Being an expat has taught me that Americans…

1. Have a serious sweet tooth. This weekend a 5-year-old English girl looked down on me with distain when I suggested that she eat pancakes with syrup for breakfast: For God’s sake, doesn’t this woman know that pancakes are only eaten as a special treat before Lent on Shrove Tuesday?

Below is a shop window in Cambridge fishing for that American sweet tooth with imported goods. Please note the jars of marshmallow fluff; only folks with a serious sugar problem could have dreamt that up.

American sweets in Cambridge shop window.

2. Rightly favor solid deodorant sticks. Apparently many people in the world favor spray or roll-on deodorant. I say: Who wants to inhale tiny bits of deodorant every morning or have a slimy feeling under their arms? I hoard stick deodorant every trip to the US.

3. Are followed by the Tax Man the world over. All these lovely European expats I meet have no need to file taxes when working, living and earning overseas. Not so for Americans, we must file no matter what. And yes there are general US tax exemptions for folks living abroad and tax treaties avoid “double-taxation,” but figuring out how to correctly file US taxes overseas is an on-going nightmare of expat life. Yet another reason that, in addition to their health care, Europeans can be pleased with themselves. Smug bastards.

4. Should use “gas and air” in child birth. The childbirth books I bought in American made no mention of “gas and air” (basically nitrous oxide, i.e. laughing gas). I was introduced to it at hospitals in Hong Kong and again in the UK during the births of my children. Really takes the edge off. God knows why Americans only seem to use it for dentistry.

5. Are hassled more for visas. In fairness, a lot of this is reciprocity: you made it a pain for our citizens to come to you and we’ll make it a pain for your citizens to come to us. Within Britain we’re pariahs (residence) visa-wise: “Sorry you’re not Polish (i.e. from the EU)? Get in the long line with everyone else while we look you over skeptically.” And China makes it more difficult for Americans (than Europeans) because they want to and they can. No quick “visa at the border” for us.

6. Do have nice teeth. I had to beg a dentist in Macau to clean my teeth while I was pregnant. She suddered at the thought of cleaning a pregnant woman’s teeth and finally (after much prodding) found another dentist in the practice who was “willing to do it.” My dentist here in the UK takes a quick look, says they’re lovely and tells me to come back in 18 months. In America, it’s an every 6 months kind-of-thing with a professional cleaning every time. So, yes, with all this comparative attention, our teeth do tend to be nice.

7. Should be proud of Starbuck’s. I was once the cool kid who decided that Starbucks was corporate crap. No more. I crossed borders (often) in China for decent coffee. In the UK it’s also where we buy our beans. Yes it’s a global chain that’s everywhere and very generic. But now you can buy good coffee everywhere. (Including in local independent coffee shops that do very well drafting off of the coffee-love that Starbucks has fostered.)

8. Are “chipper” and “over-friendly.” Six years ago, a German friend told me quite bluntly that Americans are too happy and fake. After enough time away, I now see exactly what she means. While listening to streaming NPR (American “National Public Radio”), even I find the pertness a little hard to take.

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