The Most Pleasant Surprise Immigrants Found in America

 

shutterstock_359673578Immigration has dominated the GOP primary campaign. So a member of Reddit asked a simple question. Immigrants to America: What was the most pleasant surprise? Nearly 13,000 comments later, here are a few of the favorites:

The road directions to go from a city to another 2,000 miles away is extremely simple. (E.g., get on I-80 exit to I-90, then exit 40.)


I’ve driven the extent of I-90 a couple times during the time I lived in Seattle. There was an indescribable, special feeling when I would use I-90 for a short trip out of Seattle in my day-to-day life and look down the road ahead and envision the 3,000 miles over mountains, plains, and cities. It was nice to have the daily reminder that it was there and all I had to do was start driving — the opposite of feeling trapped.


Not having to haggle prices when buying things, not having to know who to talk to (or bribe) to get any little bit of paperwork filed in a reasonable amount of time, not having to worry about being cheated on every little transaction you have. Just having standard reliable procedures for daily tasks was wonderful. You guys might hate going to the DMV, but let me tell you, it could be much worse.

Then it got even better with automation and e-commerce, and not even really having to interact with people for many tasks.


Very seriously, free refills.


Free public restrooms and how every establishment has air conditioning.


The seemingly endless rows of food in the grocery stores. And all the apples. Who needs 50 different kinds of apples?


Showers and running hot water. I was born in the Philippines. Showers and hot water aren’t really common in older homes over there. Not having to fill buckets with water and boiling some over a stove top was such a big surprise for me. Experiencing that as a twelve year old was an unforgettable experience. Yet, most people who live here (me included) take it for granted sometimes.


I came here four months ago and everything has been a shock in one way or another. I’m from a third world country, and we know a thing or two about America, but you have to experience it.

  • Choosing your own shower temperature!
  • Everyone is so polite and good manners are everywhere. Any religion or race you are, everyone seems to say “thank you” and “you’re welcome,” or ask me how I am or how my day is!
  • How easy you can buy stuff online and they arrive so fast!
  • Buildings and bridges are so … amazing. Like, the infrastructure is good, it makes you think, “wow, mankind did this.
  • Big-ass celebrations!
  • How people can go out look gay, wasted, weird, etc., and no one bats an eye.
  • And the biggest of them all, fast internet!

Air. You don’t really notice how real fresh air feels like when you’ve been breathing in polluted air all your life.


I moved to the US when I was 21; it’s nearly been 2 years. Two things surprised me:

  • I apparently have a mid-Atlantic English accent. The Japanese-descent population here in Northern California is a lot less that I thought it would be. Most are in the Bay or are farmers up in the Central Valley.
  • My most pleasant experience is the constant assumption that I am American, primarily because of my English. It feels beyond amazing. My nationality has always been a major issue. I strongly and culturally identify with my mother’s country, a place where I grew up and speak two of its languages fluently … yet everyone there saw me as a foreigner because of my father’s origin.

Ex-African here. I’m pleasantly surprised by the US Postal Service. You can stick a cheap stamp on a letter, throw it in a blue mailbox in NY and it will get to LA 99 percent of the time. It doesn’t get “lost” or stolen, it just gets there. And every day a nice person in light blue overalls driving a weird little blue-and-white truck pulls up and fills my mailbox (at home) with junk deals from the local market and even my paycheck sometimes. Hooray! And don’t even get me started on trash collection!!


OMG! The cops thing! It was smart to have a healthy, yet irrational fear of police where I grew up. You had no idea what you were in for when you were stopped (especially if you were well off/in a relatively nice car).

I remember that when I was getting my driver’s license in Trinidad, everyone (friends my age and adults alike) told me to go with a few hundred dollars in my pocket, at the ready. They said that it’s very common that even if you pass the driving test, you’ll be asked to pay a bribe in order for them to sign off on it. I didn’t need to pay, but I had several people in my life who admitted to paying when they were asked.


I came to the US literally with nothing but my clothes, driving a car that that wasn’t even mine in June 2006 with my girlfriend from Mexico, legally, in case you are wondering.

In January ’09 we bought our house in Austin, TX.

Fast forward to 2016, we’ve already paid like 60 percent of our mortgage; we even installed solar panels.

What do we do for living you may ask? We are teachers…

It amazes me that this country is so rich, that there’s enough for everybody, even for a normal guy like me. I feel as if I’m the luckiest guy in the world since I always dreamed about living in the US.

You guys have no idea how lucky you are to be born in the US.

Since most of our politics is based on complaining about what’s wrong with America, it’s nice to be reminded of what’s right — even little things like hot showers and junk mail. How about you, Ricochetti: what are some everyday things you appreciate about the US?

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  1. Leigh Inactive
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Here’s another comment from the thread:

    One other thing I was pleasantly surprised about was how openly Americans discuss everything. Growing up, I was taught the Vietnamese version of the Vietnam War in school. In my mind, I thought in America people would not talk about it since it’s a shameful thing and the government would suppress all discussions of it like in Vietnam. When I came here, I saw that people can openly speak about these things even when there are many disagreements.

    I don’t normally read things like Reddit (don’t want to deal with the language, for one), but the thread was worth skimming through.

    One thing jumping out at me… the writers on that thread are, as a whole, amazingly fluent writers in American English.

    • #31
  2. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Lidens Cheng:As an immigrant from Cambodia I so appreciate the fact that there are no lizards crawling all over my wall and ceiling, on in any building, really.

    <g>

    Another anecdote from my time in the RP.  My housing, typically of RP housing, was rife with geckos.  This actually was a good thing, as they actively hunted out the other critters that were more unsavory.

    This included some truly enormous (to this citified American boy) cockroaches.  I recall being startled one evening by a loud buzzing: it was one of those enormous cockroaches flying across the room with a gecko hanging onto it.  The gecko was pretty good sized, too, and too heavy for the cockroach, so the bug was in a descending flight.  And when it hit the ground, the cockroach…died.

    Eric Hines

    • #32
  3. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz
    @drlorentz

    The Cloaked Gaijin:Quit complaining about climate change and get some water that people can drink. Looking at a map, you would think NATO controlled the world’s fresh water supplies.

    Yes! Why is this issue neglected?

    • #33
  4. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    My Romanian-Italian daughter-in-law tells me that after visiting America and returning to their home in Italy, she cried.  It  isn’t that Italy isn’t wonderful.  It’s that it often doesn’t work.

    A little story: another family member in Italy needed to have an official translation of a document.  She could have hired an Italian company for this, but chose an American.  I asked her why.  “Because I can say the magic words, which I can’t use in Italy.”  “What are they?” I asked.   “Let me speak with your supervisor.”  And she did need to speak with the supervisor, and got a $100 credit for her trouble.

    • #34
  5. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Umbra Fractus:Let’s be honest here; the reason immigration (legal or illegal) is an issue in the first place is because we have more people who want to come here than we can handle. That’s a pretty nice problem to have, all things considered.

    Yes, recall that the Soviet block had walls to keep people IN.

    • #35
  6. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    In one of his books, P.J. O’Rourke said one of the best things about America is that anyplace you go, you can get nice big ice cubes in your drink.  Apparently there are a lot of countries where ice is a somewhat rare commodity.

    • #36
  7. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    drlorentz:

    9thDistrictNeighbor: When we arrived back in the US, I kissed the flag at customs…I wanted to kiss the ground like John Paul II.

    This reminds me of the experience of traveling behind the Iron Curtain, back when there still was an Iron Curtain. I was backpacking through Europe with a friend. We were leaving Czechoslovakia for Austria near České Budějovice on foot. We were detained at the border crossing for what seemed like an eternity as the guards reviewed our paperwork. After we were released, we had to walk a long distance along a road that warned the adjacent no-man’s land was covered with land mines. When we finally saw the Austrian flag in the distance we ran the remaining distance. I sure felt like kissing the ground!

    Still have the old passport. Note the U.S. Great Seal watermark behind the visa stamp:

    visa

    My husband has relatives in Bratislava. As we traveled by bus from Vienna he told me how his father got into an argument with the “East German” border guard. The first thing he said as we approached the border was to note that the anti-aircraft guns had been removed (this was in 1999).

    His 15-year-old Slovak cousin visited us in New York a few years earlier. She didn’t know how to try on shoes. They had a black market every Saturday where they would try things on quickly before some goon rousted them out.

    • #37
  8. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    We sometimes forget how good we have it, even compared to ourselves even just 50 years ago. My mother (shy of 60 yrs old) till high school grew up in a house with no indoor plumbing and an old Sears catalog for TP in the outhouse. Needless to say she greatly appreciates flush toilets, hot running water, and real toilet paper.

    • #38
  9. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    Eric Hines:

    Lidens Cheng:As an immigrant from Cambodia I so appreciate the fact that there are no lizards crawling all over my wall and ceiling, on in any building, really.

    <g>

    Another anecdote from my time in the RP. My housing, typically of RP housing, was rife with geckos. This actually was a good thing, as they actively hunted out the other critters that were more unsavory.

    This included some truly enormous (to this citified American boy) cockroaches. I recall being startled one evening by a loud buzzing: it was one of those enormous cockroaches flying across the room with a gecko hanging onto it. The gecko was pretty good sized, too, and too heavy for the cockroach, so the bug was in a descending flight. And when it hit the ground, the cockroach…died.

    Eric Hines

    I spent a couple of weeks in Medellin, Colombia, as a teenager.  The family I stayed with had guards armed with machine guns.  They turned the electricity off at night. A cricket got into my room and made such a racket–and I couldn’t turn the lights on to whack him. Worse, however, was the morning I woke up to find a cockroach the size of Nebraska living on my toothbrush.  I used my finger as a toothbrush after that.

    • #39
  10. Randal H Member
    Randal H
    @RandalH

    My wife is from Germany and one of the first things that surprised her was public drinking fountains. Germans don’t really drink tap water (although despite urban legend, it’s perfectly fine to drink), and increasingly neither do people here. But, it was a surprise to see them.

    Her most pleasant surprise was that Americans know how to queue politely (and that includes in cars). Americans will approach a line, look around to make eye contact, ensure they’re not stepping in front of someone, and subtly fall into line. I found out early on over there that if you stand back and wait for a queue to form, you will never reach your destination, as people will keep stepping in front of you if there’s any space. People who are otherwise very polite will assume you are not in line if you hang back or are not aggressive and will move in front of you.

    I’ve had immigrants tell me how wonderful it is that here they can leave their houses and not have to worry about something happening to the house while they are away. We take the security of our property for granted.

    However, all the good things people from other countries appreciate about living here are primarily due to our honoring the rule of law. That’s why so many of us who aren’t anti-immigrant bristle at the cavalier attitude towards the law we honor from illegal aliens and their enablers.

    • #40
  11. Umbra Fractus Inactive
    Umbra Fractus
    @UmbraFractus

    Randal H: However, all the good things people from other countries appreciate about living here are primarily due to our honoring the rule of law. That’s why so many of us who aren’t anti-immigrant bristle at the cavalier attitude towards the law we honor from illegal aliens and their enablers.

    This is also why we bristle at the assertion that being concerned about the rule of law makes us anti-immigrant.

    • #41
  12. Chris Member
    Chris
    @Chris

    Clavius:

    Umbra Fractus:Let’s be honest here; the reason immigration (legal or illegal) is an issue in the first place is because we have more people who want to come here than we can handle. That’s a pretty nice problem to have, all things considered.

    Yes, recall that the Soviet block had walls to keep people IN.

    One year growing up I received the Few Minutes with Andy Rooney essay collection of his 60 Minutes commentaries (yes, we were nerdy).

    One that always stuck with me was his concept of the “Coldback” – that until people were sneaking up to the Bering Straits to make desperate attempts for the Soviet Union, he would not be too worried about the US.  Rooney might have been a Democrat, but at least he was clear eyed about realities behind the Iron Curtain.

    • #42
  13. Little My Member
    Little My
    @LittleMy

    Didja notice in the world map of potable tap water, there was a little green sliver in the Middle East? That’s Israel (and probably the Palestinian territories, too). And just like in the U.S., bottled water is enormously popular. <sigh>

    • #43
  14. Boisfeuras Inactive
    Boisfeuras
    @Boisfeuras

    Not a US immigrant or citizen, but a frequent visitor: Oh my word, the space, the space!

    Living in London, on an island smaller than Michigan, with 64 million people on it (not counting the illegal immigrants) you have no idea what a pleasure it is to be able to walk down a US pavement (even in a “big” city) without constantly having to angle past, avoid, or otherwise bump into an oncoming tumult of other, often malodorous, human beings (New York excepted).

    Or what a joy it is to drive in the US (LA excepted) – even if you do drive on the wrong side of the road and have this strange preference for automatics (vehicles that is)…

    • #44
  15. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    Randy Weivoda:In one of his books, P.J. O’Rourke said one of the best things about America is that anyplace you go, you can get nice big ice cubes in your drink. Apparently there are a lot of countries where ice is a somewhat rare commodity.

    Yes! I was in England and ordered a Pepsi at a restaurant. They asked if I wanted ice, and of course I said yes. It came with one ice sliver about the size of a fingernail that melted away in 30 seconds. Why bother?? And for that I needed to ask!

    • #45
  16. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Randal H: My wife is from Germany and one of the first things that surprised her was public drinking fountains. Germans don’t really drink tap water (although despite urban legend, it’s perfectly fine to drink), and increasingly neither do people here. But, it was a surprise to see them. Her most pleasant surprise was that Americans know how to queue politely (and that includes in cars). Americans will approach a line, look around to make eye contact, ensure they’re not stepping in front of someone, and subtly fall into line.

    That’s interesting.  I spent four years in Germany in the last century, and I never encountered any of that.  There weren’t any public drinking fountains that I saw, but I never heard anyone, including my fellow Americans, complain about the tap water.  I speculate that such an urban legend might exist because Europe and the US are isolated from each other, more so by travel technology then than now, and so the stomach flora in Europe, being alien to our bodies, could cause some stomach upset.

    As to politeness, it’s true that Germans didn’t line up as much as we do, but the apparent chaos of the crowd didn’t mean people lost their turns to late comers.  In the gasthauses, for instance, everyone just crowded up to the bar, but the barkeeps kept track of who was next just fine.

    And only in Germany would the drivers, including on the autobahns, as a matter of course shift left one lane to let traffic on the entrance ramps have room to safely merge.

    Be too bad if things have changed since then.

    Eric Hines

    • #46
  17. Liz Member
    Liz
    @Liz

    Americans smile, and men still hold doors for women. It’s true, I’ve seen it. I can’t tell you how many times here in Italy I’ve struggled through a door with a stroller while people — men and women — watched and did nothing.

    In America, you can walk on the sidewalk and play at the park without worrying about stepping in dog poop. My constant refrain while out and about with the kids here is “Watch out for poop!” Yesterday there was a pile of it just under the swings at the park on my street. A couple weeks ago, one of my twins got so much of it on her shoes while playing in the grass at another park, that I decided it was easier just to toss the shoes and buy her new ones. Good grief. (I have a theory that the socialist policies lead to more dog poop, but that is for another day.)

    In long division, Italians put the divisor to the right of the dividend, which is just wrong.

    • #47
  18. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

     America! America! God shed His grace on thee…

    Past tense: thank you.

    Future tense: yes, please.

    • #48
  19. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz
    @drlorentz

    Randal H: My wife is from Germany and one of the first things that surprised her was public drinking fountains. Germans don’t really drink tap water (although despite urban legend, it’s perfectly fine to drink), and increasingly neither do people here. But, it was a surprise to see them.

    Many years ago I recall using a public drinking fountain somewhere in Germany, probably in a train station. A few guys were walking by and yelled out “Gift! Gift!” I took it to mean that I should be drinking beer instead of water, but maybe they meant something else.

    • #49
  20. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    I’m not nearly as well-traveled as most Ricochetti, but here’s what I notice after my brief visits south of the border. Everything is so clean in the US. The sidewalks, the gutters, the dumpsters — everything.

    I most notice this when I walk by foot over to border towns like Tijuana, Nogales, and Naco, Mexico. Being desert environments, everything is covered with a layer of dust at the very least. Most cars could use a washing, litter blowing through the streets, buildings are grimy, and people drain who-knows-what into public spaces.

    Crossing back to the US side, I noticed that the leaves on plants were greener. Even the plants in our public spaces were clean and tidy.

    • #50
  21. CandE Inactive
    CandE
    @CandE

    Percival: America! America! God shed His grace on thee…

    Past tense: thank you.

    Future tense: yes, please.

    Akshully, that would be the present subjunctive tense.

    -E

    • #51
  22. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    There are countries out there where, through a shameful lack of foresight, they built towns and even entire cities before everyone had a car.

    Consequently, they have roads and city streets that are really narrow,  sometimes barely enough to fit one car through. It takes way longer to get places when you feel like you’re threading a needle all the time, praying that your side mirrors are still attached when you get there.

    Back here in the good old USA, roads are nice and wide most of the time, and I never give a thought to having my mirrors torn off.

    • #52
  23. Keith SF Inactive
    Keith SF
    @KeithSF

    Little My:Didja notice in the world map of potable tap water, there was a little green sliver in the Middle East? That’s Israel (and probably the Palestinian territories, too). And just like in the U.S., bottled water is enormously popular. <sigh>

    I saw that too! Interesting detail.

    I know I’m nitpicking here (and it’s not necessarily relevant to the thread), but I’m curious about the accuracy of that map. I don’t know who created it….  as someone who’s spent a lot of time in South America, I can tell you that the tap water in Argentina and Chile is fine to drink. I think they even have water fluoridation programs.

    • #53
  24. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    CandE:

    Percival: America! America! God shed His grace on thee…

    Past tense: thank you.

    Future tense: yes, please.

    Akshully, that would be the present subjunctive tense.

    -E

    Yes.  I understand this to be prayerful, in which case it would take in both present and future, as the subjunctive sometimes does.

    • #54
  25. Keith SF Inactive
    Keith SF
    @KeithSF

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.:I’m not nearly as well-traveled as most Ricochetti, but here’s what I notice after my brief visits south of the border. Everything is so clean in the US. The sidewalks, the gutters, the dumpsters — everything.

    Jon, you reminded me of an old series of columns in the Atlantic by Robert Kaplan.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/98jul/future.htm

    Most interesting are his impressions of crossing the border back into Arizona after weeks in Mexico.

    The Plaza Hotel in Nogales, Sonora, and the Americana Hotel in Nogales, Arizona, both charged $50 for a single room. But the Mexican hotel, only two years old, was already falling apart — doors didn’t close properly, paint was cracking, walls were beginning to stain. The American hotel was a quarter century old and in excellent condition, from the fresh paint to the latest-model fixtures. The air-conditioning was quiet, not clanking loudly as in the hotel across the border. There was no mold or peeling paint in the swimming pool outside my window. The tap water was potable. Was the developed world, I wondered, defined not by its riches but by maintenance?

    (boldface mine)

    • #55
  26. Keith SF Inactive
    Keith SF
    @KeithSF

    (Part2) More from Kaplan:

    As I walked around Nogales, Arizona, I saw a way of doing things, different from Mexico’s, that had created material wealth. This was not a matter of Anglo culture per se, since 95 percent of the population of Nogales, Arizona, is Spanish-speaking and of Mexican descent. Rather, it was a matter of the national culture of the United States…

    …the people I saw on the street were in most instances speaking Spanish, but they might as well have been speaking English. Whether it was the quality of their clothes, the purposeful stride that indicated they were going somewhere rather than just hanging out, the absence of hand movements when they talked, or the impersonal and mechanical friendliness of their voices when I asked directions, they seemed to me thoroughly modern compared with the Spanish-speakers over in Sonora….

    • #56
  27. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Jon Gabriel, Ed.: I’m not nearly as well-traveled as most Ricochetti, but here’s what I notice after my brief visits south of the border. Everything is so clean in the US. The sidewalks, the gutters, the dumpsters — everything.

    I met a guy who was visiting from Haiti. His big question about America was “Where is all the garbage?”

    • #57
  28. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Keith SF: The Plaza Hotel in Nogales, Sonora, and the Americana Hotel in Nogales, Arizona, both charged $50 for a single room. But the Mexican hotel, only two years old, was already falling apart — doors didn’t close properly, paint was cracking, walls were beginning to stain. The American hotel was a quarter century old and in excellent condition, from the fresh paint to the latest-model fixtures. The air-conditioning was quiet, not clanking loudly as in the hotel across the border. There was no mold or peeling paint in the swimming pool outside my window. The tap water was potable. Was the developed world, I wondered, defined not by its riches but by maintenance?

    This reminds me of another bit from P.J. O’Rourke.  He was writing about how Mexicans often complain that land in Arizona, Texas, California, etc used to be part of Mexico.  The punchline was something like, “They think we stole half their country and took the half with the paved roads.”

    • #58
  29. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz
    @drlorentz

    Keith SF: …the tap water in Argentina and Chile is fine to drink.

    Yeah, I used to live there and used tap water all the time. The only reason to drink bottled water was if the water was fizzy. In fact, I recall we had one of those CO2-powered seltzer bottles to make tap water fizzy.

    Caution, parts of that map may be bogus.

    • #59
  30. Mark Krikorian Contributor
    Mark Krikorian
    @MarkKrikorian

    I lived in Soviet Armenia for two years and many things mentioned here resonate, but one thing that hasn’t come up always stuck with me – in America people drive between the lane markings on the highways. Elsewhere, not so much.

    • #60
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