Helpful Americans: Bob’s Lesson of the Week

One of the quirks of being an international student is that each Monday I receive a ‘lesson of the week’ email. They come from Bob*, the Director of the International Student Center, and tell me how to live in America. You may be familiar with some of Bob’s earlier wisdom from the ‘Advice for international students’ post, or the ‘They do things differently here’ page. My parents told me from their years of living in USA, that Americans are the most helpful and hospitable nationality of people they have ever met.  I have to agree. And Bob is a charming example of this.

In this post I share with you the titles of Bob’s ‘lessons’ and the salient point/s from each.

 The Yard, Tag and Garage Sales

  • People sell used stuff. You can pick up a bargain, or make some money.

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

  •  Everyone takes holidays in December. Prices go up. Book ahead.

Have you been selected for Jury Duty?

  • International students cannot serve on a jury. This violation of your student visa could bar you from future US citizenship.

The Ice Missile Law

  • You are legally obliged to remove snow from your car before driving it. This is dangerous.

What does RSVP mean?

  • It is common courtesy to respond to an invitation that requests an “RSVP”.  Failure to do so reflects poorly on you and may cause undue stress and problems for the host /hostess who cannot adequately plan for the event.


  • Traditionally it is time to celebrate the end of a bountiful harvest season. Typically, one should buy, distribute and eat candy.

Grocery Saving Tips

  • Coupons are an invitation to save money. Buy a folder and file your coupon clippings by categories to save time at the checkout.


(this had two sub-categories – daylight savings, and punctuality)

  • Turn your clocks back on Saturday 2nd November. Also known as ‘Fall back’.
  • Americans place particular value on promptness and punctuality.
  • Direct from the horses’s mouth: ‘Time is a very important commodity in our culture.  Think of “time” as money, where we try to “save” and “spend”.’

Now, where would I be without Bob’s lessons? I’m glad you asked.

Firstly, after receiving a $120 fine for driving to class with a snow-filled car bonnet, and having not ‘fallen back,’ I would be an hour early to my lectures, wearing something I bought new at a store instead of second hand at a yard sale. I would have missed the chance to eat lots of candy at the end of October, and I would have upset my friends by not bothering to RSVP to their Halloween party. I may have served on a jury and convicted a felon only to have the decision overturned on a technicality (Australian student clause), and later had my green card application rejected. Finally, I would be stuck on campus over the Thanksgiving break because I hadn’t thought to book a plane ticket.

Actually, that last one is true.

*Bob’s name has not been changed.


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