After four culture-shocking days in Los Angeles, the next part of our road trip was driving up Highway 1 to San Francisco. We started our adventure on the nerve-wrecking five-lane freeway out of LA.
In Denmark we only have two-lane freeways so it was a quite scary experience. But the car’s automatic transmission saved us. I can’t understand why we have manual transmission in Denmark. Driving an automatic is like driving a bumper car, and so much easier.
Except from having to deal with three extra lanes in the freeway, we had a positive experience driving in the U.S. The motorists in the U.S. are much more friendly than they are in Denmark. People give each other space to shift lanes and intersections, with no real traffic rules, actually works over here. Unfortunately, in comparison Danes have a bad reputation about being very selfish in traffic.
The thing about Americans being friendlier than Danes is not only the case on the freeway. Driving up Highway 1, we experienced our second culture shock.
“How are you?” – a question all Americans ask each other when they meet, whether it is the cashier, a stranger on the street, or a good friend. You expect the answer to be “good,” “fine,” or “alright.” It is like saying “hello” in a little friendlier way.
Asking the same question to a complete stranger in Denmark would be both weird and a little inappropriate. When you ask people “How are you?” in Denmark, you actually want to know how they are doing, and you would only ask that question to people you know.
Compared to Americans, I think Danes are a little more introverted when it comes to people we don’t know. It seems to be a norm in Denmark that you don’t just start talking to strangers at the bus stop or at the grocery store. We respect other people’s privacy and mind our own business.
Since I moved to the U.S., I have never stood at the bus stop or sat alone on a bench without someone starting a conversation with me – a homeless person, an old lady, or soldier. They ask about where my blue eyes are from, how I am doing, what I am doing today, or what I think about San Diego.
Americans are really friendly and openhearted, and even though I had to get use to strangers talking to me, I actually really like that people are so accommodating toward other people.
You could say that the thing about Americans asking everybody, “How are you?” without really wanting to know how they are is a little superficial, but I actually think it has a positive effect on people.
To start asking everybody in Denmark how he or she is doing would be weird, but I think Danes could learn from Americans how to be more open and accommodating toward people we don’t know.
Mathilde Rousseau Bjerregaard is an editorial intern with San Diego Community Newspaper Group, who is from Aarhus, Denmark. Contact her at email@example.com.