US cultural shocks for new immigrants

At almost 40, I thought change in my life would come in the way of switching the coffee brand I drink every morning or venturing to try a…

US cultural shocks for new immigrants
Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

At almost 40, I thought change in my life would come in the way of switching the coffee brand I drink every morning or venturing to try a new place to eat. However, as life usually is, I was thrown some curve balls and was eventually forced to take hard, life-changing decisions that brought me to this country. I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to do so in a way that didn’t endanger my family or risk losing my life at the top of a cargo train through the Mexican desert.

I just passed the three months mark and while the dust is still settling I can already look back and start to realize all the ways I’ve been challenged to take a second look on what I thought was normal back in my home country and adjust to my new reality. The US is an interesting place and has its own set of unwritten rules and quirks that will baffle anyone that wasn’t born or brought here as an infant. Let’s start.

Work culture

Yes, the US has a fixation on working as a lifestyle. The funny thing is, most people dread their jobs but still will obsess about working. The reality is though, money is king in this country and unless you have a decent gig going on, you are going to need several sources of income if you want to afford a basic living here. That’s why coming across people with 2 or even 3 jobs is not that uncommon unfortunately.

Not trying to generalize though. Most people will still put family first before a job but when push comes to shove you will see some extreme cases of dedication and sacrifice to make ends meet. This is particularly the case with immigrants.

Driving everywhere

Having a vehicle is a must. I come from a culture where it’s normal to have convenience stores on every other block and most things are within a short walking distance. I didn’t realize how hostile the US is when it comes to walking — it’s not practical and you are not supposed to walk anywhere. Distances are no joke here and the only walkable distance is to get your mail outside your house.

After a while you get used to the fact that running a small errand will take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour of driving.

People are not rude, just direct

I didn’t realize this until I was here but coming from Latin America I now find funny the fact that we are always afraid of hurting other people’s feelings. We apologize for everything and will go to great lengths just to avoid telling things how they are if we perceive that it will come across as harsh or mean.

The thing is though, there’s a difference between being mean and being direct. It is going to be difficult at first getting used to having things said in a very blunt and direct way but after a while you not only get used to, you start being direct as well. All that sugarcoating starts to fade in your mind and you get used to it.

Personal space

I have always been a very private person and I value my personal space a lot. This one was actually a good shock for me. People are very protective of their personal space and it is expected that you will act accordingly.

Coming from a Latin American background, I was always led to believe that family and close friends are supposed to have no boundaries and you should put up with that because that’s the way it has always been.

You can’t get too close and personal with someone unless there’s a reason or an understanding in place for you to do so.

I’m sure that as I spend more time here I will notice some other not so obvious quirks and nuances. Stay tuned for a part 2.