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As an American traveler, you’ll find that basic everyday items or activities can sometimes be different when visiting another country and culture. But what about the US? In this post/video, we’re going to examine the weird American things that are baffling to international visitors.
A couple of quick disclaimers
This isn’t an in-depth analysis of America
This is meant to be a fun list of observations. I did a similar list of things I noticed when I visited England a few years ago. Oddly enough, it’s the most popular video on my channel. The irony is that it’s probably the video that I spent the least amount of time prepping or researching since it was just my observations. If I knew it would blow up, I would have spent more time researching the various items that I covered. In fact, I had to do a follow-up on post/video for it since I was getting so many hate messages on things I got wrong in the video.
This isn’t a political statement or discussion
Secondly, there’s obviously more heavy and serious differences with the US. While I’m going to mention items like healthcare and guns, I’m not trying to get too deep into these issues. Obviously, everyone has a different perspective, so I’m not looking for a political debate on this site. If anything, this list is just meant to give you awareness of things that we think are normal or acceptable but might be shocking to others.
22 odd things for visitors to America
Below are things that I’ve picked up from friends and family who have visited and commented on them.
1. Using money that’s the same color and size:
I think most Americans never think twice about this until you visit another country and notice that the notes are different colors and sizes. I have to admit that I kind of like that our notes are the same size since they fit easily into my wallet. Though when I consider that those with disabilities might not be able to distinguish between different bills, it’s changed the way I feel about them. I think a bit of color and variation would help, even for those who might be visiting our country.
2. Aversion to coins:
This is another thing that seems to surprise visitors, and it is also something that I struggle with when visiting other countries. We seem to dislike using coins in the US, and just from personal experience, I rarely carry any coins in my pockets. I know people who don’t even carry cash, though I’m definitely not there yet. But you’ll notice fairly quickly that coins are much more popular outside of the US. And you could argue that the longevity and durability of coin currency are much better than paper, though I know many other countries are also using polymer notes instead of paper to address the durability issue with cash.
3. Putting ice in our drinks:
One thing that we take for granted is almost always getting ice-cold water. This is not the case in many other countries, including places in Europe. In fact, some visitors find it off-putting that we always get ice with our water in restaurants. I like it, but I can see how it might be weird if you’re not used to it.
4. Our date format:
If you travel anywhere else in the world, you’ll likely see the date listed as day, month, and year, rather than month, day, year. Most times, it’s easy to pick up, but there are times when this could cause major confusion. If you’re traveling and you see a date that could be interpreted in different ways, you’ll want to clarify to avoid any confusion. If you’re traveling abroad, it’s safe to assume that the format being used is not the one that we use in the US.
5. Prescription drug ads:
One thing that seems to make a lot of my international friends and family laugh is the prescription drug ads in the US. I think we are just so used to seeing them, but when I look at them objectively, I completely understand why someone would think that they are strange. Not only are they always cheesy but the quick disclaimers at the end of ads that warn of major complications or death must also seem nuts to those who see them for the first time.
6. Adding sugar to food items:
This is something that also shocks a lot of visitors. We add sugar to most food items. I think there has been a lot more awareness of this issue in the past decade, but it’s still hard to find basic food items without some added sugar or, even worse, high-fructose corn syrup. Even something as simple as bread often has sugar added to it in the US, and it’s an effort to find ones that don’t have any sugar.
7. Using the Imperial system of measurements:
We are one of the last hold outs of the Imperial measurement system. While most of the world has adopted the metric system, we seem stuck on using miles, yards, feet, ounces, gallons, and other outdated measurements. Though I was surprised that the British still use miles to measure distance while using the metric system for most other measurements. And to complicate things even more, our gallon measurement is different than the British’s gallon measurement. It’s so confusing!
8. Getting free drink refills:
One thing that we take for granted in the US is free refills. In most places in the world, it is not customary for restaurants to provide a free refill on drinks. Most times, you’ll have to pay for another drink if you want a refill.
9. Having servers that take away your plates so quickly:
This one is that I hate as well. In the US, it seems like servers are racing to take away your plate as soon as they think you might be done. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just put down my fork only to have a server rush over and try to take the plate away. I think it’s because it’s perceived as a high level of service. But I’m with international visitors on this one…I wish they would just leave our plates alone until everyone finishes eating.
10. Taking leftovers home:
In the US, it’s often customary to take any leftovers from restaurants home. While this seems perfectly normal to us, I know it is baffling to visitors from other countries. I like that we can take leftovers home, but it might also explain why our portion sizes tend to be larger than other places in the world.
11. Having gaps in bathroom stalls:
This is another one of those observations that I never even thought about until others mentioned it to me, but it’s true. Most public bathroom stalls and doors in the US have gaps. I did research to see the reasons behind it, but I couldn’t find a concrete answer for it. If any of you know why, please share in the comment section below. I’m actually curious about this one.
12. Not having a lot of vacation time:
This is one is very true. The culture in the US is work-driven, and as a society, we often prioritize productivity over wellness. In most countries, vacation time is double or triple what you would find in the US. This is definitely something that I would love to see in the US, especially, given that I love to travel so much and often struggle to find the time.
13. Weird payment rituals:
Payments are one area where the US seems strangely behind. For example, the process of taking someone’s credit card away from them and processing it out of view is uncomfortable and strange for folks visiting in the US. For almost everywhere else in the world, the transaction is processed at the table by the server in view of the customer. Also, the fact that we still sign for transactions and use personal checks for payments seems outdated to a lot of international travelers, and I would agree!
14. Keeping eggs in the refrigerator:
I also wondered why most other countries do not keep their eggs in the fridge. After doing some research, I found that there is a difference in the way we treat our eggs, which makes them more susceptible to salmonella if left in warm temperatures. It’s obscure, and it’s one of those things that I never questioned until I saw it in another country.
15. Pharmacies that sell items other than medicine:
In most other countries, pharmacies are dedicated places that sell medicine and help diagnose and treat medical conditions. In the US, pharmacies sell a lot of things that are not health-related. In fact, you could argue that they sell a lot of items that are bad for your health like alcohol, cigarettes, and candy. I never thought about it, but it is strange.
16. Strong patriotism:
We are a patriotic bunch here in the US, and you’ll notice that we are a lot more accustomed to showing our national pride than in other countries. I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing, but it’s just something to be aware of when traveling. And it might be worth reconsidering an overtly patriotic outfit when traveling, especially if you’re trying to blend in and experience the local culture.
17. Customizing your restaurant order:
One thing that I find amazing in the US is that you can pretty much customize your orders in restaurants. Maybe you don’t want bacon, or you want the salad dressing on the side. Most things are fair game when you’re ordering food in the US. That is not the case when traveling abroad. You’ll likely get surly responses if you try to alter menu items in most countries.
18. Inconsistent age restrictions:
Most travelers find our age restrictions to be very strange, and I have to agree. You can buy a gun and serve in the military before you can vote or drink. It doesn’t make much sense. It’s not uncommon to see younger folks enjoying a drink in other countries or even families with kids enjoying an afternoon or evening at a pub.
19. Strange fake cheese:
When I was in grad school, I had a classmate from France who was intrigued by our cheese. I never thought twice about it, but it is strange that you can buy cheese in the US that’s in a spray can. Of course, that might not be real cheese, but the fact that we think of and classify it as cheese is odd to many visitors.
20. Complexity of healthcare:
I don’t want to get into a debate over healthcare. There’s enough of that on the news. However, it is a fact that our healthcare system is complex. If you’re a visitor in the US and need medical attention, you’ll likely have to pay a lot of money out-of-pocket. This is generally not the case in other countries where access to healthcare is considered to be a right rather than a privilege.
21. Gun culture:
Another controversial observation is our acceptance of firearms. This isn’t unique to the US. However, in terms of developed countries, the US is a lot more open to guns and other weapons than other countries. Even if travelers don’t see them, there are enough signs and warnings to make visitors a bit uncomfortable. Again, this isn’t meant to spark a debate. It’s just an observation that others have shared with me when visiting.
22. Perception of brands:
This one was surprising to me. When I was in England a few years ago, I went to a pub with my wife’s family. We started talking about beer, and I mentioned that Stella Artois was a popular upscale beer in the US. Everyone thought I was nuts. In fact, Stella Artois is commonly called “wife-beater” in Europe because of its high alcohol content and its association with binge drinking and aggressive behaviors. It still makes me laugh since Stella Artois has marketed themselves as a more respectable beer choice in the US, and I’ve even seen it served at many work events when I was a consultant.
On the flip side, there are brands that I see marketed around the world that seem to be more popular outside of the US. This includes US fast-food brands like McDonalds, Dominos, and KFC. These places always seem to be packed when I travel abroad, and the brands seem to carry a lot more weight than they do in the US.
What do you think of this list? Are there other things that you thought were normal but discovered were weird to visitors?