11 Quirky Facts About the US – Seen Through an Asian Expat’s Eyes

After about one year of relocating to the US from Asia, we feel more settled as a family. We continue to appreciate the opportunity to live and work here :). And we have found a few interesting, quirky facts about the US. So let’s dive in.

1. The food portion is huge

The portion size of the food is truly remarkable. Even when ordering just a single main dish for two adult diners, it is often far too much for the two of us to finish. As a family of three, including one child, ordering two main dishes for the meal almost always guarantees that we will have leftovers to take home.

2. Sales tax is added at the end

It’s interesting to consider the contrast between price displays in the United States versus those in Asia. In Asia, the price listed usually includes tax (or both prices are shown), so consumers know what they are paying upfront. In the United States, however, sales tax is added on at the end, when you pay at the counter. This is a critical distinction, as the amount of sales tax varies greatly depending on the state and even the county. For example, in California, the sales tax rate can range from 7.25-10.75%, depending on the area.

3. Public transport is not great

Public transport in the US is not great compared to other advanced countries around the world. Many cities lack adequate public transportation options, making it difficult for those who rely on public transportation to get around. There are also limited resources devoted to maintaining and improving public transportation, which means that buses, subways, and trains are often overcrowded and unreliable. This has led to many people having to rely on cars or other private modes of transportation to get around, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

4. Tip is Not Optional

Culturally to us, the fact that tip is not optional is very interesting. In most cases, it is expected that you will leave a tip for your server or other service providers, even if the service is not satisfactory. In Asia, we leave a tip when the service is above expectations :). I have learned to understand the reasons behind it too. For example, for many jobs, employees rely on tips as the main source of income. Their basic salary is extremely limited. I am not suggesting which approach is better, I guess it is just different. So when looking at the prices of different services, we have to mentally include another 15-20% tip.

5. Anything below a rating of 5/5 indicates displeasure

I appreciated this fact a few years back before we moved to the US. Many years ago, when Uber/Lyft/different delivery services first came out, my default highest rating was 4/5. I naively thought when the service was good but not exceptional, 4/5 was a good rating. However, it turned out I was wrong. Anything less than 5/5 indicated displeasure. 😛

6. Return policy is generous

A return policy of 30 or 60 days or even longer is generous in comparison to Asia. Most of the time, the stores don’t ask any questions. Of course, I suspect the return cost is relatively high for many businesses in the US. They, in turn, have to pass back this cost to the consumer.

7. Physical check is still a thing

Yes, the physical check is still being used in the US to pay for something or receive money. I continue to find it pretty amusing. I can’t remember the last time I used a physical check in Asia. It must be more than 10 or 15 years ago.

8. Drive-thrus are everywhere

Drive-thrus are a common sight in the US. They can be found for almost any type of establishment, from fast food restaurants to banks and even pharmacies. Having the option to stay in your car and still get what you need is a convenience that many US citizens take for granted. It is definitely a different experience from what we were used to in Asia, where drive-thrus are much less common. Additionally, it’s interesting to note that many drive-thru lines move along quickly, often due to the efficient way they are managed.

9. State laws can be very different from one to the other

This is fascinating because we don’t have a similar situation in many countries in Asia. 🙂

State laws can be very different from one to the other, varying widely in terms of their scope and application. For example, some states have strict gun control laws, while others allow for open carry. Other differences might include taxation, labor regulations, and even marriage laws.

10. Public toilets

There are free public toilets in many places in the US. However, the gap between the door and the floor is huge, so there is not much privacy there. :D.

One reason is to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which requires that restrooms be accessible to people with disabilities, and this includes providing enough space for a person using a wheelchair or mobility device to navigate through the stall and make use of the facilities. You can read more about it here on U.S Access board website. At least 9 inches of space between the floor and door is required.

Other reasons include:

  • Better air circulation
  • Easier to clean?
  • Discourages Inappropriate Behavior???

11. Turning right on red

This is not true for every single state but for many states, you can turn right when the traffic light is red. Of course, you have to stop first and make sure that it is safe to turn, and there is no sign that says turning on red is not allowed.

Last but not least, I recently created a group on Facebook called Asian Expats in the US so that we can share/discuss more tips directly. Feel free to join.

That’s it from me. What do you think? Leave your comments below.


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