Culture Shock USA

We may not normally think of it this way, but culture shock is a two-way street. Every time I return to the USA to visit family and friends, I experience reverse culture shock as I must once again adapt to the American way of doing things.

While there are many differences, both great and small, between life in the USA and most other countries, the things that immediately spring to mind are the incredibly long waits to clear airport immigration and customs procedures, the vast number of  products available in hypermarkets and the many pharmaceutical ads on TV.

Welcome to (understaffed) fortress USA

After a long flight touches down, tired passengers are immediately assaulted by the disorganization and long wait times involved in clearing US immigration at many of America’s gateway airports. In what has become the rule rather than the exception, I now just assume I won’t make my connecting flight after landing at Miami, Dallas/Fort Worth or Houston International airports. While I’ve learned to remain calm and collected during these situations, the same can’t be said for many of my fellow passengers,  who huff, puff and generally raise their blood pressure to hazardous levels.

At the same time, I’m also reminded to remain alert for the possible irate passenger who just might have been able to slip past foreign security with a weapon. I assume there’s a good reason why passengers arriving from the USA are asked by Mexican customs officials if they have any guns in their bags. My unease is further heightened by the strategically placed signs at US Immigration kiosks that warn no firearms are allowed in the area! Duh!

The delays at many of the USA’s airports are caused in part by the major airlines which, after multiple consolidations, route too many international flights into these ever-expanding hubs. This means that during peak hours too many flights are simultaneously deplaning far too many passengers for on-duty immigration staff to handle. The federal government agencies that oversee immigration and security at American airports are either 1) oblivious to this fact, or 2) simply don’t care. Regardless of how you feel about immigration from Latin America, this situation is costly for both consumers and the airlines, as well as for international business representatives who get stuck along with the rest of us riffraff.

Passengers in the constantly moving queues heading toward immigration at Miami International Airport.

Passengers only get lip service

From a personal point of view, I have few choices when flying from Colombia to Charlotte, a city which used to be a hub for US Airways before that airline merged with American. Now, American Airlines controls 90% of the flights from its Charlotte hub–a monopoly that certainly doesn’t benefit consumers longing for more choice.

Since Miami and Dallas/Fort Worth airports are the major hubs first handling most of American’s flights from Latin America, I am always routed through one of these two airports. Airline ticketing often allows as little as one hour between connections, and I commonly experience waits of 1 1/2 to 2 hours at immigration and customs at these airports.  To be clear, I’m talking about routine delays totally unrelated to weather.

Over the past 2 years, I’ve experienced multiple over-night stays and/or had to cancel flights because of connections I knew I could not make. I’ve spoken to airline personnel and written letters to American Airlines, but my complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

This week, I once again experienced an understaffed situation at US Immigration after my flight landed in Miami. Only 8 of the 70 immigration kiosks were staffed at 9:00 PM when our American Airlines flight arrived. This resulted in hundreds of passengers from multiple flights missing their connections and required the airline to provide overnight accommodations at hotels all over the airport area along with vouchers for meals.

While some travelers might enjoy the experience of  a free night in a hotel, I don’t find anything pleasant about having to re-book my onward flight(s), endure long hotel shuttle waits on the airport driveway, rearrange airport pick up at my final destination, listen to planes taking off and landing overhead around the clock or the hassle of again waiting in line the following day to check in with my bags in an effort to complete that homeward leg of the journey.

While airports in other parts of the world can be chaotic as well, I’ve never experienced such l-o-n-g waits to clear immigration in all my years of traveling and living abroad. This does not reflect well on the USA as a supposedly organized, modern country.

An appetite for unhealthy food

Shopper just leaving the food department at a local Walmart store.

On my way from the airport to the home of friends or family, I always stop at a supermarket or hypermarket to stock up on food. Yes, I’m that ‘good’ guest who makes sure to bring along whatever I might need as well as enough to share.

Upon entering the market, my senses are assaulted by the vast array of products available to consumers. These endless aisles include every sugary, oily processed food item possible plus healthier fare as well. In other words, the full range of options are available from which consumers can choose.

The vast selection of heavily advertised ‘junk food’ purchased clashes starkly with the near-constant talk among many Americans of a broken, fragmented healthcare system. Why is it obvious to me, but not to others, that many Americans–due to their poor dietary choices–are made and kept sick by the corporate conglomerates who appear to care only about profits.

Pharmaceutical ads have proliferated

This cycle of poor nutrition has led to en epidemic of obesity, juvenile diabetes, heart disease and cancer, which in turn feeds the profiteering corporate hospitals and the insidious pharmaceutical industry. While the average American sits on the sofa eating their meal of fast food and drinking a soft drink with zero nutritional value, the TV advertising industry simultaneously feeds them a diet of commercials (of infomercial length) advertising medications to  treat the illnesses brought on by all the corporate-sponsored food excesses. This is a vicious cycle that’s costing the American taxpayer dearly in health care expenses and taxes for those who can’t pay and don’t have insurance.

Even after many years of exposure, I never cease to be shocked by these pharmaceutical ads repeated on all the major TV networks during prime-time viewing. The ads follow a similar pattern, showing very healthy, attractive people living a lifestyle that most want to emulate, all the while smiling and enjoy their favorite activities. The subliminal message is that you too–obese, unhealthy, poor–can transform your life by taking the advertised medication.

Pharmaceutical advertisement at the Philadelphia airport. Notice the drug company is allowed to have a booth set up inside the airport.

The result of  so many Americans falling for such deceptive food and pharmaceutical advertising has been the transformation of a once healthy population into one of the developed world’s least healthy based on all measures. How did we allow this to happen to our nation and how can we make the average consumer wake up and realize they’re being used as a pawn to enrich CEOs and stock holders who have little regard for their well-being?

Corporate-controlled government doesn’t seem to care

Donald Trump, along with every American President and member of Congress should be required to spend time traveling and living as an average American so their eyes can be opened to the conditions ‘real’ people have to face in their daily lives. After all, it’s the wealthy class that extracts its riches off the backs of the average working person.

While the USA’s current commander in chief busies himself with calling other countries ‘shit holes’, he ignores the deficiencies and blatant contradictions apparent in his own country. Lawmakers in Washington will never place public (ALL the people) good above their own personal quests for financial gain and power.

That leaves it up to citizens to bring about the changes needed to boost the USA’s international rankings among post-industrial countries in education, life expectancy, rates of teen pregnancy and incarceration, drug dependency and violent crime.

Whether it’s planning for arriving international travelers or the fundamental healthcare needs of the population, the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” seems completely relevant here. I’m looking forward to a day when the reverse culture shock I experience upon returning to the USA will be limited to far more trivial  things than the fundamental well-being of the country’s citizens.



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  1. This describes it all too well. I haven’t been back to the US since moving abroad, but I can only imagine what it will be like. I do dread the airport waits.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pharma has even gone so far as to invent new maladies whole cloth, just to sell a new concoction. Restless Leg Syndrome? Fibromyalgia? Chronic gas… watching commercial TV in the stars is just an assault of medicines and ailments.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post— I have only entered the US 3 times from other countries and I guess I just assumed we were like every other country in that regard. It’s great to hear your point of view coming into the US from other countries with better food supplies and fewer pharmaceuticals.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Cindy. I’ve watched things change markedly over the past 15 years of moving in and out of the USA. I could have streamlined the process by applying (and paying) for a Global Entry pass (see link below), but I want to remain aware of the process everyone else is being put through. At least at the airports I’ve been routed through over the past few years, it’s become a huge problem causing travel-plan disruption to individuals and families alike. As the gateway to a visitor’s American experience, the lack of proper staffing during peak periods (which are easily identified since reservations are made in advance) makes the USA look unwelcoming and completely disorganized. Perhaps the US Government has decided that’s the image they prefer to project these days. Thanks for all your support Cindy!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s a bit shocking to hear how we look to others coming to this country. It does seem America is no longer welcoming—I hope we will see this change. Keep writing—-

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, this really bothers me too Cindy, plus I see it as being unwelcoming for international business interests which will eventually have a negative effect on the economy. This should be a government priority if ‘you know who’ really wants to make America great again. Thanks Cindy!


  7. Two of my kids are ex-pats. They mostly avoid coming back to the States, but one of them has a couple times (when she’s not enjoying the warm and wonderful people in some shit-hole country, like she is now) and has had the same kind of frustrations you describe. She too freaked out about the size of the grocery store and all the product options. Hell, I get freaked out when I go to the grocery store! I mean, do we really need 50 different kinds of pickles?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point Kevin. Research shows that having too many choices makes for dissatisfied customers since no matter what choice you make, you’ll always believe one of the other choices would have been better. Which shit-hole country is your daughter currently living in? I’m calling Colombia home these days and I’m already missing the delicious vegetables there because they’re mostly organic and actually have flavor. Thanks for reading and commenting!


  8. Just yesterday I flew into my home airport, Newark. It is understaffed and the staff that is there is underpaid and demoralized. I usually try to fly ABU (anything but United) but United has so many monopoly routes that I often have no choice. That’s really the only way they can stay in business. The United terminal has had extensive renovation which has made it it pretty much wall to wall bar. The moving walkways have all been removed and there are now bars in the center of the concourses. First thing I did when I got off the plane was head for the men’s room. The renovations didn’t get that far so I had to queue up to get to the small dingy and dirty restroom with four urinals. If they can make money selling liquor, they’re all over it, but to spend a dime on passenger comfort….

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It’s true, Ken. Customer service and satisfaction seem to have clearly taken a back-seat to profit-driven businesses such as bars and duty-free shops in American airports. I lived in Seattle when the Port Authority there spent a fortune expanding the terminals at SeaTac Int;, but failed to increase the number or size of the toilets. The result is long waiting times to use what should be considered priority facilities. I regret that profits seem to be the dominant consideration when designing such public facilities these days. US government officials need to do a tour of Chinese and Arabian Gulf cities to see how modern infrastructure improvements should look, although I decry the dominance of the duty-free zones in those places as well. Thanks for commenting!


  10. As always, excellent writing!

    In my experience, the reverse culture shock episodes have been way worse than the straight culture shock ones. The points that you brought up that were a shock for you in the USA are the same ones that really shocked me, too.

    It is overwhelming to see the number of obese people in the States, when you are used to living in a culture where obese folks are in the small minority. Avid consumerism replaces focusing on friends and family.

    Support for vulnerable members of a society defines the quality of the government. Clearly, with the almighty buck (and what it can buy) being the focus above all else, the American society is in decline. All of those areas that the countries of the world are ranked on, and in which the USA is nowhere near the top….all of those areas could be vastly improved by re-allocating funds given over to the military machine, the Wall, NSA, etc.

    But that is just the tip of the iceberg. As you pointed out, the very food being shoveled into the bodies of the American public is causing the epidemic of diseases that is sweeping the nation.

    If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend watching a 4-part series on youtube that is called The Weight of the Nation. It goes in depth into the obesity epidemic in the USA and the effects it is having, in a number of ways I never would have guessed. It is an HBO production that is made in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control, Kaiser Permanente, and other national organizations concerned with the declining health of the nation. It is an excellent documentary series that all Americans would do well to watch. xoxoxoxoxoxoxox

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Carolyn! I will search for the documentary you mentioned. With so much health and wellness information available these days, it’s mind-boggling that many Americans seem oblivious to their own demise. I chalk it up to the generations of brainwashing by immoral and unethical corporations and the American advertising industry. Sadly, money speaks louder than the voice of reason when it comes to American-style capitalism.Thanks again for reading and sharing your insights!


  11. Very interesting!
    I feel the same way
    Thank you for share with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Love your insights. It is astounding to me that our goverment seems oblivious to solving (with decent common sense) things like teaching to the test; which has students, teachers and parents all over our country frustrated, the possibility of financial ruin if faced with a major healthcare crisis, the growing chasm of inequality, the immigrant community which are faced with difficult decisions on how to feed themselves and must live in the shadows and resort to criminality to survive (social security fraud and working under the table).

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s always easier for government leaders to blame problems on someone else (a scapegoat)–the frequently used divide and conquer strategy. Our current President is a master at in this technique–deflect, deflect, deflect. That way, government institutions don’t have to take responsibility for their part in the drama. In the end, the personal attainment of wealth and power are the primary objectives of far too many of our ‘elected’ representatives.

      I still have hope that the extremism rammed down citizens throats by Trump and Company is setting up a backlash that will change the direction in which the USA is heading.

      Thanks again for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts!


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