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Culture Shock as an Au Pair in the US

by Sammy-Jo on May 28, 2019
Culture Shock as an Au Pair in the US
As an Au Pair in another country you will likely experience something called “culture shock”. It’s a natural stage of almost every Au Pair stay. Culture shock is the feeling of disorientation you get when you visit a foreign country for the first time. 
 
Symptoms of culture shock may include mood swings, depression, insomnia or excessive sleep, homesickness and a general feeling of being lost.
 
I, too, experienced culture shock during my time as an Au Pair in the US. Here are some of the American things that shocked me at first:
 

Small Talk

For some reason, Americans seem to be unable to stand silence. In Germany, you would get on an elevator and stay quiet until you get off. But not in the US: as soon as you’d get on an elevator here, you would be greeted with “Hi, how are you?”. Literally everyone starts talking to you in the US. 
 
And while this might make Americans seem very friendly, what’s the point of small talk if you have nothing real to talk about?
 

Patriotism

Driving through American neighborhoods might be shocking to some. No matter where you look, you’ll see the American flag. There will be stars and stripes in front yards, in front of schools, sometimes even in the middle of a parking lot. This kind of patriotism and display of the national flag is something you would only find in Germany during the Soccer World Cup. 
 

American Homes

Speaking of American neighborhoods: most houses in the US are made of wood. Don’t ask me why. Since the US are prone to Hurricanes, wouldn’t it make more sense to build stone houses? 
American houses usually have a very big front yard, too. And while Germans have fences between their houses and the street, American usually don’t fence their front yards in. 
 

Traffic

As an Au Pair in the US, you will have to drive. Not only will you have to drive your Host Kids to school or play dates, but if you want to get anywhere, you will need to drive. Sidewalks are very rare, which makes walking anywhere a lot harder. 
 
When you have to drive, you might notice some traffic rules differ from your home country’s. For example, if you have to turn right, but the traffic lights just went red, there’s no need to worry: You are legally allowed to turn right. 
 

The bigger, the better

The bigger, the better seems to be the Americans motto concerning every aspect of their lives. You will see a lot of pick ups and other big cars on wide streets. You would also not be the first one to get lost in shops like Walmart or Target. 
 

Drinks

In Europe, whenever non-alcoholic beverages are served with ice, it usually means there are three or four ice cubes in your glass. In the US, however, you will get a glass filled with ice and barely any space left for your actual drink. 
 
Don’t worry about not getting your money’s worth, though: the concept of free refills is widely spread in the USA. And water is free anyway. 
 

Air-Conditioning

Having air-conditioning in your home is fantastic, no doubt. Some American stores go a little overboard, though. When you step out of the summer heat and inside a grocery store it might feel nice at first, but stay five minutes and you’ll be longing for your thickest winter coat. Think I’m exaggerating? I’m not. 
 

Prices

What you see is not what you pay in the US. Price tags usually exclude tax. So, be prepared to pay more than you bargained for. 
 
 
Obviously, there are a lot more differences I could tell you about, but I think that’s enough for today. 
 
Until next time, 
 
Sammy-Jo
 
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