I returned to the United States 10 months ago
An expat friend of mine just visited the States
My friend, John, and I both lived in the Philippines. We knew each other online for many years and met once when John and his family visited us in Davao some years back. John is a good guy, but like me, he rarely visited the USA over the years. In my case, I never came back to the States in my 19+ years of living in the Philippines.
Recently John spent some time in the USA
I knew that John had been to the USA recently, and a few days ago I saw a post that he put on Facebook about his trip. I am going to steal his bullet points about the trip and compare those to what I experienced over the past 10 months.
So, here are the things that John had to say, and my reaction after each point:
It is the first time in ten years since I visited the US, and there was really a reverse culture shock on a number of things… in some ways it has become a foreign country to me now.
As I said earlier, I lived for nearly 20 years in the Philippines and never returned to the States during that time. Frankly, I thought I’d never come back, but last year my wife told me that she wanted to return to live in the States, and I decided that it really was her turn to decide where we would live. As I have expressed on this website, I have also experienced a number of “reverse culture shock” experiences in the past months.
1. Parking spaces a full meter wider than just about anywhere else in the world and people still somehow cannot seem to park between the lines.
Funny, I have noticed the same thing! The parking spaces here in the States are much larger than what I ever saw while living in the Philippines. And, as John says, people still can’t seem to put their car between the lines! I would say that at least 30% of the cars I see in the parking lots are taking up more than one parking space. It bothered me at first, but now I barely even notice it, because it is just the way things are.
One thing I noted about this statement was that John mentioned the parking spaces were “a full METER” wider. I am pretty much equally comfortable with the metric system, or the system still used in the USA. In general, I would probably say that the spaces are 3 feet wider rather than saying they are a meter wider. 🙂
2. No bidets on toilets.
I saw some toilets in the Philippines with bidets, but not that many. John travels for business a lot and visited dozens of countries every year, so he probably sees more bidets than I saw in the Philippines, although I saw some.
3. Being the last holdout not to use the metric system. I kept getting screwed up with Google Maps thinking in Km.
I already commented on this on his first bullet point. I will note, though, that the USA is not the “last” holdout in regards to the metric system… there are three. Liberia, Myanmar, and the USA. Certainly every developed country other than the USA, though, is metric.
4. Huge portions in restaurants.
This is completely true, and I have discussed this with a few other expat friends who live in the Philippines. Restaurant portions are absolutely huge. It does show on the American populace too.
5. Cannabis billboards at LAX.
I have not seen Cannabis billboards here, but I don’t think marijuana is legal in Indiana, where I live. But, in addition to Cannabis, other Marijuana based products are widespread. One that comes to mind is CBD, a cannabis-derived oil that you rub on your skin for pain and such.
Keep in mind that in the Philippines, under the current administration in power, drugs are an offense that could get you killed, so this was somewhat shocking to me when I got back!
6. Seeing people open carrying guns.
John and I are pretty much polar opposites in terms of our politics. I am fairly conservative, and John is fairly liberal, based on some of his Facebook posts. I am pro-guns, pro-second amendment. I believe John to be the opposite. That is his right, no doubt.
Honestly, I don’t recall seeing anybody openly carrying guns, though. I don’t doubt that there are plenty of people with concealed carry permits, though. I also don’t really have a problem with that.
7. Not being able to buy petrol with a credit card without a ZIP code.
Funny that John would mention this because just the other day I was discussing this with another expat friend who lives in the Philippines, his name is Dave. Dave was telling me that when he is in the USA he has trouble purchasing gas because his zip code is a US Military APO zip, which forwards his mail to the Philippines.
When you go to the pump in the USA and use a credit card to pay at the pump you have to enter your billing zip code to verify that you are the owner of the card. Dave told me that the pumps will not accept his APO Zip Code. Strange. That is just crazy, it could make it very hard to buy gas!
I have a US credit card so I have not encountered this exact problem. However, I have experienced problems trying to put my Philippine address on certain forms where they asked for my previous address. People just can’t seem to understand why you lived outside the USA. Some people don’t even believe it is possible!
8. Not being able to pay cash at Walgreens, Jiffy Lube, and Office Depot without giving a US phone number and ZIP code (and dumbfounded looks when I said “I don’t have a zip code”….”what do you mean you don’t have a zip code?!” “”I don’t live in the US” “????????”).
I have experienced similar issues. It is strange. The USA is largely a cashless society now. Everything is plastic in terms of payment. Seeing that few people even carry much (if any) cash was pretty shocking to me when we first got back on US soil.
9. The cashier at Walgreens could not figure out the change between 50 cents and 32 cents.
Ha ha.. John is right. I see this a lot, cashiers or other employees who are seemingly not that smart.
10. Endless commercials on TV for prescription drugs, Medicare insurance, car insurance, and ambulance-chasing lawyers.
Oh, this one is HUGE, and John is exactly right. The ads for prescription drugs are one that bugs me a lot! They spend 20 seconds telling you how badly you need this certain drug, then the last 10 seconds telling you all of the side effects. It makes you wonder why you would take the drugs in the first place!
11. Needing to pay attention to my speed… switching from not paying attention at all (Philippines) or looking for cameras (Europe and Australia), to looking for cops.
Yes, this is really true. There are speed limit signs in the Philippines (in Kilometers per hour, of course), but those are more of a suggestion than a rule. 🙂 In my younger days I drove fast, but now I don’t worry about the police, because I pretty much always stay at or under the speed limit.
A couple of pleasant surprises:
1. The automated passport control at LAX was painless.
I also saw the automated passport control kiosks for the first time at the airport in Dallas when we arrived. Very nice and kept things quick and orderly.
2. Soft lighting indoors instead of fluorescent.
This is one that has not made an impression on me.
3. The new train in Miami (really nice!).
I have not been to Miami, so I can’t really comment on the new train there. I will say, in terms of roads and highways, I was surprised, but not pleasantly. The infrastructure here in the States is, in my opinion, much worse than it was 20 years ago.
Anyway, I thought John’s Facebook post would make for an interesting article. I hope you enjoyed hearing about John’s experience and how mine compares.