What Foreigners Think of America
Since we have family from Germany visit us from time to time and we have had exchange students, it is interesting to hear their impressions of America and California. One of the universal impressions is how large in scale everything is. Distances traveled just to go to school, the store and how everyone has a car and maybe 2-3 cars. How everything is decentralized and scattered away from major transportation hubs (i.e., trains). Cars are larger, houses are larger, grocery stores are huge, malls are huge.
Visitors of California have this vision of nothing but palm trees along large, wide, sandy beaches and the climate is always sunny and mild. No doubt this vision has been perpetuated by Hollywood in movies and TV shows. They seemed baffled when they do not see this vision in reality. "No palm trees?", "I did not think California got this cold", or, "Where is the sun"? They are very dismayed when the beaches of Northern Calif. are so different than those in Southern Calif. They are miffed when they realize that the ocean is verboten in N. Calif, while in S. Calif. it is much warmer.
I was amazed when we took them to a Safeway. They simply looked confused and shocked. " How do you find your food?" "So much choice is bad, it takes too much time". Baseball seems to mystify them, futbol (soccer) they understand and love, ditto for a real American sport, basketball, but baseball and the NFL baffles them. It is guaranteed to make a great conservation topic lasting a good 30 min. or more. Trying to explain the games and strategy requires skills in drawing, showing and basic English. Be prepared for what seems to be funny, silly, questions, "Why does he run to the other base when there is not hit"? "What is a home run"?
They are curious about cheddar cheese, which is uncommon in their country. But, the overwhelming comments remain how big America is. How long it can take from point A to B and how taking public transportation is horrible here, which is why they understand why Americans have so many cars. Trucks and large semi-trucks interest them. While they have semi trucks, they are much smaller, a pickup truck is a novelty to them many times, which are not common in some countries.
Once an American goes to another part of the world, they will see why foreigners who come here have the impressions they do because everything is smaller and condensed. That is the impression I got. I could understand how and why their public transportation is so efficient and reliable, cities and towns are built around major hubs. It just cannot work well in America. Work and schools are often not more than 20 minutes from home, there are few that commute more than 30 min. to work. Technology wise, it is the US that lags. Germany has little need or demand for DVD, most content is streamed down to your computer and saved. You watch it and then delete it. Here, streaming movies is never a sure thing without interruptions and restarts. Most of the power lines there are underground, you seldom see a telephone pole, and houses are always made brick or stone.
Visitors who come to the U.S. are always shocked about how friendly we are to complete strangers, " Why do you say hello to a complete stranger"?, "Americans are like the Italians, they say hello to everyone they encounter". In Germany and other European countries this is not the custom when walking along a street or encountering hikers on the same path. The method there is, keep to yourself.
Most of the clothing styles are similar, but there are a few clues. Many foreigners will wear socks with sandals, which is usually not done here. Meals are also reversed, Many countries have their "dinner" at lunchtime between 12-2 p.m. This IS the big, robust meal (which for Americans is dinner at night) and when dinner time does arrive (6-9 p.m.) it is much lighter and like lunch at noontime for Americans (bread, sandwiches, chips, soup, salad).
In the end, many like America or the part they visit to and the National Parks, but like Americans, you always prefer your home country depending on their experience and what their home country is like.