The “Real” Culture Shock


When I came to the United States for the first time, I prepared myself with a lot of cultural differences that I thought I would face. I knew I would have to use a different language, I knew the things that kids do for fun are going to be different, I knew the weather is going to be very different, and so on and so forth.

Some of my expectations actually did happen and I am glad that I was prepared for that. However, after living in the United States for almost four years now, I realized that there were some things that I was not prepared for but was really important.

Here are some of the real shocks that I experienced. Indonesian friends will find them interesting as you prepare to come to the United States. American friends will find them interesting too when learning the difference between the US and Indonesia.

  1. Rice is not hard to get
    If you still believe in this myth, then be relieved! I can guarantee you that almost all cities/small towns in the United States have Chinese or Asian restaurants. They don’t always serve good food, but they certainly serve rice. Rice can also be easily purchased at almost all grocery stores, even in small towns! So, rather than worrying about rice, start packing up those packets of bumbu instan to help you cook while you are in the States!
  2. Tipping
    Here in the United States, leaving a tip after receiving a service is not merely a norm — in most situations it is expected. Services that expect tips include but not limited to: restaurants, taxi cabs, hairdressing, and food delivery. Keep in mind that these positions expect to receive tips because they usually receive lower wage. So, make sure that you add an additional 10-15% tip when you use those services!
  3. Not Ironing
    Unless it’s a dress or formal shirt, most Americans do not iron their clothes and it is widely acceptable. This is primarily because most Americans dry their clothes with machines, rather than air-drying it under the sun like we do in Indonesia. Drying them with machine makes clothes less wrinkled. Thus, ironing will not be necessary in most cases.
  4. Swipe Away!
    Most people use credit or debit card in the United States for their primary method of payment. So, don’t be surprised if you can buy a pack of gum that costs only 97 cents using your card!
  5. Gas Price
    Gas (Gasoline, or bensin) price in the United States changes constantly, like stock prices. The price you see right now might be different than the price you see later in the evening. Additionally, prices of gas are different in different pump centers. There are even websites that help you find the cheapest gas price in your area. Interesting, right?
  6. Free water in restaurants
    As you might know, in a lot of places in the United States, you can drink water out of the tap (air keran). This makes it illegal in a lot of states to charge customers for plain tap water. As the result, in almost all restaurants, plain water (also called tap water) is free of charge! In some places they even give you ice and lemon with it. Beware though, bottled wateris never free!

    Receipt from McDonald’s, first line of item is a cup of water for 0 dollars.
  7. Free soda refill
    Yes, you heard me right. In most places, if you order soda, you get free refill through the entirety of your stay at the restaurant. This includes in fast food restaurants like McDonalds and KFC, as well as all the fancy restaurants. Awesome, right? Just make sure to watch that calories intake!
  8.  Fast food is not fancy food
    I was amazed that a lot of restaurants that are considered somewhat “fancy” in Indonesia, is anything but fancy here in the United States. Pizza Hut is the prime example. I used to go out for dinner with my family at a pretty nice Pizza Hut restaurant near my home in Jakarta, but Pizza Hut here in the United States is basically only a small takeout place. Same goes to Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, and many other chain restaurants.
  9. Fast Food Does not Deliver
    Lastly, I have the worst news of all:  fast food restaurants do not have delivery services. So, you can forget those easy-to-remember 5 digit phone numbers for multiple fast food restaurants that deliver their warm, fast food delicacy to your home when you are starving in the middle of the night in Indonesia.  In my experience, usually only pizza and Chinese or Asian restaurants have delivery services. However, if you do desperately need food in the middle of the night, pizza places usually deliver until pretty late at night (in my town, they deliver until 2 AM!)

Final words: Please keep in mind that these are based on my experience living in Arlington, Virginia and Wooster, Ohio. For friends who reside in the US, please feel free to share your different (or similar!) experiences. For others, questions, comments, and concerns are always welcome!


Photos are authors’ personal collection.


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