Thursday, September 17, 2015

Things that still surprise me after 13 years in the US.

This week will mark my 8th anniversary of becoming a US citizen, and I’m proud of that.
However, while planning a trip to France next year and recalling our last family trip to my (former) home country, I realize that after all this time in the US (13 years), there still are many things that either surprise me, or simply irritate me.

1. Air conditioning. Although I do appreciate the fact that I don’t have to sweat every time I lift even one finger thanks to a full-blown air conditioned indoor environment (unlike in France on hot summer days where the only way to stay cool is to put a full ice pack under my armpits), I still have to fight with co-workers over thermostat control for who gets the right (humanly livable) temperature. Every time I go to see a movie, I need to bring my ski jacket because I feel like I’m in Antarctica.

2. The non-metric system. After all this time, I just can’t figure out the way we, in America, calculate distances or volumes. There are 16 ounces in 1 liter, there are 3 feet in 1 meter, there are 2.6 cm in 1 inch… What the heck? Why can’t Americans use the metric system like British drive on the right size of the road? Whazza?

3. How are you doing? I love the lack of formality in the US. You can call (almost) everybody by their first name even if you’ve never met them before. Maybe the fact that there is only one “you” (unlike the “tu” and the “vous” in French) makes it easier. In the French language and century-long social etiquette, you have to remember that you say “vous” to a woman you’ve never met before if she is older than you, but also younger than you if you’re much older, but it depends on the context and if you’re in social or professional setting, but also if you’re with a group of friends or colleagues that are more casual or more traditional... WTF?I’m still amazed that people in the US ask me how I’m doing, with no expectation for an answer. Sometimes, just for the fun of it, I like to respond “I feel terrible, my dog just died and my house got on fire”, because often times people don’t listen to my answer and reply “wonderful”, if they reply at all.

4. Clothes sizes. Maybe it goes with not using the metric system, but I used to wear XL or L when I lived in France, and now in the US I wear M or S, if not going to the kids section to find a pair of shorts and a T-shirt that is “fitting”. At the same time, everything is XXL in the US: cars, houses, meals… 

5. “You’re gonna love the way you look, I guarantee you”. I recall being in France and dressing up to go to the supermarket or just down the street to buy a baguette. French people are very conscious about their appearance. It’s almost like you have to wear a tie and jacket to be allowed to “enter” a bakery to buy your baguette. But I have to admit I still am picky about clothes. I rarely buy pants or suits in the US because I don’t like the style. I buy clothes every time I go to Europe.I like the fact that I can wear a T, shorts and sandals to go to the restaurant in the US, especially when it’s bloody hot and humid outside and that if I had to wear a suit and tie just to go to dinner, I would need a second set just to change as soon as I get in the restaurant. Although I still have to remember to bring my ski jacket with me, in case the AC is way too high in the restaurant. Now, that’s very stylish: T, shorts, sandals and… ski jacket!The only thing I will never do though (I still have to maintain some French fashionable style after all) is to wear white socks all the way up to mid-calves, while wearing shorts and sandals. NEVER.

6. The customer is king. Speaking of dinner, I like the fact that service is expedited in the US. In France, you must wait for 20 minutes only to get a waiter greet you at your table and bring two slices of baguette and tap water (with no ice). I love the “customer service” focus in the US (maybe it is because tips are not included, unlike in France – this is probably why French waiters are so rude and don’t give a crap about you), although I have a hard time being interrupted every 5 minutes by a waiter “is everything OK” while I’m in the middle of a conversation or have a 4-pound juicy burger stuck in my mouth that I’m trying to chew without getting all the grease taint my T-shirt (luckily I don't wear a suit), and trying to answer the waiter “mmhmm, uh mmmhmmm uh”. That’s how I learned the sign language: thumbs up, big smile (no one cares to see bits of meat and fries stuck in your teeth – all that matters if that you, as the customer, are happy), and a nod of the head.

I’ve traveled a lot abroad since I moved to the US, and every time I am in another country (even in France), I just can’t wait to go back home (the US), and still be surprised or irritated by the same things that remind me how much I love this country. Cheers!