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Open your ears and take in America’s distinctive hum, from the honking cars to the whooping at football games. Very soon, you’ll come to like—or at least understand—what you’re hearing.
Whooping at sporting events
At first this celebratory vocalization—somewhere between ululating and honking—will drive you nuts. Eventually, you might develop an appreciation for the unadulterated enthusiasm this all-American noise represents. Just try not to catch a whoop directly in the ear.
Football armor colliding with other football armor
When NFL players do the thing that looks like a group hug with the pushing and the grunting, their shoulder pads bump and make a distinctive, satisfying crashing sound. At least—full disclosure here—this is what people I know who actually watch American football tell me happens.
Honking, braking and swerving cars
In big U.S. cities, drivers are impatient, impertinent maniacs. They think emergency braking is regular braking and they smack their horn just because it’s there. Initially, this behavior, and the resulting sounds, are at annoying and mildly terrifying. But bad driving noise soon becomes a familiar backdrop to urban American life.
Shouting orders in restaurants
The sound of servers delivering Americans’ overcomplicated food and beverage orders to kitchen staff is an audio experience to behold: Fast and loud with menu items and cooking preferences abbreviated to single syllables.
Specifically, raccoons ferreting about in the garden—snarling, purring and chittering—then knocking over your bins in their search for anything edible. They’re bolder, louder intruders than British foxes, who tend to take a stealthier approach to dismantling your trash.
Emergency service sirens
Although they vary from state to state, the reliably terrifying whirring and screeching of American police cars, ambulances and fire trucks is more aggressive sounding than the U.K. equivalent. You won’t persuade yourself to find these noises pleasant, but eventually you’ll startle less (jumping a mere couple of feet in the air as opposed to the usual 10) when you hear a U.S. siren.
Wind through tall palms
Coastal, palm lined parts of the U.S. have a specific sound. Above the seaside bustle, there’s the undulating whir and gentle rustle of the breeze whipping past these tropical trees. Just lovely.
Car seatbelt alarms
Forget to put on your belt in a modern American car and there’s that familiar, slightly muted “bong bong bong.” The noise seems to cut across car types and, though irritating, it’s manageable when you realize it’s there for good reason, and might actually prevent you from ending up as person pate in a crash.
That near-constant clicking sound you hear in summer all over the US is male cicadas calling out for a mate at volume – up to 120 decibels per beast, depending on species. When they click en masse—one critter seemingly spurring on his friends—the noise will drown out anything else in the vicinity.
NPR: the shows, the pledge drives, the presenters
If you were a Radio 4 person back home, chances are you’ve switched over to America’s National Public Radio. You’ll come to relish the Harvard-dry hosts, staple shows (Morning Edition, Car Talk, This American Life) and even the endlessly earnest requests for your cash, which allows NPR to continue providing the soundtrack to your American life.
View all posts by Ruth Margolis.