Written by: João Santos
A lot of people shared their experience in the US and some of the confusing aspects of American life and culture. Of course, you can still experience some Hollywood clichés, typical American food and visit baseball and American football matches between NFL playoff favorites.
Still, we want to cover some of the biggest and most significant differences, especially those that could really affect your experience.
For those of you who are reading from outside of the US, we really tried to focus on differences and tips that might save you time and keep you safe while visiting the States. Let’s go through the list.
1. Paying for gas
If you’re visiting the US, you’ll notice that most gas stations will require you to pay for fuel in advance before you start pumping. Most Americans will simply swipe their credit card which then puts a hold on their account until they’re done fueling.
This can be a big problem for international visitors as the pumps are often not able to process a hold or verify their credit card, especially since the US is a bit behind on their payment technology.
If you’re faced with having to pay for gas, or petrol as the rest the world knows it, you probably need to pay the attendant cash. For most cars, you can expect to pay around $25 to $30 for a full tank. If you end up filling up less, then just asks for change from the attendant once you’re done pumping.
As a bonus tip, keep in mind that in the US the black pump is usually designated as regular unleaded fuel. Green pumps are usually diesel, which is not as common in the US as it is in the rest of the world.
2. Stay in your car when being pulled over by the police
This one is extremely important to know if you’re visiting the US. If you’re driving and you get pulled over by the police, you’ll want to remain in your car and keep your hands on the steering wheel. You do not want to get out of your vehicle.
While that may be the normal process outside the US, doing so will likely result in the police feeling threatened and potentially drawing their weapons. The normal procedure in the US is to pull over to the side of the road and turn off your engine.
You’ll want to roll down your driver-side window and keep your hands on your steering wheel. The police will usually ask for your driver’s license and vehicle registration. Though, I wouldn’t start looking for it until the police asks for it.
3. Turning right on the red light
This is one that seems to disturb a lot of people when they visit the US, even though we think most Americans find it to be very convenient and useful. If you’re in an intersection and you want to turn right, you can do so on the red light if there is: no pedestrian crossing at the time, no cars coming toward your direction, and no signs saying that the right turn is prohibited on the red light.
If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll want to stop at the intersection first and allow any pedestrians to pass, then you can slowly move forward into the crosswalk and turn right when it’s clear and safe. Just be careful of folks who ignore the crosswalk signal and try to cross the street at the last second.
The tipping culture in the US is very excessive and is confusing even to some Americans. While it’s customary to tip servers 15% to 20% at restaurants and bars, it’s often unclear in other scenarios like valet parking, hotels, and cafes. In these cases, we usually default to 15% to 20%, but only if you were happy with the service.
Also, keep in mind that servers at restaurants and bars typically make less than minimum wage in the US. That means that the tip is a major component of their wages. While we personally think they should get paid more, just know that we often see tipping in restaurants to be mandatory unless the service was not up to standards.
5. Sales tax
One thing that a lot of visitors find confusing is sales tax. When buying an item at a store, you’re almost always going to pay more than the label price. Since sales tax is different in every state and county, we add it to the price at the register.
Just know that you’ll likely have to pay up to ten percent more than the sticker price depending on where you’re visiting.
6. Showing your ID
This one drives Americans insane too. In most restaurants and bars, you’ll need to show your ID even if you’re obviously over the drinking age of 21. It’s mostly a liability issue in that most restaurants and bars don’t want to be sued or found accountable for serving alcohol to minors, or even perceived as singling out people based on age.
This can lead to some very annoying and frustrating situations. So, if you’re planning to have a drink in the US, make sure you’re carrying some form of ID that shows your birthday. Even if you’re obviously over the age of 21, it’s possible that you’ll need to prove it in order to have a drink or to even enter a bar.