The great US road trip: Oddities and observations so far

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 cheque 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. I couldn’t finish any single dessert item from our hotel buffet in Vegas last night, so you KNOW this shiz is serious. (Also, please. Stop sweetening your potato salad and coleslaw! I’m now scared to eat any creamy salads at all.)

21 thoughts on “The great US road trip: Oddities and observations so far

  • Reply anonymous October 24, 2013 at 08:33

    For the zip code – just put in 90210 – that’s what I do whenever visiting the USofA!

    • Reply eemusings October 24, 2013 at 22:33

      Ha, that’s what I used to do when signing up for things online!

  • Reply Meghan October 24, 2013 at 09:31

    Our stuff is too sweet for me, too. I order unsweet tea and either add sugar or ask them just to top it off with their sweet tea. That top off can even make it too sweet.

  • Reply Clarrise @ Make Money Your Way October 24, 2013 at 10:09

    I really want to visit the US too. And you’re talking about sweets? I’m a sweet addict in fact I’m planning to buy a chocolate cake later. 🙂

  • Reply Michelle October 24, 2013 at 10:32

    Love reading this post since I live in the US. I wish you would have made a stop in St. Louis! 🙂

  • Reply Budget and the Beach October 24, 2013 at 11:42

    Don’t worry, even we don’t vote for traffic court judges. 🙂 They probably just recruit their friends. And I have to say I’m relieved I don’t have to pay rent every week or else I’d be late all the time forgetting, but I’d love to pay electronically!

  • Reply Kara October 24, 2013 at 11:53

    I have never heard of entering a Zip code at a gas station! It must be a purely American thing – we have no such thing here in Canada (or at least not around my parts of Canada).

    The cheque-cashing and payday loans places are scary interest-wise. They’re probably one of the top reasons why people get into such deep debt – the interest rates are absurd!

    I’m heading to the US of A next month – the first time in AGES – so I enjoyed this post as a “reminder” for when I travel there! (Although we won’t be driving at all)

  • Reply Michelle October 24, 2013 at 16:59

    Ok, I’ve never heard of the zip code thing and I live in the U.S. You HAVE been in the South so you may find things are different in California. Also, I’ve never had sweet potato salad or coleslaw. So, I’m thinking you ate that while in the South.The unbanked is a huge problem everywhere in the States. It’s weird though because it’s not hard to open a bank account for the most part. I remember that we’ve talked about the rent thing before. I would hate paying every week, it just seems like a complete pain! I love reading about your experiences in the States. I hope you’re enjoying yourself and that we’re being nice to you!

    • Reply eemusings October 24, 2013 at 22:33

      Nope, zip code thing has been everywhere from the start, including New England. Sweet salads, ditto – started in New Jersey and have continued since – you guys seem to sweeten literally everything!!! These salads are meant to be tangy! (If this is how you’re used to having them, though, of course they wouldn’t be sweet to you.)

      • Reply Sarah October 25, 2013 at 17:48

        Yes, the zipcode thing is everywhere. At first, I thought it was a Chicago thing. But, I’ve been asked for it in NYC and Washington D.C.

        • Reply Michelle October 27, 2013 at 10:42

          I think the zip code thing is a marketing tool. Zip code connects to your credit card then they send out marketing materials based on purchases made. People in different zip codes show different trends.

          • eemusings October 27, 2013 at 17:01

            Yeah, that’s what I read from googling online – which is ridiculous – if you’re visiting from abroad, there is NO point to that!

  • Reply Holly@ClubThrifty October 25, 2013 at 02:21

    It doesn’t surprise me that everything tastes crazy sweet. We love our sweet stuff over here….unfortunately.

  • Reply Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies October 25, 2013 at 03:53

    Tipping phone customer service is an excellent idea! Instead of “press 9 to fill out a brief survey”, make it “press 9 to add a tip to your agent’s account”. I would absolutely do that!

  • Reply The Asian Pear October 25, 2013 at 05:11

    No problemo on the burrito! 🙂 I’m pretty vocal more than my friends even! Though I usually let most lil stuff pass but poor T couldn’t eat that burrito at all! He had to have a lunch!

    In my visits to the US, I’ve noticed that they ask for zip codes, emails and addresses for everything nowadays. I hate the idea of them tracking me. GAH. I’ve also noticed in the US, everything is MUCH bigger than in Canada. Like Medium Soft drink is usually a large for us, etc. Lastly, I’d agree with you on the sweet. I also find it a bit saltier than usual too. It’s a bit too aggressively seasoned and I tend to like salt too!

  • Reply Stephany October 25, 2013 at 07:00

    Yeah, the zip code thing is very common in Florida. (I’m guessing not in other states because other Americans seem confused?!) Usually, whenever you use a credit card (or debit used as credit, as I do otherwise my bank charges me $.25 per transaction. Lovely, eh?), you have to type in a zip code. I guess it prevents fraud, in some way? No idea.

    Tipping, yes. A must. You have run across some AWESOME service, though, if they’re checking on you every 5 minutes. I usually have terrible service. But our waitstaff gets paid a very, very low base wage – they wouldn’t survive without tips! It’s sad, but just the way it goes ’round here! 🙂

    A lot of people use the payday loan places for advances on money. And when you get into that cycle, it’s hard to quit because not only do you have to pay back the money they lent you, but there’s also high interest so it’s hard to get ahead. Not something I would ever want to do!

    Taxes are annoying for ME, so I imagine it would be even more annoying to someone who’s never run across it. I just know the price I pay will always be more than it says. I can usually calculate it in my head to know about how much an item will actually be but yes, very annoying!

  • Reply Pauline @RFIndependence October 25, 2013 at 11:04

    I was amazed at how everything is much cheaper than Europe, gas comes to mind, but also restaurants, even with tipping. We would go to china buffets, they often have all you can eat sushi, salad and fruit which makes for a relatively healthy meal if you don’t touch the fried crap and cheaper than McD.

  • Reply save. spend. splurge. October 26, 2013 at 05:16

    Ridiculously cheap in the U.S., even compared to Canada, things are cheaper (especially food).

    Everything is very sweet and/or processed and/or greasier than what I like / am used to.

    Also… we are definitely more outspoken here, that’s for sure. When something is wrong, we speak up.. most of the time. Some of us go pretty far 😛 (*cough*myself*cough*)

  • Reply Untemplater October 28, 2013 at 05:22

    I loved this post because there are so many things that I never even think of since I’ve lived in the States my whole life. So true on everything being sweet – there is sugar all over the place. And yes taxes and tipping can be a pain even for us here. Wait until you get to SF – they add on even more to the bill at many restaurants for supplementing benefits for the wait staff. And not too many places here give free drink refills!

    I never thought about the zipcode issue at gas stations – that must be a huge pain for you! In Europe the pain for me was that none of the credit card machines would work if the card didn’t have a chip. I’ve never had a credit card with a chip before, but apparently all the cards in Europe do! Looking forward to meeting you today btw! 🙂

  • Reply Stephanie October 28, 2013 at 10:58

    Yup, that all sounds about right. Though since the US is so big, everything varies by state. You don’t get asked for your zip code when using a credit card in all states. Not all states vote for judges (which I think is a terrible idea), either.

    Trying to be healthy and avoiding foods that are too sweet is extremely difficult. But, when you get to California, it is definitely possible to avoid the massive sweetness that is everywhere. If you miss salty Asian food, check out San Gabriel once you hit LA!

  • Reply Sarah Greesonbach October 30, 2013 at 06:18

    All so true! And large trucks “re-tread” their tires instead of purchasing new tires, leading to weak treads that rip off frequently. I learned that recently myself. And as for the sweetening…. seriously! It’s one thing that because really eye-opening when I went Paleo. You can’t find a “prepared food item” with plain vegetables or plain fruit… it’s totally gross!

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