"L'Amérique, l'Amérique, je veux l'avoir et je l'aurai."
I have always been attracted, even fascinated by the United States. I used to dream, by only watching the map of this large country. It seems to me that every city, every State, evokes to me a lot of things and images. And even before I first laid my foot there. The blockbusters of Hollywood probably had some influence.
I therefore did not hesitate when I was offered to go there for the first time. Let's rather say that I earned the right to take part to this trip. It was indeed no holiday, but the mission was to represent Belgium in a professional exchange travel.
My personal experience of Uncle Sam's country is not as broad as I would like it to be, and mainly concentrates to New England and New York. But there is no doubt that it will be extended and deepened (read the comments of my trip to the west)!
My first impression is that, on the opposite of what people can think, it is more difficult to enter there than in Russia ! Even with a valid visa (normally a recent passport is enough for citizens of the European Union), you will be required to answer -preferably correctly- the many questions of suspicious customs officers, before they decide that you are allowed to stay.
Once inside, one cannot really speak of a disorientation : USA are although culturally closer to us than Indonesia ! I will not deny that some differences exist, but you get used to them very quickly. Even very easily in New England, that is maybe the most "European" area of the USA. It happened certainly not by chance that Vermont and Massachusetts were the very first of the fifty States of the Union to carry a bill ruling same sex marriages following the example of the Netherlands and Belgium (without saying here whether this is a good or bad thing).
The United States are a young country, used to having to fight to run ahead. They are the world champions of "let do", but not of "let go through" (see hereabove), of marketing and patriotism : everything is done "the American way". The many successes that Americans have gathered all along their short history have printed and reinforced in the national, collective imaginary the feeling that "America is best". Without taking a stand on this sensitive matter, it is howerver understandable that this might irritate. For instance, the national base-ball championship is called "world series" or "world championship". It would be the same as saying in Belgium that the winner of the Belgian cup of "balle pelote" is world champion of this sport. Even if in facts, it is the reality, such a pretentiousness would make people smile on this side of the Atlantic.
Another pronounced, striking trait of character of Americans is their sense of duty and respect. It is an astonishing to walk down the streets of New York and to feel so safe. One can perfectly go for a walk with the eyes shut without danger : drivers are very courteous, more than pedestrians, and pay attention for you. Even if you decide to cross the street at red light signal. And this is valid, not only for drivers...
This politeness is the same in the eveyday life. Americans are very pleasant people. If you have, like me, the opportunity to stay, for a longer or shorter period, in a family rather than in a hotel, you will experience this more strongly. You will rapidly be part of it and will certainly wish to do the same for them. Don't be surprised if, when going for a walk, everyone says "hello" and asks if you are okay... One could consider this, with one's foreign eyes, as a reflex in their social life, but you quickly feel that they ask it with conviction.
It seems to me as well that Americans are much more open (to dialogue and discovery) than many Europeans.
If many people consider the USA as the country of shallowness, excessiveness (everything is / must be bigger, nicer, ...) and of jungle ("Fight to survive, and if you survive, you will be able / allowed to have your place under the sun"), it remains however true that this country deserves respect for what it is, and I can only advise you to get there once. I bet that you will go back. I have been back and should get there agin soon, this time to the West. Rendez-vous over there !