We’ve all grown up watching American movies. The frenetic energy of New York, the vast plains of the Wild West, the glitz and glamour of Hollywood – these scenes are so familiar, we think we know all about US before we even step off the plane.
The truth is there are some things about the American way of life you can only learn by living there. But you can get a head start with our list of 16 things you need to know before moving to the US!
1. The US is made up of different states (shockingly)
OK, you probably know that the US is made up of 50 different states (extra points if you can name them). But did you know each one is governed by its own state laws and constitutions? In the years since independence, the rules that govern each state have diversified considerably – making for quite a complex system to get your head around!
Some states, like California, are more liberal, while others, such as Louisiana, are more conservative. And according to astudy by Cambridge University, the stereotypical personalities associated with different regions of the USA actually hold true. Southerners were found to be “friendly and conventional”, West Coasters “relaxed and creative” and New Englanders “uninhibited and temperamental”.
2. Health insurance is a must
Forget the NHS, in America comprehensive health insurance is essential. Paramedics have the right to ask for your insurance details or your intended method of payment before they even take you anywhere! And without insurance, that journey to the ER can set you back up to $1,800. Make sure your coverage is in place as soon as you set foot in the States.
3. The USA is a nation of drivers
Car culture in the US is huge. From those iconic experiences cruising down Route 66 in an old Mustang to the current craze for driving huge pick-up trucks, the car is king. In fact, it’s actually quite difficult to walk anywhere. Pavements (or sidewalks) are sparse and it’s normal to drive everywhere you need to go.
While this can take some Brits some time to get used to, on the plus side driving in the US should be relatively easy to acclimatise to. The highways are wide and straight, navigating is usually straightforward and the traffic moves at a sensible pace.
4. We don’t quite speak the same language
While Brits and Americans technically both speak English, get ready to discover a host of differences between the language you know and its cousin, American English. From the spellings – colour vs color – to the words themselves – soft drink vs soda – it can be a lot of fun learning your new lingo.
5. Ditch the cash
Most people in the US don’t carry cash – and certainly not a wallet full of jangling coins. You can pay by card in even the smallest of shops or street stalls, so make like the Queen and go cashless. Your bag will be so much lighter!
6. Tip, tip and tip some more
Tipping is an integral part of American culture. You definitely need to tip waiting staff, bar staff, hairdressers and taxi drivers – and are likely to be given the option to tip anyone else who provides you with a service. Tip between 10 – 25% and make sure you budget for it as tips can really add up.
7. America is HUGE
Like unfathomably huge. You can’t even really get a sense of it just from looking at a map. But once you’ve experienced those long, long days of driving to get somewhere you thought was relatively close, the sheer scale starts to sink in. Imagine driving from the tip of Scotland to the bottom of England and still only crossing a third of a state and you’ll start to get the idea. All that land means lots to see and explore – just leave yourself a lot of time to do it!
8. The weather can be extreme
The US experiences some of the most extreme weather on the planet. Winters in some states can see blizzards and temperatures as low as -40 degrees, while summers can be swelteringly hot. Throw in hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods and wildfires and you’ll realise you need to be ready for any kind of weather in your new home. A little bit of research before you leave will make sure you bring the right clothing.
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9. The food is supersized
Americans LOVE food. Portions are huge, almost everything comes with added bacon, avocado or fries, and unlimited refills of soda is common in many eateries. Throw yourself into the excellent American tradition of giant breakfasts and brunches, try the delicious Mexican food and don’t miss out on the huge slices of pizza. Just bear in mind many Americans also work out like demons to burn it all off again!
Shopping is also supersized, with many people shopping in huge shops that sell produce in bulk. Get involved to save yourself some serious money, just try to stick to non-perishables so as not to add to the American habit of wasting food. A staggering 40% of the nation’s food is thrown away every year.
10. The news is very local
Don’t expect to hear much in the way of global news on any of the US news channels. Local news is the main (and often only) topic of interest here. Luckily the internet makes it easy to stay updated on international happenings.
11. Americans don’t use the metric system
It’s all feet, yards and miles in the US. It can take a while to get used to but chances are that you’ll find metres and kilometres equally strange when you return home for visits.
12. Public transport
Travelling by bus or train in the US is not always a great experience. Cover is patchy, travel is slow and prices are high. You can expect to pay up to three times as much for a train ticket as you would for a plane ticket for the same destination. It’s no wonder most people in America choose to fly or drive.
13. American TV is in a different league
Diving into the world of American TV is quite an experience. Expect more channels than you could ever imagine, lots of commercial breaks and dramatic commentaries added to even the most mundane of shows. Not to mention some real TV gems. When it’s good, American telly is the best in the world. With so much to choose from, frankly it’s hard to get anything else done.
14. Holidays are a bonus
The US has one of the worst paid holiday allowances in the developed world. It’s actually zero days a year. That’s right, workers are not legally entitled to any paid time off. In practice, many employers will include a paid vacation allowance as part of an employee’s benefits package but this can vary wildly between companies. When it comes to public holidays, they may well be unpaid but there’s a whole host of fun new American celebrations to discover, from Thanksgiving to Independence Day.
15. You’re going to need to learn about baseball
If you want to talk sports in the States, you’re going to have to get into baseball. Football (or soccer) is much lower down the sporting agenda here, so get yourself down to the baseball stadium to watch the game over beers and hot dogs.
16. There are endless sights to see
You’re spoilt for choice for things to see and do in the US. The national parks are highlight of every state, boasting spectacular scenery from caves and canyons to sand dunes and forests. Grab your hiking boots and get exploring. And then there’s the sights of the cities – the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, the White House. There’s Disney Land, the Kennedy Space Centre and the Vegas Strip. There’s weird and wonderful festivals (the Humungus Fungus Fest in Michigan is our personal favourite) and quirky state fairs to visit. How are you possibly going to fit it all in?