Advice for Au Pairs

10 Interesting Observations About the U.S.

Living in a different country is a crazy experience where you’ll constantly be discovering new things! Au pair Maricel from Spain told us about 10 cultural differences she’s noticed between the USA and her home country.

Maricel in Times Square.
Image courtesy of Maricel

I have been in the United States for one month and one week. Oh my gosh! Time is flying.

This month, I’ve learned some customs, traditions, and other interesting things about American culture. Although I found some of these customs strange at first, now I have gotten so used to them that I don’t even realize that I’m slowly becoming more American. Here are 10 interesting things that I’ve learned about the U.S. so far!

1. Hello, how are you?

Here in the U.S., when you go to a store, a museum, or anywhere else, the person working at the counter will always say, “Hello, how are you?” However, they aren’t really waiting for you to respond, “Doing well,” or “I’m not very good.” At first, I’d always answer, “Fine thanks, and you?” and then the person ignored me. One day, I asked my host mom, and she said that it’s just a custom and you don’t have to respond. I think it’s a strange custom to ask someone how they are, but not wait for a response.

2. Everyone is barefoot all day.

The first day I was living with my family, I remember that I brought my slippers, and my host dad (who is from England) said, “Here in the U.S., we don’t use slippers. Here we go barefoot. In England, I used my slippers, but now that I’m here, I’ve gotten used to going barefoot.” My host family doesn’t mind if I use slippers or not, but I’m starting to get used to going barefoot.

3. The cars are automatic and beep when you lock them.

At first, this surprised me. When I wasn’t quite used to this yet, it happened in parking lots a lot, and I thought people were beeping at me for some reason! But nope, they just beep when they’re closed.

4. The bread! It’s not what I am used to.

The bread is surprisingly different.
Image courtesy of Pexels

The bread is so strange! Sometimes my host mom and I buy bread at the bakery, sometimes at the supermarket, but there’s not really any good bread anywhere. Here, the bread doesn’t smell like bread.

5. You can turn right on red.

This was my first instance of culture shock! Here in the United States, you can turn right on a red light, as long as there is no sign prohibiting it. I don’t know if this is the case everywhere in the United States, but in New York state, that’s the way it is.

6. You have to give a tip no matter what.

Except at a fast food restaurant, where no one really waits on you. In my culture, a tip is not necessary for most situations.

7. The climate really varies in New York.

For example, this week on Monday, it was 11 degrees Celsius, and today it’s been between 22 and 25. I never know if I need to wear a warm sweater or if I can just wear a t-shirt.

8. The supermarkets are massive!

American supermarkets are huge. There are a few little ones around, but the majority are huge. You can find thousands of types of potatoes, thousands of types of apples, milk, cereals, and more.

American supermarkets are shockingly large!
Image courtesy of Maricel

The parking lots are big, too. They are so so big that the first time I went to the supermarket, I didn’t know where I had parked my car! I knew that I had parked on a corner, but I wasn’t sure in which row. So, I looked a little silly looking all over for my car.

Oh, yes! The pharmacies are huge, and you can find everything you could ever want: toilet paper, notebook, razors, and more.

9. Saying “Thanks” and “Sorry” is sacred.

When I make food for the girls, they always say, “thanks for this food.” It’s a little strange for me because I expect to cook something for them without a thank you. But when my host mom cooks, I always tell her thanks. Now it’s become my thing, and “sorry” and “thanks” come out of my mouth naturally!

10. The portions are huge!

If you go to a restaurant and order something, be careful, because the portions are very large and filling. I say this because I always order the small portion, but it still seems large.

That’s all I can think of at the moment, but that’s definitely not all! I am surprised by something new here all the time.

Joy Lo

Joy is a huge advocate for cultural exchange. She's lived across the U.S. and various countries around the world including the UK, Australia and Indonesia. She has a unique perspective on working and thriving in other cultures. She's been a contributing author on Au Pair USA program.