Now here’s what I don’t understand. Why d you have traffic lights for pedestrians and cars when nobody pays attention to them? Okay, I am exaggerating, but not by much. Occasionally, drivers will see a red light and think, oh, well, I’d better stop before I hit someone. But I have seen drivers ruthlessly ignore red lights and ignoring not only the green light for pedestrians, but also the green light for cars crossing their way. Basically they are committing jaydriving, if that is even a thing. Which brings me to one of the biggest culture shock moments of my life. Apparently, Americans could not care less about a red light for pedestrians. They sometimes don’t even look before crossing the street, and they do it while pushing a stroller with a baby in it. This just blows my mind. See, in Germany, when you walk on a red light and you get caught by a policeman doing it, you pay a fee, and a substantial one. Also, it is common knowledge that traffic lights are for your safety and if the light is red, it might be a good idea to wait for it to switch colors. Now, here in the US, jaywalking cannot be illegal, or more people would at least stop to think about it. They do not, however. Americans seem to see a traffic light and not see a flashing warning sign saying, hold on, you might die if you cross the street now, they just see either a) a friendly suggestion, or b) an annoying hindrance trying to spoil their day.
My biggest source of frustration in the first few weeks, before I did what I did with the German trains, and just resigned myself to it. Do American busses have a schedule? And if they do, do the bus drivers know? Why do the bus stops themselves not display any information on anything other than, hey, I’m a bus stop? The whole thing remains mysterious. It seems more like a matter of luck than anything else to catch a bus around here. You can wait for 30 minutes and not have one single bus coming that goes in your direction. When should the next bus be arriving? Oh, who knows! Who cares! At least we are alive and well. And isn’t that all that counts?
A very big change for me, as a quite formal European, was how outgoing and informal Americans are. Best example: I was walking around the Boston Common at nighttime, just enjoying the beauty of it, as I was witness to the following exchange by two total strangers (to me and to each other), one of whom was walking a beautiful husky on a leash:
Stranger A: “Nice dog!”
Stranger B: “Thanks.”
Stranger A: “You’re welcome.”
Now, an American might not see anything special about that kind of thing, but for me that was rather mind-blowing. I would not have witnessed that kind of friendliness in Germany, simply because we are so much more formal. I think that has a lot to do with the language—in German we have a formal and an informal personal pronoun for the second person, and everyone who is considered a stranger is usually initially addressed with the formal variant. English is missing that additional step of getting to know someone by at some point offering them informality, and I guess that takes away a lot of social inhibitions. I find it extremely liberating.
Also, Americans are very, very friendly. There was one particular instance where I experienced that friendliness. On one of the shittier days I have experienced here so far, I started my Monday morning by getting off the bus not like a normal person who just walks, but by falling. I literally fell off the bus, and I hurt my knee really bad (there are photos of my bruises, but I guess you do not really need to see them), and I could not help myself, I had to shout out a loud OW! when I hit the asphalt. Luckily my knee was the only thing damaged, apart from maybe my pride. But what I had not expected was that just a second after I had fallen there were immediately 4 people surrounding me, helping me to my feet asking if I was okay. That was so nice and helpful of them. I immediately assured them that I was okay, but I think I was so angry and embarrassed that I forgot to say thank you as I rushed away to catch the train. I am sorry about that, so in the unlikely case that the people who helped me that day are reading this: the impolite, clumsy German girl that fell off the bus at Malden Center says thank you!
Now I am not saying that Germans would not help you at all, but I think they would have been a bit more hesitant, and I have seen several instances where help would have been needed and people just walked past. That is depressing, and I am glad to see that people here in the US seem to take being helpful seriously.
Boston, MA, is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. I cannot say it is the most beautiful city in the world, because I have not seen all the cities in the world. But from what I know, Boston is the most beautiful city ever. It is a fascinating mixture of extremely old brick houses and high glass-and-steel sky scrapers, and I love it. The places I have already seen have taken my breath away. Here are some of my impressions.
You can find Miri here:
Part 1 of her story: Miriam’s Stay Abroad in Boston – Storytime – Part One
Part 2 of her story: Miriam’s Stay Abroad in Boston – Storytime – Part Three