25 January 2008

Reflections after visiting the US


When we were planning to visit the United States after living in Italy I expected there would be a lot of things I had not noticed before in the US that I would now notice. In general this was not the case as we realized there were many things we noticed from previous trips to Italy. There however, were a few items that I did take notice of:

Sales Tax: I have become used to the prices in Italy including the tax amount, when a coffee is listed as 80 cents that is all you pay. The first time I went to buy two drinks when we were in the US I looked at the price and multiplied it by two in my head and figured the couple dollars I had was enough. I almost panicked when the cashier ran up the total with tax and I thought I would be short of cash.

Car park spaces: When we visit Washington DC previously I was always impressed by how close people parallel parked. After living in Italy and seeing vehicles parallel parked bumper to bumper I had to change my opinion of parking in DC. Granted the vehicles I saw in DC where much bigger than most I see in Italy.

Better dressed: I had a picture stuck in my head of Americans wearing sweat pants and bed slippers in public but I was surprised that I saw very little of that. This may be due to the frigid temperatures we experienced in Ohio but people in general seemed to dress better that I recalled. Italians however, still make most Americans look “frumpy”.

Remembering English: When we first landed in the US at the airport and wanted a bite to eat we found ourselves replying to the wait staff in Italian, using Italian phrases that have become second nature left them with puzzled looks on their faces. I also found that I had become used to listening to voices around me in Italy to check for someone speaking English or trying to understand Italian conversations around me.

After two weeks of only English it may take a few days to get back up to where we were in our Italian language skills.

Dryer sheets: In Italy we dry our clothes on a clothes line and on the radiant heaters in the winter. In America clothes lines seem to have been relegated to nostalgia. I forgot about dryer sheets until I opened a towel to dry my hair and out popped a scented dryer sheet.

Spoons: In Italy the only times you will regularly see a spoon is with your coffee drink, gelato and when you are being served soup. In the US you get a spoon at every meal no matter what is being served.

Currency changes: The changes in the US currency had started before we moved but some bills I did not immediately recognized with the new colors and design. They are starting to look much more appealing to the eye.

Repeated suburbia: For many years America has looked like the land of the repeated urban landscape. Suburban America seems to all look the same except some modification in color and style, you take the same franchises and malls and just repeat them every mile or so. We found we had to search to locate locally owned stores and eateries.

Toilet bowl water: Toilet bowls in Italy have very little water in them and hence the need for the ever present toilet bowl brush. I forgot just how much water is in an American toilet bowl, they are almost half full. Hence in America toilet brushes are hidden from view.

Cold and dry: I remember the lack of humidity when we lived in New Mexico but I forgot how dry the winters are in Ohio, despite the snow. Here in Ascoli Piceno we have no problem with static electricity but in Ohio I found that my wool sweaters tingled with electricity when I pulled them off and my sweat pants stuck to my legs like glue.

Graffiti: One of the things first time visitors will notice when coming to Italy is the prevalence of graffiti in many of the cities. I noticed that in Washington DC and Cleveland we saw very little graffiti and we drove through some areas that were economically depressed. This is not to say that we saw none but we saw very little compared to what I see around Italy.

Bad coffee: I knew getting a REAL caffe’ in the US would be a problem but I forgot the bitter taste it would have. I was surprised that in Washington DC we struck-out on every attempt for a good espresso. We did find a decent espresso at a cafĂ© in Norwalk, OH called Sheri’s. We had to explain how to make a macchiato (a stain of milk, no syrup involved) but the end result was the best we had during our two week visit. The first thing we did after arriving at the airport in Roma was to head to the nearest bar in the terminal and had some real Italian caffe’.

We spent two weeks on the run visiting with family and it was fun, but it is always a good feeling to be home.


Anonymous said...

Great post! I appreciated it :)

erin said...

this was fun to read...and interesting to really think of the differences. I'm sure it will be a little strange going back to the States for the first time since we moved here.

Bryan said...

I was surprised there were not more things that stood out to us as being different.

Anonymous said...

We are just glad that you could make the trip to the US. It was wonderful to see you and I was so happy to experience things just in Cleveland Hghts. that I haven't anywhere else!! Can't wait for my trip to Italy to see you!!
Diane :)

Gil said...

Great post! I think that Graffiti has moved East and therefore, it is history in major US cities.

joe@italyville.com said...

Bryan, Great Post. I just did one on bad espresso in the US. It's so true. Something happens when you cross the Italian boarder.

Anonymous said...

In London too it is extremely difficult to get a decent caffe'A cup is priced from £2 and tastes, in the main like dark brown water. So the first point of call when returning to Italy is always the bar!

Bryan said...

2 GBP for a bad coffee!?! I thought $2.50 was bad enough.

Diane we also enjoyed seeing everyone.

Anonymous said...

Ciao Bryan
I didn't read all, I'm a new visitor, and I will take the time to read you more often.
I'm from Milano living in Charlotte NC for 3 years. It is so funny what you said...it is the same in the opposite sens! I'm an Italian teacher, may I use this part to read to my students? Let me know grazie

Bryan said...

Laura - feel free to share our experiences with your class. You should also check out: http://www.annostellestrisce.blogspot.com/

An italian student's experience in the US.