Why Is America Different – Part I

I often write of how different America is from Europe in many respects; it’s time to explain those differences. I’m sure I won’t be able to fit everything into this one post, so I will definitely come back to the subject. For now, just a handful of notes – maybe you will add some of your own in the comments section.

City Made of Blocks

Cities over here are mostly built on a grid of squares, which are called „blocks”. After a minute of walking you stop at a street light, then cross the street, again walk for about a minute – and stop at streetlights once more. Usually, there’s a pharmacy or a corner deli right next to you. If you decide to turn, the situation will repeat itself. That’s why you use the measure of blocks here when you’re giving directions to someone: „It’s just two blocks away”, or: „My gym is just two blocks from here”, or – most likely – „That asshole I dated still lives one block away!”.

Cosmetic Store is Also a Pharmacy

Speaking of pharmacies. One of the first surprises was the fact that what I know in Poland as a pharmacy doesn’t exist in the States. There’s merely a counter at which you can retrieve your medication or buy pills for whatever ails you – but it’s located in what in Poland is known as a cosmetic store, and here is called a drug store. These places are huge and usually stay open 24/7. You will find here everything you usually buy at a Polish pharmacy + beverages (including beer) + snacks + ice cream (of course) + some things usually associated with a stationery store. The most popular drug stores in NY are Duane Reade, Walgreens, and CVS / Pharmacy.


They do not open the way Polish windows do. They don’t swing outward like a door, but you have to slide them up and down (no, they won’t fall down on your head: they’re firmly placed in their frames). Usually, each window is enhanced with a net, which prevents unexpected guests to fly into your room.

Air Conditioners

Speaking of windows, one has to mention air conditioners, usually located on the window sills. Which means that you will have less sunlight during the summer. Still, A/C is indispensible, for you may not be able to survive the summer heat waves without them.


In many apartments, especially in older buildings, it happens that the faucet is split in two – one for running hot (and I mean hot!) water and one for cold. I remember seeing the same thing in the UK. I have to admit that I don’t understand the logic behind this solution and am always aggravated by it (I always burn my hands!).

A Line to A Bus

This I have also observed in Great Britain, so it’s not purely a New York phenomenon, but it’s worth mentioning. Americans will be surprised I even mention it, but Poles won’t be. When a bus pulls down at the bus stop over here, the passengers don’t push and shove one another as if they were fighting for the last available life boat at the Titanic – instead, they calmly (!) await their turn and punch their tickets (or slide their card, or pay with change) next to the driver’s seat, who usually greets them with a friendly smile. Weird, right?

To Be Continued…