Immigrants: What Surprised You About America?

The (fantastic, btw) radio show This American Life recently featured a story about America looks to immigrants who recently moved to the United States. In that story, Mary Wiltenburg asked refugees about the image of America they had in mind and the rumor they heard before setting foot in the country, and how that image compared with reality.

In this follow up thread at Quora, immigrants and visitors are asked to relate facts about the United States they did not believe until they come to America.

The answers are fascinating, as Max Fisher of The Atlantic summarizes:

How do they get everyone to obey traffic laws?: Quoting cab drivers is sometimes considered the epitome of lazy journalism, but there is one trend I've found in talking to foreign-born cabbies working in the U.S. and to foreign-based taxi drivers who've visited the U.S.: amazement at how devoutly American drivers follow the rules of the road. Compared to the U.S., driving in many developing world cities can feel like organized chaos, with motorists ignoring not just stoplights and speed signs but lane markers and even the direction of traffic. If you go to Cairo and rent a car (side note: don't rent a car in Cairo), you're obligated to follow the standard every-man-for-himself style if you want to get anywhere; drive like you're back in the U.S. and you'll never leave the parking lot. The miracle of American roads, as outsiders have described it to me, is that it only really works if everyone follows the written rules and unwritten norms alike, and they do.

Nothing like what I saw on Friends: The U.S. is about as famous as a country can get. People around the world experience it through the American films and TV shows that dominate global entertainment. But those media portrayals can sometimes add more confusion than they dispel. A Chinese friend once insisted that of course 20-something Americans all get news boyfriends and girlfriends every single week: she'd seen it on Friends, and Seinfeld, and Sex and the City, and a half dozen other TV shows. They couldn't all be lying.

Read more over at The Atlantic: Link

What say you, Neatoramanauts? What strange facts about America surprised you?


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My Japanese friends from school were amazed that the US has so much land available that we would have parking lots. The idea of using that much potential vertical space just to occasionally store a car was astonishing.
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How about the curious phenomenon of people who came here from somewhere else being so outrageously hostile toward people who came here from somewhere else?
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1. That all Americans were knowledgeable, well informed & well traveled. Truth is most of them don't know much about the rest of the world & most have never left their home state.
2. That all Americans are perfect in appearance (like on TV). And then I stumbled into a K-Mart in a mid-western town...
3. America is a free country & you can do anything you want. The first time I brought a can of beer into the student union everyone freaked out...
4. That all the cowboys were the good guys (like John Wayne & Clint Eastwood). Just like the Brits who gave the Chinese opium, the American cowboys gave the Red Indians whiskey.
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I'm a native USAian, but I gather a common one is not realizing how BIG the country really is. That you can get in a car, drive all day, and still be in the same state.
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excellent post. i thoroughly enjoyed reading the article and the comment thread over at Quora. enlightening in unexpected ways. i could read a whole book on this subject...a topic that i never even thought about until i saw this post.
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