American culture, as seen from the perspective of a Slovak exchange student
Can you imagine a situation in which you did not know how to flush a toilet? Sounds ridiculous, right? Not if you are the victim of that event.
Visiting a new country across the world may bring on a lot of new experiences, from meeting new people, and trying new food, to embarrassing yourself and getting into comic situations.
Having arrived last month from Slovakia to spend a semester at Minnehaha Academy, I am experiencing some of these ridiculous, awkward and amusing moments.
The change and tips
It was my first adventure to Target. I expected the store to be huge and overwhelming, but I did not expect Target to be the size of four stores in Slovakia combined.
It was a very American experience considering the size of the store and the variety of products, so I was enjoying it. Being able to find everything in one place satisfied me.
The fun part of it was paying. My bill was around $ 23.55 so I gave the cashier $24. I did not want the change back as I wanted to leave a tip. In Slovakia we tip by rounding the bill up to eliminate the change, so $ 23.55 becomes $24 and the extra 45 cents is the tip.
We usually tip everywhere, including stores, restaurants or services. However the tips are not usually as high as in United States.
The outcome of my action was awkward. The cashier gave me a
bad look and told me that I have to take the change because it is mine. With my face as red as the Target sign, I left the store experiencing a new cultural difference.
AC and ice in water
One of the first things I learned about America or especially about Americans is that they enjoy cold. Last year I visited South Carolina, which I believe was named incorrectly. Is it not supposed to be South Karolína?
When I came I was told that shorts are a winter essential, and when I asked for water without ice, I looked like a freak. Now guess what! It is even worse in Minnesota.
The temperature does not stop people from wearing shorts and tank tops. Flying in an airplane owned by an American company, one can also differentiate who is European and who is an American.
It was neither the appearance nor the accent. My observation was based on how much people enjoyed the cold environment.
I could be wearing five layers of clothes, put a blanket on myself and still would not be warm enough. Americans would be wearing sandals, turn on the air conditioning as high as possible and still would complain to the stewardess about high temperatures.
Gaps in toilet doors
In Slovakia one is used to four walls around a toilet in public rest rooms. Not little panels. Walls. When I visited the United States for the first time, I remember going to a public toilet in the airport. I did not notice anything at first, but when I came in and locked the door behind me, I felt like it was not even necessary.
I could see people going by so I thought to myself that they could see me, too. I tried to do my job as if everyone was looking at me. Trust me, it is not easy. Reading this you might think I am crazy, but it is interesting how different cultures see privacy.
However, one gets used to everything so I take it as an advantage now. At least I know who is in the bathroom with me.
What is normal?
My story shows that nothing is too crazy to happen. It is amazing to see how different cultures have different viewpoints and values and I have to say that it is beautiful to observe.
There is not a definition of “normal” and I like that because it means that we can have a variety of perspectives and make this world diverse; even with different techniques of flushing a toilet.