Culture Shock in the USA

Dear Reader,

If you have been following me for a while, you know that I have moved to New York City little over a month ago. This was something I was looking forward to and excited about. I was looking forward to my new internship and exploring this amazing city.

Turns out moving to the US is not as easy as I was thinking it would be. I have moved abroad before and faced some cultures that were vastly different from mine, but it was not a problem I was expecting here. While here on vacation I always had the feeling that the US is very similar to Europe and we do a lot of things the same way, but as I now found out, that is not the case.

In this post, I want to share with you some of the things I have encountered when it comes to culture shock here in the US so that when you make your big move to this country you are more prepared for it than I was.

People use first names a lot

Coming from North Europe, I was used to a very formal way of communicating with others, especially people you have not met before. I interviewed for a job once in Berlin and the HR woman and I used last names for the whole two months or so that we were in contact with. Here in the US, I have been told to use first names from the beginning on. I would write business emails with the first name of the person in the heading even in the first email. It was something that I thought was so rude at the beginning, but you get used to it after a while. I still tend to just write "Good Morning" or something similar, instead of using the first name of the person.

Being pushy to get things

Another one related to work. When you want anything done in Europe, you better be polite about it. The email you send should be polite and starting with the last name as mentioned above. If you are rude or standoffish the person receiving your email will not want to work on it at all and it will take forever for you to get an answer. In the US, this is completely different. If you do not push and keep following up, the people will not do what you want them to do because someone else is following up and being annoying. Imagine my surprise when things always took forever to get done and my boss would tell me millions of times to call them. I don't think I will ever get used to this pushiness or that I want to, but I now know that if I want things done I have to keep calling and following up and pushing them to do whatever I want them to do otherwise others will.

Doing everything from your phone

This is slowly becoming a thing in Europe as well, but it is not nearly as widespread as it is here. One of my friends told me that she normally orders her coffee while on the subway and by the time she gets to the Starbucks closest to her work, it is ready for pickup. You can deposit a cheque with your phone and send money with apps like Venmo. In Europe, these apps are not growing in popularity since bank transfers are so easy and cost nothing. Also, cash is still used more often than here in the US. While having all these options on your phone is convenient, especially if you have no time to waste, but sometimes I prefer the slowing down the European method forces you to.

People work.....a lot

So one of my American friends told me the other day that in the US it is normal to only get two weeks off of work a year and that many people do not even take it. This was shocking to me. How are employers expecting their workers to do their best if they never get time to breathe. In the European Union first have to give their employees four weeks of paid holiday and many of them take it. It is normal to travel at least a week in summer and take some time off around Christmas and New Year. Many people take a couple of days off to create a long weekend to spend some time with family or get away from the city.

Things are very flexible and constantly changing

This is probably more a shock coming from Northern Europe. Southern Europe is known for being spontaneous and just going with whatever they feel like. However, coming from the North, for me once a decision is made it is set. You spend a long time making that decision and once it is made you know it will not change. There is no reason to change it because you have considered all the facts and angles and there should be no surprises around the corner. Here in the US, people tend to make decisions to be able to move forward with the discussion or move on to new topics. That decision is usually not final, but the best for that moment. This I had to learn first so that I do not waste hours on a decision that will just be changed since it was final.

Everything is always a rush

I said before how people will order things ahead at a restaurant. This is part of the US mentality that is especially prominent here in New York. Everyone and everything is always a rush and has to be done quickly. In Europe, especially the Balkans, I have been used to being able to sit in a restaurant for hours talking, chatting, and spending time. Here they want you in and out in 30 minutes if possible so they can sell your table to the next person. You feel like you need to eat quickly, pay, and get out. When people anywhere have to wait more than ten minutes in line, it is too long and will give the place a bad reputation (except for lunchtime). This speed of life is faster here than in Europe which gets really tiring after a while.

Culture shock is a real thing and so many people are struggling with it. These are some of the few things that were strange to me when coming here and things I am still trying to get adjusted to.

Have you come across cultural differences in the US or any other country? I would love to hear about them in the comments below or on social media.



2 thoughts on “Culture Shock in the USA”

  1. I see the validity of at least one other culture. That makes me realize that the American way is not always right or best. I am impatient with people who criticize other countries and blindly accept everything American causing them to never question anything. I place more value on relationships than other Americans seem to. People here are too busy for one another.

    1. Dear Particia,

      Thanks for the insight. It is great to see the other side. I agree that it is important to be open-minded about others.


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