When you grow up and live your life in one place, it’s sometimes very easy to forget about what’s “normal” to us but completely strange to others. I find it incredibly interesting (and sometimes funny!) as an American to step back and hear what people from other cultures and countries say about their strange experiences in the US and/or with other Americans.
It’s the same when James and I were traveling to other countries around the world… For example, some “strange” things we encountered while traveling included squat toilets in China and Vietnam in stalls that often had NO doors, and in South Africa people say, “Awww, shame!” constantly in conversation, even if they aren’t expressing sadness about what you just said. Japan has shrimp-flavored potato chips and snacks everywhere you look, and the fruit in Austrailia is HUGE HUGE and almost fake-looking for how strangely beautiful and perfect it all looks. These are all NORMAL things to each of these four cultures, but may seem strange to us Americans experiencing it for the first time!
Below are quotes I’ve gathered from various articles and forums online from foreigners about their views and experiences in the U.S. Now, keep in mind: yes, a lot of them are a bit critical of our country, culture, and traditions, but try to keep an open mind and not be offended: These were honest impressions and experiences people had that were strange and out of the ordinary for THEIR culture. If you went to another country and experienced things that were totally different from YOUR norm, you may say some similar things as well…
“I loved the service in the US at restaurants and bars. I realise they’re mainly only doing it for tips but then going home it’s horrible for the service you get in Australia.”
- “Flags are everywhere in America. EVERYWHERE.”
- “Jaywalking is a crime? I did this a lot in the US without realising it was supposed to be illegal (albeit one of those crimes no one really ever gets caught for). Oops. Sorry, guys!”
- “Advertising for prescription drugs was strange and all over the place… TV, radio, ads. Never seen anything like it anywhere else. That was the weirdest one for me, “Ask your doctor for brand x antidepressants” type commercials on TV. In the UK, your doctor tells you what drugs you should take, not the other way round…. These companies are SELLING to the people, rather than a doctor really assess what drugs you actually need.”
- “I’m American, but a visiting Italian friend was very puzzled at Americans’ use of the phrase, “Oh, really?” in group conversations. Somehow he took that as a person challenging his opinion, when in reality, it’s just some habit a lot of us have that basically means, “Interesting. Can you elaborate?” The guy was red in the face after an hour because he literally thought everyone in our group was challenging every single thing he said.”
“Flying WITHIN the US is soooooo expensive compared to flying between Europen cities. I don’t understand why??”
- “Why is bread in the USA so sweet? Sandwich bread, hamburger buns, they all taste like cake but Americans have no idea what you’re talking about because they’re used to it.”
- “The level of homelessness was a huge shock to me. And I feel like a lot of people spit in the street, from street thugs to businessmen in suits.”
- “In America, it seems so easy for people to return their purchases. Like, buy something then return if you change your mind. In my country you can’t do that, unless it has explicitly stated warranty and factory defects. You can’t return something just because you decided you didn’t like that color.”
- “Fried sushi!? So you take one of the world’s healthiest foods and “fix” it by dousing it in a ton of artery-clogging oil. F–#!ing delicious though. I have to say I DO miss it!”
- “In the US they had a very blasé approach to credit card security. Signatures don’t matter and no one uses a PIN.”
- “Your toilets are too low down and the stalls have massive gaps around the door so that people can see in. I just want to take my sh#! In peace, but people can easily look through the gaps to see me sitting there!”
- “Americans are very loud, laugh a lot and can also be a bit touchy-feely. Not that this is bad; when I was in the US, everyone was very friendly and I had a great time. But they’re always laughing and shouting and going “Oh my god”, it’s like everything is super exciting for them. The bit that was kind of strange was that they’d often touch my arms or shoulders or hair, or gesture towards me. That’s something that’s generally a bit intimate and intrusive in England. Again, everyone was friendly so I’m not saying this to be mean, but it does take some getting used to, because it’s a bit in-your-face at first.”
- “Soft drink is free flowing, everywhere. McDonalds you get a gigantic cup for ONLY A DOLLAR – and it comes with unlimited refills. Even at a restaurant if you half finish your coke the waitress will bring you another one. The first time you’re like, “hey I didn’t order this” but then you realise it’s free.”
- “I’m a non-American living in the US, here are a few things I have noticed:
-Eating salad before the main course…wtf
-Called the main course an ‘entree’
-Having a ridiculous amount of flags
-Tax not included in price in shops
-Toilets with giant door gaps. Why, why, why?
-In some cities (not all) people give you strange looks if you walk around the city and don’t drive (saw this in Houston a lot)
-How poverty is so widespread in nearly every major city
-Food wastage is unreal in America!
-But Americans are nice people, nothing but love for them!”
- “TV is weird in America, constant advertisement & there is blatant propaganda from both Fox & CNN. No neutral political news network it seemed.”
- “Sarcasm and self-depreciating humour is not as well-recieved. As someone who uses a lot of self-depreciating humour, Americans were always trying to comfort me after I made a joke about myself. In England, people tended just laugh or join in by making a similar joke about themselves. It was rather sweet though.”
- “Guns. So strange. Went to this sport shop to buy goggles in Texas. At one end of the store the biggest collections of rifles, guns, machetes and army gadget I’ve ever seen. So I decide to snap a picture to send home and the shop assistant comes and say “Sir, I’m so sorry” and I say “Oh, I can’t take a picture?” “No, go ahead, I’m sorry we don’t have ammos anymore”. (It was a couple of weeks after the school shooting – Sandy Hook).
When I then told this to my Texan friends I realised all of them (even at the wedding I was invited to) had at least one gun, if not several. When they told me it was for self-defense and I told them we don’t have that many guns in Europe they asked me what would I do to defend myself and they laughed their ass of when I replied “Well, I run!”
- There’s a special occasion that can be commercialized almost every month. My room-mate’s mom is awesome and she’ll send us care packages every month. I was amazed there’s a special occasion every month and there’s always cookies, knick knacks, candy, accessories, clothes, etc. that’s made in America just for it.
Jan: New Year/welcome back from your break!
Feb: Valentine’s day
Mar: St Patty’s day
She didn’t send any for summer since we’re usually studying abroad/traveling, so no idea.
Sep: Back to school
I’m not complaining but damn there’s a lot to get excited about!
“Pickles. Your hidden love for pickles. I have been in the states for like 8 years and you guys give a pickle with everything.”
- “Political correctness: Americans are so scared to insult people or be considered racist. I’d joke around with someone then later get a text message from them apologising. It was quite humorous. I sometimes had people ask me the question, “Y’all and New Zealanders don’t like each other right?” I had to explain that making fun of someone usually meant we were cool with you.”
- “Wearing shoes in the house… What the heck are you doing? You step in all nasty crap all around the city and drag it into the house. For example, if you stepped on a fruit then walked all over your living room. Well… then thats how you get ants!”
- “The weird institutional support for social hierarchies in the education system. In other countries, parents and teachers try to encourage kids to treat everyone the same, but in the US they actually seem to reinforce the idea that some are better than others. Having a Mr & Mrs Popular that get formally appointed “prom king” and “prom queen” and everyone is supposed to clap for them is just ridiculously elitist. Equally the whole sorority and fraternity system, where people get into the club based on other members ranking them as people and they then try to collectively climb the social cool level by having parties with cooler clubs of the other gender. It’s really messed up, and most of them encourage a sort of 18 year old view of the world that most Europeans of a similar age have grown out of.”
- “The assumption that all Asians are extremely young, which was amusing but also endearing. A lady cop in DC told my 26 year old self that I looked like a 14 year old wandering around on my own, and asked me where my parents were. When I told her I was 26, she didn’t believe me and I had to show her my passport, to which she said “Y’all all look like babies, you Asians.”
- “The pledge of allegiance is just plain creepy. I know most Americans just say it because they have to in school but if you really listen to the words it sounds strange to have children just chanting it off.”
- “Tipping: We don’t do it in Australia. For someone who has never had to do it, it was incredibly hard for me to wrap my head about how much is appropriate for the service. I find it especially hard because overall I find the service too pushy. Please leave me alone 🙁 “
- “When I lived in NYC I could never get used to the cashier asking for my ID when I was buying beer at the supermarket. Legal age in most countries is 18 and really no one asks me for id anywhere else, like EVER. But in the US they think I look 20 or something… it’s annoying to always need your id with you at all times no matter what age you are. It’s just alcohol, people!!”
And to end this post, here is a REALLY FUNNY exchange somebody wrote about in regards to ordering a sandwich in American versus ordering one in the UK:
- Buying a sandwich was utterly bewildering the first few times in the US.
For example, in the UK a typical exchange between me and sandwich guy might go like this over the period of 30 seconds:
Me: “Can I have a ham sandwich please”
SG: “White or brown?”
SG: “Any salad or sauces?”
Me: “Lettuce and mayo please”
SG: “Here you go. That’ll be £15 million, and your car and your house.”
Similar exchange in the US, over ten minutes:
Me: “Can I have a ham sandwich please”
SG: (over-enthusistically) “Sure thing, Sir! Which of these two thousand varieties of bread would you like today?” (None of which qualify as bread, but that’s another subject…)
Me: “Oh, er, not sure really. That one please”
SG: “Sure! That’s a multi-grained-crap-tasting-full-o-sugar-crap-fest-foot-long-sub-roll. Do you want enough ham to sink a battleship, or would you prefer just enough to make you crap like a bear for an entire week?”
Me: “Erm, I’ll go for merely enough to induce meat-sweats for 8 hours, thanks”
SG: “What kind of cheese are you after?”
Me: “What have you got?”
SG: “Montery Jack, Jack-o-Lantern, Jack of all Trades, Tastes of Jack Shit, Chilli-Jack, Rubbery-Jack and Jackie Chan.”
Me: “No Cheddar then. I’ll go for Monterey Jack”
SG: “Gherkins Pickles?”
Me: (confused and overwhelmed by all the choice) “Can I just have the sandwich now?”
SG: “Sure! I just need to know what else you want on it. Jalapenos?”
Me: (exasperated): “No, thanks but re…”
SG: “…Olives? Cucumber? Lettuce? Relish?”
Me: (eyes glazed over): “No, thank you, it’s fine as it is”
SG: “Toasted, roasted, basted? Mayo, coleslaw, salt or pepper?”
Me: “No, thank you, really, the sandwich is fine as it is, please can I have it now before I starve to death?”
SG: (confused) “Sure thing! Here you go. That’ll be $0.000000001 please”
Haha!! I love that! I crack up every time I read that dialog.
The most COMMON complaint/observation I read over and over in these posts were three main things in the US: 1. We apparently have US flags EVERYWHERE you look, 2. The bread in America is cheap and full of sugar, and 3. The gaps in the bathroom stalls are way too huge and people can see in while you are going to the bathroom.
What did you find surprising about these comments? If you are a non-American reading this and have visited or lived in the US, tell me about what you found to be different/surprising/annoying about American trends/customs? Please share below in the comments section!