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March 6, 2014 8:37 AM   Subscribe

11 French Tourist Tips For Visiting America. Tips For Russians. Tips For Japanese Visitors.
posted by The Whelk (162 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the Russian tips: "Surviving” makes you a hero over there. Here it just means you were unlucky, but not unlucky enough to have died.


WOW.

That is probably the most Russian sentiment I've ever read.
posted by Renoroc at 8:42 AM on March 6 [52 favorites]


I know the Japanese one was posted recently but via another site. The language is exactly the same. Wonder who lifted without attribution from whom.
posted by curious nu at 8:43 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


(Sitting here in Gallic-solidarity because you can't just eat whenever you want like a dog - and people who eat food with smells in confined spaces like an elevator or subway car deserve to be shot.)
posted by The Whelk at 8:45 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


12. Visit Canada instead.
posted by Fizz at 8:46 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


The Japanese one is totally fake and it's driving me bonkers seeing it show up everywhere. It does provide links to actual Japanese traveler tips, but the content is completely different (and boring, and mostly about how much to tip whom).
posted by chocotaco at 8:49 AM on March 6 [8 favorites]


Jesus, the things the French one points out as notable make it seem like France must be a hellhole. "In America, be prepared for people to be friendly. They will also help you if you are in trouble. They won't call ugly children ugly. They won't steal from you. They're not going to cut in line on you. Nobody's going to mind if you eat something."
posted by Flunkie at 8:49 AM on March 6 [9 favorites]


All those tips for Russians about gifts and flirtation go out the window if you're over 60.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:49 AM on March 6


(and boring, and mostly about how much to tip whom).

As a Brit, and based on reading MeFi, this seems like the most important info possible when visiting the US...
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:51 AM on March 6 [14 favorites]


US etiquette also forbids lamenting the troubles of life, or sharing your problems with others.

Please tell this to the dozens of people who come into my office every day.
posted by JanetLand at 8:51 AM on March 6 [40 favorites]


Also the Russian rule about complaining is the opposite in New York City. If you meet someone socially you must immediately begin to complain about the weather, your health, and whatever public transport is nearby.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:53 AM on March 6 [8 favorites]


I have to arm myself with patience for each passage to the pharmacy. Here, we will prepare your requirements in an orange pot in your name, with the correct number of tablets and the dose recommended above (yes, just like in the movies). So, it takes for ages. The trick? Post your order and continue shopping, then return later.

OK, so what the hell do they do in French pharmacies? Just lob a handful of pills at you and leave you to guess the dosage?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:54 AM on March 6 [27 favorites]


Does it include not knocking on doors to ask for directions ?

It should include that.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:54 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Jesus, the things the French one points out as notable make it seem like France must be a hellhole. "In America, be prepared for people to be friendly. They will also help you if you are in trouble. They won't call ugly children ugly. They won't steal from you. They're not going to cut in line on you. Nobody's going to mind if you eat something."

Or this little gem, probably not accurate, but I like thinking about someone racked with vague regrets and guilt:

"In Japan, there is great fear of failure and mistakes in front of other people. It is better to do nothing and avoid being criticized than to taste the humiliation of failure. As a result, there are things we wanted to do, but did not, and often regret."
posted by taromsn at 8:55 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


US etiquette also forbids lamenting the troubles of life, or sharing your problems with others.

To be fair, occasionally I ask someone "how's it going," and they respond with something like "My mom died" and it totally freaks me the fuck out. I have no idea how to respond. I just say something, anything, and slink off.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:59 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


"Do not ask the effect of a magnetic storm (not many Americans know what that is) on their well-being."

Honest to god I would advise any Russian to person to not even bring up health and medicine with Americans. No one must know that the robust health of the Russian populace comes from regular use of mustard plasters, cupping, questionable tinctures, and filtering water through magnets.

But now I've said too much already.
posted by griphus at 9:00 AM on March 6 [39 favorites]


The Japanese article was surprisingly positive. It's a weird feeling to read something positive about Americans.
posted by bleep at 9:00 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


“He who goes hunting loses his place"

Yay! I've come across this idiom in studying French, but never in the wild before.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:00 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


The Japanese one is totally fake and it's driving me bonkers seeing it show up everywhere. It does provide links to actual Japanese traveler tips, but the content is completely different

Yeah, I doubt that any of these are "real" in the traditional sense, if the author had written these five years ago, we would have come upon it in an e-mail prefaced by "FWD: fw: fw: fw: fw:"
posted by skewed at 9:01 AM on March 6 [7 favorites]


Rejoicing in the presence of children or pets. This is the correlate of "smile to strangers," it is mandatory to have a smile or a little "how cute" tilt to your head if you come across a child or pet. Even if they are ugly.

If sneering at rambunctious children is wrong, I don't wanna be right. Guess I'm moving to France.
posted by invitapriore at 9:02 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


"I have to arm myself with patience for each passage to the pharmacy. Here, we will prepare your requirements in an orange pot in your name, with the correct number of tablets and the dose recommended above (yes, just like in the movies). So, it takes for ages. The trick? Post your order and continue shopping, then return later."

EndsOfInvention: OK, so what the hell do they do in French pharmacies? Just lob a handful of pills at you and leave you to guess the dosage?

Actually, they lob suppositories at you in France. For everything.

(In Germany, you get injections. In France, it's medicine that goes up the bum. In the UK, pills.)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:02 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


...and they respond with something like "My mom died" and it totally freaks me the fuck out...

To be fair, when my mom actually did die and something was clearly up with me and people asked, I didn't want to lie, but I also wanted to be left alone, so I phrased it exactly like that because I knew they wouldn't ask follow-up questions. You'd be surprised how receptive people are to my changing the subject after just being point-blank about it.
posted by griphus at 9:02 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


The Japanese one is totally fake and it's driving me bonkers seeing it show up everywhere.

Pfft, you're just mad about the grocery matrix.
posted by mullacc at 9:03 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Actually, they lob suppositories at you in France

They must have good aim.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:04 AM on March 6 [29 favorites]


I'm not sure how authentic these are, but even taking it all with a grain of salt, it's fascinating to see commentary on my culture that wasn't written with someone from my culture as the audience.
posted by Ickster at 9:06 AM on March 6


Arg. I've been swatting these down on Facebook all week. I get really sick of e.g. THOSE CRAZY JAPANESE stereotypes and bullshit, especially when it's so transparently bullshit.
posted by klangklangston at 9:08 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


OK, so what the hell do they do in French pharmacies? Just lob a handful of pills at you and leave you to guess the dosage?

Basically, they just give you the box of pills. How much you should take, when, etc. is written on your prescription. The pharmacist confirms with you you're aware of those details, sometimes writes it again on the box, but they basically trust you as a functioning adult to manage your pill intake.

As to the rest, as a Frenchman familiar with both sides of the Atlantic, these lists can make me chuckle, but always strike me as very very exaggerated. Ok, we don't have doggy bags, lines are more flexible (but you'll still get dirty looks and sometimes get publicly called out for it), and indeed American shower heads are annoying as hell, but that's pretty much it.

What really is hard for a Frenchman in the US is the amount of what to us seems fake friendliness that is expected of anyone, including us, with strangers. It doesn't mean we don't help people on the street, quite the contrary, but the whole smiling and greeting with each and every US store clerk can get really weird pretty fast.
posted by susuman at 9:08 AM on March 6 [10 favorites]


If these where real they seem situational, in that I could see how someone from the outside could easily go to part of America see a given town/city and draw inferences that the rest of America is like this (just as Americans do for others countries/any-large-land-mass) except! the one about Americans don't speed. Everywhere I have ever been in this country the norm is to speed. It's like speed limit signs exist just so cops can stay busy on a slow day.
posted by edgeways at 9:09 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


US etiquette also forbids lamenting the troubles of life, or sharing your problems with others.

I recently had a Crohn's flareup and (unrelatedly) a respiratory infection. But my bank account was overdrawn, so I had to go to the bank and make a deposit. I arrive and the place is completely empty except for me and a teller. I stumble to the side counter they have for filling out deposit slips, doubled over in pain and coughing. Eventually I've got everything filled out and approach the desk.

The teller is extraordinarily chipper and inquisitive. He will simply not let up with the questions until he has determined, to his satisfaction, how I'm doing. I have no socially appropriate way of telling him that there is no socially appropriate way to answer his questions.
posted by Jpfed at 9:13 AM on March 6 [8 favorites]


But laughing at someone who trips in public is a universal response. We may not have much in common with Russians except for that.
posted by waving at 9:15 AM on March 6


Knowing how to use sarcasm is a must to communicate with an American.

[rolls eyes] Sure it is!
posted by TedW at 9:15 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


It was only after I lived abroad for a few years did I realize how creepily friendly and cheerful Americans are-- Canadians even more so.
posted by waving at 9:18 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


Can someone please explain the magnetic storms thing to this American? What are they and what do they do to your health?
posted by Mchelly at 9:22 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


That's the advantage of living in a country with an exaggerated sense of the value of consumers and right to work laws.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:22 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


it is mandatory to have a smile or a little "how cute" tilt to your head if you come across a child or pet. Even if they are ugly.

I have to say this one is tough for some of us native-born Americans too.
posted by aught at 9:25 AM on March 6 [6 favorites]


OK, so what the hell do they do in French pharmacies? Just lob a handful of pills at you and leave you to guess the dosage?

Well in the England we just put a sticker on the box/holder of the medicine and use it as is. When you get these little orange tubs in the US you're forever reading the label to remember which is which. It's a further pain for the name they use on the label is most often the brand name rather than the name of the medicine. You also have no clear idea of what you're going to pay before they ring it up. I once paid $40 for something like half a litre of this medicine I needed barely a quarter of. (Although, seemingly, doctors write prescriptions which let you have a vast number of refills without supervision. Which is nice.)
posted by Thing at 9:28 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Can someone please explain the magnetic storms thing to this American? What are they and what do they do to your health?

Pretend that in whatever country you live, the era of folk medicine didn't slowly evolve into modern science-based medicine but just sort of leaped from one end to the other. So instead of the evil eye being the mysterious x-factor making you feel unwell in no particularly definable way, now it's magnetic storms and there's either straight-up pseudoscience or willfully-misinterpreted or poorly-extrapolated actual science behind why.
posted by griphus at 9:29 AM on March 6 [10 favorites]


griphus' descriptions of Russian health ideas always make me think it was a world where every strange fad from the 70s, like pyramid power and crystal healing, just never went away and spun off into it's own huge, popular, contradictory universe.
posted by The Whelk at 9:34 AM on March 6 [7 favorites]


The worst etiquette breach I (clueless Frenchman) have been guilty of happened during my last visit to the States, at a tourist information office.

My (US-born) fiancee and I were exploring Amish country, and had plans to get a marriage license in the fair city of Lancaster, PA (the self-unifying kind, pretty baffling too, but an altogether different story). The countryside was gorgeous, rolling hills, barnstars and the like, and Lancaster itself proved nice. We had lunch and then strolled through the small city center before going to the county courthouse. Our haphazard steps led us to the tourism bureau, and my fiancee, bless her heart, made us go inside.

Let me pause here to introduce the concept of what a French tourism information office is. Basically, you'll find a variety of maps, pamphlets by every farm, museum, attraction, etc. in the vicinity, and a person to whom you may ask further information. However, that person usually enjoys her novel/crossword puzzle/sudoku more than any social interaction you would force upon them, and the polite thing to do is therefore to leave them enjoy the peace of their subsidized job and manage your own business.

Back to Lancaster, PA. The office there was tended by a very nice little old lady. Shame comes to me at the very memory of it. I distractedly wandered around the room, which was full, as in my homeland, of various maps, pamphlets by every farm, museum, attraction, etc. in the vicinity. I barely heard the offer of help coming from the lady. I muttered in response to please not bother herself with me, I'd be fine on my own. A few seconds later, I made eye contact with the fiancee and understood I was in trouble. Shock and embarrassment were all over her face. She made me come to the desk, kinda apologized for me, and asked the lady if she could point for us on a map some nice things we could do that afternoon. The lady obliged, but I unwittingly kept committing faux pas après faux pas. She told us about the covered bridges - I told her we had already seen these. She asked where we were parked - I asked back how that would matter, as we were discussing places we would need to drive to anyway... That was an unmitigated disaster.

Finally, in desperation, she pointed right outside her office, and asked if we had seen the market. No we had not. "Then go, go NOW, you must!" were her last words. I was actually quite happy with the market suggestion, and we bought a delicious shoo-fly pie. However, as soon as the pie had been bought, and the market exited, and we were alone again in the pretty streets of Lancaster, PA, the fight (or more truthfully the explanation of trans-atlantic etiquette differences) started. It got ugly. We were still fighting, half-shouting half-whispering, in the waiting room of the civil registry. Then another nice lady smiled to us broadly and asked what we were there for, and I smiled back as broadly, and we got our license, and no more was spoken about tourism information office etiquette.
posted by susuman at 9:36 AM on March 6 [44 favorites]


Also, the French article mentioned plumbing, which reminds me of the one thing that everybody I know who has been to the US mentions: why is the gap at the bottom of a toilet stall so huge?
posted by Thing at 9:37 AM on March 6


it's our wide stances
posted by The Whelk at 9:38 AM on March 6 [16 favorites]


Also, the French article mentioned plumbing, which reminds me of the one thing that everybody I know who has been to the US mentions: why is the gap at the bottom of a toilet stall so huge?

Drainage. When they clean the bathroom, they basically just spray every surface with bleach/water, scrub the toilet itself, and then rinse it. All the water runs to a single drain in the floor. If you have real walls, there are drainage issues.

In clubs, bars, etc., it can also be a way to prevent people from using the stalls for purposes other than intended.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:41 AM on March 6 [6 favorites]


The Japanese one is totally fake and it's driving me bonkers seeing it show up everywhere.

The French one is taking from Le blog de Mathilde, and appears like an authentic piece.

The others contains citations, too ... perhaps someone who knows Russian or Japanese can help verify them? Not everything on the internet is fake!

Also, this was so much more clever than I had anticipated. Americans actually come across pretty well in the French one, except for our dining manners and rigid showers.
posted by kanewai at 9:42 AM on March 6


I remember taking a look at the Japanese sources a while back—if I remember correctly, the content at the mentalfloss piece was taken from a handful of different sites, all of which I was able to reach one way or another.

Maybe you're looking at one source looking for the content from another?
posted by KChasm at 9:46 AM on March 6


susuman: "leave them enjoy the peace of their subsidized job and manage your own business."

That's pretty much my approach as a US-born traveller. The tourist office staff are no different than salespeople: a bit pushy, either because they're bored out of their minds, or because their jobs are constantly in danger of being cut if they can't provide evidence of doing a good job (in the form of guest registries, etc.) As long as you sign a registry, you can safely tell them you'd like to browse.

Unless your bride-to-be really wants to chat with them...
posted by pwnguin at 9:46 AM on March 6


I've always assumed the gap was so you could reach a mop under there and clean the floor. I couldn't imagine how bad some public bathrooms would get if you added corners next to each toilet.
posted by cmfletcher at 9:47 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Here's one of the original Japanese sources.
posted by kanewai at 9:48 AM on March 6


lines are more flexible (but you'll still get dirty looks and sometimes get publicly called out for it)

In America one person in line calmly and slowly explains to the prospective cutter that "the end of the line is back there", channeling early Clint Eastwood. When I visited Paris it seemed like half the people in line would yell "Fais la queue!" and then scowl at the cutter.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:48 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


...perhaps someone who knows Russian or Japanese can help verify them?

The Russian ones are legit insofar as they are accurate enough translations of etiquette guides from Russian sites/blogs.
posted by griphus at 9:49 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


If you like these you'll also appreciate the Culture Tests from MetaFilter's own Mark Rosenfelder.
posted by Rash at 9:50 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


BTW, these do make the common mistake of assuming that the United States, being a single country, has a single set of customs across all parts. Far from true. Of course, Americans make the same mistake about other countries too.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:51 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


I've always assumed the gap was so you could reach a mop under there and clean the floor. I couldn't imagine how bad some public bathrooms would get if you added corners next to each toilet.

It's not the presence of the gap, but just how big it is. I swear some of them you could pop your head under and say hello to your neighbour.
posted by Thing at 9:53 AM on March 6


From the Russian tips: Everything is the same as ours, only with far less booze.

Guess I'm moving to Russia.
posted by sfkiddo at 9:53 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


> When they clean the bathroom, they basically just spray every surface with bleach/water, scrub the toilet itself, and then rinse it. All the water runs to a single drain in the floor. If you have real walls, there are drainage issues.

That was the architects' plan. Sometimes the cleaning people don't know that a full wet mopping is expected and if you skip that for a couple weeks then the trap in the floor drain evaporates out and you sewer gas the place. I have smelt the results of this dozens of times.
posted by bukvich at 9:54 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I swear some of them you could pop your head under and say hello to your neighbor.

Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do it. Americans, by and large, are actually terrible at understanding this. But in bathroom stalls we do.
posted by The Bellman at 9:55 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


...these do make the common mistake of assuming that the United States, being a single country, has a single set of customs across all parts.

For instance, in NYC, it is considered rude if you visit someone's home and don't ask how much rent or maintenance they're paying and immediately imply that they're getting a great deal on it, I mean look how big it is, and it's two bedroom? Wow. Nice.
posted by griphus at 9:56 AM on March 6 [22 favorites]


The Japanese article was surprisingly positive. It's a weird feeling to read something positive about Americans.

Me too. I think a lot less of many Americans than is posted here, and I've lived here most of my life. I'm also well-traveled, so it is interesting to see a different perspective.

My favorite: If you fall down, an American asks if you're all right. A Russian asks if you're ill.
posted by Chuffy at 9:57 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


My 3 year old daughter has inadvertantly locked herself in a bathroom stall without me at least once, and I seem to remember doing the same when I was a little kid. I figured the big gap was so you could wiggle out if you accidentally got locked inside somehow (or someone outside somehow jams the door?)
posted by OnceUponATime at 9:58 AM on March 6


why is the gap at the bottom of a toilet stall so huge?

(...)

I swear some of them you could pop your head under and say hello to your neighbor.
See! You've figured it out already.
posted by Flunkie at 10:02 AM on March 6 [8 favorites]


Here's another of the Japanese sources—I think this is where most of the not-tip-related stuff comes from.

I can't remember if anything from the pages down the left there were used, though. I don't think so, but...maybe, maybe not.
posted by KChasm at 10:04 AM on March 6


I am surprised that there is no mention that tipping of food servers is expected in the US. Whenever I tipped in Paris, they looked at me like I was crazy. Apparently gratuities are part of the listed price of a meal.
posted by Danf at 10:10 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


The Japan one really doesn't feel right to me based on my short time living there. The things it addresses are not impressions any of my friends or students seemed to harbor about Canada or the US.
posted by Hoopo at 10:17 AM on March 6


American food is flat to the taste, indifferent in the subtle difference of taste. There is no such thing there as a little “secret ingredient.” Sugar, salt, pepper, oils, and routine spices are used for family meals. There is no such thing as purely U.S. cuisine, except the hamburger, which isn’t made at home so much. There is almost nothing special to eat based on the different seasons of the year. Basically, they like sweet, high fat, high calories things.

What the fuck back the fuck up bitch I will fuck you up with your Cafe Gusto and your Saizeriya and your バイキング and your wanna-be Denny's

In Japan, hip hop clothes are considered stylish. But in the United States, it is wise to avoid them, as you might be mistaken for a member of a street gang.

My Japanese roommate, bless her heart, has lived in San Francisco for 7 years and keeps getting into hilariously awkward situations, more as a result of naivete than cultural misunderstanding. One time she came into my room in a huge, blindingly fuschia hooded jacket. I said "Wow, that jacket is really pink!" and she said "Well, I had a red one, but I was waiting for a bus by City College and all these cops kept slowing down and staring at me! I was so creeped out! Then my friend told me they probably thought I was a gang member, so I had to buy a new one." Another time, "I went to a dinner party at the home of this nice, normal couple, and there was a plate of brownies out, and I got really excited and said, 'Wow! I love brownies!' and I ate five of them and then I got REALLY sleepy and confused and went to sleep for like 3 hours!" And another: "I went to this bar called the Lexington, and I was like, wow, this is a cool bar! There are so many women here! Then someone grabbed my ass."
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:21 AM on March 6 [37 favorites]


Is Europe really that different from the States? I mean, aside from the tipping thing I can't think of anything I (as an American) have had particular difficulty understanding while visiting Europe.

Oh, actually, no, I do recall one thing. I went in to a produce shop in Germany once to buy some fruit for my hotel room and I didn't realize that it was a full-service shop - I apparently wasn't supposed to just grab a pack of strawberries and get in line for the till. The line at the till was to wait for one of the shopkeepers to help you pick out your produce. I definitely offended everyone in the shop and got the impression they thought I had a screw loose.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:22 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


For those curious, this:

French tourism information... a person to whom you may ask further information. However, that person usually enjoys her novel/crossword puzzle/sudoku more than any social interaction you would force upon them, and the polite thing to do is therefore to leave them enjoy the peace of their subsidized job and manage your own business.

Is not an exaggeration. Going to the post office in France often involves convincing the person behind the counter to notice you. I once went to the French government office (after it had been closed for two weeks holiday) to find that, starting tomorrow, they would be on holiday for the next two weeks. It's strangely endearing. Unless you have stuff you need to do.
posted by litleozy at 10:24 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


From the Russian tips: Everything is the same as ours, only with far less booze.

They've never been to Wisconsin.
posted by Floydd at 10:29 AM on March 6 [6 favorites]


If you want privacy (in a public restroom), no chance.

Participated in a wrestling tournament over the river in Flint, Michigan where the high school bathroom had just a row of toilets along the wall and no partitions. I've had nightmares about this and always wondered how common it was.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:30 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


"Pretend that in whatever country you live, the era of folk medicine didn't slowly evolve into modern science-based medicine but just sort of leaped from one end to the other. So instead of the evil eye being the mysterious x-factor making you feel unwell in no particularly definable way, now it's magnetic storms and there's either straight-up pseudoscience or willfully-misinterpreted or poorly-extrapolated actual science behind why."

My Russian poli-sci prof complained that when she was in Moscow, if she tried to sit on a bench outside, strangers would scold her over risking her fertility.
posted by klangklangston at 10:35 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


based on other countries'' folklore about cold and heat I just assume Americans have a magical superpower that makes them able to tolerate small changes in temperature.
posted by The Whelk at 10:38 AM on March 6 [10 favorites]


(Sitting here in Gallic-solidarity because you can't just eat whenever you want like a dog - and people who eat food with smells in confined spaces like an elevator or subway car deserve to be shot.)

If you work in a room full of people and you eat at your desk you, there is a 100% chance that somebody hates you.

-a friend's status update from this morning.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:46 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Going to the post office in France often involves convincing the person behind the counter to notice you.

I've always had wonderful experiences in French post offices.

But then there was the time in Italy when I asked to buy stamps at the post office, and the charming woman behind the counter just shrugged her shoulders and said "Domani...".
posted by gimonca at 10:47 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


I love the warning about vending machines for the Japanese. I remember being amazed at what you could buy from a vending machine while in Japan.
posted by zzazazz at 10:53 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


If you work in a room full of people and you eat at your desk you, there is a 100% chance that somebody hates you.

But where else am I going to nibble on a few plantain chips every ten minutes?
posted by Slackermagee at 10:56 AM on March 6


What really is hard for a Frenchman in the US is the amount of what to us seems fake friendliness that is expected of anyone, including us, with strangers. It doesn't mean we don't help people on the street, quite the contrary, but the whole smiling and greeting with each and every US store clerk can get really weird pretty fast.

Yeah, this is one of the big gaps in cultural style--and, I think, the source of all those (unfunny) jokes about how "rude" the French are. In my experience, French people are extremely willing to be helpful when you're in any kind of difficulty, but they're very hesitant to get into other people's business unless it's clear that it's needed/wanted. Personally, I love that, because I'm the kind of person who would much rather just figure out what's where in a store (say) than have a salesperson come up and ask me about my day, and what it is that I'm doing and the whole background story of why it is I might want to buy, say, an orbital sander or a mop or what have you. But to Americans it really does come across as rude and stand-offish, while to the French the American thing comes across as intrusive and presumptuous.
posted by yoink at 11:08 AM on March 6 [15 favorites]


When I broke my toe in Paris I was given a prescription for fizzy paracetamol and codeine tablets (unlike the UK,its commonwealth countries and Ireland one needs this in pharmacies). What I received was a box from the manufacturer with several packets of tablets.
posted by brujita at 11:10 AM on March 6


I'm USAian and I get the " can I help you?" in the tone of voice making it clear that the employee doesn't think I belong in the store all the time.

My response is: " If I need help I will ask for it".
posted by brujita at 11:14 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


If it should happen I need to leave my stuff unattended when I'm in the coffee shop, I just ask someone to look at it for the time it takes for me to go to the toilet. When I forget something in my bike basket, it is still there, even at night. And when you have packages waiting for you at home, they remain in the lobby and no one takes them. It may seem normal and civic way of doing it, but I am surprised. Since coming to America, I've become much less suspicious.

So is casual theft really much more common in France?

Your neighbor may compliment you on the curve of your muscles

What? Is this a thing? Why don't I get compliments on the pleasing curve of my potbelly?
posted by Area Man at 11:15 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


When I forget something in my bike basket, it is still there, even at night.
To whatever extent that is advice, my experience says it is bad advice.
Here each have their turn in order of arrival, even the elderly.
"even the elderly?" I have never been to France. If I go, should I expect to be continually cut in front of, because I'm old? That better not happen, because I'm an American, and apparently I'm supposed to cut people who do that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:17 AM on March 6


I was amused by the admonishment for French travelers to help people. I honestly thought the French were far more helpful than Americans. When my buddy and I were in Paris, we watched an old lady slip and fall on the sidewalk. Being callous Americans, we waited for someone else to help her, and it was fortunate we did. As a nice man reached down to help her up, she started waiving her cane about and shouting "MERCI!" MERCI!". Eventually the poor man helping her up fled after being beaten about the head and shoulders with a cane while an old lady screamed "Merci!" at him the whole time.

The French passerbys were all horrified and stood open mouthed and shocked at the whole situation, while my friend and I cackled like witches and walked on by.

Maybe in the ten years that's passed, the story of the evil yet thankful woman who fell and the poor concussed Good Samaritan that came to her aid has spread throughout France and a generous, helpful people have turned cold like the heartless American girls that laughed at the pain of both.
posted by teleri025 at 11:17 AM on March 6 [6 favorites]


My Russian poli-sci prof complained that when she was in Moscow, if she tried to sit on a bench outside, strangers would scold her over risking her fertility.

As someone who majored in Russian at a U.S. college, I can say that getting scolded by an older lady for sitting somewhere cold happened to every American woman I know who studied in Russia.
posted by Area Man at 11:18 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


But to Americans it really does come across as rude and stand-offish, while to the French the American thing comes across as intrusive and presumptuous.

To elaborate on that, French politeness/etiquette, from my experience, differs from US in 2 opposite ways.

With people you don't know/only have a business relationship with, it's all about respecting each other's privacy, not taking advantage of their time and efforts, and expecting the same of them.

When you "know" someone - friends, friends of friends, actually anyone at a party or more relaxed social setting, rules tend to reverse: friendliness is de mise, and in this context, Americans are actually the ones who seem cold, awkward and distant to us, with their insistence on personal space (how many American girls have cowed in horror at the French habit to kiss on the cheeks when being introduced), their reluctance to share more than normal small talk would allow...
posted by susuman at 11:20 AM on March 6 [6 favorites]


the high school bathroom had just a row of toilets along the wall and no partitions.

Thomas Wolfe wrote about visiting a below-street-level mens room in NYC like this, at night, where every 'throne' was occupied. He then contrasted this vision with the view he received of the illuminated skyscrapers outside, coming up the stairs to the street.
posted by Rash at 11:27 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


When I broke my toe in Paris I was given a prescription for fizzy paracetamol and codeine tablets (unlike the UK, its commonwealth countries and Ireland one needs this in pharmacies). What I received was a box from the manufacturer with several packets of tablets.

The members of the Commonwealth don't belong to the UK anymore...and most haven't for over 40 or 50 years. I think the latest was likely Brunei in 1984.

posted by Thing at 11:27 AM on March 6


I grew up kind of sheltered and met my first Frenchwoman (and European, likely) in my early 20s. She was a friend of a friend, and a journalist, and I'd seen pictures and heard stories about her, and I had a crush on her before I even met her.

She came to town to visit my friend and took a cab from the airport to our office. I was excited to meet her (so smart and so beautiful!) and was convinced that she'd fall for me and we'd have this passionate, sophisticated (because she was French!) romance. I went out with my friend to meet her as she got out of the cab.

I thrust my hand out to her, gave her my winningest smile, and said "Hi, I'm mudpuppie!"

She leaned down towards me a bit. She was very tall -- like, Amazonian -- and I'm short and not very loud, and there was traffic on the street, so I figured she just didn't hear me.

"I'm mudpuppie," I said louder, my hand still floating out there and waiting for a handshake.

She shook her head the slightest little bit and leaned in further. Well, I thought, she must be hard of hearing, but that's okay, she's still really awesome and gorgeous and she's so going to fall for me.

"MY NAME IS MUDPUPPIE," I said, definitely loud enough for her to hear this time, hand still waiting.

She straightened up and looked down her nose at me, eyes narrowed, and she replied "I heard you the first time. I was going to kiss your cheek," and she walked away.

So yeah, sometimes cultural differences and norms are a gross impediment, even to love. :(
posted by mudpuppie at 11:29 AM on March 6 [19 favorites]


America, having eliminated sexism and racism, now confers social status and privilege based on the relative sizes of your first and second toes. As such, if an American makes eye contact with you, particularly on public transportation, they are expecting you to indicate your toe lengths. This is done by holding your thumb and index fingers apart first to the length of your big toe, then your second toe. You may be tempted to cheat, but this is risky, because if two people can agree to a challenge, you may be required to remove your footwear to confirm.

Americans are a sociable people, as you are well aware. They also, on the whole, enjoy chewing gum. As a result, it is considered polite to carry a small 'gum pouch' with you at all times. This is a small foil lined pouch with a flap closure, often decorated with stickers or small drawings indicating something about the personality of the owner. It is considered inappropriate and unfriendly for Americans to dispose of their chewed gum in their own gum pouch, so you may be asked at any time to present your gum pouch for a stranger.

When eating any type of flaky pastry, such as a croissant or a pie crust, Americans will first sharply exhale a small puff of air through their teeth onto the item. It is believed that this aids in digestion and prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. Be aware, though, that you should never do this with a non-flaky baked good such as a muffin or cookie, as it is thought to attract witches.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:30 AM on March 6 [35 favorites]


Everywhere I have ever been in this country the norm is to speed. It's like speed limit signs exist just so cops can stay busy on a slow day.

I invite you to visit Seattle. But yeah, everywhere else 5 to 10 over is the norm.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:31 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


I thought about what I should do with my time while waiting in the grocery matrix, and began to speak at length with other guests.

I love this so much.
posted by nerdler at 11:32 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


I have never been to France. If I go, should I expect to be continually cut in front of, because I'm old?

I assume they mean the opposite - in the US old people have to wait their turn, whereas in France they get to cut in at the front.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:36 AM on March 6 [3 favorites]


If it should happen I need to leave my stuff unattended when I'm in the coffee shop, I just ask someone to look at it for the time it takes for me to go to the toilet. When I forget something in my bike basket, it is still there, even at night. And when you have packages waiting for you at home, they remain in the lobby and no one takes them. It may seem normal and civic way of doing it, but I am surprised. Since coming to America, I've become much less suspicious.

Also, this is hilarious juxtaposed with the Japanese list, which does not directly address petty theft, but one would imagine they would come at it from the opposite direction. When I lived there and my friends and I were too busy to meet up, we'd return borrowed books, etc by saying "Hey, I'll be parked by JUSCO this afternoon, so I'll leave my car unlocked and you can just grab it from the front seat." We'd also leave our front doors unlocked and the mailman would just come in and leave packages in the front entryway (which was sometimes an issue when someone WAS at home, sleeping in the nude).
posted by sunset in snow country at 11:38 AM on March 6


But yeah, everywhere else 5 to 10 over is the norm.

Not everywhere. When I am on the highway in MA, I usually stay at 10 mph over the posted speed. I'm always in the slowest quartile, and if I come on a clump of even slower cars, I have to be careful about getting into the left lane to pass, so I don't hold up the Irritable Velociteers.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:40 AM on March 6 [6 favorites]


Didn't Japan have a thing about theft of umbrellas and bicycles not too long ago?
posted by LogicalDash at 11:40 AM on March 6


Not everywhere.

Yeah, true. Highway 280 in the bay area is an 80mph minimum zone. I should have said "a general baseline everywhere else is at least 5 to 10 mph, with some enlightened areas going much faster."
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:42 AM on March 6


Didn't Japan have a thing about theft of umbrellas and bicycles not too long ago?

Yeah, but that was E.T.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:42 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Tips for Canadians in the US:

1. If you sit at the bar, strangers will talk to you.

2. When Americans say "excuse me" when attempting to pass by they mean "excuse you". Also keep this in mind when saying "excuse me".

3. Alcoholic drinks are cheap and you can buy them anywhere, but there seems to be a subtle shame surrounding it. People will look at you funny if you order too much at the wrong place/time.

4. If you want tea, order "hot tea"
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:43 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


My favorite pass time in Canada is trying to explain to people who ask me, "oh you're an American, eh?" that we're all "Americans" because we all live in North America.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:44 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Everywhere I have ever been in this country the norm is to speed. It's like speed limit signs exist just so cops can stay busy on a slow day.

I don't know, I've travelled long distances in Tennessee, Texas and New York state, and everywhere I was impressed by the safe-driving-habits of American motorists. Maybe speeding to you is something different? 5-10 miles + doesn't seem very aggressive to me.
posted by mumimor at 11:45 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Pretty much all those tips make me miss France.
posted by aaronetc at 11:46 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


jeffamaphone: That sounds obnoxious. For the vast majority of us, "American" and "North American" are different concepts, just like "America" and "the Americas".
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:47 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


the whole smiling and greeting with each and every US store clerk can get really weird pretty fast.

This is not the norm in most large US cities. I seldom greet store clerks, and when I do, it's usually just with a polite nod. Although maybe I'm just an asshole.
posted by breakin' the law at 11:49 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


French tourism information... a person to whom you may ask further information. However, that person usually enjoys her novel/crossword puzzle/sudoku more than any social interaction you would force upon them, and the polite thing to do is therefore to leave them enjoy the peace of their subsidized job and manage your own business.

Counterpoint: The staff in the LGBT Tourist office in the Marais were wonderfully helpful.
posted by kanewai at 11:50 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


As a nice man reached down to help her up, she started waiving her cane about and shouting "MERCI!" MERCI!". ... Maybe in the ten years that's passed, the story of the evil yet thankful woman who fell and the poor concussed Good Samaritan that came to her aid has spread throughout France and a generous, helpful people have turned cold like the heartless American girls that laughed at the pain of both.

Wait - doesn't "merci" really mean "no thank you" if you're offered something? (High school French was a long time ago, sorry.)
posted by en forme de poire at 11:52 AM on March 6


How I envy the efficiency and grace of a British queue. Americans aren't great at forming a line, but once one is in place, they (we) seem to respect it. I recently went through airport security in an airport that handles lots of non-American travelers and where there were obviously six channels formed to enter the security area, there was just one huge clump of humanity pressing forward, like so much cheese being ground into a grater. Whenever it seemed that natural lines were forming some gang of folks would cram into the spaces between the lines trying to get through. It reminded me of the Doctors' explanation of what happens as all the viruses try to enter Mr. Burns' body at once. The hall monitor in me wanted to scream.

In America, when men or women laugh, they do not turn away. They face front, open the mouth, and laugh in a loud voice. This is because in America if you muffle your laugh or turn away while laughing, you give the impression that you are talking about a secret or name-calling. It is nasty
.

That's because we have great teeth from all that delicious flouridated water. Also because in America, a group of women laughing is known as a "cackle," and competitive events are staged to see whose laugh can be the loudest, horsiest and generally most testicle-withering.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:52 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


the Irritable Velociteers

Band name dibs.
posted by aught at 12:07 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Tips for Canadians in the US:

2. When Americans say "excuse me" when attempting to pass by they mean "excuse you". Also keep this in mind when saying "excuse me".
I am not sure I am correctly parsing this. Am I to understand that if a Canadian is blocking my path, in order to politely get them to move, I should tell them "Excuse you"?

If so, I still don't get it. How does that make sense? "Excuse me" is essentially "Forgive me" - i.e. "Please forgive me for my impoliteness in requesting that you move". What is "Excuse you"? "I forgive you for being in my way, now get out of it"?
posted by Flunkie at 12:19 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Well in the England we just put a sticker on the box/holder of the medicine and use it as is.

We do that in the US too. Sometimes, anyway. I think it just depends on the number of pills you need versus the number of pills in the standard package.
posted by mullacc at 12:24 PM on March 6


Based on the warnings and complaints contained therein . . . I am apparently French. Who knew?
posted by kaiseki at 12:29 PM on March 6


I am not sure I am correctly parsing this. Am I to understand that if a Canadian is blocking my path, in order to politely get them to move, I should tell them "Excuse you"?

I think the meaning was, when you're in my way and I pass you and say "Excuse me," what I actually mean is the "You're in my way, you idiot," but we're generally too passive-aggressive to be anything other than (falsely) polite.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:30 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


I think the meaning was, ....

Or, in Americanese, "Excuse us, Flunkie, if the thread wasn't clear enough for you to understand."
posted by aught at 12:33 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


everywhere I was impressed by the safe-driving-habits of American motorists

America is sort of middle of the pack, driving-safety-wise, I think. There are certainly places, even in Europe, where the average driver seems to be worse or at least far more aggressive (Italy in particular). But it's not a northern vs. southern Europe thing, because drivers in Barcelona are so polite and safety-conscious that it makes the average New York City intersection look like a Hunger Games-style death arena. Hell, they're even better than German drivers, and Germans always struck me as some of the most studiously polite urban drivers around. I couldn't believe how deferential Barcelonian drivers were to pedestrians and bicyclists (who are likewise unbelievably law-abiding about crosswalks and cycle lanes); it was like Bizarro World. I spent the first two days there cringing at what I was sure were going to be horrific people-smeared-across asphalt accidents, only to have everyone politely take their turn based on the signals.

Americans aren't great at forming a line, but once one is in place, they (we) seem to respect it.

One of the interesting things I've noticed about queuing is that in the US, how you're supposed to queue is generally not left up to the participants to figure out. There are generally some sort of barriers or ropes to guide everyone, and sometimes written directions. In the UK there seem to be more situations where everything is just left up to emergent behavior, with the assumption (it seems to me) that everyone just Knows What To Do.

One thing I've always liked, which seems to be more common in Germany and France but less so in the UK or the US, is the please-take-a-number system, where you pick up a ticket or token and then wait for the number to be called, without actually having to stand in a physical line. In the US these are mostly limited to grocery store deli counters and the DMV, but in Germany I ran into them at bakeries, photo finishers, pharmacies, ice cream parlors, railway ticket counters, etc. I've always appreciated those things and wish more places in the US used them.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:37 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


THEY TEND TO HORSE LAUGH, EVEN THE WOMEN.
posted by stp123 at 12:42 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


When Americans say "excuse me" when attempting to pass by they mean "excuse you".

I am not sure I am correctly parsing this.


This why, just to be safe, when someone says "excuse me" I always respond "Why, did you fart?" You can't go wrong that way no matter what country they are from.
posted by stp123 at 12:45 PM on March 6 [6 favorites]


Well, I dunno, I guess it just didn't occur to me that I should be passive aggressive and falsely polite. So what do Canadians do or say when they want to pass someone?
posted by Flunkie at 12:45 PM on March 6


the whole smiling and greeting with each and every US store clerk can get really weird pretty fast

There's an apochryphal story I've read about a study where French people were asking to identify a photograph of a smiling man. Nobody could identify the person in the photo.

The person was President Mitterand. Nobody had ever seen him smile before.

Do I have a cite for this? Of course not.
posted by gimonca at 12:48 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


I wasn't really clear with the "excuse me" thing. I was phrasing it in a way I thought a Canadian would understand. "Excuse me", to me, means "I'm sorry to impose but I need to get by". "excuse you" is not really something you'd say unless somebody was really being a dick. But it carries the meaning of "you're in the way", like get out of the way because you have no reason to be standing there on the left side of the escalator leading out of the subway.

Maybe the American "excuse me" isn't one or the other but somewhere in the middle. Anyway it gets a different reaction and carries a different tone than in Canada. Or maybe the distinction is in my head. And being Canadian that kind of subtle confusion over politeness stresses me out a bit.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:56 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Here's one of the original Japanese sources.

I am embarassed to say that I didn't realise some of the entries were pulled from other pages on that site - not just the directly linked one. I read Japanese verrrrry sloooooowly. I stand corrected.
posted by chocotaco at 1:01 PM on March 6


It's funny that the French one brings up how friendly you need to be, because I distinctly remember the not responding to the hearty "bonjour/soir" you get when walking into a French bakery was pretty much a recipe for stink-eye surprise.
posted by aspo at 1:02 PM on March 6 [5 favorites]


So what do Canadians do or say when they want to pass someone?

"Sorry. Excuse me. Sorry." It's important to apologise at least twice.
posted by jeather at 1:08 PM on March 6 [14 favorites]


aspo: "It's funny that the French one brings up how friendly you need to be, because I distinctly remember the not responding to the hearty "bonjour/soir" you get when walking into a French bakery was pretty much a recipe for stink-eye surprise."

Maybe it's an urban/rural thing? I also learned this fact pretty quickly in small towns in Dordogne.
posted by invitapriore at 1:19 PM on March 6


klangklangston: "My Russian poli-sci prof complained that when she was in Moscow, if she tried to sit on a bench outside, strangers would scold her over risking her fertility."

Yep, me too when I visited. So strange. Old ladies were particularly aggressive about shooing you so you'd stand up and stop the uterus-risk.

Area Man: "So is casual theft really much more common in France?"

There's an old saying that theft in the US and Europe is a difference in verb tense -- you're much more likely to get mugged in the U.S. ("Oh no, I'm BEING robbed!") while you're much more likely to get pickpocketed in Europe ("Oh no, I've BEEN robbed!").

There's a much larger problem in Europe with pickpocketing/thefts of opportunity, and a lot more public awareness campaigns about it, like little "keep your purse safe!" commercials at the start of movies when Americans would expect the one trying to make you go buy more Coca-Cola. It kind-of stresses me out because while I don't really go leaving my purse sitting around, I'm used to the IDEA that I could leave it in my shopping cart for a couple minutes and probably nobody would bother it.

susuman: "What really is hard for a Frenchman in the US is the amount of what to us seems fake friendliness that is expected of anyone, including us, with strangers. "

When I'm in a situation where I'm not supposed to be friendly, I kind-of panic, because I'm not sure what to do. It feels so rude, especially when it's strangers who didn't do anything to hurt me -- I don't want to scowl at them! They're probably perfectly nice people! And then I become super-self-conscious and implode in vortex of social embarrassment because I'm being SO. RUDE.

Oh, cultural conditioning. How we love you.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:29 PM on March 6 [5 favorites]


The kings of queuing are the Brits. Seriously if they see a nascent queue they will start standing in it out of pure autonomic reflex and stay there for hours.

New Zealanders always get into trouble because our approach is just to wander towards whatever we are waiting for and sort of let the Brownian crowd motion sort itself out.

And that is how in 1997 I jumped a queue of like 15,000 people.

We'd been at an outside dance party and were feeling pretty gross and sweaty and come-downy and were walking past this immense, endless, snaking line of people that was just curving and curling and winding and as far as I could tell had every single party goer in it, waiting to get on the bus to the train station, and I'm thinking maybe lying down and sleeping for a few hours in the sun would be a good idea, and we're walking, and chatting, and sort of vaguely musing about this as an idea when we get to the head of the line where the bus is waiting and just climb aboard. And the bus drives off with us (and a few French, Italian, South African dudes) on board.

No-one in the queue said a word because the idea that someone could do that was just not something their British DNA permitted them to apprehend.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:31 PM on March 6 [5 favorites]


"Excuse me", to me, means "I'm sorry to impose but I need to get by". "excuse you" is not really something you'd say unless somebody was really being a dick. But it carries the meaning of "you're in the way", like get out of the way because you have no reason to be standing there on the left side of the escalator leading out of the subway.

It depends on where you are in the US on how the "Excuse me" is deployed. Down South, I've seen and heard "Excuse me" used in the following ways:
- "Pardon me, I need to get by you and I'm terribly sorry to make you move, by the way, how is your mother doing?"
- "Oh I'm so sorry, I didn't see you there and ran right into you! Please forgive me."
-"You seem to work here, could you possibly pay attention to me?" (Although this one is typically followed with a "Miss" or "Sir", as in "Excuse me, Miss?")
-"Oh Dear Lord! You are standing in the worst possible place! Were you raised in barn? Can you please get the hell out of my way?"

When I was in New York and on the subway, "Excuse me" seemed to to say "Ignore me. I'm a tourist who delusionally thought riding the subway at rush hour would be novel."
posted by teleri025 at 1:37 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Kadin2048: One thing I've always liked, which seems to be more common in Germany and France but less so in the UK or the US, is the please-take-a-number system, where you pick up a ticket or token and then wait for the number to be called, without actually having to stand in a physical line. In the US these are mostly limited to grocery store deli counters and the DMV, but in Germany I ran into them at bakeries, photo finishers, pharmacies, ice cream parlors, railway ticket counters, etc.
These systems are great and should be installed everywhere in Germany, because Germans. Cannot. Queue.

It's my biggest gripe after living here for five years. When you're waiting at a typical small bakery everybody just comes up to the counter and kind of clumps around. Then you need to make your presence forcefully known when the person you think was right before you is done, otherwise someone will jump ahead. I guess they like to train their assertiveness. Oh, how I long for English queues.
posted by brokkr at 1:46 PM on March 6


When I was in New York and on the subway, "Excuse me" seemed to to say "Ignore me. I'm a tourist who delusionally thought riding the subway at rush hour would be novel."

In case you ever try that again, it may be helpful to know that the NYC subway rush hour translation for "excuse me" is "GETTINGOFF!"
posted by The Bellman at 2:23 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Whenever I tipped in Paris, they looked at me like I was crazy. Apparently gratuities are part of the listed price of a meal.

Gratuities are not part of the listed price of a meal, the same was that gratuities are not part of the price of a surgery, or the price of plumbing, or part of the listed price of buying a book from a bookstore.

America has a really weird custom that marks a mysteriously-defined peculiar subset of professions as of a lesser class who should be thought of differently and who are dependent on unpredictable income that is volunteered by recipients of their work. Other countries aren't hiding that system, it's that they don't have that bad attitude to workers in the first place.
posted by anonymisc at 2:26 PM on March 6 [18 favorites]


In America, you cannot pretend to not have noticed all these little quirks.

In NYC, it's all about the not noticing.
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:52 PM on March 6


In NYC, it's all about the not noticing.

Yes, that's how you spot a tourist, that they react to anything. If someone is on fire next to you on the subway you ignore them.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:54 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


When I go back to my native US one of the things that entertains and sometimes irks me is the huge space that people in line leave in front of them. Someone waiting to check out at a clothing store, for example, might be standing 2 meters away from the cash register, looking vaguely over toward the maternity department. Nowhere else do I have to ask someone, "Are you in line?"
posted by ceiba at 2:57 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


it may be helpful to know that the NYC subway rush hour translation for "excuse me" is "GETTINGOFF!"

Another reason I don't want to ride the subway in NYC - I don't want to see (or ignore) the people getting off.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:57 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


And speaking of pharmacies, here's the ritual in Mexico. You tell the pharmacist which drug and dosage you need, and she walks into the back to get it. Then she comes back to the counter and shows you the front of the box. "DrugName," she reads, and you confirm that yes, the box is labeled with the name of the drug. "20 tablets of 50 milligrams," she reads, and you confirm that, too.

Then she rotates the box to show the expiration date stamped on the end. "Expiration date [whatever]," she reads, and you again confirm.

Then she carefully opens the box. She withdraws one of the sheets of foil-plastic stuff. "10 tablets of 50 milligrams each," she says as if savoring each word. You confirm that yes indeed, it looks just like 10 tablets of 50 milligrams each.

Then she turns over the sheet of foil-plastic stuff to show that it's all intact, and you confirm that yes, it looks dandy.

Then she takes out the second sheet of foil-plastic stuff… and after another minute examination she carefully puts everything back in the box and tells you to go to the separate cash register window to pay for it.

So you're very sure that you're getting some handsome tablets from a correctly-labeled box. However, you have no idea what the drug does or how much to take. There's no dosage info on the box or any information about what it's used for. There's no insert with tiny type listing every possible side effect. Unless you remember what the doctor told you and write it on the box yourself, you quickly become the owner of a medicine cabinet full of mystery pills.
posted by ceiba at 2:58 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Kadin2048: One thing I've always liked, which seems to be more common in Germany and France but less so in the UK or the US, is the please-take-a-number system, where you pick up a ticket or token and then wait for the number to be called, without actually having to stand in a physical line. In the US these are mostly limited to grocery store deli counters and the DMV, but in Germany I ran into them at bakeries, photo finishers, pharmacies, ice cream parlors, railway ticket counters, etc..

It can be done without a mechanical system too. In Ukraine, when arriving at a waiting room, you ask who was the last person to get there, and then when it's that person gets their turn, that means you are next. So everyone knows when it's their turn but no physical queue needs to be maintained, nor physical tickets.
posted by anonymisc at 2:59 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


It wasn't until I had a bunch of friends from DC visiting NYC last week that I truly understood how impenetrable our subway system is to out-of-towners. When one friend took an extra hour finding us because of rampant subway confusion (metro confusion, he would call it, because he is wrong) and I was probably a bit condescending about it, and then late that night getting him home we gabbed a late-night 2 train at Christopher Street, and I told him to take it to 51st St for his hotel, to which he logically replied that only 1 trains stop there, and I exasperatedly explained that because it's late night, the 2 Train is a 1 Train for this stretch, and he stared at me and I got it and apologized for his trouble earlier.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:04 PM on March 6 [4 favorites]


The constantly shifting labrythine rules of the NYC subway are designed to test and forge mental agility.
posted by The Whelk at 3:14 PM on March 6 [7 favorites]


In case you ever try that again, it may be helpful to know that the NYC subway rush hour translation for "excuse me" is "GETTINGOFF!"

This is true, but there are particular ways to do it, because usually there's no need to say anything, even on crowded trains.

The first way is, the afterthought excuse me. You're getting off, someone is kind of in your way but you've got to take an awkward route to get around them, and you let out an almost-inaudible "excuse me" as you're going around in the hope that they'll move over a little.

The second is the GETTINGOFF! excuse me. You only use this when there are people, probably lots of them, blocking all routes to do the door. You say "excuse me" somewhat loudly, but without yelling, and in a kind of condescending voice, as if to add "why are you nincompoops all standing around by the doorway like a bunch of logs?"
posted by breakin' the law at 3:15 PM on March 6


I find "PARDON. ME. " gets a better reaction that the more typical mumbled and run together "excusemeexcuseexcuseme ."
posted by The Whelk at 3:17 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


the cashier at the supermarket may ask you what you are doing with this beautiful weekend (and the three cases of rosé you've purchased)

I love this so much.
posted by ersatz at 3:25 PM on March 6


If someone is on fire next to you on the subway you ignore them.

Not entirely true. If the person across from you or one over from you on the subway is on fire, you ignore them. If the person next to you is, you pull in your coat and/or bag so the fire doesn't spread to your own stuff, then at the first opportunity you switch to another seat and make fire-guy Someone Else's Problem. But yeah, no eye contact or talking to them or anything.
posted by Mchelly at 4:03 PM on March 6 [7 favorites]


Also I love the GETTINGOFF! discussion. It's well known on NYC buses that if the back door doesn't open, the proper etiquette is to yell BACK DOOR!!! in as loud and unemotional a tone as possible. Anything more polite, and you're stuck riding for another stop.

Not that anyone in NYC actually rides the bus, of course.
posted by Mchelly at 4:06 PM on March 6


BACK DOOR!

YO! BACK. DOOR.
posted by griphus at 6:39 PM on March 6


TMI!

I just don't wanna know about your GETTING OFF in the BACK DOOR.

OK?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:49 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


There's a much larger problem in Europe with pickpocketing/thefts of opportunity, and a lot more public awareness campaigns about it, like little "keep your purse safe!" commercials at the start of movies when Americans would expect the one trying to make you go buy more Coca-Cola.

Do they still show those horrifying "don't use minicabs!" PSAs before movies in England, too? I won't go into a description in case you haven't had the pleasure, except to say that the PSA ended on a freeze-frame of a woman's face as she screamed in terror. It would play just before movies like "Night at the Museum," while everyone dug into their kettle corn and candy. WHY.

Anyway, I find it a bit rich that the French tips include a complaint that American restrooms lack privacy, considering (last I heard, anyway) it's still not all that unusual to go into a public toilet in an otherwise cosmopolitan place like Paris (PARIS!) only to find that the "toilet" is really just a hole in the ground with maybe some footprints painted beside it to help your aim. I mean, OK, lots of those holes have full-length doors to close them from the stairway or whatever off but DUDE come on priorities.

When I was staying in Russia for a while, the best tips I (an American) got were to stop saying excuse me on the Metro and to just ask for what I want. I'll never forget how wonderful the feeling was to stride right up to the Metro counter, shove my ticket at someone, declare DOESN'T WORK like I was her majesty or something -- and have the ticket lady fix it correctly and toute de suite! The rush of power *shiver.*
posted by rue72 at 7:30 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


Americans eat and drink anything and at any time of the day: in the street, in a meeting at work, in the car, on the subway, in the elevator, the movies ... So, there are drink rests everywhere: cinema seats, baby strollers, shopping carts at the supermarket, in cars, some bike handlebars.

I often wondered why my kids' strollers had to have goddamn drink rests. Having spent many years in Japan, where you may NOT walk and eat at the same time (if you are hungry, find a park or a food court and sit down), the cult of the travel mug is pretty weird.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:37 PM on March 6


FWIW, part of the reason American pharmacies put your prescription pills in a separately labeled bottle rather than handing you the original box is that the pharmacies get most of their pills in giant bottles full of thousands of pills. They just measure out the appropriate amount to fill your prescription and give you that much. I'm not sure whether this supply system came about because we like to have our identical-but-for-the-label bottles, or the bottles came about because of how the pills are supplied to the pharmacy.
posted by vytae at 7:41 PM on March 6


Oh, how I long for English queues.

Canadians are also obsessive about queuing as well; budging in line is the most outrageous faux pas one can commit in Canada.

On the other hand, it doesn't have to be that way. In Canada my barber is Greek, and his staff come from Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, and Bosnia. Presumably they do things differently in that corner of the world because there is no queue and the barbers don't pay any attention to who came in first or last.

So the customers come in, take a seat, and read Sport Illustrated Swimsuit edition. When a chair becomes empty, everyone looks around before carefully venturing up to the barber. It's kind of interesting, this queuing without lines.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:43 PM on March 6


All right Thing, Ireland and the countries which put the UK's monarch on their currency.
posted by brujita at 8:33 PM on March 6


I find the Canadian comments about queuing weird since the biggest complaint I have about Ontario is how people in Loblaws will bunch up behind you and knock you with their carts when you're not moving fast enough for them. No, they don't say "hey, jerk, move it along!" but they will passively aggressively shove you with their carts and look away to pretend they're not doing it. This is a constant event, not outlier behavior.

I've always found the myth that Canadians are super polite strange. Is there a culture of not telling you you've put on a few pounds/your hair looks like crap? Yes, sure. But the rudeness is more subtle. Once you acclimate to it, there is some serious rudeness. I think it's that Americans just can't recognize it. Also, if people don't know you're originally American, the way they just let loose talking shit about Americans can be seriously enlightening.
posted by syncope at 8:33 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


In the U.S., they do not have a sense of superiority if they are able to drink a large amount. Rather, if you drink a lot, there is a sense that you cannot manage yourself. There is something close to contempt toward someone who must drink a lot to be drunk. To drink alcohol habitually is to have alcoholism. Alcoholics are weak people mentally, to be one means you have spanned the label of social outcasts that can’t self-manage.

IN JAPAN I AM A GOD.
posted by Random Person at 9:15 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Buzzfeed has a feature on American-themed parties around the world, featuring red solo cups, sports jerseys, and guns. I love everything about this except the guns. I would just DIE of joy to go to an American-themed party overseas!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:19 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


I've always found the myth that Canadians are super polite strange. Is there a culture of not telling you you've put on a few pounds/your hair looks like crap? Yes, sure. But the rudeness is more subtle. Once you acclimate to it, there is some serious rudeness. I think it's that Americans just can't recognize it.

My experience of believing that Canadians are super-polite comes from having driven there, as an American.

Maybe Canadians aren't super-polite as a people, but their politeness as drivers far eclipses Americans', in my experience.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:21 PM on March 6


Buzzfeed has a feature on American-themed parties around the world, featuring red solo cups

okay so um, I had this very odd sheltered upbringing where it was way, way more likely that I would have to waltz then I would go to a house party but I also watched like a fucking shitton of movies and TV where people apparently my age in high school would go these like huge house parties in isolated California houses that always looked like fucking mansions to me and crazy things would happen like kissing and pool jumping into and serial killers and I've always felt like a bad American cause now at age 29 I've never been to a teenage house party with red solo cups and now I NEVER WILL.
posted by The Whelk at 9:36 PM on March 6


although I do like that, internationally speaking, we got flannel going for us.
posted by The Whelk at 9:47 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Clearly, The Whelk and Eyebrows McGee need to go on a cultural fact-finding mission to an American-themed house party and then come back and write us a report.
posted by KathrynT at 10:11 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


i mean come on you guys that would be gold!
posted by KathrynT at 10:12 PM on March 6


Maybe Canadians aren't super-polite as a people, but their politeness as drivers far eclipses Americans', in my experience.

Biggest difference between Victoria BC and Japan is people in Victoria are so damn grouchy all the time. All the time. And that includes driving. People are constantly on edge. Japan (I'm here for a few months and have lived here for a long time in the past) is nice because people do not anger easily. And they walk better on the sidewalk.

In Canada people are always bumping into me on the sidewalk unless I adopt a swagger like some no-neck, simian meathead.

Someone also mentioned getting bumped by carts at Loblaws, and yeah, that is a Thing in Victoria, but at the cash register at Thrifty's.

People will ram the cart into my kidneys, so much so that I have to queue with one hand protecting my back, you fuckers.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:26 PM on March 6


My favorite: If you fall down, an American asks if you're all right. A Russian asks if you're ill.

I want to clarify that the Russian phrase is closer to "Are you hurt?". Translating it as "are you ill?" makes the speaker sound condescending to me, as if they are asking "Did you fall down because something is physically wrong with you?". In reality it is an expression of concern, but it is pessimistic assuming the person is hurt whereas the American assumption is positive.
posted by Mayhembob at 2:43 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, it doesn't have to be that way. In Canada my barber is Greek, and his staff come from Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, and Bosnia. Presumably they do things differently in that corner of the world because there is no queue and the barbers don't pay any attention to who came in first or last.

So the customers come in, take a seat, and read Sport Illustrated Swimsuit edition. When a chair becomes empty, everyone looks around before carefully venturing up to the barber. It's kind of interesting, this queuing without lines.

See, what ought to happen is whoever makes you coffee while you're waiting ought to know who's next since they have been making you coffee.
posted by ersatz at 3:39 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]


(Sitting here in Gallic-solidarity because you can't just eat whenever you want like a dog - and people who eat food with smells in confined spaces like an elevator or subway car deserve to be shot.)

Semester has just gone back this week gone, and I have been this close several times to telling off our students that eating their sugary/salty/obnoxious treat in a confined space makes them a bad person.

Of course I've also spent the entire week dodging kids who think that talking on or looking at their phones makes them neutrinos or something.

Christ, when did I get old?
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 3:56 AM on March 7


[barbershop queueing] So the customers come in, take a seat, and read Sport Illustrated Swimsuit edition. When a chair becomes empty, everyone looks around before carefully venturing up to the barber. It's kind of interesting, this queuing without lines.

This is kind of how it worked at the barber I used to go to, except most of the people kept track in their heads the order in which people had come in, and without speaking followed the order. Every so often some hapless dude would not know there was any implicit system and just randomly take his turn in front of others who had been waiting much longer and, while no one would say anything, hapless dude would get the stink-eye treatment of his life behind his back.

I think of this as a very American experience.

I have since started going to a different haircutter who costs a little more but does appointment times because I found waiting at that place a little too stressful for my lunch hour. That is also a very American move, I guess.

red solo cups

The three places I particularly associate with red solo cups are: horrible frat parties 30 years ago in college where the cups were full of barely choke-down-able Genny Cream Ale; labored Halloween parties at my work where people mill about drinking cheap supermarket apple cider, trying to be complementary to the few folks who came to work in costume, and failing at not eating too many candy bar minis; and picnics over the years on my retired parents' patio, where the cups are used to consume either non-sweetened iced tea (this being upstate NY, not the South) or orange soda.

I am not sure what to make of those anecdata points.
posted by aught at 5:45 AM on March 7


The Whelk: " at age 29 I've never been to a teenage house party with red solo cups and now I NEVER WILL."

I feel like I had a pretty normal upbringing and I've never really been to a party like that either; went to a few keg parties in college that had red solo cups but nothing very interesting occurred. I just sort-of love that people are having American-themed parties of the TV version of American parties. I would totally go to that and I think it would be a BLAST. It'd be like being a tourist to the bizarro-world version of your own homeland!

I'd even teach my hosts how to make jungle juice with Everclear and Hi-C, assuming you can buy Everclear overseas.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:53 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]


This is kind of how it worked at the barber I used to go to, except most of the people kept track in their heads the order in which people had come in, and without speaking followed the order. Every so often some hapless dude would not know there was any implicit system and just randomly take his turn in front of others who had been waiting much longer and, while no one would say anything, hapless dude would get the stink-eye treatment of his life behind his back.

I think of this as a very American experience.


What? No. The exact same thing happens in the barbershop I go to in Melbourne. Though they also give you a beer and play cool music very very loudly.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 1:45 PM on March 7


Knowing how to use sarcasm is a must to communicate with an American.

> [rolls eyes] Sure it is!


You remind me of my days as a student when i used to help exchange students from Japan with their English lessons. One of them was asking about double negatives meaning a positive, and quoted his teacher that there was no such thing as a double positive meaning a negative. I said, "yeah, right."

I note that I have seen triple-negatives in my Japanese textbooks.

On another note:

OK, so what the hell do they do in French pharmacies? Just lob a handful of pills at you and leave you to guess the dosage?

You ought to see Japanese pharmacies. I once got a prescription for Actifed, it was powder in an envelope that I was supposed to divide into doses by myself.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:58 PM on March 7


I once accidentally ended up in a July 4th party in London. People were wearing Lincoln and Liberty Statue masks, there was a lot of red/blue/white and it felt very parallel universe. A drunk girl ran through the miniature club with a fake sparkler.

I'm a Russian-Canadian too, which makes this conversation all the more funny.
posted by olya at 4:55 PM on March 7


Another time, "I went to a dinner party at the home of this nice, normal couple, and there was a plate of brownies out, and I got really excited and said, 'Wow! I love brownies!' and I ate five of them and then I got REALLY sleepy and confused and went to sleep for like 3 hours!"

Ha ha! I've done that without the benefit of ignorance, knowning full well what was in them, but since I didn't feel anything from one, surely a second one is okay? And if two are fine, why not try a third as they taste so nice.

Half an hour later...
posted by MartinWisse at 1:11 AM on March 8


My German friends wondered where the toilet brushes were in the US. They have brushes in even the most skanky restrooms in Germany.
posted by Chuffy at 4:28 PM on March 10


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