A huge benefit of traveling is that you end up having friends all over the world. Every place you go and everyone you meet has a different type of culture or set of social norms. Recently, I was writing an essay for a TEFL course in regards to cultural differences. I decided to Facebook message a few of my friends, who live in other countries around the world, to ask about what they thought was crazy or weird about America compared to their home countries.
After hearing all their responses, I felt that their answers were too funny and too interesting to not be shared. I asked them all the same question, “When you were in the United States, what did you think was strange or just different about the country?” And each of them gave me permission to share their answers on my blog. While I shortened some answers I did not leave anything out. Even though some things were repeated, I think it is important to get different sides.
*Please note, no comments are meant to be rude or come off as cross in any way. My friends were moreover in culture shock then anything. * Also a BIG shout out to my friends who live abroad, you all rock for helping me out and I miss you all!
Here is what 13 people from 12 different countries had to say about America’s cultural differences- aka: what they found strange or weird about the United States (in Alphabetical order).
The main thing that my Aussie friend said was strange about America, was that what we consider a “modern convince,” they see as a bit lazy.
He Commented: “The first thing that comes to mind [is] the ease for laziness, to be honest. Things like drive through ATM’s, prepay fuel with your card at the machine rather then walking in to pay… the fact that the petrol browser has a clip that you [push down] so you don’t even need to hold the petrol handle while filling up the car…[or] motorized trolleys in the supermarkets to sit on and do your shopping instead of walking around.”
At the same time, he also commented on active side of Americans as well: “But then… the amount of people who had experience doing outdoor things like canoeing and rock climbing. So many people would have some experience in those types of things whereas in other countries it would be a lot less.”
His thoughts on Cars and College….
“The size of [American] vehicles was a bit strange. The trucks… with massive fronts [that is] not really needed, just done for the sake of it. And the focus on college sports, where every other country has no following for college…only the professional leagues.”
And the final things he was a bit shocked about….
“The fact that tax is not included in the shelf price for things in the shop… that was one of the weird[est] things. And people being able to drive at 16 but not drink till 21. And that everyone has guns. And so many guns and powerful ones and semi automatic. That is unheard of anywhere else. Then, also, the tipping culture. I had never ever tipped anyone in my life until I got to America.”
I was very curious what my Canadian friend, Chris, would have to say, since the two countries seem to be similar in many ways…
Chris agreed with me to a point. He said, “I find America extremely similar to Canada, but I have noticed small differences. University seems to be a much bigger deal in the States, Canadian college sports and fraternities don’t really compare. Also there are more house parties [in] college areas, whereas [in Canada] we usually just go to clubs. Security is a bigger deal in the states, with more police personnel at events.”
“Also sometimes at gas stations and fast food joints I see bullet proof glass that acts as a barrier between the cashier and customers, which we never see in Canada. Although that’s more common in certain urban areas of cities like Detroit and Chicago. Segregation is huge in major cities in America. Different areas of a city can look like completely different countries. We also have segregation problems, but not to the same extent.”
Eleo, originally from France, has spent most of her summers in America.
The things she found most strange were our eating habbits and patriotism. She commented, “What really surprised me is that Americans eat dinner quite early compared to most European[s]. I’m use to having dinner at 8 or 9 pm.” And the food itself… “Everything is so sugary and oily and the portions are HUGE!”
“Also Americans are very patriotic compared to [the] French and especially on 4th of July. In [the] U.S.A. you see U.S. flags in every home [and] everyone knows the national anthem. I don’t even know my own anthem… but I know the U.S. one.”
“Americans are very loud as well. In France when I’m in a restaurant and I hear a table laughing very loud, I always tell myself that they are Americans, and most of the time they are. Sports [are] very important. I’m always surprised how the school schedule is adapted to sport[s]. In France, if you play a sport, practice will be [in] the evening after school or during WE.” (WE, I believe, is like the US version of PE.)
“In the U.S. people respect police[men]. Generally in France it’s not the case…. [law enforcement] isn’t as strict in France as it is in the US. “
Just like our friend from Australia, she was not a fan of our tax system either. “I think it is weird to add taxes and services to your bill at the end,” she said. “It’s so hard because you always have to do the math… [it is] a lot easier in Europe.”
I worked with my friend Pippa, who is from England, for two summers. We constantly talked about the difference between our countries. Here are some of the things that came to mind for her when thinking about her time in the USA.
“Things that come to mind would be seeing people with guns, [it] is super weird… like that person on Mount Washington we saw,” she said, referring to a hiking trip we took. “Also that they have them in Walmart!” Guns are banned in the United Kingdom.
Food wise, “America has different flavors for things that we don’t get often, [and you can get] everything [in] peanut butter or cinnamon flavor.” The States also have much bigger portions and lots of sugary choices.
She was also not a fan of our stereotypes. That “Americans think we have bad teeth is odd… it was in the news the other day here that British kids have the best teeth in the world.”
Once thing she brought up that I had never thought of was the differences between American and British youth. American “kids didn’t know the English words for things, whereas you’d find it hard to find an English kid that [doesn’t] know Americanisms. I remember once asking [the kids] to form a queue and they just looked blankly at me… like they had never heard the word before. But American words, like ‘trash,’ that we don’t use [in England,] English kids would [still] know” what it means. “I think that maybe it has to do with [the] culture that they are exposed to. America is so big it’s easier for people to never leave or never experience anything outside of America. Your news is much more insular for the same reason… whereas our news is very international or there wouldn’t be anything to report!”
Ben, who is from a different part of England, had very similar ideas to Pippa. Like most internationals, the tipping culture and sports is what got him as well. He said, “Tipping for drinks and meals, I found was really odd. [I also] found it odd/crazy how [many] adults were into college sports. When I was at Ole Miss I found it odd how many people were at the game, it was way more than professional games in the U.K!” He also thought “everyone was so much more polite than [he] was expecting, which was good.”
I was lucky enough to meet Marie while she was studying abroad at my college. I have not had the chance to see her in over four year, but she was very helpful in answering my questions. She told me the top 3 things she found the most weird.
1). “We have no sororities and very few fraternities in Germany and I still don`t really get the point.” ￼
2). “A lot of people seem to say things out of politeness but without meaning them, for example they say “I`ll call you” or “Let`s meet tomorrow” or whatever and it will never happen.
3). “Environmental awareness seems to be very low. Americans take the car everywhere instead of walking small distances or using public transportation, use tons of plastic bags (most Germans take a cloth bag/ backpack when they go shopping) and put the air-conditioning on so high it`s freezing cold in buildings, [even though] the weather is perfect outside.”
She also told me that there was a ton of things she absolutely loved about American culture, but for the purpose of this post, I’m not going to mention them here.
Another one of my summer camp friends Brigitta explained that the concept of sleep away camp in general is very strange.
When asked things that came to mind she thought was strange in America, she said, “Well the very first thing was that parents would put their kids into summer camps for that long, even if it was just [for] half session” (half session is 4 weeks). “We have [summer] camps but those are [only] one or one and a half weeks long. And especially for the tiny ones,” she said about the children who were 5 years old, “that was a huge surprise.” What was also “weird was that you have just girl and just boy camps. [It] makes sense … we just don’t have that.”
Andy’s comment I absolutely had to add because it was too funny. When I asked him about weird things we do in America, his very first thought was about cereal. He said, “Lucky charms isn’t even an Irish cereal!”
His second thought had to do with fast food. “Why is there a two cheeseburger meal rather than just one… The McDonald’s I went into in Boston had a two-cheeseburger meal as a standard option!”
And his final thoughts were, “why guns?” He was very surprised to see them everywhere he went.
I met Kotnarae while she was studying abroad at my college. Her, Marie and I actually spent a lot of time together that semester. While giving me her impressions, she wanted to note that many things felt normal for her because she spent her middle school years in Austrailia.
“If I recall my first impression to the culture,” she says, “I’d say there’s not much barriers between generations, [and] many Asian cultures have that. Elders and youngsters cannot be friends, they have to respect them. In Korea we even have different languages towards elders.”
Another amazing friend that I met while at work is Sara. She had a great time talking about our differences while at camp, and was recently able to give me some of her main takeaways. How Americans interact with each other, as well as our food, was the most shocking to her.
“What I found weird and shocking about America when I was there was that everyone was so excited and friendly when they saw each other. They hug each other a lot (but that was mostly at camp). American people are very helpful and open. For example: I ask [for directions], they help me. And when they help me they ask where I come from, what I’m doing, where I want to go”…they show an interest and have a conversation. “Of course I respond…I ask questions back. And I hear their whole life story.”
Peanut butter seems to be something that all internationals cannot get over. “You guys eat peanut butter with apple[s] and banana[s],” Sara said. And “eating s’mores… I never heard of but [it] is very tasty. [Plus] you must give [your] waitress [a] tip… even if I don’t like the food or how she treats you. “
One thing that Sara had mentioned, that no one had, was about how we transport our alcohol. The fact “that you can’t have alcohol in your car,” she remarked about the open container law, “how [do] you guys [bring] it back home?!”
Kate, another work buddy of mine, listed several things that are not a thing in New Zealand. She agreed with many others that tipping, our gun culture and how patriotic we are is vastly different, or does not happen, in her country.
She also brought up that we have a “huge take[out] culture and eating out culture” when it comes to food.
What I most definitely agree with, that few others brought up, is that “some Americans seem to only learn about America and not the rest of the world around them. That probably sounds horrible but something I definitely picked up on.”
I have been friends with Kit for a few years now. She has traveled all over the world and has spent lots of time in America. I note that because she knows a lot about how our systems run and was able to give me a lot of differences between America and the U.K. that many other people did not touch on.
I “don’t want to say I found it weird, as it is more of a case that I was raised with in a different society,” she says, “but the fact that America has only has private health care and doesn’t provide the basics like free contraception (not sure if that has since changed from when I last checked) blows my mind! Not everyone in America can afford to pay some of the prices charged and I’m not surprised to hear that some people rather pay the fee for not having health care than pay to have it! Not saying the NHS is fantastic as it is far from it but it ensures that every citizen has the right to medical care.”
She, like almost everyone else at this point, also saw a big difference with our food. “Some of your food is insane and it’s shelf life is crazy compared to what we have in the UK/Europe. Many colorants that are in ‘fake’ food in America are illegal to produce in the UK, just like it’s illegal to manufacture Lucky Charms. However they can be imported and bought, [even though] a small box costs £16 to purchase in the U.K.”
Vivie has had a chance to travel around the U.S. a bit and gave me a lot of strange differences in America, compared to Switzerland. For this one, she provided so much interesting information that I am going to list it off.
She told me that “at home everything over half an hour to drive is considered a trip, then I learned that in the U.S. that’s simply normal and done for grocery shopping… People seem to be a lot more willing to drive further than what I was use to. Probably because of the size of the country… If I drive [two] hours at home, I’ll find myself in another country, in the U.S., most of the time you haven’t even left your state yet…”
2.) Public/private transportation:
“Public transportation is improvable (not include[ing] the subway/metros because those I found pretty great). Train journeys (if you end up finding something good) are SO expensive, that I automatically switched to MegaBus… At home no one takes their car to school, unless you’re a teacher and work there. Also, parents drive their kids to school?! At home everyone walks there, normally in a smaller group of other children (sometimes accompanied by one parent, they’re taking turns) and if it’s too far they take the bus but that normally only happens when they’re older. Primary school everyone walks or takes a bicycle.”
3.) Security and the police force:
Just like a few other friends, she thought our security system felt strange. “In big cities you have a lot more security people (police and private ones) and everyone seems to be totally use to that. At home, if I end up seeing police at a public place, like a main train station, I’d know that there must either be problems locally or something has happened in another country and therefore they [add] security.”
4.) Shopping Malls:
“It starts with huge parking lots and then you have those incredible big buildings (sometimes more than one) and sometimes they even have a little train or something inside because it’s too big for you to walk! We have shopping malls at home but way smaller.”
5.) Bag boys at the grocery store:
“There are people packing up your grocery for you?! At home we don’t have that, there’s just the cashier person and everyone packs up their stuff themselves.”
6.) The food:
“I terribly missed ‘normal’ bread until I found a German bakery in Santa Barbara. That soft stuff you get at most supermarkets is just not what I consider bread at home, [that is] just toast bread. Swiss Cheese is an insult to the actual Swiss Cheese that is Cheese from Switzerland. I know the brand and it’s literally the most disgusting cheese we make here and we only use it to put in salads (with sausage and a lot of ranch dressing so you don’t actually taste it), but we happily sell it to other countries who think that it’s “Swiss Cheese”… Also why is Cheddar in that color? That’s not a cheese color, it looks more like play-dough. [But,] free refills! This was heaven for a girl who was use to paying for [a] glass of tap water.”
7.)The way we pay, tax and tip:
“Credit Cards are pretty much accepted everywhere [in the U.S] and I think I’ve seen self-check-out machines at supermarkets. Back when I was at language school…we didn’t really have them yet at home (I think they were starting to put them [in]…). That additional amount they charge you when you buy stuff…” she remarked about taxes, “we don’t have it at home (well we do have taxes, but you pay them at the end of the year and not with everything you buy)… it took me a while to get used to the fact that when I buy something and figure out how much it will cost me, it’s not [going to] be what I have to pay in the end anyway.” They also do not have a tipping policy. She did “see where it’s coming from when…look[ing] at the U.S. minimum wage,” but when they do tip in Switzerland, they do not have to abide by a specific percent.
8.) How friendly we are:
“People are way more friendly and even chatty to people they don’t know. I had random chats with strangers on hikes or while running just because I stopped somewhere and there was another person who started talking to me. [That] doesn’t happen at home. What I struggled most with when I came back home after those two long trips to the US: the uptightness and “coldness” of Switzerland.”
9.) Our expensive education:
“How much you have to pay to go to College/University” is crazy… “I pay about $1300 a year and that’s a lot already. Austria for example has [universities] where you don’t have to pay at all.
So, those are some thoughts about the strange difference we have in the United States, compared to other countries. Thanks again for everyone who was able to get back to me with a response!
I hope you got to learn a little bit about what it is like in other countries, and how our social norms sometimes only go as far as our nations boarders.