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John Riceburg: Seven surprising things about the US after a few years in Berlin

John Riceburg just spent more than a week in the People's Republic of Austin and the southwestern USA. This is where he grew up. And yet the place seemed very strange to him.

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I just spent more than a week in the People’s Republic of Austin and the Southwest. This is where I grew up. I haven’t actually been back for several years. All I can say is: What a strange place! Here are the seven things I found most shocking:

1. Small talk

“How ya doing, buddy?” This is the first thing I heard when I set foot on US soil. And it was from an immigration officer. I was used to German Beamten who remain silent and usually avoid eye contact while checking my passport. I stayed silent myself – until I realised I was acting suspiciously un-American. “I’m good,” I stammered. “How are you, buddy?”

2. Toilets

Say what you want about those German Flachspüler that were clearly designed by someone with an intense desire to examine their own feces, but now I’m used to them. In contrast, I found it unheimlich to sit down on an airport toilet with my bottom just centimetres above the water. (Wait, I mean: inches.) The water is way higher than even in a modern German Tiefspüler.

3. Military

I love that most Germans are uncomfortable with the army, if not downright hostile. As they should be. While I was picking up my bags at the airport in Texas, a message was being played on a loop: “We just wanted to say that in this city, we really love the military.” (Or something like that – I was trying to block it out.) Soldiers were invited to board planes first. At the ticket counter, they even asked if we wanted to make a donation to the military. Isn’t the $600 billion they’re getting this year enough?

4. Kinder Eggs

Germany’s Kinder-Überraschungseier are prohibited in the US – they’ve been prohibited since 1938 because kids can choke on the toys. Yet somehow, the five-year-olds in my family knew all about them. They exploded with joy when they heard I had smuggled some into the country. And they proceeded to bite right into them without removing the yellow plastic container from the inside first. Watching that scene, I decided the prohibition actually might’ve been a pretty good idea.

5. Politicians

When I was in San Antonio, Texas, I noticed that dozens of police cars had shut down an entire street. Was there a hostage situation in progress? I asked a cop, who just coyly told me not to worry. Google revealed that Vice President Joe Biden was in town. But not for a public event – he was at the private home of a party bigwig for a fundraiser. Here we have the second-in-line of the most powerful government on Earth, protected by hundreds of police – and he’s begging private citizens for money? I have to admit I’ve never read the US constitution all the way through… is this what the office of Vice President was conceived for?

6. Chocolate Raspberry Beer

Enough said, right? I appreciate Germany’s Reinheitsgebot, which has prohibited weird ingredients in beer since 1516. But chocolate and raspberry and alcohol in one carbonated beverage? This is the future!

7. Guns

This one is a cliché, but yes, there really are guns everywhere. I even saw a bunch of white men marching down the street with automatic weapons. Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet the Huey P. Newton Gun Club.