5 insane things I struggle with in the USA #travel

The Californian flag flies high

During my first week in the United States of America I experienced about as much culture shock as I did when I arrived in Asia for the first time. Well, almost.

I always thought that travelling to the US would be kind of like travelling to Australia or the United Kingdom. I mean, we share a Western world view, a vaguely similar history and a common language – don’t we?

America, I love you – but these are 5 things that this Kiwi found (or continues to find) just a little bit baffling:

Imperial measurements

What the heck are miles, degrees Fahrenheit and fluid ounces?

America has bastardised… sorry, simplified the English language to make it easier to spell – so why hasn’t it done the same to its units of measurement?

Our Mustang convertible in the United States

The currency

I can work out what a quarter is, but what the hell is a dime?

I know now, of course (10 cents) – but only after I just dropped all my change on a counter in a store one day and had the clerk work out the correct change for me.

Tipping and tax

It seems that only in America the price that’s listed is not actually the price of something.

Because then you’ve got to factor in a tip and tax, which, ever so helpfully, is sometimes already factored in to the price and sometimes not.

Happy: me at a LA Clippers game

American sport

You think cricket is dull? (I don’t.) You should try watching a game of baseball.

I swear I watched an hour or more of the “great American pastime” before I saw anyone get a run. American football isn’t much better, but I will admit that basketball is pretty awesome.


Finally, it’s sometimes kind of difficult to strike up a conversation with an American when he or she asks where you’re from, you say New Zealand, and their face just goes blank. (I’ve managed to strike up two brilliant conversations with LA locals since writing this – but I won’t let that get in the way of a good rant.)

Truth is, sometimes Americans don’t even know what a “New Zealand” is – and it’s not like I can fall back on my knowledge of American sport to carry a conversation. Do we really have nothing to talk about except the weather? It’s always nice in LA!

Anyone else feel this way? Or am I the only stupid person who didn’t know how much a dime was worth?

About Simon Petersen 505 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.


  1. The currency, tax and tipping really confused me too. You could never tell how expensive something was going to be until you went to the till.
    When I told people I was from Wales, they all seemed to know where it was. But they seemed certain I should also have a Tom Jones accent. Previously I have always said the UK which commonly had the reply “you sound like you’re from London”. I could not be further!

    Where is the next place you are travelling to?

    • Haha, my British mates are always going on about how people say to them overseas “you sound like you come from London”! Whether they are from anywhere near there or not. Cheers Jon.

  2. im shocked people didnt know where NZ was or hadnt heard of it. im american and everyone i know has heard of it and has a desire to go there. strange!

    yea things are different in the US than your side of the world. but i wouldnt go as far as to say we ‘bastardized’ english LOL. there is even an australian dictionary that has recently come out because languages evolve when away from their native land. and just because americans dont spell things always the same way as brits or kiwis do, it’s not wrong if we chose to spell them the original way. i sometimes spell words like the english do. many canadians i know spell the same as the americans do, actually.

    glad you enjoyed yourself and i agree, basketball rocks! (not a fan of baseball personally haha….but like most americans, i do enjoy going to the games solely for a beer!)

    • To be fair, during my travels in Europe I met a lot of people from the likes of Spain, Turkey and Italy who didn’t know where New Zealand was. One chap even said it was up by Scotland! Haha. Thanks Megan.

  3. Over the course of various trips I’ve learned to deal with most of those, including baseball (it’s like test cricket, you need to immerse yourself in the occasion and culture), but I will never stop being puzzled by sales tax and tipping percentages! They differ from state to state, and even if you’ve had bad service (a rarity, I’ll admit), the tips are required, not welcomed. And I never know how it works in a bar – do you add a dollar or two tip on each round, or is it a dollar a drink? And do you pay it with the round or when you leave??

    As for conversation, unless we’re in New York, my friends and I (mostly from the South East of England/London) only ever get asked where in Australia we’re from. Sometimes we just go with it 🙂

  4. Haha, I’ve been writing something very similar regarding the tax thing. Whilst in NY I just wanted to know the price from the outset. So confusing/frustrating trying to understand when it applies.

    Nice work mate!

  5. I can’t really argue with any of these points. Except I do think Fahrenheit makes more sense because it is a larger scale.

    Baseball is the most boring sport. I would recommend College Football over the NFL. It is much more interesting especially if you actually go to the game.

  6. This post is highly amusing! As a fellow American, I can honestly say – You’re so right! Our system for measurement and riddled tax fees is pretty absurd. My recent visit to France left me a bit baffled. Walk 3 kilometers west……hunh? Apparently we haven’t caught up with the rest of the world.

    I will say, however, that you’d probably enjoy conversation much more in Texas. (You know, the state where everyone rides a horse to work and wears cowboy hats. LOL) In all seriousness, it’s a fantastic state and I think you’d love Austin and it’s people.

    P.S. Baseball has always, and will always, remain a complete bore after inning 2. Especially if you have no money for beer or popcorn!

  7. Heck, many Americans don’t know where places in the Americas are. I guess that’s the price of thinking you ARE America… rather than the United States.

    And, yes, I find using cash overseas much easier as I don’t have to lug around 87 cents in change after buying a Slurpee. I do like the idea of forcing people to be cognizant of the sales taxes the government imposes on them – perhaps they’ll protest higher taxes eventually – but it does make it annoying for change. Fortunately, you can use a credit card anywhere, even for a dollar.

    • That’s a very good point about being cognisant of the sales tax! I just take it for granted in NZ, and don’t really think of how much I’m paying in tax. But I really should pay it more thought.

  8. My husband still has trouble figuring out a nickel and dime and will always pay with a bill to avoid the fumbling through his pocket of change at the register. And I think the Americans you met who had no clue about New Zealand were just the exception or joking around to see your reaction — we know it’s a country and many of us, including myself, have even been there! 😉

  9. We can thank the Brits for their system of measurement (which you surely would have encountered while living in London ;). I’ve gotten more used to metric since living abroad, but I don’t know if the US will ever make the leap–though in New Hampshire and Maine I have seen road signs in km and miles, presumably for Canadian visitors.

    The sales tax thing drives me nuts though, I agree with you there.

    Hope you’re still enjoying yourselves in CA!

    • The UK is weird in that it seems to use both! For example, drinks are in ml rather than fl oz (except a pint) and temperatures are generally given in degrees Celsius – but they also still deal with miles. I’m loving it in the US – I’ll have to come back and see the rest of the country!

  10. Ha! As a Kiwi married to an American, I agree with everything on this list. Except, I actually do like football. It just isn’t as good as rugby. Other things I struggle with in America include portion sizes, and the fact that they sometimes put slices of apple or other fruit on the same plate as a main like a steak: fruit is for dessert! 🙂

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