple mentions of a study:
    A recent European study concluded that 80% of drivers involved in motor vehicle accidents believed that the other party could have done something to prevent the accident. A miniscule 5% admitted that they were the only one at fault. Surveys consistently reveal that the majority consider themselves more skillful and safer than the average driver.
    So here's what it comes down to. Yes, it's more convenient if you let yourself pass on the right. Yes, you probably won't get charged with anything unless you're breaking another law as well, or involved in an accident. But is it defensive driving? No, never. And one of the strongest protective factors you can have as a driver, and offer everyone else on the road, is practicing the skills of defensive driving. Which is enough for me - well, that and the courtesy to give someone the time to pull right when I need to pass.
    posted by Miko at 8:27 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    It wasn't until I was in high school in the mid 90's that school buses got converted into this weird form of non-public public transit that came and picked you up outside your house and drove you directly to school like some kind of oversized SUV designed to prevent the poow widdwe baybeez from having any contact with the outside world lest they be kidnapped by child molesters.

    Yeah, this is a fairly recent development and does seem so overprotective and wasteful. I walked to elementary and middle schools, but when it came time for high school, I was not eligible to use the bus because I only lived one mile from school. The bus was designed to pick up students spread across four towns, eight miles side to side, not for kids nearby the school. So we walked or rode bikes. Now, even kids living a quarter mile from the school hop the bus. That points up another change in Sara C's historiography of school buses: school consolidation. Towns used to have their own high schools, which were more often walkable and near the downtowns, so only rural kids needed extra transport. But in the 70s, and 80s there was a wave of consolidation as the baby boom passed through the schools and left much smaller classes behind, and as towns sought to cut budgets and get more efficient by pooling resources. For me, that meant my old town high school became the middle school, the neighborhood elementaries were all closed and a new consolidated elementary was built, only one for the whole town; and the high school consolidated with the three other neighboring towns.
    posted by Miko at 8:32 PM on June 20, 2012


    That This American Life tells a really heartbreaking story of an immigrant seeing a homeless woman and calling 911, presuming she needs help. "Is she homeless?" the 911 operator asks. He asks her. Then he goes back to the phone. "Yes, she's homeless."

    I want to know where they come from that everyone is doing well and no one's homeless. And then, when I find that out, I want to ask them why they bothered coming here.

    American leftists are just as parochial in their outlook as other Americans. Sometimes even more so. (A redneck who joins the army will see more of the world than an upper class liberal kid who goes and enrolls in Oberlin, after all).

    You know, hilariously, this is what /I/ wouldn't have believed if you'd told me this before I came back to America after some years away. I thought that was all made up by Fox News. Then I came back and started talking to people. And met some college professors who openly admitted that they would never write a recommendation for a conservative, no matter how well they did in the class. And was like, "Holy shit, they're...actually right? I....don't know what to do with myself."
    posted by corb at 8:33 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


    Distance is one thing that never fails to surprise newcomers to America. A friend of mine was going to entertain friends from Spain for a week. They had a huge itinerary planned for the western US (CA, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Vegas - I know, it's hilarious). They were utterly shocked when it took them a day to get from Minneapolis to the Black Hills.

    A few years ago, a former exchange student from Sweden came back to visit my wife and I. He brought his wife and kids. We were driving to a school reunion in ND, up near the Canadian and Montana borders. It took almost 8 hours to get from the Twin Cities to Bismarck. Upon exiting the van he shook his head and said, "FUCK. You forget how fucking BIG America is."
    posted by Ber at 8:45 PM on June 20, 2012


    In America, they say white people kiss their dogs, they hold it. And it's like, that is crazy. How can anybody kiss a dog?

    To be fair, I love dogs, and still don't understand people who let dogs lick their faces. I mean, that dog licks its butt. Which means your face is now host to a nonzero amount of dog butt. Gross.
    posted by Afroblanco at 9:03 PM on June 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


    "FUCK. You forget how fucking BIG America is."

    Indeed. Listen, people. If you're not from the U.S. you might not get this.

    The U.S. is fucking massive. Russia is bigger. Canada is bigger. That's it. China is essentially the same size.

    The difference is that with Russia, China and Canada, the parts a foreigner would want to visit are all generally packed near one border. In the U.S. they are spread throughout and up and down the full length of two coasts. If you are visiting for a limited period of time, pick a state or two and soak it in, don't just try to see everything. You won't be able to do so, and you won't enjoy it.
    posted by Navelgazer at 9:12 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


    That racial profiling existed.

    Honestly, before coming to the US, I thought it was something exagerrated for the sake of plot in movies. Then after a few (read as "numerous") experiences at some airports, restaurants, and in some small towns, I had to concede to the fact that this was a reality.

    I also didn't believe that, in a country built by immigrants, there were places where people of certain colour couldn't (or shouldn't) go - I didn't think that in a country as developed as the US, there were "black areas" that white people avoided and "white places" that black people avoided - I just went everywhere and would be like "HI!"...

    ..driving through some sundown towns in the midwest on my route and pumping gas opposite the K.K.Korale in rural Ohio really opened my eyes...
    posted by tbonicus at 9:14 PM on June 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


    The red solo cups are for kegger parties. Broke college kids want to have a party but not break the bank? Get your kegs and your cups and a jar. Everyone who wants to drink drops a buck in the jar and gets a red cup. That one dude who always wants to be the keg operator knows if you have a red cup, you've ponied up and aren't trying to freeload.

    Sometimes you get cheap jokers who try to bring their own cups. That's when you get clever and buy blue cups instead.

    At least that's how it was done when I was in college.
    posted by lovecrafty at 9:17 PM on June 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


    At least I think it is just a Southern thing because some of my Yankee friends have commented on it being a Southern thing.

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. Yes, this is clearly a Minnesota Goodbye.
    posted by stoneandstar at 9:19 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Huh. It was the lack of drive through bottle shops that surprised me - for a country with drive through ATMs, surely a bottle shop makes sense? In most towns in Australia you're never more than a few minutes drive from a bottle-o where you can drive up and ask for whatever you like.
    posted by twirlypen at 9:19 PM on June 20, 2012


    My penpal asked me if it was true that cheerleaders in high school wore their uniforms to school. I scoffed that of course that wasn't true, that was just a TV thing - I grew up in southern California and reckoned if they didn't do it there, where all the TV and movies are filmed, they didn't do it anywhere. I was telling my husband about it later and wondering if it was something people used to do in the old days and he was like, "Um, the cheerleaders in my high school wore their uniforms all the time."
    posted by town of cats at 9:19 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Cars passing me on the right drives me crazy here in California, but the one that really scares the shit out of me is the tailgating.
    Seriously, i've rarely seen people keeping anything remotely approaching a safe distance with the car in front, even when there aren't that many cars on the highway.
    I want to think that most people don't actually know about this, that is, until someone steps on their brakes and they learn really how much it takes for your body to react. Or the guy in front didn't really slam on the brakes that much, but they were fucking around with the phone/soda/snickers bar/radio.
    Every day on the way to work i see people on the side exchanging insurance information...

    "We had no idea how vast America is!!"
    But Americans are the 'ignorant of geography' ones...


    The mercator projection might have something to do with estimating how big some areas really are.
    posted by palbo at 9:20 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Moreover, on the tailgating issue, every time some moron does it to me i think of this scene. I usually just slow down instead and leave even more room in front of me, i guess that probably serves to annoys them, heh.
    posted by palbo at 9:24 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    > What should I do when someone is driving 40mph in the left lane when the limit is 65 and they don't move over when I come up behind them?

    Let someone else tailgate and honk until slow-left moves over. There's always someone crazy and impatient enough to do your dirty work for you.
    posted by morganw at 9:29 PM on June 20, 2012


    That racial profiling existed.

    Oh holy god DC yes. What's funny is that DC is one of the most racially diverse cities in the nation, and "on the ground" is super friendly and (somewhat) integrated on that, in that there's a general degree of friendliness and neighborliness between the races that I haven't seen in other places in the U.S., but institutionally it is a travesty. A white person cannot get arrested in this town. A black person can get arrested for breathing the wrong direction.

    Sort of similar to New Orleans in that way, really, though N.O. at least has jack-ass college kids getting arrested in novel ways so they can fudge the numbers a bit there.

    My penpal asked me if it was true that cheerleaders in high school wore their uniforms to school.

    My high school girlfriend (in Oklahoma) was a cheerleader, and it was understood that they wore their uniforms to school on Fridays in the fall (a.k.a. Game Days.) They also had a thing called a "cheerleader blanket," and I don't remember whether this was custom or not, but on Fridays I generally wore this around like a cape or something, as a Cheerleader Boyfriend. ALl part of the pep-rally mentality.

    That said, the cheerleader-social-strata thing is very regional. In the south and midwest it is definitely a thing. In the northeast and west, where high school football means a lot less, it isn't, by my understanding. From what I've heard second-hand, in a lot of places the cheerleaders in high school are seen as trashy wannabes wishing they lived somewhere where that label would give them status, so, you know, different strokes and all.

    But Americans are the 'ignorant of geography' ones...

    The thing that frightens me the most about ever hypothetically visiting Saudi Arabia (aside from not being able to get any alcohol) is that it is the size of Texas. It took me fifteen years of childhood to get used to the idea of a place that big and featureless. Please don't tell me there's somewhere the same size and just sand and not even a single river. That breaks my sanity.
    posted by Navelgazer at 9:31 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]



    Use the big pedal in the middle. Then maybe pull on the lever to the left of your steering wheel a couple of times.

    Wow, such condescension. I have already slowed down. Now you want me to flash my lights? That will just cause them to put their left blinker on to tell me they are turning left at the next intersection (no matter if it is 500 feet or two miles away).

    You might want to flash your lights. You might want to tap your horn. Give them some time. Like you, they probably don't know the rules of the road.
    Flashing my lights and beeping sounds pretty aggressive compared to calmly changing lanes. By the way, I know the keep right rule, or why the fuck did I explain the reason I was in the left lane and expect them to move over? I also know that it may be illegal to pass on the right but I still wonder what the solution is when drivers do not follow the keep right rule.
    posted by soelo at 9:32 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


    I think what people are misunderstanding is the difference between highway driving and local driving.
    posted by gjc at 9:36 PM on June 20, 2012


    It wasn't until I was in high school in the mid 90's that school buses got converted into this weird form of non-public public transit that came and picked you up outside your house and drove you directly to school

    Wait, what? Where does this happen? Here in Madison I walk my kid to the bus stop just like my parents did when I was little.
    posted by escabeche at 9:42 PM on June 20, 2012


    I am talking about a highway that is not a freeway (that has intersections with and without stoplights). It's not local driving, it is exurb to exurb driving. But the question stands, how long do you drive behind them until you pass on the right? I have slowed down and given them time and they still haven't moved. That apparently wasn't clear in my original explanation.

    Are they even wrong if they are turning left soon? It may just be poor highway design.
    posted by soelo at 9:46 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    gjc: I think you're right, though again, even highway driving in the DC metro area makes living by this rule basically impossible. Too many exits on the left, too many random construction projects, too much of a transient population with different rules of the road, and 90% of the town on the same work schedule (which can vary from day to day, of course, making predicting traffic patterns a futile practice.)

    But DC is the ninth circle of traffic hell and should not be used as an example for anywhere else. Near me, for instance, there is a confluence of three major thoroughfares, with the most convoluted and inefficient way possible of handling them, all because of a fucking Wendy's in the center of the intersection. We have affectionately nicknamed it "Dave Thomas Circle."

    (Cursing Pierre L'Enfant is a common pastime amongst my friends and neighbors here.)
    posted by Navelgazer at 9:47 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I've said here before that cynicism is where idealism meets frustration. I don't believe liberals "hate" America, but rather have a view of what it could and should be and are frustrated by the fact that it isn't there in reality.

    I think it's more a matter that America is geographically and culturally diverse enough that one is infinitely capable of finding a reality bubble that suits them and then never leaving or exposing themselves to outside stimuli. If you live in a big city and you like it there, it's hard to understand people in Texas who want to outlaw the teaching of evolution. You start to think of them as mentally disabled or just full-on evil.

    What I think a lot of people -- foreigners and natives alike -- misunderstand about America is that it's not a single nation. According to Wikipedia, a nation is "a community of people who share a common language, culture, ethnicity, descent, or history". America is actually many nations (11 if this book is correct), some of which just don't have a whole hell of a lot in common, and in fact have despised each other since before the country's founding. This could be a shock if you're from one of the many countries where nationality = country. It explains a lot of why this country works and why it's so broken.

    Also, in regards to the homeless problem in SF : the comment upthread about the proximity of our "skid row" to our touristy shopping mecca was dead-on. Everyone in SF has a story about how, when they first moved here, they were trying to walk somewhere and decided to cut through the Tenderloin or mid-Market, not knowing it was one of the words parts of SF. Coming from 21st-century NYC, I found it absolutely astounding that an area so geographically central and well-connected to transit would be so shockingly run down. Compare that to NYC, where much of your property value is derived from distance to the closest subway stop.

    But still, the homeless problem here is bad, as in BAD bad, the worst I've ever seen anywhere. And what makes it bad is how many of them are legitimately mentally disabled and unable to care for themselves. That grizzled old alkie that sits outside the bodega asking you for change? He at least has the presence of mind to ask for change. Lots of homeless in SF are literally barking mad, as in rambling down the block shouting obscenities and unintelligibly threatening passersby. And the thing is? NOBODY has given me a good answer as to why it's this bad. I've heard a litany of reasons : nice weather, tolerant authorities, welfare, civil rights legislation, what have you. None of them adequately explain it. If the problem isn't as bad in other places, WHAT ARE THEY DOING RIGHT IN THOSE PLACES, AND WHY AREN'T WE DOING IT?
    posted by Afroblanco at 9:47 PM on June 20, 2012 [25 favorites]


    Listen, people. If you're not from the U.S. you might not get this. The U.S. is fucking massive.

    Sometimes, when talking to friends who live in Europe (or the British Isles), I entertain myself by asking them to guess the European equivalent of driving across the U.S. Like, "Okay, starting in London, what city would you have to drive to in order to drive the same distance as driving from Manhattan to Los Angeles?" So they start out with like, London to Venice (no lie) and whatever and I keep saying "nope, further, further" and usually someone will say "London to Moscow" in a sort of "let's go over the top" tone of voice. I say "Close. London to Moscow--and back again."

    They generally think I'm lying, until I have them look up the mileage.
    posted by tzikeh at 9:49 PM on June 20, 2012 [18 favorites]


    I still don't get this problem with passing on the right. I have literally done this my entire life without giving a single thought to whether or not it's safe. Quite honestly, it's simply normal driving for me. Not rude driving, not aggressive driving, but totally 100% normal driving. I have spent my life completely unaware of any dangers or problems with passing on the right.

    And frankly, I still don't understand how my right blindspot is any more dangerous than my left one. Both blindspots require me to look over my shoulder before changing lanes. And with mirrors on both sides of my car, I have good situational awareness of things on both sides of me. Why would other drivers be any different?

    What I do appreciate is the system of having slower drivers stay in the right lanes while the left lane is reserved for passing. I like that system, but I also know that there are many people who either ignore it or are unaware of it. Which brings back the original problem - passing on the right is often times the only way to get by another car.

    I'm also not going to honk or flash my lights at slow drivers in the left lane. In certain places, that's a great way to get shot.
    posted by fremen at 10:02 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


    But still, the homeless problem here is bad, as in BAD bad, the worst I've ever seen anywhere. [...] And the thing is? NOBODY has given me a good answer as to why it's this bad.

    What people have told me is that some other states give their homeless a ticket to SF and a "good luck" pat on the back. I never checked how much of that is urban legend.
    posted by palbo at 10:11 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    tzikeh: I'm American, and reading this story makes me think "wow, Europe is small".
    posted by madcaptenor at 10:14 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


    I still don't get this problem with passing on the right. I have literally done this my entire life without giving a single thought to whether or not it's safe.

    If it's not a law (or they don't enforce it) and they don't teach it in your state, it's understandable that you might not have heard about it.
    Doesn't make it any less dangerous, though. Miko posted a link to a good article above.
    posted by palbo at 10:20 PM on June 20, 2012


    I am fairly sure it is (nominally) illegal here to pass on the right on a multilane highway.

    From my experience just this week, it appears that nothing is illegal on the 401 (the busiest highway in North America, and one of the widest).
    posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:21 PM on June 20, 2012


    escabeche, I grew up in a small town in southern Louisiana which, around the time that I'm talking about, was evolving from classic Southern small town to housing-bubble/oil-boom exurbia.

    There was something that suddenly happened around 1995 or so where you had to have a massive SUV even if you only had one kid, had to have a brand new house even if the house you were already living in was built in 1980, and all kinds of other weird lifestyle perversions that ultimately led to the paranoia-fueled conservative bombshell that exploded and brought us all the Bush Administration a few years later. We got an Applebee's, a Chili's, and an Olive Garden. Housing developers stopped including sidewalks in new neighborhood plans. The school bus would pick every kid up at their driveway. Basically think of anything that Europeans would find revolting and appalling about visiting the US, and you'll find that it arrived in my hometown right around that point in the mid 90's.

    I'm sure it arrived in other places earlier, or later, or whatever. In some places it probably never happened. But in my mind Ugly America kind of gelled into place right then.

    It's sort of interesting that this was the same time period where urban areas got all revitalized and safe and intriguing to ruralish/suburbanish kids like me. It's like exurban hell was the price we paid to finally kill off urban blight.
    posted by Sara C. at 10:26 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


    Data point, US driving law/practicalities: While I was growing up my dad was on a four lane road that merged into a 2 lane road ahead. He was in the left hand lane of his 2 possible traffic lanes and, as necessitated by the upcoming narrowing of the road, went to merge into the right hand lane. Someone was there in his blind spot and they were basically ran off the road and into the curb when we merged.

    No vehicular contact was made but when they swerved to avoid us they blew out the passenger side tires on their car when they made contact with the curb. I'm guessing they probably ruined their wheels/rims as well. We stopped and exchanged insurance information and left after a tow-truck arrived to help them out.

    The result? Our insurance company called us and said because the other vehicle had been passing on the right and/or traveling in the blind spot of a vehicle in the left lane that they were violating traffic law and that they wouldn't be compensating the driver for their damages. The end.

    So, I've got no dog in this fight, just thought y'all might appreciate some real-world experience with the practical side of things.
    posted by RolandOfEld at 10:31 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


    What people have told me is that some other states give their homeless a ticket to SF and a "good luck" pat on the back. I never checked how much of that is urban legend.

    Funny, I just heard that recently in reference to Hawaii. It sounded like a total crock of shit urban legend, to me.

    I imagine that the real answer is that SF has a better climate for being homeless than, say, Omaha or Phoenix. If you're down and out in one of those sorts of cities, you save your panhandling money and get yourself somewhere you won't freeze or fry.

    Also, it used to be the case that SF was a place that attracted a lot of teen runaways -- how long has the average homeless person actually been homeless? I mean, we're still trotting out that old story about Reagan and the state mental hospitals. Wouldn't that have been 20-30 years ago, now? Can that still be the reason there are so many mentally ill people on the streets? Are they the same mentally ill homeless people that were such a problem back then, but just older and sadder and more fucked up?
    posted by Sara C. at 10:31 PM on June 20, 2012


    the fractured banking system. What do you mean this bank card will only work in 1 out of 3 shops on this street?

    It's easy to have one payment network to rule them all when there are only five banks (all of which engage in conscious parallelism to a degree I have never seen approached in any other context) in the entire country.
    posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:33 PM on June 20, 2012


    I'm also thinking of the idea (posted near the top of the thread) that most European nations wouldn't really understand federalism. Well, think of the E.U. Now picture it fifty or a hundred years from now. That's the U.S. A bunch of nominally or partially independent states governed by an overseeing body composed of all of them, and including all of their interests. Are Greeks and Spaniards pissed off that their future is being decided by the leader of Germany? I'm sure there are, just as South Carolinians revile the idea of this guy from Illinois making policy. But at least it's peaceful.
    posted by Navelgazer at 10:37 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


    If you're under the impression that flags are displayed excessively in the US, you really haven't traveled the world much.
    posted by secondhand pho at 10:37 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Bunny Ultramod: "That This American Life tells a really heartbreaking story of an immigrant seeing a homeless woman and calling 911, presuming she needs help. "Is she homeless?" the 911 operator asks. He asks her. Then he goes back to the phone. "Yes, she's homeless."

    He honestly expects that this will be treated as an emergency.

    And he's right. It is an emergency. It's a fucking emergency. These are Americans who desperately need shelter and aid. And they need it right now. You should be able to call 911 and the person on the other end will say "What? They DON'T HAVE A HOME? Somebody is on the way."

    It's our national shame. Not just the homelessness, but the fact that we aren't ashamed by it.
    "

    As I understand it, a vast majority of those who are homeless are homeless for a very, very short period of time. On the order of a few days.

    The remainder is a minority who is often chronically homeless. For the chronically homeless, it's usually something else -- mental or social disorders/illness, drug addiction -- that keeps them on the street. This is not true for all of them, but it is true for many of them. And then there are those who chose to remain homeless for reasons of preference. Some people just weren't made to settle down, but the United States culture does not really lend itself to the nomadic lifestyle.

    I'm not saying that poverty and social inequity doesn't also play a role. I'm saying that it's more complicated than offering opportunities or social services. I remember reading somewhere that it would often be literally cheaper for the chronic homeless to just pay for their housing, rather than giving them the resources, training, and support they would need to become "self-sufficient". So it's pretty complicated.
    posted by Deathalicious at 10:38 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    how long has the average homeless person actually been homeless?

    This probably isn't what your asking but the average homeless person isn't chronically homeless, and finds a way back on their feet within a couple weeks at most. The chronically homeless are a very small percentage of the homeless population, generally afflicted with mental illness, drug addiction, or both, and as it turns out are cheaper to treat on a societal level by just giving them homes than through the "traditional" American methods.
    posted by Navelgazer at 10:40 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Deathalicious: jinx
    posted by Navelgazer at 10:41 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    What really amuses her, though, and I'd never really noticed it until she pointed it out (and this is definitely a Southern thing), is how, when giving directions, people here use what USED TO BE THERE as landmarks.

    Is this really a Southern thing? I do this all the time, and tend to refer to roads and buildings by the names they had when I was in high school. It's particularly noticeable with me now, because a major road in my hometown was recently renumbered, and I find references to it on road signs and traffic reports to be particularly jarring.

    When I ask my mom how things are back home, she very often explains where new businesses and such are by referencing "the old Wal-Mart" (it moved probably 15 years ago).

    The last Wal-Mart in my hometown that I remember "moved" by constructing a larger Wal-Mart behind the older one, and then demolishing the older one to end up with a bigger parking lot.

    posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:41 PM on June 20, 2012


    secondhand pho: "If you're under the impression that flags are displayed excessively in the US, you really haven't traveled the world much."

    I've been to a number of countries and haven't seen the national flag or its symbols used as profilcly as it is in the States (maybe the exception would be Israel, but there the Mogen David is a more generalized symbol that has meaning beyond just showing up on the flag).

    This is the truth: red is a bright, exciting color. It grabs the attention of the viewer. The blue cools, calms, while at the same time offering great contrast with the red. The white serves as a neutral ut highly contrasted backdrop. It's no wonder that it's all over our advertising.
    posted by Deathalicious at 10:42 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I should mention here Pathways to Housing, which is a wonderful organization I've tangentially worked with previously on behalf of a client a few years back. Despite their counterintuitive name, their idea is that you take a chronically homeless person and given them a home first, and then once they've got that stability, give them services to help them with the issues which contributed to their chronic homelessness to begin with.

    I don't know why that concept should be so novel, but there it is.
    posted by Navelgazer at 10:47 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Driving from Chicago to El Paso, when you hit the Texas line at Texarkana, you're still not half way to El Paso.

    Purely to one-up a Texan, I will point out that the drive from El Paso to Texarkana is shorter than the one from Pensacola to Key West.
    posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:58 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


    Deathalicious, in my experience, there's an inverse correlation between the stability of a nation and it's flag-waving tendencies. Governments in turmoil tend to promote nationalism under the guise of patriotism. This is clearly evident in most developing nations, where social stability is not necessarily a given along with their economic development. Same with the US. When our stability is on thin ice, the rah rah bullshit ramps up, along with the flag waving. It's not unique. But yes, the pretty colors don't hurt when it comes to plastering it on everything.
    posted by secondhand pho at 10:59 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    The thing I don't get about tailgating and passing-on-the-right is why people do this during rush hour. Every friggin' day I wind up muttering to myself, "Yeah, dude. I know. I'm leaving a just-barely-acceptable-for-safety-but-apparently-too-much-for-you-to-handle three whole seconds between me and the car in front of me. There's ten miles of cars in front of him! We're all going 70 mph in a 55 zone. You're gonna zoom around me and give me the finger over a car length or two?"

    Once, when I was younger and much more full of myself, like Crow T. Robot I wanted to decide who lives and who dies. Now, I'd rather get to decide who gets to drive.
    posted by ob1quixote at 10:59 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    If your car has blind spots, you need to adjust your mirrors. Hint: they are not intended to show you the entire length of the adjacent lanes.

    Exactly. This is the correct adjustment for the side mirrors. This was taught to me at 16 by a former step-dad (just about the only good things he ever taught me concerned driving and maintenance of the car).

    I pass on the left whenever possible as I know most drivers won't see me on their right, but if the fast lane has a vehicle going 50 in a 65 and will not move, it is far safer to pass on their right than go to inside one car length distance to push the offending car off the fast lane, which is what I often see a lot of drivers do.

    When I first arrived in 1986 the big thing I first noticed was that movies had showtimes and you had to wait for the next showing before you could go in the theater. The 80s in the Philippines had it where you just walked in when you arrived, watched the movie to the end, then waited for them to load the first real so you could watch the beginning. Then you left when you got to the part where you walked in. However, when I returned for visits years later this was no longer the case.

    That's not really in spirit of the actual topic, which is things I learned but did not believe then found out it was true. It's been a quarter century since I landed here and nothing shocking has stayed in memory.

    I do remember doing graduate work in Shandong, China in the 90s and they asked me if it was true that many American families had a car each for mom, dad and the teenage kids. When I said yes, they didn't believe me. They also didn't believe me that there was tofu in America, nor that you could buy a house on credit. It's amazing how rapidly things have changed and now I doubt any of that would make them bat an eye.
    posted by linux at 11:03 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


    secondhand pho: there's also just an American tendency in that we really, really like symbols. They are pretty to us. If one didn't grow up in Middle-America it might be hard to understand that people who could generally give a damn about religion wear crosses, or tattoo them on themselves even (full disclosure: I'm more or less atheist and I have a cross tattoo, though it's a Celtic cross and I got it because I liked the iconography of Ireland rather than any religious connotations.)

    Old Glory means a lot of different things. It can symbolize nationalism, or 1950s nostalgia, or simply community. When one considers that, as Afroblanco mentioned above, the U.S> is really possibly 11 different national cultures formed into an odd amalgamation, it makes a little more sense that our understanding of international views of things is truncated - we have trouble enough understanding our own huge, polylithic culture. The flag just doesn't mean the same thing here as it does in other nations. At least not always.
    posted by Navelgazer at 11:07 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Can someone explain this "no passing on the right" thing in the context of a six-lane-per-direction freeway? Do you really expect each lane farther to the left to reliably move slightly faster than the one to its right? Do you think that's how they were designed to be used? I can't even see how this rule makes sense on any freeway with more than two lanes each direction. What if you're in the rightmost lane of six, moving slightly faster than someone five lanes to your left (assume an uncrowded time on the road) are you honestly expected to move over five lanes to the left and wait behind them for them to move over?

    Passing on the right is explicitly legal in California as long as there are two lanes of traffic going in the same direction.
    posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:08 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


    general crappiness/surliness of bureaucracy

    I have never, in any country I have ever visited, encountered efficient and friendly bureaucracy.

    In the country I live in, I have experienced surliness and crappiness, but also friendliness and remarkable efficiency.
    posted by Deathalicious at 11:10 PM on June 20, 2012


    So they start out with like, London to Venice (no lie) and whatever and I keep saying "nope, further, further" and usually someone will say "London to Moscow" in a sort of "let's go over the top" tone of voice. I say "Close. London to Moscow--and back again."

    London to Moscow and back is farther than NY-LA, but I expect you could find a way to drive that far in the US (Mt. Katahdin to San Diego, maybe).

    NY to LA is pretty close to London to Damascus. Miami to Seattle is pretty close to London to Baghdad.
    posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:17 PM on June 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


    "there's also just an American tendency in that we really, really like symbols. They are pretty to us." -Navelgazer

    I don't see that as an American tendency. It's a human tendency. We're not unique in that we tend to like symbols. Here it's a cross, there it's Buddhist swastika or Star of David. The ubiquity of flags is nothing special, and neither is the obsession with religious or national symbols.
    posted by secondhand pho at 11:38 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


    That said, FOX News has taken flag waving to new heights. The constant barrage of stars and stripes is unlike any display of nationalistic bullshit I've encountered in any other country, aside from Colbert's parody of it. Although, I suspect North Korea's state-run news agency could give them a run for their money, if given the proper technology.
    posted by secondhand pho at 11:55 PM on June 20, 2012


    i grew up in a midwestern town of 40,000 people, and we had no school buses (and no public transport).
    i have no idea why my town developed with no school buses, i do know that the country schools surrounding us had them. my guess is in the beginning the town was compact enough that it wasn't necessary, then as the city grew along with the american car, at some point there was a town hall meeting where they decided buses didn't warrant the expense. in elementary school it wasn't a problem, as most were spread out as to be within walking distance; jr. high was a bit more of a challenge at 1.5 miles away, but manageable; the highschool was over four miles away, but it was 10-12, most would bum rides from older kids until they turned 16 and then got the typical $500 first car clunker.

    as for passing on the right, i will say in georgia, i can't count the number of times i'd see someone driving in the left lane 20 miles under the limit on i-20, everyone passing on the right and giving them death glares, while the slow driver stared straight ahead, oblivious to it all. i'm not sure piling up in the left behind a guy who doesn't even realize he should move over and isn't about to, while the right lane remains entirely empty, is the solution.
    there is also the scenario, of course, were both lanes are congested, due to the uhaul/semi etc. in the right lane going well under for load reasons hypothetically, and the oblivious sedan driver going 55mph in the left, not realizing the 10 irate drivers queuing up behind him would like to get around him at some point, but whatareyougoingtodo.
    and once i was on the onramp behind someone going about 20mph, i zipped around him as soon as i could. i don't know what that person was up to, i do hope he eventually sped up or got off before he killed everyone.
    posted by camdan at 12:00 AM on June 21, 2012


    I don't think the prevalence of the flag has much to do with a unique American predilection for symbols. I think it's because the American flag is a symbol of something more than simply nationalism. It's a symbol of the values that the country was founded on and that we continue to contend with. I mean freedom, justice, equality, democracy and other such things that the U.S. is supposed to stand for (and I certainly don't intend to argue that this country always lives up to those values or that the flag means that to everyone).

    Flags don't fly in e.g. the U.K. the same way because really, what does the Union Jack mean, other than "ra ra Britain"?
    posted by chrchr at 12:33 AM on June 21, 2012


    I just asked my wife (Japanese), and while she could think of a lot of surprising things, she could only think of three things that she had heard before going, didn't really believe to be that true, and then were surprised to find to be as true as she'd heard.

    1) People really were as fat as she'd heard
    2) The food portions really were as big as she'd heard
    3) People really were super-patriotic (they had US flags outside their homes)
    posted by Bugbread at 12:41 AM on June 21, 2012


    I don't see that as an American tendency. It's a human tendency. We're not unique in that we tend to like symbols. Here it's a cross, there it's Buddhist swastika or Star of David. The ubiquity of flags is nothing special, and neither is the obsession with religious or national symbols.

    Fair enough. Maybe not symbols on their own. Maybe symbols in concert with granfaloon, is what I mean.
    posted by Navelgazer at 12:58 AM on June 21, 2012


    We may have a lot of flags here in the US, but I can never think of a proper domestic analogy to explain the ubiquity of Hello Kitty in Japan.

    I wonder if any of these surprising things about America are as amazing to visitors here as the whole "you don't have to lock up your bike" this was to me when I first visited Japan. The idea that there wasn't someone constantly angling to steal anything I left unattended for more than 30 seconds literally changed some of my fundamental assumptions about human nature.
    posted by billyfleetwood at 1:09 AM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


    OK, so having lived in San Francisco for a while and both been homeless and worked with the homeless here, there are some complicated reasons for the homelessness problems here.

    1. San Francisco is a pretty good place to be homeless; not just for the climate, but for the services: there are more beds, meals and services for homeless people here than most other cities, and homeless people ("the chronically homeless") from other cities really do get up Greyhound fare to come here to be homeless. And by the way, people living in SROs get counted as homeless (and the city collects federal funding to house them, and *also* collects federal money for their being homeless).

    2. People come to San Francisco to cut ties and get a fresh start, typically in their late teens or early 20s. Coincidentally, this is when Schizophrenia onset is. If you've shaken the dust of whatever flyover state you came from off your feet and told your family to go fuck themselves and gone out to California to seek your fortune, and you end up sleeping in the bus station temporarily, and then you start hearing voices...

    2.5 Ditto if your substance habit gets the better of you.

    3. In California especially, we have a recent history of locking up the mentally ill in tidy institutions and drugging them into good behavior. We talk about Reagan having closed the mental institutions as though he was heartlessly throwing people out onto the street to balance the state budget, but whatever *his* motivations were personally, at the time the conversation was about Nurse Ratchet and McMurphy, and the general feeling was that people were better left to their own devices than strapped down and drugged into compliance. So there's a lot of sensitivity around the "do something about the homeless" problem.

    4. Many people don't sleep in shelters because they got assaulted in a shelter, or because they got thrown out of all the shelters for assaulting people, or because they don't like sleeping in shelters, or because they're crazy, or because they're not crazy. It's not because there aren't shelters. Nobody likes sleeping in them.

    5. People currently running city government are of an age group for whom laws about dealing with the homeless make them think of lovable 60s hippie kids, not strung-out Iraq veterans, so there are some gaps in thinking. Interestingly, lots of people also show up here all the time expecting that it will be cool if they want to camp out on the sidewalk and be flower children.

    6. San Francisco's homeless population is pretty distinct from our Poor And/Or Ethnic Blue Collar Neighborhoods (some of which do, building codes aside, look pretty shantyish... the number of families per building in Chinatown is astonishing, for example, and as for Bayview...). Also, Oakland and the Central Valley are close-by enough that just being *poor* won't turn you into a crusty homeless person, it will tend to turn you into a Sacramento resident.

    7. Finally, while yes, our Tenderloin is near the touristy spots, the city itself is only 49 square miles, so everything is very close to everything else; if it's here, you probably have to step over it to get to work (or to the cable car).

    I think I could go on listing Complicated Things Informing The Homeless Problem In San Francisco for days.
    posted by hob at 1:17 AM on June 21, 2012 [24 favorites]


    I've had foreign visitors freak on the ice. Free ice? From a machine located on every floor of the hotel?
    posted by bonefish at 1:33 AM on June 21, 2012


    I mean, we're still trotting out that old story about Reagan and the state mental hospitals. Wouldn't that have been 20-30 years ago, now? Can that still be the reason there are so many mentally ill people on the streets?

    I have clients who are where they are now due to Reagan, so yes. Another part is that although community supports were supposed to come into place, it was done very unevenly across the US. Add in the budget cuts in the last decade or so, and you have situations like mine locally where the housing situation more than halved in 2008 due to the county closing a bunch of programs, and where we have only two local board and cares (board and cares are where very impaired clients can live with 24/7 staff support, including meals provided) and what had been 30-40 bed programs halved to 15-20 because the only way they could stay open is by going to Housing Authority for rental help, and HA rules are that each client has to have their own room (previously they were 2 to a room unless the room was extremely small).

    Shockingly, 50% of the clients didn't vanish when the beds did.
    posted by Deoridhe at 1:35 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Anecdata.
    - Chronic homelessness is much more visible in US cities than other first world cities. There are no doubt many reasons.
    - School buses pick you up from your home!?! I kind of figured that the Simpsons kids must live near a stop. Where I live, a town with a high school a mile and a half from the train station, that serves kids for a 25 mile radius, the school buses collect the kids from a bus stop every half mile or so. A typical kid probably has to walk about 1/2 a mile from home to the stop. About 4 buses head off in different directions to collect everybody.
    The buses make one run in the morning, and one in the afternoon, then spend the rest of the time running slightly different routes as part of the (privately owned) local bus company, generally ferrying the elderly to doctor's appointments but some commuters at the appropriate times of day.
    - The thing that particularly blew my mind was US sporting event tail gating. You go to the parking lot of a sports field, set up a grill and effectively a camp site, and spend the day drinking etc. but never go into the game arena!?! wut?
    posted by bystander at 2:02 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I've never been to the States but when playing LA Noire I got really excited when I realized I could drive over the Sixth Street Viaduct. If I ever visited LA that's probably the first thing I would want to do.
    posted by Ritchie at 2:13 AM on June 21, 2012


    Passing on the right is illegal in the Netherlands and will cost you € 180.
    posted by Pendragon at 2:26 AM on June 21, 2012


    Who knew Metafilter was so into traffic laws?
    posted by Afroblanco at 2:53 AM on June 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


    I don't think the prevalence of the flag has much to do with a unique American predilection for symbols. I think it's because the American flag is a symbol of something more than simply nationalism. [...]
    Flags don't fly in e.g. the U.K. the same way because really, what does the Union Jack mean, other than "ra ra Britain"?


    That can't be it - or at least not all of it. The danish flag doesn't mean anything other than "Danmark!" and still they fly their flag everywhere, everywhen.

    This is the truth: red is a bright, exciting color. It grabs the attention of the viewer. The blue cools, calms, while at the same time offering great contrast with the red. The white serves as a neutral ut highly contrasted backdrop. It's no wonder that it's all over our advertising.

    The dutch flag has the exact same colours and still it's only seen during football/soccer tournaments (and even then it's drowned out by lots of orange) and, strangely, when people graduate from high school.
    posted by Sourisnoire at 3:02 AM on June 21, 2012


    corb: I want to know where they come from that everyone is doing well and no one's homeless.

    The latter does not require the former. I currently live in an extremely poor country, but there is virtually no homelessness, for two major reasons: a) it's a very family-focused culture, so nearly no one has absolutely no family to give them a place to sleep, and b) one of the main construction materials is mud, which is not hard to find. And since land tenure law is still in its infancy, you can build your mud house pretty much anywhere there's an open spot and you're not likely to get harassed. People are starving because of the drought, but even the people begging on the street corners mostly have places to go home to at night.

    I was once passing through a friend's village on the way to my own (we were Peace Corps volunteers) when a guy stopped me asking for money. This isn't uncommon, and as I sometimes did in those situations, I explained that I was a volunteer, not making any more than the government workers he saw all around, and in fact less than many of them, despite my white skin, so he'd do at least as well asking them as me. He argued with me, telling me that everyone in America was rich; he knew, he said, because he'd seen so many movies. I told him that not only was he wrong, there are people in severe poverty there, but that in fact many of the poor people in the US have a much harder time than he did, because they are homeless as well, and in places with much harsher weather. He didn't believe me. He really thought I was just making up these grand lies about homelessness in the US so that I wouldn't have to give him twenty cents.
    posted by solotoro at 3:02 AM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


    Two points from an American living in Europe:

    For those non-Americans, we in the US have a school activity called 'Show and Tell', where kids as young as 5 will bring a favorite toy from home and present/describe it in front of their classmates. The Europeans that I work with are totally in awe of this concept, which explains in their minds why Americans are always so outgoing and can speak in public so well.

    Prior to moving to Europe from the US, I took a cultural immersion course, and the most memorable bit was in describing Americans as peaches and Europeans/Asians as watermelons. For a peach, the outside is soft, warm and friendly, but getting through to the core is hard. Watermelons, on the other hand, are hard to penetrate, but once you're through, it's soft and juicy.
    posted by JiffyQ at 3:27 AM on June 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


    I'm from the UK.
    I've been to Vegas, and to NYC, and Hartford Connecticut and Maryland Delaware.

    Three things confused me -

    1 - American cheese is unlike cheese I have ever tasted anywhere else. Amish made cheese is unlike any other cheese I've ever tasted anywhere else on earth. Brain meltingly good.

    2 - For some reason saying you are a vegetarian leads food service people to assume you will eat chicken okay. Chicken is definitely not vegetarian.

    3 - In LV and NYC the stark racial segregation of the large chunks of the service industry.
    posted by Faintdreams at 3:33 AM on June 21, 2012


    corb: "I want to know where they come from that everyone is doing well and no one's homeless."

    I'm not quite following the jump from "Wow, it's surprising that there are homeless in America" to "because there aren't any where I come from".

    I mean, I was surprised when I came to Japan and saw that people ate fried rice with a spoon. It's not because I came from a place where people didn't; plenty of people in Houston ate fried rice with a spoon. I just didn't think Japanese did. Likewise, I don't think it's that weird to come from a place with lots of homeless, assume the US has none, and be surprised that there are homeless in the US.
    posted by Bugbread at 3:45 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    I'm an American marrying an Australian currently living in the UK.

    Since we're on the topic of traffic laws, I will relate my experiences getting a UK driver's licence. To do this I cannot simply exchange my license as my Aussie did; no, I have to get a learner's permit and take a full theory and practical test. I also have to learn to drive manual so I can get the "you can drive anything" licence, not just the "automatic only" licence. I thought this was bullshit, until...

    ... I realized how bloody high the standards are for passing a test here. I've been taking lessons from an instructor and we have had many philosophical discussions on the differences between American and British driving habits. He said most new drivers take 25-30 lessons of at least an hour in length, in addition to your hours with your parents, and the practical test is something like 30-45 minutes of driving. From when I got my licence in 2000, I believe I had 10 hours in the car with an instructor and a 5 minute drive for my test. So let's start there with the difference in adherence to rules of the road and driving skills: American kids basically have to prove they can move the car forward and backward. British kids have to demonstrate that they are safe to be on the road. (There's also a whole section of the test on showing you know how to check your fluid levels, tire pressure, etc. I have a fair number of American friends who STILL don't know how to do that and they're approaching 30.)

    Also, this then propagates into how the roads operate. My biggest problem so far has been roundabouts, much to the (often yelling and cursing) chagrin of my fiance. I was always stopping to try and figure it out, rather than keeping moving as is intended (assuming there was no one to give way to). Even when he would say "you're fine! GO!" I was still stopping to look. Finally I realized why. I've been driving in Boston for the last 10 years. I do not trust anyone to obey the rules. I do not trust that someone with their left turn signal on is actually turning left, and I do not trust that anyone without a turn signal on is NOT going to suddenly turn left. I have had to learn to think this way in order to not be killed driving or waking in Boston. So now I'm at a roundabout and the car to my right has his left turn signal on, indicating that I can go ahead through the roundabout, but how the fuck do I know that he's not just got it on by accident and he's going to come through the roundabout instead and hit me? I don't! If I'm a Boston driver. So that's been the biggest adjustment for me, is learning to trust that British drivers actually ARE doing their best to do what they're supposed to do when driving. And I start to feel mildly horrified that I ever let my fiance with similar expectations drive my car in Boston.

    One more, on the over/undertaking. My instructor and I got into that whole discussion to, and here's the thing. When he said "I hear you can pass on the right in the US" he didn't just mean changing lanes to the right, he meant going faster in the "slow" lane than the cars in the "fast" lane. Indeed, the rules here that (in my observations) nearly everyone DOES actually seem to subscribe to is, you just don't DO that. You don't go slow in the passing lane and you don't go fast in the slow lane. So I have yet to see an instance in which I have had to pass on the right (well, left here), nor have I had to tailgate anyone to encourage them to move the fuck over as I always did in Boston.

    And yes, American portion sizes are huge, but I've repeatedly been served meals in Australia and in the UK, generally at pubs or more casual spots, that I am utterly unable to come close to finishing. (And it's less likely I'll end up with a doggie bag, too)
    posted by olinerd at 3:51 AM on June 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


    So from what we saw in this thread, has yet again confirmed that what surprises non-Americans most must be American defensiveness.
    posted by MartinWisse at 3:57 AM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


    While I was only there for three months, along with various shorter trips, there were many things that I was staggered to find out were true.

    1) Obesity. I mean, I'm a fat bloke, but I couldn't believe the amount of ENORMOUS people I would see every single time I went out.
    2) Flags. Flags everywhere.
    3) Guns, in the supermarket.
    4) Getting concerned looks if I had more than two pints.
    5) People not being able to understand my clear and measured speech. Also, women melting at the accent.

    As to things I wasn't expecting, I have never seen so many people with missing teeth. I asked my ex about this and apparently "They don't count". This was especially irksome as a couple of her friends had checked mine out like I was a fucking horse and were surprised they weren't "Properly British".

    Finally, this red cups obsession non-Americans apparently now have depresses the hell out of me.
    posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 4:50 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    As to things I wasn't expecting, I have never seen so many people with missing teeth. I asked my ex about this and apparently "They don't count". This was especially irksome as a couple of her friends had checked mine out like I was a fucking horse and were surprised they weren't "Properly British"

    Where were you? This is not something I've ever really seen.
    posted by corb at 4:53 AM on June 21, 2012


    3) Guns, in the supermarket.

    Wait seriously where was this??
    posted by jetlagaddict at 5:01 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    5) People not being able to understand my clear and measured speech.

    My Australian fiance had someone on his first trip to the US tell him, very encouragingly, that his English was very good.

    Here I've gotten used to the first line of anything I say to someone at a shop, etc being used solely for them to realize I'm speaking with an American accent and have accepted that they will not understand a word of whatever it is I've said until I repeat myself. Then there's usually a fair sort of staring contest back and forth as the bartender tries to figure out what "bawdoled" means and I try to figure out why they aren't responding to my question "What bottled ciders do you have?" And at the farmer's market when I mentioned I was trying to grow 'erbs on my patio and did they have some bay-zul plants? "Huh?"

    If you saw guns in the supermarket you were probably not in one of the big coastal cities that's used to seeing/hearing British accents. Similarly, I'm in an area that doesn't see many American tourists. I think it's just familiarity issue, no matter how clear and measured either of our speech is, no matter how much Americans watch Doctor Who and Downton Abbey or Brits hear Americans in Hollywood movies.
    posted by olinerd at 5:02 AM on June 21, 2012


    Things my Canadian wife still marvels about:
    Drive-through everything
    Flags! Flags everywhere!
    The fact that everyone we know has either been to jail or knows someone currently in jail (maybe I just have shady friends)
    That every business meeting starts and ends with 15 minutes of idle chatter, usually involving sports, the weather, and/or mutual acquaintances (may just be a Southern thing)
    Jesus! Jesus everywhere! (also a Southern thing)
    What really amuses her, though, and I'd never really noticed it until she pointed it out (and this is definitely a Southern thing), is how, when giving directions, people here use what USED TO BE THERE as landmarks.


    I'm betting your wife's not from the Maritimes.
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:13 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I have never seen so many people with missing teeth.

    This is the easiest (though sometimes inaccurate) visible class signifier in the United States.
    posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:16 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Isn't that a crystal meth thing?
    posted by MartinWisse at 5:26 AM on June 21, 2012


    i had a friend who grew up in alabama, according to him a lot of people just don't bother with the dentisting and end up with significant gaps in their teeth by their late 20's. he left the state and subscribes to proper dental care.
    posted by camdan at 5:29 AM on June 21, 2012


    From the Quora link:
    There actually is an accepted piece of clothing called a 'wife-beater'.
    posted by Nossidge at 5:32 AM on June 21, 2012


    MartinWisse: "Isn't that a crystal meth thing?"

    No, it pre-dates that, although it has probably made it worse. Dental insurance is less common than health insurance and a lot of people skip visits to the dentist if they can't afford it.
    posted by octothorpe at 5:33 AM on June 21, 2012


    I grew up in Alabama and I did not notice a more significant percentage of people with bad teeth there as opposed to the rest of the country. In fact, I'd say that the opposite is true due to the importance of appearance (at the expense of substance often) in the culture.
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:34 AM on June 21, 2012


    No one has mentioned donuts?
    I thought for years the donuts, donuts, everywhere! Was just a TV gag, especially with policeman ala The Simpsons.

    And then, I'm on a Greyhound, driving up through Oregon, and we stop for the first time in hours, well after midnight - and what is the only thing open?
    A 24 hour Donut store.

    Wait. 24 hour?
    Why on earth would I want Donuts 24 hours a day?
    Even if I did, why on earth would I want them to the exclusion of anything that could be remotely described as real food? I kept asking in desperation, is there anything around here with say, protein? I'd even take hot chips.
    (I will never hate on petrol station meat pies, ever again. I used to think they were the worst kind of junk food. Now, for junk food? Pretty good).

    And yes, there was a police car parked outside.

    Further to prove the point, I had a friend who worked in a Sheriffs office in California, and was willing to swear that no, really, they'd use the intercom, daily, to announce donuts in the break room.

    ***

    Echoing the post above me, people asked me where in America I was from.
    I'm from New Zealand, and I was only there a month, total (so I hadn't picked up the accent).
    Lets not go into the game of explaining where NZ was. I was expecting that, I just wasn't expecting someone would be so fuzzy on the idea of where the US ended and the rest of the world began, that they wouldn't realise I wasn't from there.

    ***

    I did use soup cans in an Oakland supermarket to try and represent to the security guard, the earth and the sun, and how the different hemispheres meant there were different seasons, after a throwaway comment about it being nice to escape winter in NZ. But, meh. I guess I didn't really think that would be an urban legend.

    ***

    I went on a greyhound, so, not only were there lots of the worst teeth I've seen, there was an older woman with perfect, far-too-white teeth explaining to a woman with atrocious teeth that her teeth had been worse until daddy recently had paid for her to have all her teeth pulled out and replaced with fake teeth, or something?
    So yeah, that was kinda creepy, especially combined with the frequent teeth-bleaching thing. Either terrible, or whiter-than-white.

    ***

    Oh, oh! I nearly forgot!
    Illegal immigrants! And that ANYONE not from the US is probably one!
    This may sound really privileged (woot! I made it baby!), but, I kinda had the assumption that as a young, educated, English speaking person from a first world country, if I want to work in some other first world country, I can probably get a working holiday visa, and live there for at least a little while.
    In San Francisco, people presumed (and this is probably true) that no, I wouldn't be able to work there legally without a LOT of hassle, even for just 6 months etc, and kept encouraging me to stay as an illegal immigrant.
    W.
    T.
    F?
    Like I said, privileged, but it had never occurred to me that I would ever have to live in another country as an illegal immigrant. Oooops!
    And secondly, really surprising how normalised it was. Kinda like the economy runs on indentured servitude, because you can pay illegal immigrants less, and kick them out when you don't want them.


    Other side of same coin:
    "America is the Greatest Country in the World, and Everybody Wants to Live Here"
    Oh, and I had a lot of people get kind of put out/offended when I told them I was just on holiday there, and that no, I didn't have any plans to live there. To the point that the more well-meaning of them kept pointing out the above.
    Actual brief scowls at this statement: "Oh, America is a beautiful country, but New Zealand is my home, and I love living there".


    Hope none of that sounded negative! Was just the stuff that really threw me for a loop!
    posted by Elysum at 5:40 AM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]



    But still, the homeless problem here is bad, as in BAD bad, the worst I've ever seen anywhere. And what makes it bad is how many of them are legitimately mentally disabled and unable to care for themselves. That grizzled old alkie that sits outside the bodega asking you for change? He at least has the presence of mind to ask for change. Lots of homeless in SF are literally barking mad, as in rambling down the block shouting obscenities and unintelligibly threatening passersby. And the thing is? NOBODY has given me a good answer as to why it's this bad. I've heard a litany of reasons : nice weather, tolerant authorities, welfare, civil rights legislation, what have you. None of them adequately explain it. If the problem isn't as bad in other places, WHAT ARE THEY DOING RIGHT IN THOSE PLACES, AND WHY AREN'T WE DOING IT?
    posted by Afroblanco at 9:47 PM on June 20 [8 favorites +] [!]


    THey are busing the homeless over to San Francisco.

    No, that is not just an urban legend. In many parts of the US, if the police catch you sleeping outdoors they will give you a bus ticket to your last hometown or to San Francisco, and if you don't board, they harass you to no end.

    And as horrible as that is, at least in San Francisco, you can sleep outside year round without the weather killing you. In the entire rest of the country, either the summer will kill you, or the winter will, or both. So that's why other towns do this. And then you have homeless who come to San Francisco of their own accord for this reason (a $50 bus ticket is a month's worth of panhandling.)

    San Francisco is a municipal government challenged by a national problem. Of course the city can't deal with it, even though SF has the best budgetary leeway for trying. (Large gay population paying taxes but not putting kids in the school system. That allows SF to try to fill gaps created by the State of California and the federal government.)
    posted by ocschwar at 5:57 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    olinerd, I had the same experience getting my French driver's license. My Oregon one couldn't be exchanged for an equivalent; I had to start from scratch with lessons and all. Luckily, I passed the driving test on my first try.

    And in true European fashion, I've only used it a couple of times since. I don't own a car here; I get everywhere with public transportation. Long gone are the days when I drove a 1972 Chevrolet Nova Super Sport (another pic here) with a rumbling 350 V8 (that's 5.7 litres).

    As for distances, this is by far the biggest wide eyes and dropped jaw inducer. Practically no one in Europe knows where Oregon is (last I knew, my count was about 8 people in 15 years). I usually say, "it's north of California". Then people ask me how often I visited San Francisco. "Never, though I've been to the northern part of the state and Los Angeles a few times." Them: "It must be great being so close to LA!" Me: "Um. It takes more than 12 hours to drive to LA from my city." (Eugene; 740 miles. And you get to deal with the nightmare that is I-5.) BOGGLE EYES.

    Sometimes, instead of proximity to California, I say, "Portland is the biggest city. Do you know Nike or Symantec?" and sometimes people recoqnize it; every single one of them who does asks, "oh wow, you're right next to Canada!"

    Um. No. Canada's an 8-hour drive away... (Eugene to Vancouver BC is 360 miles.) DROPPED JAW.

    "How big is your state??" Me: "Half the size of France. Population's only just over 3 million, and half of them live in Portland." The population of France is nearing 70 million. It's only an 8-hour drive from Nice to Paris, about an hour and a half of which are spent going along the southeastern coast.
    posted by fraula at 6:07 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    "My penpal asked me if it was true that cheerleaders in high school wore their uniforms to school."

    An acquaintance of mine dated a French guy who was DELIGHTED by the fact that she'd been an actual cheerleader in high school. He constantly was asking her, in a teasing way, "You were ze cheerleadair? Did you go to ze prom? Did you date ze quartairback?" (And yes, he sounded like Pepe LePew.) They eventually broke up because all he wanted to talk about was how she used to be ze cheerleadair.

    Good teeth are a class marker in the U.S. like anywhere else anymore, it maybe just goes a little further down into the middle class than in other countries, or used to. (Also U.S. TV only stars people who look middle-class or upper-middle-class, even if they're playing poor people. So you don't see a lot of the visual diversity related to class on television.)
    posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:17 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    anigbrowl: "I actually had a crack dealer follow me down the street once calling 'I know you want some, white boy!'"

    You know, despite several years of living in a DC neighborhood that my Virginia friends are afraid to visit (to the point of outright refusal), nothing like this has ever happened to me.

    However, during a night out in London about two years ago, about a dozen people tried to buy (an assorted variety of) drugs from me. I know this isn't indicative of London at all, but I still have no idea what the hell was going on that night. Maybe I have a drug-dealing British doppelganger?
    posted by schmod at 6:37 AM on June 21, 2012


    I just wasn't expecting someone would be so fuzzy on the idea of where the US ended and the rest of the world began, that they wouldn't realise I wasn't from there.

    There are a very wide variety of accents in the US, if you didn't know better a New Zealand accent could easily be domestic. It could certainly sound less exotic than a thick Appalachian or Eastern Shore Chesapeake accent.

    I kinda had the assumption that as a young, educated, English speaking person from a first world country, if I want to work in some other first world country, I can probably get a working holiday visa, and live there for at least a little while.

    You can.
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:38 AM on June 21, 2012


    For those asking, I was just outside Reading, PA. I also got the whole "Why on Earth don't you want to move here?" and was asked if we have electricity.
    posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 6:38 AM on June 21, 2012


    3) Guns, in the supermarket.

    Wait seriously where was this??


    In America. Have you never been to a Super Walmart before? I'm gonna have to check your citizenship papers!
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:42 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    No, that is not just an urban legend

    Yeah, I'd need a citation for that. I mean, it's clear from observation that a lot of people without homes, or running away from homes, migrate to San Franscisco because the climate is quite comfortable and because the level of services (food, assistance) is really high compared to almost anywhere I've spent time. But I am not sure I believe the police would offer a bus ticket to "home or San Francisco" as a matter of policy. However, if someone were offered a bus ticket to anywhere, I can certainly see them opting for SF. Still, that's different from asserting that it's SOP.
    posted by Miko at 6:44 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    I'm an American born and raised, and I don't even dislike guns as guns, but I'm really creeped out right now by the number of people that I know, statistically, are packing. The wave of concealed-carry laws that passed over the last couple of decades really unnerves me. At any public event, overhearing any dispute in a store parking lot, I tend to be a lot more nervous than I used to that some idiot hothead is going to start brandishing a gun and the whole thing is going to escalate dangerously. It's pretty nutso just to think about how many guns are probably around us at any given time.
    posted by Miko at 6:46 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    (a $50 bus ticket is a month's worth of panhandling.)

    You're doing it wrong.
    posted by achrise at 6:57 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Have you never been to a Super Walmart before?

    A Super Walmart isn't a supermarket, it's a box store that has a supermarket in it, among other things. I don't think they have guns in the supermarket. They have guns in the same building as the supermarket.
    posted by escabeche at 6:58 AM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


    two or three cars parked under the stars: "Definitely the accents. You hear them on television but somehow it's different in real life. My sister would call me from college in her first year and go, "OMG THEY REALLY TALK LIKE THAT. ALL THE TIME!" Yep. I love it."

    Except that you seldom actually hear any real American accents on TV other than that standardized TV accent. Boston, New York, Philly, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, etc all have different accents but shows set in those cities seldom attempt to sound like much like the the locals.
    posted by octothorpe at 7:01 AM on June 21, 2012


    Have you never been to a Super Walmart before?

    A Super Walmart isn't a supermarket, it's a box store that has a supermarket in it, among other things. I don't think they have guns in the supermarket. They have guns in the same building as the supermarket.


    On the smaller scale in rural areas are the grocery/bait stores. In much of America these stores serve as the grocery store, post office, bait shop, gas station, game check-in station, AND gun store. There are lots and lots of these all over America.
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:18 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Oh, I forgot, they are also the liquor store! Woohoo public safety!
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:19 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    There are lots and lots of these all over America.

    Yeah, but the point is fair. WalMart is a weird beast, and groceries aren't its raison d'etre. IT's not like Higgledy Piggledy or Market Basket is purveying guns alongside GoGurt and Kix.
    posted by Miko at 7:21 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    I believe there are drive through package stores in Florida (sealed liquor sales), I know there were some in where I grew up (some of the stage hands from plays in my youth spoke of to-go cups and explained the ubiquitous small paper bags at quick marts (to stash one beer, open, in, to evade open container laws).
    No, yellow school buses are bizarre. Buses devoted only to making two trips a day and only carrying children? In most of the world children ride public buses along with their parents. It's very strange to discover that American towns really work like that.
    posted by ocschwar
    Possible, but unlikely. Where I grew up they were used to pick up and drop off kids, but also for field trips during and after school. The "blue birds" (not all were yellow!) were rented out to schools without busses for trips, they were rented to recreational groups, summer camps, and church groups weekends and summers. Though I had a neighborhood school (walking distance) I did not attend it; my first schoolbus ride was at age 8 when my school rented one for a field trip. Once I hit high school, I took public busses or walked (summer school about a mile and a half away and that was a fight for that right).

    In my current neighborhood, most kids are driven to school by parent or bus (or dropped off in front of my house, grr) and the illegal drop offs (one of those kids is going to get run over some day soon - almost have a few times) and neighborhood kids walk the last quarter mile from here.

    The busses that service our corner school not only drop kids off at the elementary school, but they pick up middle and high schoolers from there for transport to their middle or high schools. The busses run from 5:30 am (remote parts of the county) until after 8 pm at night, running kids to and from schools and activities in a community bussing initiative.

    When my tween hits middle school, the most likely option for school transport is walk across the street to elementary with the younger kids, then pick up a bus to middle school from there. It's not "pick up kids from a couple of neighborhoods, drop them off at two or three schools, park until 3pm and reverse it."

    But every kid who lives more than two miles (considered walking distance! for 5 year olds?!?!? I can see for middle/high schoolers) away from their school in my county is eligible to sign up for school bus services. 2.5 miles or 25 miles (not a lot of those), you can get a ride. Our county is BIG. Some rural counties (we are half and half) I've driven through have school zones where during school traffic hours you have to slow down to 55 miles per hour ...
    posted by tilde at 7:27 AM on June 21, 2012


    I studied in London for a semester in college and was surprised to find that my room had two full beds pushed together. My host mother (a native Malaysian) later confessed that she was surprised that I was so petite. When she heard they were getting an American, she figured that I would be incredibly obese - hence the surfeit of bed space. (She had also worried about the prospect of the beds breaking under the weight of a fat American.)
    posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 7:33 AM on June 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


    I have noticed that many European visitors to the US, especially if they are only familiar with the more densely populated coastal cities, don't realize not only how big America is, how thinly populated some parts are.

    As a child, my family and I would regularly take vacation drives from our home in California to DeKalb, Illinois where my great-aunt and uncle lived. We took Interstate 80 through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa and finally to Illinois. Explaining the concept of a place like Wyoming which has about six people per square mile, to someone from Switzerland who lives where there are 195 people per square mile is interesting. I tell them that even to an American, driving through parts of the mountain West is like driving on the surface of the moon. I vividly remember I-80 through most of Wyoming as someplace where you could drive and drive and not see a living soul except for truck drivers here and there.

    I tell foreign visitors that if they want to drive across the US (which you can on I-80 among other highways) you not only should allot MUCH MUCH more time than you think, you absolutely, positively, need a cell phone, a GPS, an AAA membership, an always-full gas tank, and a survival kit in your car, because there are large parts of the US where you cannot count on being able to walk to the nearest town for help. Yes, you have to get gas anywhere you can find it because it will be a LONG WAY until the next gas station. You do have to plan your rest stops because, again, it's not as if you can say "oh well, there's another one a few miles down the road."

    But - the Rockies are so beautiful, if you can take the drive it's worth it! Go to New Mexico (which IS a state in the US - something that actual Americans sometimes forget!) and visit the American version of Really Old Buildings, aka pueblos.

    Which brings me to a point other posters have made - the diversity of cultures in the US is actually more reminiscent of the EU, in a way, than a unified nation. It's more like several nations. Even in just one state, this is true; for instance, Illinois - there is Chicago, and then there is northern Illinois (like DeKalb) which was settled by Scandinavians and Germans and is somewhat like Minnesota, and southern Illinois (like Cairo, pronounced Cay-ro) which is more like Missouri (and features in Huckleberry Finn). I remember my mom, who was a DeKalber, telling me she got the cultural shock of her life on a trip which took her family through Cairo. In her own state.

    Florence King once said "There is so much pluribus in the unum that everybody is somebody's Them."
    posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:34 AM on June 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


    Arguing over the distinction of what's a supermarket and what isn't is silly. To us we would never go into a Walmart and call it the supermarket, and having guns in the Walmart seems normal. But somebody comes to America, sees a store with guns and groceries, and is amazed; that's exactly the point of the OP--things we take for granted that foreigners don't believe.

    Re: passing on the right. I was in the car when a friend of mine was pulled over and ticketed for it. We came up on a guy doing 20 under the limit in the left lane on a completely deserted highway, and he just coasted by in the right lane. However, this was Avon, CT, where the cops are numerous, bored, and will tail you through town just for the heck of it.
    posted by Dr.Enormous at 7:36 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    In talking with English folk, Czechs, Australians, and New Zealanders in a hostel room recently, the thing that most blew all of their minds was:

    "Wait, you Yanks don't have a law requiring everyone gets vacation time? It's entirely up to who you work for?...."

    Every one of them said that they'd always wondered why the Americans they'd met had so rarely traveled outside the country. And that one fact explained it for them.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:39 AM on June 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


    I like how Americans have the reputation as being geographically clueless, when it seems like a good portion of foreign visitors have absolutely no concept of the scale of the United States.

    You know, a fact that could be ascertained by looking at a globe for 5 seconds.
    posted by WhitenoisE at 7:41 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    I like how Americans have the reputation as being geographically clueless, when it seems like a good portion of foreign visitors have absolutely no concept of the scale of the United States.

    Well, in all fairness, this is balanced out by the people in the US who don't know that Hawaii is a state, or (my favorite) the girls a coworker ran into in northern Mass who were headed to Washington D.C.

    From New York City.

    They'd been told "just get on I-95 and it will take you all the way there."
    posted by Dr.Enormous at 7:51 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Yeah, but the point is fair. WalMart is a weird beast, and groceries aren't its raison d'etre. IT's not like Higgledy Piggledy or Market Basket is purveying guns alongside GoGurt and Kix.

    It's true, but Wal-Mart is the largest grocery retailer, and accounts for over 16% of the grocery market in the US. So if you are talking about shopping in a "supermarket" in the US, for one out of five, you're talking Wal-Mart.
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:53 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    It's true, but Wal-Mart is the largest grocery retailer, and accounts for over 16% of the grocery market in the US. So if you are talking about shopping in a "supermarket" in the US, for one out of five, you're talking Wal-Mart.

    My girlfriend is from Arkansas. When in the Rest Of The Country she will refer to Wal-Mart as "our embassy".
    posted by madcaptenor at 8:03 AM on June 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


    IT's not like Higgledy Piggledy

    While this would be a delightful name for a grocery store, perhaps you mean Piggly Wiggly?
    posted by ocherdraco at 8:05 AM on June 21, 2012


    I'd just like to say that this thread is pretty fantastic. I've learned a lot of really interesting stuff. So thanks, everybody.
    posted by six-or-six-thirty at 8:08 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    I like how Americans have the reputation as being geographically clueless, when it seems like a good portion of foreign visitors have absolutely no concept of the scale of the United States.

    You know, a fact that could be ascertained by looking at a globe for 5 seconds.


    It's not that we don't know how big it is academically, it's that we can't really comprehend it emotionally. I've lived in Britain all of my life, and with the exception of the Scottish Highlands there's basically no place you can go where you aren't within an hours walk from a road or a house or a town. I remember watching an episode of the X-Files when i was a teenager where they go to a forest and drive for four hours through it to get to the logger's camp. Four hours is enough to get halfway across the country here.

    I can no more truly appreciate the hugeness and the emptiness of America or Australia than I can the size of the sun.

    "In Britain, over sixty-one million people now live in 93,000 square miles of land. Remoteness has been almost abolished. Only a small and diminishing proportion of terrain is now more than five miles from a motorable surface. There are nearly thirty million cars in use in Britain, and 210,000 miles of road on the mainland alone.

    "The commonest map of Britain is the road atlas. Pick one up, and you see the meshwork of motorways and roads which cover the surface of the country. From such a map, it can appear that the landscape has become so thickly webbed by roads that asphalt and petrol are its new primary elements."


    Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places
    posted by dng at 8:16 AM on June 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


    this is balanced out by the people in the US who don't know that Hawaii is a state

    I have never encountered an adult American who didn't know that Hawaii was a state. While I'm sure these people exist, it's nowhere near as common as Europeans who think that NYC to LA is a Sunday drive. I just have a hard time believing that Americans are on average more geographically ignorant than any other nationality. There are idiots in every country.

    who were headed to Washington D.C.
    From New York City.
    They'd been told "just get on I-95 and it will take you all the way there."


    Your point probably flew over my head, but I'm confused. I-95 does take you from NYC to DC. I just made that drive last week.
    posted by WhitenoisE at 8:18 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    And if they left NYC and were now in Boston, then they were not going in the DC direction on I-95.
    posted by olinerd at 8:21 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    The joke is that they took I-95 the wrong direction. For hours. And didn't notice when they were going through Connecticut that they were pointed the wrong direction.
    posted by jessamyn at 8:21 AM on June 21, 2012


    tylerkarazewski - Can someone explain this "no passing on the right" thing in the context of a six-lane-per-direction freeway? Do you really expect each lane farther to the left to reliably move slightly faster than the one to its right? Do you think that's how they were designed to be used?

    That is the case for the motorways in the UK, most of which are three or more lanes wide. There are many vehicles that drive at different speeds, some which are limited by vehicle type. There are also hills. If you have two articulated lorries travelling at different speeds, they need to be able to overtake each other. They will not be travelling at the same speed (especially uphill) as the smaller vehicles, so they need some lanes to overtake the lorries. On top of that you have the people who want to drive constantly above the speed limit, generally the people who like to do the tail-gating and flashing headlights at anyone in 'their' lane. So the lane speeds are often around 50, 60, 70 and 70mph+.

    I have driven in Australia where the freeways are also three or more lanes wide in the built up areas. On the long stretches of freeway people put their cruise control (there are many more automatics in Australia) on at the speed limit, which is very different to the speed variation in the UK. Cars do pass on the inside a lot more in Australia, which kind of makes sense when the roads are straight, on the flat and everyone is driving within 5kmph of each other. They do the same on the freeways within the cities though, which is much more dangerous as people are not all driving at similar speeds, the freeways are not straight and there are lots of slip roads.
    posted by asok at 8:22 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    They probably would believe that Americans who either love or loathe the USA are both probably a bit clueless about the world and need to travel more than a few trips to Mexico or to Europe.
    posted by tarvuz at 8:22 AM on June 21, 2012


    Except that you seldom actually hear any real American accents on TV other than that standardized TV accent

    I, a Brit, watched the first US season of X Factor and was amazed at the accents I heard during the audition programmes. I'd simply never heard accents like it. Regional accents are quite popular in the UK for TV work these days, presumably they're considered warm and genuine compared to British RP. As someone seeing just a selection of US TV I'm not hearing much of a range at all, to the point where hearing these other accents was utterly fascinating.

    I notice British regional accents didn't fare to well in US X Factor either, Steve Jones seemed to tone his Welsh accent down considerably and just ended up sounding strange and off kilter to my ear. Then there was the whole Cheryl being replaced for being incomprehensible thing.

    What really tickled me was the voice over guy, who was replaced by the third episode or so as it turns out. He seemed to be doing an Americanised impression of Peter Dickson (who VOs the UK X Factor), who to me always sounds like an overblown British version of Redd Pepper. So for the first few episodes I was continually struck by how I was hearing an American voice doing an impression of a British voice doing an impression of American voice.
    posted by Ness at 8:23 AM on June 21, 2012


    Oh, I forgot, they are also the liquor store! Woohoo public safety!

    In Columbia, MO, there used to be a store with a prominent sign that said "Liquor, Guns & Ammo." (And I know right now, some of you are saying, "What could possibly go wrong with that combination?") The store closed in the early 2000s, but the sign lives on as wall decoration at a local pizza joint.
    posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 8:33 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]



    The joke is that they took I-95 the wrong direction. For hours. And didn't notice when they were going through Connecticut that they were pointed the wrong direction.


    Ah, I assumed they were asking in reference to a future trip or something. Yeah, that's pretty bad.
    posted by WhitenoisE at 8:34 AM on June 21, 2012


    Except that you seldom actually hear any real American accents on TV other than that standardized TV accent

    That's a Canadian accent, actually.
    posted by KokuRyu at 8:37 AM on June 21, 2012


    In Columbia, MO, there used to be a store with a prominent sign that said "Liquor, Guns & Ammo."

    Driving through North Carolina, I saw a sign advertising a "Cigarettes and Fireworks warehouse". Hmmm.

    I'd like to know what's up with all the fireworks billboards along I-95 in the south. No exaggeration, there's a billboard advertising a different fireworks store every mile.
    posted by WhitenoisE at 8:41 AM on June 21, 2012


    Something that non-Americans, and even well-meaning (usually liberal) Americans don't understand is that "just travel more!" isn't an option for many Americans. Seriously. I have a LiveJournal friend who lives in Spain who notes that she can easily drive from Spain to Germany, and, moreover, the amount of vacation time that she and her husband get is about double what even privileged Americans get.

    I've noted that most Americans who say "travel more!" don't know that just because it's easy for them time-and-money-wise, it's just not for many of the 99% who don't have the money or time. Because of the size and location of the US, travel from country to country isn't easy or cheap. Many Americans don't travel not because they're parochial or stupid or jingoistic, it's because they can't afford the time or money.

    It really gets up my nose when well-meaning folks say "Americans choose not to travel because they're narrow-minded and parochial, and, furthermore, everyone should prioritize expensive travel." I'm an example. I haven't traveled nearly as much in my lifetime as I wanted to, not because I'm an Ugly American, it's because up until recently I couldn't fucking afford the time or money.

    I'm really not trying to be fighty. I just wish well-meaning people would realize that it's not as easy as "Just travel more!" For many (most?) Americans in the 99%, foreign travel is a luxury. Not just as far as money is concerned, it can come down to the allotment of precious vacation time. If you only get two weeks' worth of vacation, not everyone is going to prioritize foreign travel in that precious two weeks, and that doesn't make them an ugly American.
    posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:42 AM on June 21, 2012 [33 favorites]


    In LV and NYC the stark racial segregation of the large chunks of the service industry.

    Intra-American thing like that: the first time I visited Oregon (from Houston), I immediately noticed that the restaurant servers were mostly white. Also, my ex-husband, from Albany, Oregon, told me once that until he'd come to Houston to go to college, he'd never seen a black person in the flesh. That was a jaw-dropper for me.

    I lived in England in the early 80s, in North Yorkshire, so well outside of London, and people--adults, not just teenaged peers--asked me about Dallas all the damned time. There was clearly a lot of stuff in the show that they thought was real for "average" Texans. Not so much.
    posted by immlass at 8:42 AM on June 21, 2012


    Another aspect to the travel more thing is that for a lot of Americans, going a few states away really is putting you in a whole 'nother place in some ways. I understand the ways in which it isn't, but if you're from New England and you go to visit Arkansas [as I did a lot when I was a kid because we had family there] you're really culturally someplace else. Same with going to California, or the Pacific NW or Texas. There is definitely a lot of value in getting outside of North America also, but for people of limited means or time, going to another region of your own country is often nearly as much of a cultural learning experience as going somewhere else. And you don't need a passport and don't (necessarily) need to get on a plane.
    posted by jessamyn at 8:45 AM on June 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


    That's a Canadian accent, actually.

    There's just one "Canadian" accent? Someone should let everybody besides Alan Thicke know then.
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:47 AM on June 21, 2012


    As an American, the thing that continues to puzzle me is when, at a minor sporting event,people applaud at the end of a taped recording of a crappy instrumental version of the National Anthem. Clapping is no longer a reward for doing something well, or for doing it at all, unless it's being able to play a tape.

    As far as passing on the right, I believe that MA legalizing it was a tacit acknowledgement that lane discipline was nonexistent, particularly among those with orange license plates. They were famous for sitting in the far left lane, doing ten under the limit. There used to be signs that said KEEP RIGHT EXCEPT TO PASS, but not long after passing on the right was legalized, all those signs were removed.

    What's up with the fireworks billboards is that fireworks are illegal in most all of the Northeast, and people from there driving through the South like to bring some back to be illegal with.
    posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:55 AM on June 21, 2012


    I've lived in Britain all of my life, and with the exception of the Scottish Highlands there's basically no place you can go where you aren't within an hours walk from a road or a house or a town.

    I'm an American who's lived in the UK for almost five years now, and I put the whole scale of the US into perspective for curious people here in a couple of ways:

    1.) In the UK, you're never more than about 75 miles from the sea. Where I lived (Denver), the nearest big bodies of water--the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, or Lake Michigan--were each around a thousand miles away.

    2.) There are places so sparsely populated, especially in the western US, that if your car breaks down you will very possibly die before seeing another human being.
    posted by Mr. Bad Example at 9:08 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    There are places so sparsely populated, especially in the western US, that if your car breaks down you will very possibly die before seeing another human being.

    And this is why you HAVE to have an emergency kit, an auto-club membership, a GPS, etc. Not just because of the isolation but because of the temperature extremes in parts of the continental US. Ask Minnesota dwellers about their winters or people in Texas or Arizona about their summers. If isolation doesn't kill you, temperature might. People HAVE died when their cars broke down (there was a famous case in California that made headlines a few years ago. A father of two died because he and his family took a rural shortcut at night from Oregon to northern CA, or vice versa, I can't remember which).

    This is another thing that comes as a shock to some actual Americans. I remember a friend who was born and raised in southern California who moved - briefly - to upstate New York. In December. Knowing vaguley that it "got cold and snowy" in the winter, but didn't realize that this means "temperatures below zero at times and A HELL OF A LOT OF SNOW and black ice." Winter, in some parts of the US, is serious business.
    posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:25 AM on June 21, 2012


    I'm an example. I haven't traveled nearly as much in my lifetime as I wanted to, not because I'm an Ugly American, it's because up until recently I couldn't fucking afford the time or money.

    So very true. My wife and I would love to visit London and Paris, but airfare is generally $1,000+ per person.

    We can take a week-long vacation to pretty much anywhere in the US, as well as some nearby places like the Caribbean or Mexico for less than $2,000. If we choose a place within driving distance, we can stretch our budget even further.

    Anecdotal: many people I know in the southeastern US take family (including grandparents, siblings, cousins, etc.) vacations once per year and rent a house or condo in one of the seaside cities in Florida, in order to pool their money.

    Most places I have worked gave 10 days vacation time per year. Their policies varied for additional days granted. One employer granted an additional day of vacation per year of service, another gave five additional days after five years of service.
    posted by Fleebnork at 9:30 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    the girls a coworker ran into in northern Mass who were headed to Washington D.C.

    From New York City.

    They'd been told "just get on I-95 and it will take you all the way there."


    To be fair to them, I-95 does not go all the way from New York to Philadelphia.
    posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:30 AM on June 21, 2012


    my cousin thought Japan was a state. pronounced "Jay-pin".
    posted by camdan at 9:34 AM on June 21, 2012


    Something that non-Americans, and even well-meaning (usually liberal) Americans don't understand is that "just travel more!" isn't an option for many Americans.

    I've love to travel to Europe but we get (at most) three weeks of vacation a year and usually two weeks of that is tied up with family visits around the holidays. The rest gets used up here and there for days when you need to get the car inspected or do some work around the house. An old roommate of my who is a professor just posted on Facebook that he's heading to Europe for three weeks and going to hit at least half a dozen countries and I'm way jealous.
    posted by octothorpe at 9:58 AM on June 21, 2012


    Winter, in some parts of the US, is serious business.

    This is something I've found that becomes a big problem in the places on the margins of the "real" winter. Here in Minnesota, we get real cold and some serious snow but we also take it very seriously so (at least in the major metro areas) the roads stay pretty clear even during a major snowfall and are most of the rest of the time for the whole season.

    Areas father south that almost never get snow or rarely get more than an inch at a time have a much more difficult time dealing with such that a two or three inch snowfall pretty much shuts down the whole state.

    My wife works for a field office of a company based in Tennessee. Two winters ago there was a big snow storm in both places. By the time the snow hit the home office, we were back to normal. They were kind of excited because they were going to be able to get out the pickup truck with a plow that the company bought to deal with any snowstorms that might occur. No one had driven the truck since they bought it five years ago! The problem was that no one could get to work to use the thing because the city/county/state didn't have the equipment to clear the roads.

    I've heard that, in other places, if they get two inches of snow, everyone stays home and they told not to drive anywhere unless it's an emergency and even then only if you have 4-wheel drive (bah, front-wheel drive is fine and rear-wheel drive is doable if you have good tires and are careful) and chains on your tires. I scoffed at the idea until that happened.
    posted by VTX at 10:13 AM on June 21, 2012


    I don't think that London, Geneva, Paris etc. have massive shantytowns surrounding them.

    My first impression of Paris while arriving by train from Amsterdam (some twenty years ago) was how enormous the shantytowns were. My understanding is that the bidonvilles aren't nearly as large as they used to be, but the last time I visited I arrived by plane, so I didn't see them at all.

    Clapping though, yeah. Americans everywhere really like clapping.

    I was at a small event last week (about fifteen people) and at the conclusion, it seemed like we weren't quite sure of whether it was really over, so a small round of spontaneous applause reassured us that it was, in fact, time to adjourn. It felt kind of weird and unnecessary, yet bonding and soothing all at once.
    posted by malocchio at 10:27 AM on June 21, 2012


    And one last thing for Americans: Great that you discovered Hefeweizen (Yeast Bear). But please, no lemon with it. I don't know where you got the idea from.

    I'm an American living in Germany and a lemon in the Hefeweizen is quite common here especially in the summer.
    posted by chillmost at 10:30 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    my cousin thought Japan was a state. pronounced "Jay-pin".
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:31 AM on June 21, 2012


    Lager and lime was a pretty popular drink in post-War Britain.
    posted by KokuRyu at 10:34 AM on June 21, 2012


    I've heard that, in other places, if they get two inches of snow, everyone stays home and they told not to drive anywhere unless it's an emergency and even then only if you have 4-wheel drive (bah, front-wheel drive is fine and rear-wheel drive is doable if you have good tires and are careful) and chains on your tires. I scoffed at the idea until that happened.

    Seattle does this. The Valve Employee Handbook, recently released online, defines 'work from home' in the glossary - as 'what people do when a snowflake falls'.

    I have heard people explain that part of the cause is that the temperature hits ~0 and goes up and down, so you get an inch of snow, which melts, then freezes, then another half inch of snow which covers the new layer of ice everywhere.
    posted by jacalata at 10:47 AM on June 21, 2012


    I have heard people explain that part of the cause is that the temperature hits ~0 and goes up and down, so you get an inch of snow, which melts, then freezes, then another half inch of snow which covers the new layer of ice everywhere.

    I have definitely seen this happen in Philadelphia. In Philly the snowstorms are more than an inch, though, so you get giant piles of melted and refrozen slush.
    posted by madcaptenor at 10:55 AM on June 21, 2012


    What I never understood is why no one ever uses the blue plastic cups for drinks.

    I do, but then I'm not really "Hollywood" material...
    posted by pardonyou? at 10:56 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    In Philly the snowstorms are more than an inch, though, so you get giant piles of melted and refrozen slush.

    It is incredibly gross and dangerous, especially since they use small streets as slushpiles to clear the bigger avenues. At least it's actual ice though; in DC (which does have black ice issues on a smaller scale) I used to have snow days without any snow at all.
    posted by jetlagaddict at 10:58 AM on June 21, 2012


    When I was a kid we moved from Chicago to the top of a mountain in Tennessee. We were set to go to my granparents back up north one Christmas when a sudden snowstorm (flurry) blew in. The state highway patrol and DOT freaked out and closed the roads up and down the mountain. My dad, having just moved there from Chicago and still sporting the snow tires on our family truckster simply said "screw 'em" and drove around the barricades and down onto the closed interstate. A patrol car made a short dart towards us before quickly chickening out. He made record time down the mountain with no other cars around. We never slipped nor skidded once despite the inch of unblemished powder on the road. Who cares about seeing the lane markers when you are the only car on the road!
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:19 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    > Here in Madison I walk my kid to the bus stop just like my parents did when I was little

    Same here, just like when I was a kid in suburban Helsinki.
    posted by The corpse in the library at 11:33 AM on June 21, 2012


    I have heard people explain that part of the cause is that the temperature hits ~0 and goes up and down, so you get an inch of snow, which melts, then freezes, then another half inch of snow which covers the new layer of ice everywhere.

    ...and it's all melted and icy and slushy and frozen all over the top of some absurdly steep hills, so even if you're driving around in an expensive, high-tech 4x4 with electronic traction control, you can still completely lose control at 5 mph and go skidding down a hill and total your vehicle along with three parked cars all at one go. As I did in the Great Blizzard of '08.

    the most memorable bit was in describing Americans as peaches and Europeans/Asians as watermelons.

    That's funny. To other Americans, Seattleites seem like "watermelons" - there are lots of complaints about the "seattle freeze". Once you are in, you are in, but it takes a while to get connected.
    posted by Mars Saxman at 11:36 AM on June 21, 2012


    The joke is that they took I-95 the wrong direction. For hours. And didn't notice when they were going through Connecticut that they were pointed the wrong direction.

    Ah, I assumed they were asking in reference to a future trip or something. Yeah, that's pretty bad.


    Especially since, as anyone who has erver driven through Connecticut knows, it will somehow take you five hours every time, going at about an average of 22 mph, with nothing to do but consider Connecticut.
    posted by Navelgazer at 11:36 AM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


    WhitenoisE: I'd like to know what's up with all the fireworks billboards along I-95 in the south. No exaggeration, there's a billboard advertising a different fireworks store every mile.
    Along the I-85 and I-95 corridors, I think it's due to the fact that the good fireworks are unlawful in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia, but legal in in Alabama and South Carolina. I think the advertising is to help people remember to stop and pick up some of the big ones as they drive by the border stores. Because it's more than two hours to Exit 1 in South Carolina from Atlanta and by the time you want fireworks, you're usually already too drunk to drive.
    posted by ob1quixote at 11:38 AM on June 21, 2012


    in DC (which does have black ice issues on a smaller scale) I used to have snow days without any snow at all.

    We sometimes have them in the Boston area as well. It reflects the flukiness of Northeast storms. And I tend to think it's a good idea. Since I was a kid, the trend (and of course the ability) has been to make the school-closing calls earlier and earlier. It makes a lot of sense to make the call the day before based on predictions. All too often, as a kid, my family ended up making all the effort to get everybody up, snow-armored, and out the door to school because it might not snow that badly, only to have to turn around for a 10 AM early dismissal and send us all home on unsafe roads with low visibility. If you just plain call the day before, you don't have all the dithering and waste and communication problems that come with trying to arrest a school transportation day that begins, for the drivers, as early as 4 or 4:30 in the morning and for many kids as early as 5:30 or 6:00, and then has to put everybody back where they started in the case of conditions getting bad. Plow drivers, and all the rest of us, don't need to be negotiating around kids and school buses on snowy roads. Most of the time the advance school cancellation works out properly. Sometimes, the storm veers off to sea oddly and leaves everybody high and dry with a weird day off. Considering all, we're better off with this situation than leaning toward the alternative of much later school call-offs. By the time you wait to see if a storm is 'bad enough' to call school, it's often too bad to be out in.

    I'd like to know what's up with all the fireworks billboards along I-95 in the south. No exaggeration, there's a billboard advertising a different fireworks store every mile.

    Ever been to New Hampshire? Same story. I think it's the only place in New England where you can buy the full range of fireworks. It's just part of the economy, no different than North Carolina having furniture stores or Virginia having tobacco outlets.
    posted by Miko at 11:49 AM on June 21, 2012


    As a Canadian, I was shocked by:
    - Advertisements for health services, hospitals and insurance. EVERYWHERE.
    - Advertisements for guns, signs referring to guns
    - All taxis seemed to have protective barriers
    - Cheap booze everywhere
    - Drastically variable /road asphalt conditions as you drive between states.
    posted by Theta States at 11:54 AM on June 21, 2012


    In LV and NYC the stark racial segregation of the large chunks of the service industry.

    Intra-US, I'm from the east coast and I was not expected to be shocked by seeing white people working at fast food joints but then I visited Ohio....
    posted by The Whelk at 12:01 PM on June 21, 2012


    Drastically variable /road asphalt conditions as you drive between states.

    Man, judging from the comments by Canadians in this thread, I just like to say that you folks have got to get out and see more of your own country!

    You want guns, booze, rednecks, racism, bad roads, bad teeth, Wal-Mart, Jesus, and neo-conservatism I suggest you get yourselves invited to a wedding in rural New Brunswick!
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:02 PM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Especially since, as anyone who has erver driven through Connecticut knows, it will somehow take you five hours every time, going at about an average of 22 mph, with nothing to do but consider Connecticut. Connecticut is a fucking time space vortex or something, even a minor dip into the nutmeg wormhole causes you loose hours as Yet More Pointless Connecticut just manifests before you.
    posted by The Whelk at 12:04 PM on June 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


    You want guns, booze, rednecks, racism, bad roads, bad teeth, Wal-Mart, Jesus, and neo-conservatism I suggest you get yourselves invited to a wedding in rural New Brunswick!

    Yeah but your portion sizes of all that are so much BIGGER. :)
    posted by Theta States at 12:07 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Also, above about getting stared at if you order more than two pints, American drinking culture is STRANGE. Despite California's attempt to cultivate a mediterranean Bon vivantism, drinking is all or nothing in most parts of the US. You completely abstain until say, the weekend when you drink eight bottles at once. It's like the entire country was never taught how to drink and now just cycles between tee totaling paranoia and frant boy blackouts.

    Granted this is a nation that nce outlawed drinking so maybe there is a reason for this.
    posted by The Whelk at 12:09 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    For everyone who laments the "self-loathing" and "negativity" so present in this country, relax. It's what we're supposed to be doing. We have a participatory democracy (in theory, at least). Citizens making noise about things that are broken or need improvement (and voting accordingly) is fundamental to the system. Sitting around waving flags and feeling proud never accomplished anything. It's even possible to be great without drawing attention to the fact.
    posted by sensate at 12:14 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I'm an American born and raised, and I don't even dislike guns as guns, but I'm really creeped out right now by the number of people that I know, statistically, are packing. The wave of concealed-carry laws that passed over the last couple of decades really unnerves me.

    I live in an open-carry state. At least with concealed-carry, you know that the person had to pass a test. I've seen people wearing guns in ridiculous places, like wineries. One of my neighbors saw someone all holstered up at Babies R Us. There is an organized gun group that has large monthly dinners out where they all open carry because if you don't exercise your rights the gubmint will take them away. You are not legally allowed to concealed-carry in an establishment that serves alcohol, but you can open carry (unless the owner of the establishment prohibits it).
    posted by candyland at 12:19 PM on June 21, 2012


    Connecticut is a fucking time space vortex or something, even a minor dip into the nutmeg wormhole causes you loose hours as Yet More Pointless Connecticut just manifests before you.

    I recently described Connecticut to an Englishman thusly: "Okay, you know where Boston is? And you know where New York is? And you know how on a map there's that big bit between them that you have to drive through to get from one place to the other? Connecticut is that bit."

    You've also reminded me of an incident from college; I hung out with a lot of the people in my dorm freshman year, and I'd talked with the gang about what a Black Zone Of Nothing my hometown was. Two of the guys took a road trip from New York to Boston and back at one point, and they said that when they were on the road, at one point they hit a spot where the only radio stations they could get were a Spanish-language station and something with 24-hour Art Bell; everything else was static.

    "....How much you wanna bet that we're near that place that EC grew up?" they said, and when the next road sign came up, sure enough...
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:20 PM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    It makes a lot of sense to make the call the day before based on predictions.

    Oh, yes, as an adult it all makes more sense than when I was ten, but that particular year the new school superintendent had just come up from South Carolina, and the number of snow days was somewhat... inflated. My school ceased following the local public school system's calls henceforth, much to our chagrin.
    posted by jetlagaddict at 12:21 PM on June 21, 2012


    even a minor dip into the nutmeg wormhole

    Did you know that there is, and never has been, nutmeg grown in The Nutmeg State of Connecticut? Legend has it that Revolutionary-era Connecticut sea captains would trade Connecticut crops like onions for nutmeg during their journeys to the Caribbean (as captains from any colony/state could do, of course), and once they got the nutmeg back, some of the less ethical ones would slip in some fake wooden nutmegs along with the real stuff to sell, a sign of Connecticut-bred "cleverness." There is also some lore that says the residents were eager to adopt the name because it would help lure settlers from England with the promise of spice riches.... which is my long way of getting back to the subject of the FPP, because man, did those settlers have the opposite problem.

    Also, the Charter Oak on the Connecticut state quarter totally looks like a diagram of blood vessels to the kidney. Go ahead, try not to see it now!
    posted by argonauta at 12:28 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    So Connecticut is Greenland then?

    Makes sense.
    posted by The Whelk at 12:33 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    > You are not legally allowed to concealed-carry in an establishment that serves alcohol

    I used to drive past (but not go into) a bar that sold hunting knives. This always seemed like either a very stupid or a very great idea.
    posted by The corpse in the library at 12:38 PM on June 21, 2012


    So Connecticut is Greenland then?

    Yep, Greenland with Martha Stewart.
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:39 PM on June 21, 2012


    Greenland with Martha Stewart.

    I actually have a t-shirt that says it's "Like Massachusetts except the Kennedys don't own it yet."
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:40 PM on June 21, 2012


    Yeah, I'm from the land of big states, where it takes hours just to get to the border with the next state, which is inevitably Texas, so, yeah. Even headed east, you can drive for a day or two and still be in the same region of the country.

    And yet I still do not understand how it can possibly take so damn long to drive through Connecticut, a state that is like the third smallest.
    posted by Sara C. at 12:48 PM on June 21, 2012


    Connecticut is bigger in the inside, all the tight little smiles and " Cape cod inspired" kitchens actually slow down time relative to the states around it. It's actually still 1983 there.
    posted by The Whelk at 12:51 PM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Whelk: I bet you think you're only kidding.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:55 PM on June 21, 2012


    I've spent time in Westport.

    I am deadly serious.
    posted by The Whelk at 12:57 PM on June 21, 2012


    Anyway, no place is all bad, Connecitcut has made big strides in equality for undead Americans with thier continued support of Senator Liberman.
    posted by The Whelk at 1:05 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    As someone that grew up in Rhode Island, previously lived in NYC and now lives in Massachusetts, I can verify that everything that has been said about Connecticut in this thread is 100% truth. The interior of Connecticut defies physics.
    posted by otters walk among us at 1:05 PM on June 21, 2012


    Metafilter: incredibly gross and dangerous.
    posted by herbplarfegan at 1:06 PM on June 21, 2012


    This may be apocryphal, but my dad tells a story about how in 1978, the Connecticut legislature legalized right turns on red, and in response, ConnDOT put up "no turn on red" signs at every major intersection in Connecticut overnight.
    posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:11 PM on June 21, 2012


    I have to say, I read in some historicalish book once about some famous Texas guy claiming Texas was 800 miles wide at it's widest point. When it was eventually measured, it came out to 801.

    I don't think I believe it ...

    One of my Canadian friends was blown away by the number of cosmetic surgery commercials on the television and radio. Special financing available to those who qualify!
    posted by tilde at 1:23 PM on June 21, 2012


    Damn proud Nutmegger myself!
    posted by ericb at 1:30 PM on June 21, 2012


    Careful there Eric, emotions are for ...ethnic people.
    posted by The Whelk at 1:39 PM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


    WRT passing on the right:

    If you are in the left lane and want to pass the car in front of you, the etiquette is that you follow behind him a little closer than normal. Within a few moments the driver in front should notice you and move over to the right to let you pass. This makes highway driving safer and more fluid. This is one thing that Quebec drivers do right an it's great. But cross into the US (or Ontario) and it's all willy-nilly.
    posted by Vindaloo at 1:43 PM on June 21, 2012


    Especially since, as anyone who has erver driven through Connecticut knows, it will somehow take you five hours every time, going at about an average of 22 mph, with nothing to do but consider Connecticut.

    When I was in a touring rock band (oh so long ago) we used to make up fake mottos for all the states we drove though. The one we came up with for Connecticut was "Connecticut - It's In The Way!".



    (No disrespect intended of course. We often had a gig in NYC followed by one in Boston or vice versa.)
    posted by freecellwizard at 2:09 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    What are some examples of things Americans applaud that would have other cultures sitting quietly? (Seriously.)

    Also, though the conversation has moved way past mailboxes: My neighborhood mostly has mail slots (i.e., no red flags) and my mailbox lost its flag long ago. (I'm a renter, so eh.) My neighbor with the mail slot pins her outgoing mail to the door frame with a thumb tack, and I clip mine onto my mailbox with a clothespin. Both work just fine.
    posted by mudpuppie at 2:14 PM on June 21, 2012


    What are some examples of things Americans applaud that would have other cultures sitting quietly?

    Airplane landings? Maybe this is only when there's turbulence, but I am not much of a clapper and I seem to notice when it's, to my mind, out of place. When there are a bunch of people listed for some reason at a public gathering, Americans like to clap for each person, not just at the end [graduations, "here are the people on the board of the food bank", "thanks to all our volunteer firefighters"]. They clap at parades. Do people in other countries do that "encore clapping" thing where you clap until your hands are numb in the hopes that the person you saw performing will come out and do another song or two? When I've given public speeches people have often clapped at the end (okay) but then there's often another "Hey let's give her another hand" thing after we've done Q&A which has always seemed excessive to me.

    I don't know what it is about Connecticut. My grandparents lived there and it always took five times longer to get between two points in CT than it does in VT with MA being partway in-between. And I'm always through RI before I even notice it sometimes.
    posted by jessamyn at 2:40 PM on June 21, 2012


    > you have to flag them to let them know there's mail to pick up

    That's the way I've always experienced it, too, as far as I remember. But that's not the way it always has been everywhere, as this Appalachian Mailman shows -- he raises the flag to show there's mail that's been delivered.
    posted by The corpse in the library at 2:45 PM on June 21, 2012


    I think of applauding airplane landings as being a non-American thing. I used to run into that a lot when I was a kid in Scandinavia; every landing was applauded. Now I see it only for really smooth landings. This might be part of air travel being less formal and less of an event than it was in the 1970s, though.

    I always say "thanks!" to the bus driver when I get off the bus, but I'm not sure where I picked that up.
    posted by The corpse in the library at 2:48 PM on June 21, 2012


    This may be apocryphal, but my dad tells a story about how in 1978, the Connecticut legislature legalized right turns on red, and in response, ConnDOT put up "no turn on red" signs at every major intersection in Connecticut overnight.

    Since exactly the same thing happened in Massachusetts (probably at about the same time; it was supposed to save gas during the '70s oil crisis), I believe your dad.
    posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:52 PM on June 21, 2012


    It is the epidemic level of American Fat-assery that really boggles my kinfolk in the old country.
    posted by Renoroc at 4:23 PM on June 21, 2012


    It's just our pants.
    posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:25 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Pants are worn on the WAIST* America! The WAIST, the top of your iliac crest, right below your belly button. This is why you look like you're wearing pajamas all the time.

    *exception, jeans, which are worn on the hips, which is not an inch above your pubic hair, it's the top of your butt.
    posted by The Whelk at 5:07 PM on June 21, 2012


    I live in a county in California: San Bernardino, east of Los Angeles County. As Wikipedia says,
    With an area of 20,105 square miles, San Bernardino County is the largest county in the contiguous United States by area, larger than any of the nine smallest states, and larger than the four smallest states combined; and larger than the closest-sized countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina or Costa Rica.
    I'm something of a cartophile, especially for maps that are trippy or thought-provoking. I have a map pinned up on my cubicle wall at work that shows the huge contiguous US shape swallowed up by Africa. Along with China, India, Japan, and most of Europe. Africa is ginormous.
    posted by Celsius1414 at 6:50 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    San Bernardino County is the largest county in the contiguous United States by area, larger than any of the nine smallest states, and larger than the four smallest states combined

    I bet you anything it takes less time to drive across San Bernardino County, CA, than it does to travel between any two points in Connecticut.
    posted by Sara C. at 7:18 PM on June 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


    I recently described Connecticut to an Englishman thusly: "Okay, you know where Boston is? And you know where New York is? And you know how on a map there's that big bit between them that you have to drive through to get from one place to the other? Connecticut is that bit."

    Heh. Whenever I tell people in Europe that I'm from Minnesota I'm always greeted with a blank look and maybe a mumbled - "heard of it but don't know where it is". To which I just tell them "at the top, right in the middle". People know the general shape of the United States so I find it's easier to just tell them where in the shape I'm from.

    Also, we've talked about the school buses and the Solo cups but the fascination that I always thought was kind of funny when I encountered it from people in the UK was the Chinese takeout food boxes. They LOVE those things!
    posted by triggerfinger at 7:44 PM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


    Okay, seriously somebody has to explain the clapping to me? What's wrong with clapping? When are we clapping when we shouldn't?

    I grew up and currently live in Wisconsin but I lived for about 20 years in Illinois. I was taught that you drove in the right lane and you used the left lane for passing only. Most of our highways are 2 lanes in both directions (less in rural areas, more in Milwaukee or Madison)

    When I moved to Illinois where they have multiple 5-7 lane highways that people basically drive where ever the hell they feel like it. It took me a good year to readjust when I moved back. So it's definitely a state to state thing.

    Another state to state thing: I was headed to a party not long after moving to IL and I stopped at a gas station convenience store to pick up a six-pack of beer. I couldn't find it so I asked the guy at the counter at he looked at me like I was crazy.

    "You can't buy beer at a gas station anywhere in the country", he told me. He didn't believe me when I told him he was wrong.

    In Wisconsin you buy beer damn everywhere. Except maybe church.
    posted by Bonzai at 9:53 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I am rather ashamed I just now noticed the FPP title is a Romney gaffe shoutout. :)
    posted by Celsius1414 at 10:30 PM on June 21, 2012


    I remember some Belgian acquaintances who voiced their amazement when, upon visiting a 24-hour supermarket at 3AM, "there were people there!"

    When I brought root beer to Brussels it was also greeted with amazement. When I told them that not only is it a beverage many young children choose to drink, but that it is also mixed with vanilla ice cream, their minds were blown.
    posted by dhens at 10:35 PM on June 21, 2012


    The Whelk: Especially since, as anyone who has erver driven through Connecticut knows, it will somehow take you five hours every time, going at about an average of 22 mph, with nothing to do but consider Connecticut. Connecticut is a fucking time space vortex or something, even a minor dip into the nutmeg wormhole causes you loose hours as Yet More Pointless Connecticut just manifests before you

    It's amazing how different attitudes are across the US, even. You guys are talking about Connecticut like it's some pointless wasteland, yet I consider it to be suffocatingly overpopulated. I don't know how you can stand to exist on the east coast without snapping and going somewhere nice... like Montana or Wyoming, maybe.
    posted by Mitrovarr at 10:42 PM on June 21, 2012


    Clapping -- I've only come across it twice on airplanes, both times unreal scary landings, both in heavy rain and wind, the jets being blown all over the place, the landing in Austin we had to veer off and do it again because another jet was right there, landing on our lane, we all could easy have died, unreal scary. Clapping? Shit. We clapped and cheered. If I had their phone numbers I'd call them now and clap, I'd polish their shoes, whatever.
    posted by dancestoblue at 10:57 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


    And the quality of the roads thing -- I took a road trip last month, Austin to northern Illinois, across Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, then up the whole state of Illinois. From the second I crossed the Illinois line the roads were consistently good, great compared to parts of the rest. Was quite surprising to me, never noticed it prior, a trip I've made plenty of times but not since 1987 -- I'm not sure if it wasn't as different prior or if I'd just not picked it up. Regardless, Illinois has sweet roads.
    posted by dancestoblue at 11:08 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


    3) Guns, in the supermarket.

    This is the case in many Wal-Mart stores in Mississippi. Always a big case of rifles, and a few aisles of hunting and target shooting supplies.
    posted by cp311 at 12:16 AM on June 22, 2012


    ...jeans, which are worn on the hips, which is not an inch above your pubic hair, it's the top of your butt.

    I am curious about how you know where everybody's pubic hair ends, not to mention the height of their butt. Did you make a comprehensive study of these things?
    posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:01 AM on June 22, 2012


    Yes.
    posted by The Whelk at 4:12 AM on June 22, 2012


    exception, jeans

    Or as we call them in America, Freedom Pants.
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:49 AM on June 22, 2012


    Even though I've lived here all my life, the panic that comes over Atlanta when a 1/4 inch of snow may or (probably) isn't coming is funny to me. Run!! Grab your bread and milk!! Hurry!!! And if it does come, the closing down of the entire world....Which is usually a good thing, we can't drive in the rain, much less a dusting of snow...
    posted by pearlybob at 5:05 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


    It's amazing how different attitudes are across the US, even. You guys are talking about Connecticut like it's some pointless wasteland, yet I consider it to be suffocatingly overpopulated.

    Along I-95 it probably is overpopulated. Up in the northeast corner (which the state tourism board calls "The Quiet Corner") or in the Berkshires...not so much. All the population is in the southern edge and then the bulk of everything north is sparse...

    ....Huh. It's like Canada.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:15 AM on June 22, 2012


    Oh, and I've also seen clapping on planes during rough landings....and this one time when a plane I was on was delayed an hour, but the pilot still managed to get us to our destination about a half hour before we were originally supposed to arrive. Altering the laws of space and physics deserves acknowledgement.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:17 AM on June 22, 2012


    Yeah, I'd need a citation for that. I mean, it's clear from observation that a lot of people without homes, or running away from homes, migrate to San Franscisco because the climate is quite comfortable and because the level of services (food, assistance) is really high compared to almost anywhere I've spent time. But I am not sure I believe the police would offer a bus ticket to "home or San Francisco" as a matter of policy. However, if someone were offered a bus ticket to anywhere, I can certainly see them opting for SF. Still, that's different from asserting that it's SOP.


    My source is word of mouth from honest to goodness hoboes at OccupyBoston. That's the best I can find, I suspect, because policies that are questionably legal or Constitutional are not likely to get put on paper.
    posted by ocschwar at 5:21 AM on June 22, 2012


    That's the best I can find, I suspect, because policies that are questionably legal or Constitutional are not likely to get put on paper.

    I can't speak to the actual legality of it (hell, you can find a judge to say that any damn thing is at least actionable), but a big reason that such policies aren't written down is that you don't want the big city where you're sending your homeless to start sending them back.

    The truth is likely somewhere in the middle -- small towns want the homeless gone and say, "Here's a bus ticket. Where do you want to go? By the way, I hear that San Francisco has way better resources for people in your situation. But it's up to you." They don't care if they go to SF or LA or Seattle, as long as they move along.
    posted by Etrigan at 6:29 AM on June 22, 2012


    Towns buying bus tickets definitely happens. Here's a charity that buys tickets, too. Those all are in Florida, but I have a foggy memory of other cities having similar programs.
    posted by The corpse in the library at 6:53 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I don't think anyone is arguing that cities buy bus tickets to get rid of their homeless. It's the idea of A particular city targeting San Francisco (or other cities that aren't the people's hometowns, on the idea that they're better equipped) specifically that gets into the grey areas.
    posted by Etrigan at 7:09 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


    In much of the country, homless folks are referred to as "transients" as in "just passing through." So it makes sense that there would be charities and even governments footing the bill for bus fare.
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:14 AM on June 22, 2012


    One fact about Connecticut is that it is "number one in WUI, or Wildland-Urban Interface, a measure of the proximity of peoples' homes to forests, wetlands and grasslands. Seventy-two percent of Connecticut's land area can be classified as WUI, a percentage matched by no other state. The WUI scale has traditionally been used to measure communities' susceptibility to forest fires, but it also helps to explain such things as the vastness of power outages caused by storms." * That is a lot of 'outdoors' with population centers in Fairfield County (e.g. 'the leafy suburbs' of Manhattan, aka 'The Bedroom of NYC' and 'The Gold Coast,) and farther up the coast other centers (e.g. Bridgeport, Danbury, New Haven) rounded out by Hartford (north central) and the Foothills of The Berkshires and Litchfield County (my ol' stomping grounds) in the northwest. So, lots of forests, empty old fields, wetlands throughout the state.

    FWIW -- "As of the 2010 Census, Connecticut features the highest per capita income, Human Development Index (0.962), and median household income in the United States." * Skewed heavy by hedge founders, bankers, Wall Streeters in Fairfield Count and insurance executives around Hartford.
    posted by ericb at 7:28 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


    *funders* Oh, and 'trust fund babies.'
    posted by ericb at 7:31 AM on June 22, 2012


    Yes, portions are huge. BUT: there is a resultant culture of taking home restaurant food and eating it later. That doesn't exist in Europe, but it is awesome.
    posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:33 AM on June 22, 2012


    Corpse in the library: I clicked your first link, and the article said that the homeless folks with bus tickets had to have a family member willing to take them in, and that's where they were being sent to. San Francisco as a destination wasn't mentioned.

    I surmise that this is probably the case when the homeless are given bus tickets out of town - they are being sent to family, at least initially.

    From what I've read and heard of - admittedly anecdotal - much of what contributes to the huge homeless population in San Francisco comes from the following:

    - The weather makes all-year outdoor living possible


    - It's part of the migration chain for the traveling "crustie" or "gutter punk" kids
    - People still, after all these years, come to San Francisco to "be themselves." Unfortunately some of the people who come to SF to find their niche feel different because they have untreated mental illnesses, or, as a poster noted above, they're in the age bracket (early 20's) when mental illnesses start to manifest themselves.

    - People who might in other circumstances have family to shelter with back home don't. Not only because young LGBT people ostracized from their families and hometowns come to SF, many straight youngsters with particularly awful, abusive, dysfunctional families seek out San Francisco as a healing sanctuary of sorts (like most of the gutterpunk kids - talk to them and boy there are family stories that will curl your hair). One of my girlfriends referred to SF as The Island of Misfit Toys. These are people who might 1) be more susceptible to losing their jobs and housing due to personal issues and 2) don't have anyone but the system or other homeless people to look after them.

    I honestly think that many of the homeless in SF have chosen their own bus tickets here because they can't get a bus ticket back home to family. Hence the relatively sturdy social support network here as well.
    posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:13 AM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


    Oh, I agree -- I didn't mean to imply that there were city officials oficially saying "Here is your ticket to San Francisco, homeless person, you'll like it there."
    posted by The corpse in the library at 8:27 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Yes, I absolutely suspect that it's not a focused policy to send people to San Francisco. The reason is that that aspect of it is a bit of a mythological trope; it's been around for decades and I'm more used to seeing the "one-way bus ticket to San Francisco" as a whistle phrase in the cranky comments and letters to the editor of curmudgeons who deplore the homeless. I doubt there is any plan in any municipality to direct homeless people to San Francisco. Of course I agree that it does enjoy the reputation of being not the worst place to be homeless, and many people who can't or won't go wherever "home" was obviously do choose to go there by whatever means available.
    posted by Miko at 9:41 AM on June 22, 2012


    Miko: just for fun I googled "homeless bus tickets" and what do you know - San Francisco is offering the homeless one-way bus tickets out of town...

    It seems that there is a larger "Homeward Bound" program many cities are offering - not bus tickets to San Francisco, but bus tickets home to family. For what it's worth, San Francisco Homeward Bound requires people to have family willing to take them in, be clean and sober, and medically stable, in order to take advantage of the program. (And again for what it's worth, the visible, hard-core homeless in SF are not clean, sober, or medically stable. Here is where climate does come in, I think - these are people who would freeze or broil to death anywhere else, but in SF's mild climate they at least won't die of exposure.)

    "Bus tickets for the homeless" = not myth. "Bus tickets to San Francisco" = a dog-whistle myth (unless a homeless person has actual family in SF).
    posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:27 PM on June 22, 2012


    unless a homeless person has actual family in SF

    Or just an interest in going there, and (beside all those damn homeless people there) why wouldn't they?
    posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:35 PM on June 22, 2012


    "Bus tickets for the homeless" = not myth. "Bus tickets to San Francisco" = a dog-whistle myth (unless a homeless person has actual family in SF).

    Yes, that's exactly what I was saying that I suspected - "tickets to SF" is a dogwhistle myth and has been for quite some time. As already noted and linked just above, many towns, not just SF, do offer bus tickets home. But "bus tickets to San Francisco" as a municipal policy is a canard.
    posted by Miko at 12:40 PM on June 22, 2012


    Can someone explain this "no passing on the right" thing in the context of a six-lane-per-direction freeway? Do you really expect each lane farther to the left to reliably move slightly faster than the one to its right?

    No, you expect each lane to be moving at pretty much the same speed, and if you are going to specific car, you do it from the left.
    posted by BurnChao at 9:51 PM on June 22, 2012


    that should be: if you are going to pass a specific car...
    posted by BurnChao at 10:35 PM on June 22, 2012


    I was at a tailgate party yesterday drinking beer from a red plastic Solo cup and drank a Yuengling in this thread's honor.
    posted by octothorpe at 9:33 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


    you expect each lane to be moving at pretty much the same speed,...

    Not in Southern California. If people are passing you, you move right.
    posted by benito.strauss at 10:30 AM on June 23, 2012


    Not in Southern California. If people are passing you, you move right.

    I've held driver's licenses in five different states, lived in five more long-term (including Southern California) and driven through all of the continental 48. Everyone thinks, "Our drivers know how to drive. It's the damn [neighboring state]-ans who are screwing it up." Everyone is wrong. Left-lane slowpokes are all over the U.S., and they are oblivious to law, safety and courtesy.
    posted by Etrigan at 12:55 PM on June 23, 2012


    Everyone thinks, "Our drivers know how to drive ....

    Come to Boston. We all drive like shit, we all know it, and some are even proud of it.

    Not everyone drives well, but there is a qualitative, not merely quantitative, difference between six lanes and two lanes. All the SoCal folk I know say that people should lane-segregate by speed, and wouldn't expect all the lanes to be moving at the same speed.
    posted by benito.strauss at 3:24 PM on June 23, 2012


    Everyone is wrong.

    I know that everyone thinks their state is the worst, but it's not accurate. There are real differences (reflected often in the differences of accident rates, insurance rates, etc).

    I've lived in many states up and down the Eastern Seaboard, also Texas and Michigan, and now live in Massachusetts, Boston area. I agree that Mass. drivers are empirically the worst I have ever encountered. It's not even close. As benito.strauss says, it really is almost a point of pride for some people to drive like a "Masshole." For others, it's just a point of total ignorance. The culture is just not to to take the art of driving seriously - it's a free-for-all, cross your fingers and hope. The driving on the freeways is actually better than the driving on the local roads.

    Meanwhile, in Maine drivers (at least in the off season) tend to be unusually responsible and patient, for the most part, and they are proud of it. They even enjoy driving the speed limit and making a point of it, and enjoy, a little, that it pisses tourists off.

    Lane segregation is the natural result of the "move right" laws. If you're moving slower than anyone in your lane, and people are repeatedly passing you on the left, it's time to migrate to the next slower lane. This might be a middle lane on a three-to-six lane highway, or just the right lane on a two-lane. But the farthest-right lane is always for the slowest drivers and those about to exit right. This is actually a big help in safe exiting, ensuring that you are starting from the slowest lane anyway where everyone should already be moving slower, so you don't have to reduce your speed as dramatically to slow down for the on-ramp, which can back up traffic on the major road if people are using the right lane for faster driving or passing. All this is supposed to be covered in driver training programs.
    posted by Miko at 4:22 PM on June 23, 2012


    i will say, the one time i've broken the "don't be a slowpoke in the left lane" rule was when i was towing a car behind a uhaul, cross-country. i rarely was going the speed limit, especially up hills, and a few times when i passed on the left, cars would start to pass me on the right, before i had a chance to get over again. at that point you're just stuck there until the right lane clears up again.
    posted by camdan at 4:23 PM on June 23, 2012


    cars would start to pass me on the right, before i had a chance to get over again

    I lknow what you mean. And though you couldn't prevent their trying that, this is a great example of why it's so dangerous. They could have called on their patience since you were indeed going to move right once you had an opening (and probably had your blinker on for the lane change you hoped to make? That really helps people understand the intention), but instead they took the risk of passing a person with a big old rig and plenty of blind spot in a vehicle they aren't that used to driving. Lucky you were able to prevent problems. That's one of the big things that makes it dangerous; when passing on the right you're depending on others to do the right thing and see you, and you leave yourself totally exposed.
    posted by Miko at 4:30 PM on June 23, 2012


    oh sure, i kept an eye out and realized they were sneaking in over there; the minute there was a gap between me and the vehicle to the right they'd just hop right in. driving a rig about 4x longer than what i was used to, i was extremely cautious to make sure all was clear before i did anything.
    posted by camdan at 4:53 PM on June 23, 2012


    The culture is just not to to take the art of driving seriously - it's a free-for-all, cross your fingers and hope.

    No, you're describing Beijing, not MA. Also, we don't have freeways; we have highways (and hats).
    posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:33 AM on June 24, 2012


    And yet our auto-related fatality rate is more than twice Germany's and Australia's, almost three times the UK's, and much higher than all the European nations and Canada. Even Italy's rates - and you know exactly why I bring it up if you've ever driven in Italy - is a lot lower than ours. So color me unimpressed with US driving abilities.

    Just because we can find worse examples doesn't mean that our system is working optimally, or that we have a smart, healthy and safe culture of driving.

    we don't have freeways; we have highways

    I've lived in too many places to be pedantic about regional terms for things. We were discussing California six-lanes and people used the term freeway; happy to use the term in that context. What we call high-speed divided multilane roads isn't very important as long as we all know what we're talking about. Sure, call 'em highways. Everyone here knew what I was talking about.
    posted by Miko at 8:00 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


    I think the most important difference between multi-lane limited access roads in SoCal and Massachusetts is that in SoCal you say "take the 405", but in Mass. you cannot say "take the 95", you must say "take 95". This minor linguistic tic is fiercely enforced.
    posted by benito.strauss at 9:47 AM on June 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


    ... you cannot say "take the 95"

    Hollywood writers got it wrong in 'Knight & Day,' when Tom Cruise's character said "take the 93." No it's "93 North," or "93 South."
    posted by ericb at 9:56 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


    Left-lane slowpokes are all over the U.S., and they are oblivious to law, safety and courtesy.

    And if they're going 70 (or even 65) in a 65, when other people want to go 80, it's those other people that are the problem.
    posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:18 AM on June 24, 2012


    Having just got back from getting my nails done: there are a lot more nail salons in the US than most other places and it's a lot cheaper and easier to get a professional pedicure (especially). Even working-class women get regular pedicures and manicures. Believe it or not, we have Tippi Hedren to thank for this.
    posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:06 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


    And if they're going 70 (or even 65) in a 65, when other people want to go 80, it's those other people that are the problem.

    No, the people who aren't driving with the flow of traffic -- whether too quickly or too slowly -- are the problem. If you're in the left lane and people are behind you and there's enough room to get into the right lane, get over. Yes, there are assholes who will slalom in an incredibly unsafe manner. There are also a lot of assholes who will insist that they get to set the maximum speed for everyone else, and they are not right either.
    posted by Etrigan at 4:12 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


    No, the people who aren't driving with the flow of traffic -- whether too quickly or too slowly -- are the problem.

    Ultimately, this is not true; the blame for problems caused by driving too fast rests squarely with the person doing the driving. If you want to go 15 over, it's not other people's responsibility to do the same or get out of your way; it's your responsibility to drive at a safe speed (and no, most cars on the road in North America really aren't properly controllable going faster than about 75 miles per hour).
    posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:12 PM on June 24, 2012


    fremen writes "And frankly, I still don't understand how my right blindspot is any more dangerous than my left one. Both blindspots require me to look over my shoulder before changing lanes. And with mirrors on both sides of my car, I have good situational awareness of things on both sides of me. Why would other drivers be any different?"

    Cars in the US aren't required to passenger side mirrors if they've got internal rear view mirrors. Also a left hand shoulder check will see more of the road than a right hand shoulder check in most cars simply because of the geometry of the eyeball-window-road relative positions. Something small (say a classic mini) can be totally invisible from the driver's seat if it's in the "blind spot" on the right hand side of say an H2 Hummer or even a jacked up Toyota Pickup. Something I'm always very aware of driving my Storm and was very aware of driving my Fiero. I pretty well never drive along to the right of another car if I can possibly avoid it instead I'll drop back a car length.

    Deathalicious writes "I've been to a number of countries and haven't seen the national flag or its symbols used as profilcly as it is in the States (maybe the exception would be Israel, but there the Mogen David is a more generalized symbol that has meaning beyond just showing up on the flag)."

    Not just flags; Americans from my perspective are very fond of the red white blue colour scheme. So you see it on advertising everywhere even if there isn't an actual flag showing.

    candyland writes "I live in an open-carry state. At least with concealed-carry, you know that the person had to pass a test. I've seen people wearing guns in ridiculous places, like wineries. One of my neighbors saw someone all holstered up at Babies R Us. "

    I'm not sure why this should be shocking. If you buy into the need to carry for protection and even if you think you won't need protection in a Babies R Us, you'll still buy into the need on the way to and from the Babies R Us. Also presumably in many cases the Babies R Us won't be the only stop you'd be making

    EmpressCallipygos writes "You've also reminded me of an incident from college; I hung out with a lot of the people in my dorm freshman year, and I'd talked with the gang about what a Black Zone Of Nothing my hometown was. Two of the guys took a road trip from New York to Boston and back at one point, and they said that when they were on the road, at one point they hit a spot where the only radio stations they could get were a Spanish-language station and something with 24-hour Art Bell; everything else was static.

    "'....How much you wanna bet that we're near that place that EC grew up?' they said, and when the next road sign came up, sure enough..."


    There are vast swathes of BC where you can't get radio reception at all. Many a time when I'd had the mis-fortune to be driving some POS without a working tape deck I lamented that lack. Also did you know that well into the 90s you could order a Ford with only an AM Radio? I mean I can understand ordering a car with no radio if you intend to immediately rip it out anyway to put in a fancy aftermarket head unit but who in their right mind would be so cruel to the future owners of the car to save the few bucks difference between AM/FM and AM only in 1990?
    posted by Mitheral at 1:20 AM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


    An AskMeFi about passing on the right, if anyone cares to continue the discussion in a less cluttered environment.
    posted by Etrigan at 3:46 AM on June 25, 2012


    There are vast swathes of BC where you can't get radio reception at all.

    Isn't this true in most of North America, aside from a few of the most densely populated US Northeastern states? (For example I'd be surprised to hear there were patches of either Rhode Island or Delaware with no radio reception at all.)

    I know it was true when I was growing up in Louisiana, which isn't even that remote of a place compared to the Yukon or Wyoming or something.
    posted by Sara C. at 7:02 AM on June 25, 2012


    A Tribute To The Red Solo Cup Made From Beer Cases.
    posted by ericb at 11:40 AM on June 27, 2012


    Hollywood writers got it wrong in 'Knight & Day,' when Tom Cruise's character said "take the 93." No it's "93 North," or "93 South."

    Erm, I've heard people use "95" or "93" or whatever number before, without mentioning the cardinal direction. Usually it was in such cases where the cardinal direction you'd want to go in was kind of obvious (if you're going from Boston to Washington DC, say, it's pretty obvious you don't want 95 North).
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:49 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


    They just don't call it "The 93" the way you might call something "The 10" or "The 5" on the west coast.
    posted by jessamyn at 1:08 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


    Yeah, it's all about the "The". I've also heard some people claim that it's not the entire west coast that thes the "The", but only the greater Los Angeles area.
    posted by benito.strauss at 1:37 PM on June 27, 2012


    Granted this is just a few miles west of the Mississippi, but growing up in Louisiana we said it a third way, with "I" in front. I think it might have to do with the fact that most of our interstates happen to be low numbers that are short to say, like I-10 and I-20.

    I remember driving up the East Coast with my parents as a teenager, and all of us called it I-95. Which in retrospect must have sounded super weird to locals when we asked for directions.

    All of the above said, the section of I-10 that goes through New Orleans proper is known as 310, East Coast style. Not I-310 or The 310.

    It's going to be weird to move to Los Angeles and have to call I-10 "The Ten".
    posted by Sara C. at 1:49 PM on June 27, 2012


    Whoops. 310 is the spur of I-10 that connects my home turf along US Route 90 with New Orleans itself. I always assumed 310 was the whole thing until you got to the GNO bridge past the New Orleans CBD. Learn something new on Wikipedia every day....
    posted by Sara C. at 1:57 PM on June 27, 2012


    I've heard people use "95" or "93" or whatever number before, without mentioning the cardinal direction.

    Yes ... I have, too and I also say just the number of the road (93, 95, 128, etc.). However, I find myself always saying 'Route 9,' instead of just 9

    I also note one exception -- The Pike ... but, that obviously is common nomenclature. I can't even, off of the top of my head, recall the numerical designation for it.

    GOOGLE tells me it is '90.'
    posted by ericb at 2:02 PM on June 27, 2012


    I remember driving up the East Coast with my parents as a teenager, and all of us called it I-95. Which in retrospect must have sounded super weird to locals when we asked for directions.

    Hmm, well, I say "I-whatever" sometimes and I grew up on the East Coast where I've lived thirty years now, but I was born in Texas to a Texan dad, so that may have influenced me. In New England, though, there are only really three or four major interstates and they just don't get mixed up that often: 84, 91, 93, 95.

    Still, nobody looks at me weirdly when I say "take I-95...." etc.

    But when I open my mouth to say the word "route" I often don't know what's going to come out: "root" or "rout."
    posted by Miko at 2:07 PM on June 27, 2012


    The Pike ... but, that obviously is common nomenclature. I can't even, off of the top of my head, recall the numerical designation for it.

    It's Route 90, but yeah, it's just "the Mass Pike." "Route" almost always precedes state highway numbers in Northern New England, and I even think of the Cape where it's "Route 6" to everything.
    posted by Miko at 2:08 PM on June 27, 2012


    WHOA.

    "The pike" is, like, A REAL PLACE??????

    As in like, "just up the pike", "coming down the pike", etc?

    Mind. Blown.

    I always assumed it was a colloquialism, like maybe short for turnpike, or something from Chaucerish Shakespearey times.

    So there is an actual Pike somewhere?
    posted by Sara C. at 2:09 PM on June 27, 2012


    The Massachusetts Turnpike, AKA I-90. Yes, the I- prefix is commonly, but not universally used. Route 9, like Route 1 and Route 6, is called that because it predates the Interstate system, and the Route title is traditional.
    posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:14 PM on June 27, 2012


    Massachusetts Turnpike

    "Turnpike" used to mean the rotating barrier that stopped you from accessing a road until you paid the fee.
    posted by benito.strauss at 2:20 PM on June 27, 2012


    Re "I": I don't think the I clarifies anything. I suspect it's just there for rhythmic reasons. Which might be why the Northeast leaves it out. "Eighty-Three" sounds good by itself. "Twelve" doesn't. You need something else. Another syllable. So you throw in "I". I-Ten, I-Twelve, I-Twenty*. This whole hypothesis also supports why SoCal folks add "the", since I think they also mostly get small numbers.

    Re "route": Me neither. I think I split it up. So I choose my rowt on a car trip, but that rowt might include Root 66. That said, I'm pretty sure that self-reporting is useless for most phonetics issues in linguistics. I probably say one more than the other, regardless of meaning.

    * That said, we also have I-49 and I-55, which get the I treatment despite sounding fine on their own.
    posted by Sara C. at 2:21 PM on June 27, 2012


    But there's also the New Jersey Turnpike, which is called The Turnpike and not the 'pike as far as I know. So it makes sense to me that there is a category of roads called turnpikes. But it blows my mind that there is a The Pike.
    posted by Sara C. at 2:22 PM on June 27, 2012


    And of course there are some interstates that, in certain areas, nobody uses the number for. If you go to Philadelphia and talk about "76" or "I-76" people will look at you blindly; it's "the Schuylkill", and that's pronounced "skoo-kill". I think this is at least partially because the Schuylkill predates the introduction of the Interstates.
    posted by madcaptenor at 2:27 PM on June 27, 2012


    "Re "I": I don't think the I clarifies anything."

    If someone told you to take "90" and you took State Road 90 or U.S. 90 instead of Interstate 90, you would not end up where you hoped.

    But I'm from Chicago, where our interstates have names -- Edens, Kennedy, Eisenhower, Stevenson, Dan Ryan -- and where West is North. If you told me I had to take I-94 I'd have to think about it.
    posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:29 PM on June 27, 2012


    That assumes that those roads might all intersect or be located in the same city. I'm pretty sure the system is set up so that this doesn't happen. And that even if the national numbering system isn't enough to sort that out, locals would use names or some other convention to make it clear. But I guess there might be a place somewhere in the USA where you HAVE to say "I" in order to make it clear what you're talking about.

    New York has name freeways in the city, too, which makes more sense to me. "Take the BQE to the Major Deegan." That is a somewhat comprehensible sentence. "Take the 10 to the 405" is ridiculous. Oh, California.
    posted by Sara C. at 2:38 PM on June 27, 2012


    For some reason the interstates around Pittsburgh are all known as Parkways. No one ever talks about I-376 or I-279 but instead talk about The Parkway East, The Parkway West and the Parkway North.

    My California wife still instinctively calls them "freeways" which always confuses folks around here.
    posted by octothorpe at 2:45 PM on June 27, 2012


    It seems to be called "the turnpike" almost everywhere else but Mass. It's the Maine "turnpike," the Pennsylvania "turnpike," the Baltimore "turnpike," the "Jersey turnpike," but "the Mass Pike."

    That assumes that those roads might all intersect or be located in the same city. I'm pretty sure the system is set up so that this doesn't happen.


    Actually, it's not. Since the Interstates were mapped onto an existing grid of old local roads, FMs, county highways (which can also be "routes"), state highways, and since Interstates by definition cross many different such state systems in their extreme length, there is often duplication. It's messed me up on a fair number of roadtrips.
    posted by Miko at 2:48 PM on June 27, 2012


    I should clarify to say that though the Interstate naming system makes an effort not to contribute to confusion, so in some sense it is "designed" not to, in some places it's been unavoidable, and the same is true for other numbered roads at different levels which sometimes are confused as well.
    posted by Miko at 2:51 PM on June 27, 2012


    Sara C.: “That assumes that those roads might all intersect or be located in the same city. I'm pretty sure the system is set up so that this doesn't happen.”

    Er – cite? I've had numerous experiences where this was not the case – not to mention the fact that it'd be almost impossible if you took into account the possible permutations of numbers in street, road, and highway names.
    posted by koeselitz at 3:29 PM on June 27, 2012


    I hadn't thought of the "the"-vs-"no-the" form of road nomenclature. Interesting.

    I remembered a couple other ones (my friend from Ireland was here last year too) - two things that shocked her were:

    * the produce was, to her eyes, CHEAP. I live near an upper-scale deli in Brooklyn, and every day when we walked past, her eyes would bug out to see that you could get grapefruit at 2 for a dollar or lemons at 8 for two bucks. (It is kind of cheap, though, now that I think of it, yes?)

    * We had a whole half-hour conversation about hot water tank placement in the home, prompted by her waking up to see it snowing and her asking me in a panic if the hot water would work. I was surprised to hear that that's because the hot water heaters are located in the attics in Irish homes, and she was surprised to hear that they are located in the basements of American homes. ("But doesn't the tank freeze in the attic if you get a cold snap?" "Well, yeah. But at least we can get water because of gravity - and don't you have trouble getting water from the pump if your power goes out?" "Well, yeah.")
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:28 PM on June 27, 2012


    It isn't ROWT, it's ROOT!

    And, it's most assuredly, positively, unquestionably MEE-FIGHT!
    posted by ericb at 4:57 PM on June 27, 2012


    Take it outside.
    posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:03 PM on June 27, 2012


    Variety of products has been mentioned, but more specifically: variety of women's underwear.

    Once, I listed all the types to a German friend: g-string, thong, hipster, boyshort, etc. He couldn't believe it.
    posted by edgybelle27 at 10:30 PM on July 7, 2012


    « Older RIP Andrew Sarris, the legendary film critic who p...  |  David Chan has eaten at 6,090 ... Newer »


    This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments