Ever since I started traveling and splitting time between living out of a suitcase and Berlin, Germany, I’ve started to realize that there are some things that we Americans do that are seriously strange, and it took going abroad, to every continent in the world, for me to realize it.
So I’m here to set the record straight on what people abroad really think about America. It’s not what the media says, and I bet you’ll be pretty surprised at the things that people find confusing about our lifestyle.
Here are 8 things about the good ‘ol US of A that confuse the heck out of everyone else:
1. Why isn’t tax included in the displayed price?
I’ve come to realize that the States is the only place where taxes aren’t already included in displayed prices.
When I stop at the gas station to buy some much-anticipated cheese-its, the last thing I want to do is mathematics. What is this inexcusable hijacking of my brain power which I muse use to figure out the sales tax, which changes with each state by the way, to figure out that $1.99 is a dirty lie?
Stop toying with me, America.
2. How do I know how you really feel about anything if you’re enthusiastic about everything?
It took traveling to realize that not everyone’s favorite descriptive word is, “awesome!”
This coffee is awesome, that photo is next-level, and yesterday’s lunch was life-changing.
My European friends complain that they never actually know how I feel about anything because I say that everything is ‘awesome.’ Something has to be pretty damn marginal for me to even say it’s ‘just ok.’ I can see how this would be confusing, but it’s just how we are!
3. Saying you want to hang out and not meaning it at all.
It’s a pretty American thing to say, “We should totally hang out again sometime,” without meaning it one iota.
I thought this was normal, but then I traveled, was invited out and said, “yeah totally I’ll be there” (enthusiastically!), and was asked the next day why I didn’t show up. I thought neither party expected that I show up. I thought that’s just how we leave things because it’s weird to flat out reject someone and not at least pretend like you’d like to spend some of your precious time with that person again.
I now realize what’s weirder is to say you want to hang out with no intention of actually hanging out. Why do we do that? Why can’t we just be straightforward? Why beat around the bush?
4. Why are you so sensitive?
In America we serve up what’s called a sh*t sandwich. If we have something negative to say, first we say something nice, then the critique, and then something nice again to soften the blow. But honestly, we’d rather not say anything at all if we can avoid it.
I have learned that if I want a real opinion on something, I have to ask my German friends, because they will tell it to me straight.
“Does this video that I spent hours editing look good?”
“No, I would change this and that and this about it. Why did you say that here? It makes no sense. Also, that part looks bad, you should consider cutting it.”
The first time I got that response I felt like I’d been smacked. Then I wondered, why did I ask for an opinion if I didn’t want an actual opinion? The final product came out better because I’d had frank criticisms. If I asked my friends at home, they would have said it looked “great” because they fear hurting my feelings and it would have come out crappy. Being direct saves so much time and effort.
5. Why do you have to tip everyone and why is it so much money?
Tipping is the highest in the US than the vast majority of the world. I’ve had Brits and Aussies argue with me ‘til they were blue in the face that they hate the practice of tipping and think that the restaurant should just pay their employees a fair wage.
What they don’t realize is the service in Australia is crap. I can’t even tell you how many times someone just forgot my order down under because she didn’t have to work for a tip. She earned $20 per hour without having to put in extra effort, so there was no incentive to work hard. Also? That salad cost me that full $20 she made.
At home, waiters are attentive, came back and refilled my coca cola classic twice, and was really nice and enthusiastic about the whole thing. In the end it cost me the same as the salad in Australia, with the tip.
So I say to my friends abroad, get over this one, guys, and just tip the poor lady 20%. Let it go.
6. Why are you so darn patriotic?
People abroad tend to find it really confusing that we display the American flag everywhere and said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning before school growing up. To them this kind of blind patriotism is really strange.
I think they just don’t get that half the time when we say, “’Murica” it’s a half for real and half a lighthearted joke that only we seem to understand. Dressing up in red, white, and blue is partially just for the fun of it. I doubt most Americans with any sense of the outside world truly believe the United States to be the “best country in the world” now that we’re broke as can be, paying way too much for healthcare that only half of us even have access to, and watching as our politicians lie right to our faces.
7. Why don’t you guys travel?
It’s true, fewer than half of Americans hold a passport. We haven’t come very far from the days when the Puritan value of working hard trumped all other important qualities, such as any kind of work-life balance.
The country is big and just about everything from tropical Hawaii, to mountainous ski resorts in Colorado are available. Traveling to another state in the US is akin to traveling to another country in Europe, distance-wise, so that’s a big contributing factor as well.
8. Why do you hate things like pedestrians and walking?
If I didn’t pollute the environment with my gas guzzler then how would the “green” companies make any money trying to clean up my mess? I’m just doing my part. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll walk right on over to my Hummer so that I can drive to McDonald’s as I’m desirous of some fine American cuisine.
Just kidding. I can’t tell you how much I adore being able to hop on public transit in Europe, my bicycle, or just to take a walk somewhere in cities that are more friendly to pedestrians. A city that’s built for that kind of movement makes me feel like a part of it, not just an afterthought.
America, we need more cities organized like those in Europe. Sorry, BP, you (and your profits) can suck an egg.
That’s most of what I hear when I travel abroad about the USA, apart from genuinely horrified questions about whether I really think Trump can become president (side note: I sure hope not).
For more from Kristin Addis, follow her on Instagram @BeMyTravelMuse or buy her book A Thousand New Beginnings.