USA: The Good, The Bad, The Quirky (#3)

Hello everyone, welcome to the third chapter of Sophie’s and mine adventures into the not-so-mysterious land of freedom, bald eagles and donuts (yum! The donuts, not the eagle).

Every week we have presented to you funny, quirky episodes of our encounters, clashes and surprised epiphanies regarding the US and american culture.

So far we discussed driving, traffic, toilets, mailboxes and whatnot. You can find the previous instalments here and here

So stay tuned for more randomness!


The client is King of the shop

First morning in the US and empty bellies we are entering a diner. We are welcomed with a “Hi! How are you today?”  shouted with a loud and bubbly voice.

My thoughts: “Wow the waitress is really perky and friendly to ask how I am!”.

After the second, third and fourth similar welcome while entering shops and restaurants I came to the conclusion that you do everything for the customer to feel welcome. As waiters/waitresses and many shop assistants live on tips they have to make the client feel like a king catering to his e…very whim if they want to get fat tips.

By the end of our stay I was answering “Fine thank you! And you?” in an enthusiastic voice much to my kid’s shame (they are teenagers so try to be perky and loud you will immediately “putting shame on them”).

As waiters and shop assistant don’t rely on tips in Europe they will be friendly (we are no beasts!) but more “contained”.

But the bubbliness and friendliness don’t stop at waiters and waitresses or shop assistants!


Customer service is da bomb dot com!

Raise your hand if you enjoy talking over the phone to customer services? No one? Wow, what a surprise! So, yeah, this will never be a joyful activity, but when the person on the other side is helpful, nice and upbeat to the point of making you wonder whether they spiced their morning coffee, it goes a long way in making your experience more bearable.

Being an immigrant in the US means spending a loooooong time talking to random people over the phone. Banks, postal services, wifi providers… the list in endless and it should be a nightmare. Yet they are all so nice. So genuinely (or maybe not, but they sure make it seem like it) nice. So much so that they end every call asking you whether there is something else they can help you with today. It almost puts a smile on my face.

In Italy? Dealing with bureaucracy, people in the administration and customer service is a battle of the minds. Your stubbornness against their despondency. Your desperation against their contempt. It always seems like by calling them you are throwing the proverbial glove to their face and declaring war.

Thing is, they have the power and there is only a number of hours you can listen to Vivaldi’s Primavera before blowing a gasket.


Cashiers deserve a medal

Not only they put up with customers all day. Not only they do it standing (YES, they do not have chairs; at max I’ve seen some crates) but don’t even think of putting your own groceries in the bags.

No, ma’am. They will bag it for you and will do that with science and conscience. Refrigerated things go together, eggs on top. Fruit too. They will make sure the weight in the bags will not be too unbalanced and wrap your items in so many bags that no way you’ll have spilling or dropping accidents.

It’s weird, being serviced like this, and half the time I just want to grab my things and tell them to take a break and relax, that I can do that myself, but damn if they don’t have a great strategy and fast timing.

Tipping and taxes, the ultimate math test

Imagine the scene: you’re sitting at a restaurant (or more realistically a pub, because, again, expensive) half buzzed from all the margaritas you drank in order to forget the huge work or courseload of the semester, or the student loan you just signed, or the next lab meeting and volunteering event, and suddenly a waiter shows up with the bill.

Everyone’s laughing, carefree and unable to form a coherent sentence, but here you are called upon the daunting task of calculating how much every person owes. It’s not just the taxes, which need to be split between everyone (in the lucky case no one left earlier burdening everyone else with their taxes too), but also the tip which needs to be calculated. They say a good way to think it is to double the NY tax (which is already freaking high if you ask me). Trust me, nothing ruins your mood more than having to pay an amount that would have likely fed another person. But this is New York, people. You are basically paying to breathe.


Eating at the restaurant: very enlightening!

You want in that diner but there is a queue? Don’t worry you’ll have a table in a jiffy.

Americans go to the restaurant to eat and then leave.

Europeans go to the restaurant to eat and chat. They stay way longer than Americans enjoying their evening and meal. Food is no small business in Europe, it’s meant to be savored and enjoyed in company for a long evening.

So you want a table you’ll get your table after a small wait.

You want coke with your meal? It will come right away with glasses of water and the refill are already paid for. In my country if you want water you have to pay for it and if you want a second coke or more coffee you also have to pay for it. We had to fend of the waitress as she was on a mission: filling our glass again and again! She also was dead set on filling our glasses with ice. It’s unconceivable for Americans to drink cold drink without ice. You even have ice machines in gas stations, hotel halls, etc.

You want the sauce on the side? The BLT but without beef? The salad without lettuce? Everything is possible and the waiter will never show that you are annoying. I’m convinced he or she must think that we are just nuisances but it will never show on her or his face. Tips, tips and tips.


Back on American gigantism: the plates and dishes are huge!

When my hubby asked for a “large” pizza at Pizza Hutt I tried to discourage him. He was naïve and did not expect the tractor wheel landing on our table! We had food for two days after counting my two teenagers and I.

Sound advice: when they tell you it’s “large” or “big” or … in the US understand this is really enormous by our European standards! Even your ants are supersized! Must be all the hormones…


Now one of your brilliant ideas: the doggy bags!

You could not eat it all? No worries you can ask for a bag and take it away. Try to ask for a bag in a European restaurant and you will be met with looks of pity as obviously you don’t earn enough money to feed yourself.


Of course if you are low on money or fed up with the gigantic portions you can always try to cook…


How do you spell cooking?

I just started my first semester at grad school and the first thing you learn is that time is a luxury and you are broke. Whoever says NY must be cheap when it comes to food because it’s such a big city has either never been here or is an effing millionaire.

In Europe, even when you buy the cheap stuff, the “first price” (this is how we call it in Italy), you still get a good product. Not top of the line, nothing fancy, but good, edible and most of the time healthy.

Here, grocery shopping may entail selling an organ or two if you want the good stuff. But who needs two kidneys anyway, right?

As I mentioned earlier, time is also of the essence, even when it comes to cooking; given how eating out every day seems like the perfect recipe for Diabetes II, I prefer to cook my own meals when possible. I’ve noticed that many people around me though are kind of… refractory when it comes to the prepping, hence why fast foods, delis, and restaurants are full almost 24/7.

And here I totally agree with Sophie about the size of the meals. In Italy, you can hardly ever find a slice of pizza, especially in restaurants. That’s because you can eat a whole pizza and it will be the perfect size for a meal. Here, a whole pizza means the equivalent of at least two “normal” ones.

Same with the beverages. I don’t know you, but I cannot drink half a liter of coke during a meal.


You’ve got a cold: go to the supermarket


No chemists in the West but supermarkets! This was very weird for us. In Europe if you are ill and need medicine you go to the chemist not to the mall! It’s also true that our medical bills are way much lower than yours and I had to subscribe a special insurance to be covered while in US as our usual insurance did not want to cover potential huge health bills. This may be a huge advantage Europe has on the US really.

On the other hand the medicine you find at the supermarket is very, very powerful! We came back with some local medicine. They were highly dosed and much more efficient than our very controlled medicine. No wonder you can avoid the doctor most of the time your drugs make wonders!

Here you can find Sophie’s post

This is all for today but we will definitely be back for more!

Also, if you’ve visited the US or are a US citizen who has travelled to Europe, or you just think something we said was funny and want to comment, feel free to do so. I’d love to hear other people’s opinions and experiences!


Authors Bios

Sophie @bewareofthereader 

Hi everyone I’m a forty something mom of two teenagers and proud dog owner.

I’ve always loved reading for as long as I can remember. I started reading in English at 18 when my dad came back from a NY business trip with the famous best seller “The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet”. As I love English with a passion I never stopped reading in Shakespear’s tongue.

I began blogging following Goodreads friend’s advice. I did it for the challenge and to create something of my own. Never in a million years would have I guessed blogging would be so much fun and make me meet fantastic people. The blogging community is a very supportive community and that’s what I love above all else.

I’m still a newbie as I will celebrate my first blogoversary at the begin of December.

I’m not only a blogger and a reviewer but also a beta reader. I’ve met fantastic authors and they became dear friends.

Who said that reading was a solitary activity?

A huge thank you to my husband who has cleaned up my blogging mess countless times so far 😉

IT guys for all their gibberish can be helpful!


Talia @redhotink

Talia is a 22 year old bookworm who is currently chasing her dream of becoming a forensic psychologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in New York.

Originally, she is from Florence, Italy, where she lived all her life up until two months ago and with the exception of a semester of debauchery in Denmark (just kidding 😉).

Only child of two musicians, she has also a diploma in flute, although she’d rather play the guitar to decompress. She started reading romance novels at the ripe age of 15, when the Night Huntress series came knocking on her door and demanded entrance in her heart. From there it was a slippery slope to the addiction it has now become (not that she regrets anything!). She (how weird is it to write about yourself in third person?! However…) also dedicated herself to writing, in both Italian and English, but hasn’t published anything because her perfectionism won’t let her.

At the moment, she moonlights as a stripper in Las Ve… wait, no, as a graphic designer for indie authors.



2 thoughts on “USA: The Good, The Bad, The Quirky (#3)

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