Things That Surprised Me When I Moved to America

This summer marks 20 years since I moved to the United States permanently

Photo by David Emrich on Unsplash


I moved to Indiana from France. I guess you could say I had culture shock.

Inspired by fellow Medium writers, Melissa Frost and Anastasia Frugaard, who share their reflections on the States from a Scandinavian perspective, I realized that I too have some thoughts to share.

Here is what surprised me when I arrived in the US two whole decades ago.


1. Food waste on television 

TV game shows featured food fights, which astounded me. What a strange concept to play with food and accept that it would go to waste.

France’s relationship with food is on a whole other level. Not only that, but my family were once refugees from Laos, one of the least developed countries in the world, and as a result, I’d internalized that food was no laughing matter.

I grew up getting scolded for leaving a grain of rice on my plate — I mean, jokingly scolded by my uncle who loves to clown, but for a kid, that language surrounding food waste really sticks.

Due to generational trauma, I am constantly reminded how a single boiled egg used to be shared among a group of 12 or more people, so to throw around entire roasted chickens, watermelons, and what have you on a game show for laughs and entertainment left and still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.


2. Commercials

I grew up on the Disney Channel and to some extent, Nickolodeon.

Rocket Power, As Told By Ginger, Lizzie McGuire, Sister Sister, Spongebob, Fairly Odd Parents, Kim Possible, Even Stevens. You name it, I watched it.

Commercials struck me as excessive, incessant, and relentless. 

Fruit by the Foot, Capri Sun, Gatorade, and 1–800 numbers to order toys and water guns, blasted through the screen before, during, and after every single episode. A commercial aired once every 10 to 15 minutes.

It’s a miracle I kept watching TV. Still, these shows entertained me throughout the summer before I headed to school to start my new life.

Although I spoke English before I moved here to stay, TV shows helped me grasp the lingo of American English and helped me absorb cultural norms that I otherwise would have missed. 


3. Cashiers who also bag your groceries

Back in the outskirts of Paris, it was unheard of to have your groceries bagged by your cashier or a whole other person employed specifically for this reason.

Even as a kid, I recall the frantic energy during the rushed and hectic exchange with the cashier when you had to pay with haste and bag all your groceries all at once because of a long wait line in the back. 

Where I moved to, on the other hand, I got yelled at by the bag boy for starting to bag the groceries myself. He got mad that I was doing his job. Oops!


4. Holes in the bathroom stall

All Europeans can agree that the weirdest part of the United States is that toilet stalls have holes in them. There are gaping spaces in between where the door meets the wall separating each stall.

I cannot defend the design failure of bathrooms in this country. There is no reason why a door should not be made to close for privacy and fill out the space where someone could theoretically see you do your business.

It’s highly unnerving, but after 20 years, as with anything, you get used to it. 


Many other things surprised me, and I can’t reveal them all at once. Looks like you’ll have to wait for part 2! 

Thanks for reading! 😁😁😁


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