|Asking people how they are. In most cultures that I am aquainted
with, only old friends would be so familiar as to ask that question (Hur
står det till? Wie geht's?). Indeed, it gives me a creepy feeling
to have an utter stranger, for instance a shop clerk, ask me "how
I am". Maybe I've had a really lousy day, or maybe I'm just sick and
tired of everything, but that's my own business and nobody else's. I assume
that one is supposed to say "Fine!" and smile, because that's
what I see other people doing, but when I'm not in my best mood, I usually
don't bother with feigning happiness. That's probably rude of me, by American
|Neon lights, which is a good thing not only because it is very
pretty to look at, but also because it helps to light up the otherwise
dark streets (see below).
|Warning signs informing the general public that wet floors are
slippery. This obsession with the dangers of wet floors defies all description.
You would call me a liar, so come and see for yourself instead. And don't
trip over on the warning signs.
|Parades. In America, any reason is a good reason to have a parade.
|Plastic surgery. Not only are the papers full of advertisements
for plastic surgery (or "body sculpting" as it is often called),
but also if you go to see a picture at the cinema, you can expect commercials
for plastic surgery to be shown.
|Sodium hypochlorite, which is simply called "bleach"
in America. Similar to the product "Klorin" in Sweden. It is
the all-purpose household chemical, despite its effects on noses and on
nature. It is also used to dip chicken carcasses in, before they are sold
as food, in order to kill off bacteria.
|Driving recklessly at pedestrian crossings, against red traffic
lights etc. Sounding the horn is also popular.
|Shouting comments from speeding cars. Since it is almost never
possible to hear what is being shouted, it leaves the pedestrian with an
unpleasant feeling that it may have been a crude insult.
|Complimenting young women on their looks, dress etc. The men
doing this face to face with the woman are often quite pleasant in their
manners. I leave it to the readers to decide whether whistles and hoots
across the street can be regarded as a compliment; I dare state as my opinion
that it is never polite.
|Flattering customers is a common strategy for increasing sales
and fishing for tips in fashion shops, at hair dressers and other related
businesses. You are regularly told that the person you're dealing with
simply loves your shirt/jacket/shoes/nose/etc. Although they often
put it on quite thick, it is presumably regarded as odd only by foreign
visitors like ourselves. Yet, one must probably have a quite high opinion
of oneself to take it all seriously.
|Sandwiches, in all the various forms and names that they come
under, hot or cold, domestic or exotic, seem to be the favourite lunch
|Sprays. There are sprays for frying in ("replaces fat"),
to imitate whipped cream ("no cholesterol"), for poisoning insects,
cheese and garlic sprays, sprays for creating a fried-like crust on microwaved
food, for frosting the Christmas tree, for defrosting the refrigerator
(I swear!), for removing smells (from the other sprays, I reckon), and
lots of other purposes. I've been told that one ladies' room at my workplace
even has an automatic gadget that continuosly sprays some chemical in the
air. Wise female colleagues avoid that room.
|Naming buildings after people is big business in America. This
is a way to convince rich people to put up the money for some good cause.
It can also be rather irritating for a foreigner who is accustomed that
at the University the department of microelectronics is called Department
of Microelectronics, the office building is called Office Building and
soforth. In America, when you come upon the Humphbert F. Hinkelton Building
or The Ezra Goldshue Towers, you have no means of knowing whether it is
the department of paleontology, the football team's locker room or the
janitor's office. Also individual rooms, corridors et c can be named. I'll
name my broom closet after anyone who contributes with five dollars to
|Name plates is a way for smaller contributors to get their names
on fence posts, benches, bike racks etc. Imagine a pavement with thousands
of individually named bricks in it! It can be seen at Jackson Memorial
Hospital. Would it not be more rational to use efficiently collected tax
money (as opposed to money collected in rather wasteful campaigns) and
use ordinary machine-made bricks, which probably you get at least ten for
the cost of one inscribed brick? Well, that's not how things are done here.
Would probably smell of Communism.
|Sports. Not unique for America, though.
|The expression Oh My God, pronounced either as a short Ohmygod!
or as a high-pitched yell, Oh my Goooooood!, is very often used by American
women to express amazement at something said in conversation. It seems
to be roughly equivalent to a Swedish "Verkligen?" or a British
|Very large flags on very short flagpoles.
beer. This kind of beverage is incredibly popular. It is likely that
this is not only the effect of local standards of taste and massive marketing,
but also to the fact that many brands of rice beer, such as American Budweiser
(not to be confused with the good Czech
malt beer Budweiser, made in the city of Budweis) are sold at about
half the price of malt beer. It should, however, be noted that in the shadow
of the large beverage companies, some smaller breweries produce excellent
beer. Two American beers well in keeping with European standards are the
Hurricane Reef Lager of Miami and the Samuel Adams Stock Ale, formally
of Boston but brewed at other locations as well.
|Round doorknobs that can't be opened with the elbow when you
are carrying things in both hands (and probably not at all by many handicapped
|Collectibles. This is a term that applies to almost anything
useless offered for sale, but especially dolls. Personally, I have tried
to tell the difference between a collectible ball pen and an ordinary one,
but failed. My best guess is that you buy an ordinary pen only when you
are in need of something to write with, but a collectible one at any time.
Anyway, show me a man who collects angelfaced porcelain dolls in pink and
blue lace for a hundred dollars apiece, and I'll show you a very sick man.
|Soap operas. They are probably not dominating among the TV programs
only because they are cheap to produce. Many people obviouly take a great
and active interest in them, as can be seen from the fact that in a typical
supermarket with perhaps 30 different periodicals for sale, four were papers
dealing exclusively with soap operas (Soap Opera Weekly, Soap Opera Digest,
Soap Opera Update and Soap Opera Magazine).
|The word "value". One comes across it dozens of times
a day. All kinds of enterprises etc. offer "value". Whether you
buy a can of soup or open a bank account, you are guaranteed it. In commercials
and advertisements, the word is very prominent. I have not yet found out
how this promise should be interpreted. "Power" is also very
common in all kinds of neologisms, such as "Power buy".
|Jesus is much more present in the American society than in Sweden,
not only as an electrically lit plastic garden decoration during Christmas,
but as a generally accepted Superiour Being. Few people seem to question
his existense or to have given the matter much thought, and even the banknotes
and coins simply state that the Americans believe in God. Your humble etnographer,
wearing his Hammer of Thor as usual, was approached in a railway wagon
by an American Christian who cautiously questioned him about this adornment.
The questions quickly took on the character of accusations of disbelief
in the Christian religion, and with these suspicions confirmed, the good
Christian promptly declared that if we met in the street, he would beat
me up. The old ladies around us cheered the apostle on and threw in supporting
comments of the type "Yes, I'm a Christian too!" and "That's
right!". But perhaps some of them were just afraid of being beaten
up by any Christians present if they showed lack of zeal.
|Superstition. Especially the so-called psychics are numerous
and offer their services in TV commercials, in newspaper ads or in the
street. They seem to have a prospering business going, indicating that
many Americans believe in their powers. Also a great number of magazines
discover, in hidden chambers in the pyramids or elsewhere, new prophesies
by Jesus and Nostradamus on a weekly basis and always have first-hand information
regarding the activities of the space aliens visiting Earth. I warmly recommend
this link to a site devoted to fighting
|Chewing gum. In America, grown men imagine themselves to look
really cool when they masticate a piece of gum. But we all new that, already.
|Pepperoni on pizza. My estimate is that some 85 % of the pizzas
sold here, from pizza bakers or frozen, have either pepperoni (which in
the US is a kind of artificially coloured salami, not a vegetable as in
Sweden) or only cheese on them. The way you choose pizzas over here is
very different from Sweden, so don't try to get an Orientale Special or
a Quattro Staggioni when you visit America.
|Garden decorations. These are typically of a seasonal nature,
probably in order to sell more plastic junk. For Halloween, you put lots
of plastic pumpkins, skeletons, witches and ghosts in your garden. For
Thanksgiving, turkeys. For Christmas, Jesus Christ, Santa Claus, plastic
snowmen, reindeer, Mary Mother-of-God and camels. For Valentine's Day,
hearts. I look forward to seeing inflatable Bill Clintons in people's gardens,
now that President's Day is coming up.
|Lawsuits. The idea is that if something unpleasant happens,
it is never your fault, and with some luck, you can make big bucks by suing
someone. Some examples can be found here: