30 Non-Americans On The American Norms They Find Weird
By Timmy Parker
Your toilets are too low down and the stalls have massive gaps around the door so that people can see in.
You can put a man on the moon but can’t design a setup whereby I can have a shit in comfortable privacy. Sort it out America.
A few things:
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. Edit: I sometimes had 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.
Why is bread in the USA so sweet? Sandwich bread, hamburger buns, taste like cake but Americans have no idea what you’re talking about because they’re used to it.
Fried sushi. Yep the yanks have gotten one of the world’s healthiest foods and “fixed” it. Fucking delicious though. I miss it.
Soft drink is free flowing, everywhere. McDonalds you get a gigantic cup for a dollar – 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 loved the service in the US at restaurants and bars. I realise they’re doing it for tips but it shits all over service you get at home in Australia.
At bars you order a mixed drink (say a vodka coke) and they’ll free flow the alcohol! And so cheap! We used to frequent dollar drinks places… EDIT: By this I meant they don’t measure out the alcohol in the drink. In Australia the bloke pulls out a little shot glass and will give you not one drop more than a 30mL shot. In the States the dude just pours the bottle over you cup for a while then adds some soda. EDIT AGAIN: I’ve since been informed that the extra booze was all an illusion. Turns out the drinks taste stronger because in the US they had 44mL compared to our standard 30mL.
I spent 6 months living in the USA this year, I had a great time but there are some peculiarities. I’m Aussie.
Flags everywhere. EVERYWHERE.
Price tags without tax included.
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 :(.
Randomly talking to strangers: On talking to folks randomly. I don’t mean polite conversations. When I participated in student exchange there seemed to be a disproportionate amount of really probing conversations. Things I normally wouldn’t chat about on a first conversation. I am pretty private as a person, so I admit this skews my view.
Advertising prescription drugs.
Everything being designed around cars.
Choice. Buying a sandwich was utterly bewildering the first few times.
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-shit-fest-foot-long-sub-roll. Do you want enough ham to sink a battleship, or would you prefer just enough to make you shit 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”
Advertising prescription drugs.
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.
A very blasé approach to credit card security. Signatures don’t matter and no one uses a PIN.
The pledge of allegiance is creepy as fuck. I know most Americans just say it because they have to in school but if you listen to the words it sounds strange to have children just chanting it off
Public Bathroom/Restroom doors!
There are gaps at the sides. You can see people walking by while you’re peeing, so weird!
I’m from the UK.
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.
I know I’m 6,000 comments too late, but I had a co-worker once who came to the US from India in the 70′s around Halloween time. He thought everybody was fucking nuts because everywhere he went all he saw was skeletons.
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” “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!”
Holy shit American bread is awful. We stopped eating burgers and sandwiches after a couple of days cos, I swear, all the bread was full of sugar. Towards the end of or trip we ate at a lovely Italian restaurant that had beautiful bread. Never knew we were so passionate about food until that trip, but damn we missed good bread!
People ordering a large soda even though there is a free refill
You are all so loud! But friendly. I thought americans were amazing
Pickles. Your hidden love for pickles. I have been in the states for like 8 years and you guys give a pickle with everything.
When I was young and naive, I learned from online forums that Americans took shits that clogged their toilets. I assumed that Americans take massive shits that we Europeans just can’t match (after all, everything is bigger in America)
When I came to US, I learned that they just have different toilets with small hole that gets clogged. European toilets never do that. They have bigger hole. You can put tennis ball trough it.
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 fucked 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.
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 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!
For me the weirdest thing was landing at JFK in 2007. First time visiting the US and starting from the border control it was pretty fucked up in my opinion. We spent hours waiting in line with fully armed national guard members watching over us, overly suspicious passport control and those “Are you/are your family involved in slave trading with the kingdom of Babylon by orders of Ramesses II?” waivers. It was all overly suspicious and did not really feel welcome to the country after being watched by soldiers and questioned by customs officers like I’d be traveling to a war torn third world country.
On the other hand, the flags and general patriotism was really weird.
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
-The number of shitty commercials on major cable channels, not to mention the number of shitty TV shows that somehow get constant airtime
-Tax not included in price in shops
-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 rife in nearly every major city
American chocolate sucks.
Lawyer adverts, everywhere.
Proper Saul Goodman style lawyer adverts. The rented villa we stayed in had at least 4 fridge magnets advertising lawyers, brochures with more lawyers lay around the villa, adverts on TV constatly with more lawyers.
It was weird.
Other than that the usual stuff that’s already been said, tipping, your terrible chocolate (except m&ms), waving big signs etc.
How poor the taste of fruit and veg is. I spent 3 years and visited most of the states and never found them to taste right. I’ve had avocados in poor markets in Turkey that would make you moan. Tomatoes in rural Vietnam that would eat like an apple because they were perfect. For a 1st world country, the produce is worse than 2nd and 3rd world countries.
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.
How many VERSIONS of every food product there are. You can’t just have one thing, it has to come in blueberry, vanilla, diet, low fat, low sodium, big, small, round and GRAPE, everything is grape flavoured. Nothing is grape flavoured in the UK.
As an American that lived overseas for most of his life the one thing I’ve heard over and over again is newspaper dispenser machines. The kind where you put a couple of quarters in, open the drawer and take out one newspaper.
Everyone always says “Where I come from, they’d take all the newspapers!” What you are going to do with more than one copy of the day’s paper is beyond me.
Wearing shoes in the house… What the fuck are you doing? You step in all nasty shit, for example, if you stepped on a fruit then walked all over your living room then thats how you get ants.
I find it really weird how college football players are kind of celebrities. They’re scrutinized and have fans and do TV interviews, and it just boggles my mind so much. They’re just students that do an extra-curricular activity! I don’t understand.
About 80% of Americans i met didn’t trust their government (don’t blame them though)
TV is weird in America, constant advertisement & there is blatant propaganda from both Fox & CNN. No neutral political new network it seemed.
Food wastage is unreal in America!
But Americans are nice people, nothing but love for them!
Big list of everything I remember being different when I visited the US:
Everything is very far away. Big country, I guess.
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.
Weird as hell ice cream flavours. I bought “dinosaur eggs”-flavour that was blue with chocolate eggs in in a regular supermarket. Is this an American thing, or a strange-town-I-visited thing?
Motorised mobility wheelchairs in supermarkets. I’ve only ever seen maybe 1 or 2 emergency-only selfies in Tesco, but in the US, they had a lot of these and you could walk right up and take them if you wanted to. It seems strange, that someone who needs a motorised wheelchair wouldn’t have their own, but I think this could be a knock-on effect of expensive healthcare, maybe…?
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!
Flags all over the place. Flags are a little more common in England since the Olympics and royal wedding though.
Bread is sweet and chocolate isn’t? Pancakes for breakfast was weird too, but there was an IHOP right next to our hotel and that was pretty great. I kinda miss it.
Waiters that are really, REALLY pushy about special offers. OK, you already told me I get free chips if I get a Large burger, but I didn’t even want a burger. No, please don’t tell me about all the extras and sides I could get for the burger as well. I DON’T WANT IT.
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.
Toilets with giant door gaps. Why, why, why?
Terraced and semi-detached buildings are not very common at all, and streets are really wide. I suppose because most of American buildings were built relatively recently, whereas a lot of Britain was built up before cars were around, so we often have smaller streets and compact houses.
I’m a big lover of documentaries, but I could not watch them in the US. There is lots and lots and lots and LOTS of talking, cartoon sound effects, and loud music. You could be watching a lion lazily looking at a gazelle miles away and it’s blaring music that sounds like an action film finale, whilst the narrator talks about lions for twelve paragraphs using all sorts of weird, casual expressions, and every time the gazelle moves it plays a loud “BWOOOIING” sound effect. Well, that was an exeggeration, but do you get what I mean? It felt like – and I don’t know how true this is – that documentaries in the US are treated like educational shows for reluctant children whose parents made them watch it, rather than proper a series an adult might watch out of genuine interest.
This sounds so patronising and I’m really sorry if it is but… we went to a lot of theme parks and it always entertained us how Americans say “vehicle”.
Not a difference but also pretty funny: Americans seem to underestimate what foreigners know about the US. I know you say “eggplant”, “cilantro”, “restroom” and “truck” instead of “aubergine”, “coriander”, “loo” and “lorry”. We get tonnes of films and TV programmes and books from the US, probably more than you get from Britain, so we have heard these terms before! Again, though, I do appreciate their consideration, but it’s still a bit funny how they act as if you’re learning a whole new language being there.
Another apology for if this sounded patronizing or mean-spirited. People from the US were all very lovely people when I went there, I had a wonderful time, and I mean no offence.
It started with a right swipe, a little green heart. Tinder of course.
Though I acknowledge and appreciate the differences in human experiences, and while your heartbreak is (and always will be) uniquely and completely your own, I must urge you to consider that I have been where you are.
By Devon Oyler
With his hat cocked back, body tilted away from his cane, and right forefinger pointing directly at his audience, Joseph Ducreux commands the attention of those viewing his self-portrait.
I was born in 1990; he was born in 1973. I’m 23; he just turned 40.