I think everything surprised me in the United States. It was my first visit in the country and all I knew about it was what I have seen in movies or on internet.
One of the first things that amazed me in the U.S was the Americans. I felt like they have a completely different attitude and behaviors. They are very open and accessible. They are friendly with strangers, which is way different from French people’s behaviors. They have a different way to communicate.
Another thing that surprised me is their patriotism. They were American flags literally everywhere, in almost every store. During the presidential election, people showed their support to each candidate by putting their campaign flags in their garden. I have noticed their love of their country the first day I arrived.
Besides, I was also surprised by how the city is built. For example, the streets are very different from a French city. Streets were built in a grid pattern, which is very smart I think. In addition to that, I was impressed by buildings in Chicago (and in New York too). People usually says that everything is bigger in the U.S., and I now understand why they say that. Buildings are high, stores are huge, everything is oversized.
I was amazed by foods and products as well. They are so different from ours. Before going to the U.S I thought that the only thing they eat is junk food. Which is almost true. There are countless fast foods and restaurants of any kind and everywhere. I mean literally everywhere. There even sell food in Bed Bath and Beyond, which is a furniture store. That really shocked me. I never would imagine that you can buy beef jerky and M&M’s in Best Buy (multimedia store). But there are also very nice grocery stores like Wholefood where you can buy very fresh and healthy food. They sell mostly organic food. It is more expensive but very good quality.
Everything around me made me think about mass consumption and capitalism. I have noticed that there is way more advertising than in France. You are constantly incited to buy more and more. After a few days, I got used to that, but when I first arrived I have noticed it. I think most Americans do not even notice that.
The TV and advertising also shocked me. I was extremely surprised to watch adds where companies where disparaging each other. It is not rare to heard on TV: “this smartphone can’t do that but our can etc.”. As far as I know, in France we cannot do that. And it was the same during presidential election. Both candidate’s advertising where only to highlight bad things about the other candidate. It was very interesting to analyze that.
Finally, I was also surprised by the difference between the city and the suburbs. In Chicago, the wealthiest part is downtown, where all big buildings are. In the suburbs there is a different atmosphere. There are less stores, or cheapest ones. Besides, there are defined areas where people with the same nationality lives. For example, you can find a Latino, Italian, Irish or Afro-American district. This is something I have noticed in the suburbs. You can cross a street and everything will be written in Spanish for example.