Community Magazine

The Great US Road Trip: Oddities and Observations So Far

By Eemusings @eemusings

beale st memphis tennessee at night

There are many things we love about the USA. Here’s a few off the top of my head:

  • The low, low prices.
  • Free drink refills.
  • The vast variety of cuisines available.
  • The fact that everyone speaks English (a relief after so long in Europe … though admittedly we’ve been totally stumped more than once in the South by the accents and been left staring blankly at the person addressing us).
  • The customer service! It’s true: Kiwis are usually ridiculously passive and reluctant to speak up. Thank you Pear for salvaging T’s burrito situation in Toronto; remaining silent in dining out situations is just how we roll (see this blog and comment thread for proof) and we should probably work on that.

But there are some … oddities we’ve encountered, some of which are interesting quirks, and some we’re not so fond of.

Tyre pieces all over the highways

It all came together for us when we were driving directly behind a truck somewhere in southern Illinois. One of its back tyres popped and came flying in our direction. Luckily, we were able to change lanes and avoid the debris.

Petrol stations requiring you to enter your zip code

I have a freaking PIN number on my card. That should be enough authorisation. I can’t enter my NZ zip code as they’re only 4 digits, and entering 00000 doesn’t fly either.

Voting for a local traffic court judge

Yeah … this is a totally alien idea for us. It took me a little while to figure out what all the signs around New Orleans were for.

The prevalence of check cashing/payday loan outlets

The concept of being ‘unbanked’ is another incredibly alien one. I doubt you could exist in NZ without a bank account. All companies (to my knowledge) pay staff electronically, and usually that goes for freelancers too. The government also pays out benefits electronically.

ETA: Oddly enough, just as I was writing this post, we were watching New Girl – and it was the episode in which Nick, one of the great unbanked, goes to open up a bank account.


I get that there are all sorts of problems that make it difficult/impossible to just list the final, tax-included price for items. But seriously, as a consumer, it’s a massive pain.

A Couchsurfing guest we had once expressed shock that we pay rent weekly (by and large) in NZ (and always electronically). That would never fly in the US, he said. It’s so inefficient. Well, to the untrained Kiwi eye, this tax bizzo is your equivalent inefficiency.


Okay, it’s official: I hate tipping. I’ve always been of the mindset that waitstaff should just be paid a decent wage – but hey, I’m from New Zealand, and it’s a totally different culture. I know I praised the customer service up in my first paragraph, but the problem is when it goes too far. And too often, that’s exactly what happens. Tipping seems to have bred a uniquely overzealous type of server: either chirpily subservient, or the greasy schmooze. Both make me feel uncomfortable in different ways. Either way, it’s downright annoying being ‘checked on’ every five minutes.

Honestly, I’ve never had substandard service while eating out back home, even minus the tipping culture. What I WOULD support is tipping for better customer service over the phone – I would be down for that if it could be facilitated. (You know what I’m talking about – there’s nothing worse than having to call your internet/power/insurance company.)

Everything is crazy sweet

I used to have a heinous sweet tooth. A couple of days here quickly cured me of that. Now, I walk down the snack aisle and feel absolutely nothing as I cast my eye over the shelves. In fact, I feel … revulsion, almost. A month ago, I would have been all “OMG cookies with Reese’s pieces! Must buy three packs!” Now I would be perfectly happy to never consume another peanut butter cup, another sweet cereal, another Oreo. (Also, please. Stop sweetening your potato salad and coleslaw! I’m now scared to eat any creamy salads at all.)

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