All Filipino immigrants we’ve met remember the very day they’ve arrived in the US. I do and I remember it very clearly: April 25, 2013. It was a Thursday. The Husband and I, groogy from the 7 hour trip and a 5-hour layover at Amsterdam and the 9-hour trip into Atlanta, looked out the airplane window, amazed at how the landscape was greener than green could ever be. It sure was a stark and much welcome contrast from the muggy, bleak endless sand dunes of the United Arab Emirates. We were driven off the Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport disoriented with the unfamiliar surroundings.
Today is one year from that fateful day of arrival. I’m not as groggy and not as lost as I’ve definitely learned a whole lot from the experience. Here are some lessons I’ve picked up from this amazing year as a Filipino expat in the United States:
#1 Not everybody speaks English in the US.
Remember our Vietnamese landlord? He’s been here for around 25 years and still can’t speak decent English. And when The Husband applied for his Social Security Number (SSN), we were flabbergasted that the office actually had forms in Spanish, which was for people who could not read nor speak nor write in English. I also remember the lovely Korean lady at the Bank of America branch, where we first opened an account, mentioning that they were in need of bilingual Vietnamese and Korean speakers for their clients who did not speak English.
There are people who live here for so long and never get to pick up the language. A strange thing isn’t it?
#2 The US is one helluva ginormous country
I couldn’t imagine that this country would be this huge. The Husband and I live right smack in the middle and it took us 20+ hours to drive to the Western edge (SoCal) then another 23+ hours to get to the Eastern edge (New Jersey) of the country. So to drive from coast to coast, it would take you 43+ hours! WOW!
I’d imagine it would be as long if you’d drive from the Southeast tip in Florida to the Northwest tip in Washington State. Now that would be a great road trip to take! Hmmmmm…anyone up for this one?
#3 Driving is one of the best ways to see and experience this country
Speaking of driving, we were so blessed to be given the opportunity to drive and see the country. We just got back from a trip last weekend. Well, to be honest, it was more out of neccessity since The Husband’s office won’t pay for my plane ticket. That’s $500 savings per trip! And to think that we’ve already done 3 trips, so we’ve saved us a hefty $1,500.
We drove through the changes in landscape and cityscapes, eaten different kinds of American food – from Texas BBQ (Of course!) to great Southern Fried Chicken of Memphis to Carne Adovada of New Mexico to Chicken Fried Steak in Arizona (more in Texas as well) and much more I have to write about! – and changes in the facial features because of the ethnic diversity of towns and cities. Like how Nashville, TN is just filled to the brim with blondes. Why? That I have to find out.
#4 The Philippines has a crazy number of non-working holidays.
Though I am not working, this still affects me since I do enjoy The Husband’s time off at work since we do get the opportunity for more adventures or just lounging around in the apartment.
Did you know that in the US, there are only 6 non-working holidays for the entire year: New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day? In Dubai, I also enjoyed a just handful of non-working holidays like New Year’s Day, The Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, The Prophet’s ascension, Eid Al Fitr (end of Ramadan), Eid Al Adha (Feast of Sacrifice), Islamic New Year, and UAE National Day.
While in the Philippines, there are 18 NON-WORKING HOLIDAYS for 2014. And I used to complain ha? Good Lord.
#5 Time is GOLD
I have a pet peeve: Lateness. Too bad for me that I was born in a country where we have our own time: Filipino time, which is always one hour later than the appointed time. It was even worse in the Middle East since they had what you call “Arabic timings” which was 2-3 hours later than the appointed time. Ayayay!
Here, when someone tells you that you meet at 7PM, it means 7PM on the dot. Okay, maybe 5-10 minutes late is acceptable. But an hour later? Gosh, mahiya ka naman sa balat mo (Shame on you). Since a number of people do work two or even three jobs or are paid at an hourly rate, every minute does count and their time is valuable. Ergo, you have to respect their time.
#6 Credit is king whenever you make transactions
I remember that cashier people looking at us weird whenever we handed them cash. They thoroughly inspected the $100 we handed over (It was the only money we had then!) and, in some neighborhoods, even the $20 bills were taken a good look at. I guess they’re not used to seeing people use cash aaaaaannnd, most probably, because of some cash counterfeiting mischief?
You do need to use your credit card almost all the time to build your credit score, get some discount (in some credit cards) and, of course, to earn points and / or miles 🙂 Just make sure you don’t dig yourself into credit card debt, ok?
#7 Taxes are worth paying in this country
Taxes have definitely put a dent on our cash flow since we came from tax-free Dubai. But despite of that, I really do value that I can actually see where our taxes go, even in the little things like the public library!
I know that there are still those corrupt asses out there, but still this is so much better compared to what I’ve seen back home.
#8 The US is the land of insurance.
We are required to have (and of course, pay) insurance for almost everything and anything imaginable. Currently, we have insurance for our apartment, our car and we’re supposed to have one for our health (but that’s still for discussion especially if you will pay $300-500 a month for it). Did you know that there are insurances for your pet, your pet’s health, your celphone among others?
It gives you a certain sense of security, but, in the end, it is still a pain on the pocket, especially for us, a single income household. What other insurances are you paying for now?
#9 Laws and culture differ from state to state.
Did you know that driving over 80MPH in Virginia is actually considered as reckless driving? And not just that, it is a criminal disdemeanor if you get caught! And meanwhile, in Texas, there are some highways where the speed limit is 80MPH.
Another example is how in Texas, Mexican restaurants are a dime a dozen. And in New Jersey, Mexican restaurants are harder to comeby as compared to Italian joints.
#10 The US can make you fat…if you’re not careful.
Apart from the gargantuan serving sizes, which would probably can feed 2-3 average Asian sized stomachs, a lot of the processed and pre-packaged food contain a whole lot of sugar. So to prevent hyper bloating your waistline, eat in moderation and exercise. It is actually challenging to get moving if you live in states that are car dependent, which is…errrrr…95% of the US. Hahaha!
Overall, this 1st year in the US has been super duper awesome. We’ve stumbled and bumbled through these new experience, but I am so happy that The Husband and I, at least, have each other.
A happy US anniversary to us!