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So what is America really like to a foreigner? (Post of the Day #44)

Maybe you would get an idea from reading the instructions foreigners seek when they go to wikitravel’s page on the USA.

Driving Laws

As with the rest of North America, Americans drive on the right in left-hand drive vehicles and pass on the left. White lines separate traffic moving in the same direction and yellow lines separate opposing traffic. Right turn on red after coming to a complete stop is legal (unless a sign prohibits it) in nearly all states and cities, though New York City is a notable exception. Red lights and stop signs are always enforced at all hours in nearly all U.S. jurisdictions.

Most American drivers tend to drive calmly and safely in the sprawling residential suburban neighborhoods where the majority of Americans live. However, freeways around the central areas of big cities often become crowded with a significant proportion of “hurried” drivers — who will exceed speed limits, make unsafe lane changes, or follow other cars at unsafe close distances (known as “tailgating”). Enforcement of posted speed limits is somewhat unpredictable and varies widely from state to state. Not exceeding the pace of other drivers will usually avoid a troublesome citation. Beware of small towns along otherwise high-speed rural roads (and medium-speed suburban roads); the reduced speed limits found while going through such towns are strictly enforced.

Money

The official U.S. currency is the United States dollar ($), divided into 100 cents (¢). Conversion rates vary daily and are available online [45]. Foreign currencies are almost never accepted, although some major hotel chains may accept travelers cheques in other currencies. Canadian currency is sometimes accepted at larger stores within 100 miles of the border, but discounted for the exchange rate. (This is less of an issue nowadays with the stronger Canadian dollar.) Watch for stores that really want Canadian shoppers and will accept at par. Often, a few Canadian coins (especially pennies) won’t be noticed, but less so the further south you go. Now that the Mexican peso has stabilized, it is somewhat accepted at some locations at border towns (El Paso, Laredo, etc), but you’re better off exchanging your pesos in Mexico, and using U.S. dollars instead, to ensure the best exchange rate.

Common American bills are for $1, $5, $10, $2 The standard coins are the penny (1¢, copper color), the chunky nickel (5¢, silver color), the tiny dime (10¢, silver color) and the quarter (25¢, silver color). None of these coins display the numeral of their value, so it is important to recognize the names of each. The size doesn’t necessarily correspond to their relative value: the dime is the smallest coin, followed by the penny, nickel, and quarter. Half dollar (50¢, silver) and dollar ($1, silver or gold) coins exist but are uncommon. Coin-operated machines usually only accept nickels, dimes, and quarters.

Types of Resturants

Fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s, Subway and Burger King are ubiquitous. But the variety of this type of restaurant in the U.S. is astounding: pizza, Chinese and Mexican food, fish, chicken, barbecued meat, and ice-cream only begin to touch on it. Alcoholic beverages are not served in these restaurants; “soda” (often called “pop” in the Midwest through Western New York and Western Pennsylvania, or generically “coke” in the South) or other soft drinks are standard. Don’t be surprised when you order a soda, are handed a paper cup and expected to fill it yourself from the machine (refills are often free). The quality of the food varies, but because of the strictly limited menu, it is generally good. Also the restaurants are usually clean and bright, and the service is limited but friendly. Tipping is not expected but you must clear your table after your meal.

Take-out food is very common in larger cities, for food that may take a little longer to prepare than a fast-food place can accommodate. Place an order by phone and then go to the restaurant to pick it up and take it away. Many places will also deliver; in fact, in some cities, it will be easier to have pizza or Chinese food delivered than to find a sit-down restaurant.

Fast-Casual is a fairly recent new genre of restaurants that grew in popularity during the 2000’s. They are places that are usually around $5-7 for a meal and involve a little bit of waiting as food is prepared fresh (although much less waiting than sit-down restaurants). They tend to be a bit healthier than most typical fast food chains and offer distinct menus. Notable fast-casuals include: Chipotle, Noodles and Company, Panera Bread, and Freddies Burgers.

A lot more of this interesting article can be found on Wikitravel’s United States page. Check it out!

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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Post of The Day

 

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