My husband has lived in the US before for a year and a half to study English, but now he lives here permanently, and in a different city than before. I previously posted about his top 5 favorite things about America, so I thought I’d add his top 5 complaints in too, for a balanced view of life in the US.
Study abroad is an amazing experience, and I really can’t say enough about going abroad during university, no matter where you may choose to go. However, study abroad is a unique experience and, while it most certainly can prepare you for living in a different country, it’s quite different than living there full time. Once you’ve got over the initial culture shock (Americans wear shoes inside??), you start to settle in and adjust to your new country. But if you decide to live there permanently, things can be quite different than you perceived while studying abroad as a student or on working holiday.
Now that my husband has moved from Japan to the US, and then moved again within the US, he has experienced more of the “real life” US than even before, while he was sheltered in an academic environment with other foreign students. These are a few of his recent complaints about the US. (TL;DR version is in bold ^^)
1. Customer Service – You can’t have it your way
Granted, our experiences with American customer service in our new town have been exceptionally horrible, but some of the things that I shrug off as typical of customer service here in the US would never be acceptable in Japan. Typical day-to-day service at most stores is fine, and we’ve had a lot of awesome clerks help us out during our move. However, when something major goes wrong, some big-box type stores have had difficulties in moving things along quickly.
One major example is that our refrigerator was delivered a week late due to the system mysteriously dropping our order, then it proceeded to stop working less than 12 hours later and all our food was spoilt, and then they stalled for ages to get us a replacement. It was frustrating because everything took a week to accomplish after something went wrong, rather than the company trying to rush things since the company was responsible for the mishap in the first place. In Japan, this lack of customer service just wouldn’t fly, according to my husband.
Minor things that he is surprised about include employees on their smart phones (when they think no one is looking) and the lack of clerks even when long lines are forming.
2. Different States, Different Laws
Since the US is comprised of 50 states, all of which back in the day wanted to govern themselves, there is a lot of irregularity between states in terms of laws. This is fine if you live in one state and never go anywhere else, but if you travel, or move (like we just did), the differences in state laws can pop up in the most random places.
One of the most prominent differences is in state taxes. In one state there might be no tax when you purchase things, while in another there is a very high tax. Also, if you go to cities that are dominated by tourism (e.g. Las Vegas), there is often another tourism tax to pay when you stay at a hotel or go to events. The amount of tax you pay on different things varies widely among states, and it’s something you have to consider if you decide to move to another state.
The strangest change that we’ve experienced is in liquor laws. This isn’t even important to us in terms of buying beer or anything like that. Where it has become confusing is when we go to buy cooking sake (料理酒). When we used to buy cooking sake, we would have to show our IDs, because apparently American supermarkets can’t distinguish between drinking sake and cooking sake in terms of alcohol content. That’s fine, we just always had to remember Aki’s passport. But now when we try to buy cooking sake, it doesn’t seem to exist in regular markets. It might have to do with the alcohol content, but it also might have to do with cooking culture. We don’t want to have to go to the liquor store to buy drinking sake, but luckily we found some cooking sake in the local Asian market.
3. Tipping at Restaurants – You don’t always get what you pay for
Tipping is not a common practice for any service in Japan. The price of the service includes all the main points as well as going above and beyond, and additional money is not required. Even when I I took a taxi or got an amazing haircut in Japan, I didn’t tip because no one expected me to.
In America, you tip for just about everything it seems. Every coffee shop, ice cream shop, or any food establishment has a tip jar. You have to tip for all wedding services, moving companies, and I’ve even seen people tip the grocery store clerks who take their bags to the car. I understand that certain occupations have lower wages and rely on tips, especially restaurant waitstaff. But in some instances tips seem like a requirement rather than a system based on appreciation.
If I go to a restaurant and the server does their job right, we are happy to tip. However, if you go to a restaurant and are ignored or the service is subpar, Americans feel some kind of pressure to tip, even if the amount is reduced. My husband doesn’t think that 20% or even 15% should be standard all the time, but rather the tip should be based on service provided. On the other hand, he doesn’t like Japanese tourists who don’t tip, even though they know that this is a standard American practice.
Outside of restaurants and taxis, deciding what to tip for and what not to tip for can be confusing. Even most Americans can’t agree on which services need a tip. Sometimes, if you Google a service that you don’t think requires a tip, a lot of people will suggest tipping. It confuses even me!
4. Lack of Public Transportation – Why don’t you just drive?
Japan is famous for its efficient public transportation system, even beating out European trains in punctuality. America, however, is famous for people driving their cars everywhere. Even bicycles can be inconvenient in big cities or rural areas if you want to go farther than the local drugstore. Almost everyone in America owns a car (or two or three), and the availability of a public transportation system varies among cities and states.
We used to live in a university town that was quite small, with the only public transportation being a free bus system sponsored by the university and other local businesses. The town was small, and making friends at a university was easy enough that foreign students who didn’t have cars didn’t have too much trouble getting around.
When you went to the airport in the next town over, where the bus did not run, you didn’t pay ridiculous prices for a taxi but rather you asked your friends and classmates in possession of a car if you could give them some gas money for a ride. If you needed to get groceries, you could get most of them in walking and biking distance, although in the dead of winter with ice and snow on the road you might ask a friend to drive you instead.
In bigger cities, especially where you live farther from where you work, it is more difficult to rely on walking, biking, or even public transportation. Public transportation (usually a bus) could take hours and might not be on time, as well as requiring several transfers. The best solution for living and working in a big city is to either live close to work – although you might not want the downtown homeless people as your nearest neighbors – or to get a car. Owning a car is expensive – initial investment, plus upkeep and maintenance, plus gas, etc. If he can’t get a sports car, he doesn’t really see the point!
5. Gym Bros – I called dibs on that machine, and that one..
My husband spends a lot of time at the gym, and he has had memberships both in Japan and in the US. The atmosphere in Japanese gyms is different than US gyms, and there is a lot more prancing and grooming that goes on during workouts in US gyms. My husband doesn’t mind the preening and flexing that goes on in the gym in front of the mirrors, although he thinks it’s slightly hilarious.
His real problem with gym bros is the ones who set their protein shaker, their towel, or their mobile phone on the equipment and essentially call “dibs” even when the available equipment is scarce. In Japan you use one piece of equipment at a time, and when you need to switch machines in between reps and someone else is using it, you just wait for it to be available. The gym bros in the US gym will set their personal belongings on the equipment in between reps, thereby preventing anyone from using the machine. This is especially frustrating during the peak gym hours, where people are many and gym equipment is scarce.
My husband attributes this difference in gym behavior to differences in culture. Japanese culture is more about a group mentality, and thinking about other people before yourself, while American culture is more focused on the individual, and at times can lead to selfishness in certain situations.
If you’ve ever lived in another country, what kind of differences have you noticed that you were less-than-thrilled about? How have you adapted to these differences, and have the problems become less noticeable over time?