20 Everyday Things Americans Do That Other Nations Don’t Understand

Moving to America or just carefully observing from the outside can reveal multiple culture shocks for many people around the world. Here are 20 common things you may do as an American that many of your European friends may not understand.

Tipping in Restaurants

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Let’s start with the most divisive of all—tipping. Tipping is so ingrained in American dining culture that Pew Research says 29% of adults see it as an obligation, while 49% don’t see any problem with it. Hospitality workers usually find it rude when you don’t drop that extra 15%. With tipping also introduced to online stores, we can agree that the culture may have gone too far.

Talking With Strangers

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In America, it doesn’t stop at asking strangers for directions or what the time is. There’s a small talk culture where everyone relates more personally to strangers. This is done sometimes to break an uncomfortable silence and, other times, to build familiarity and establish friendship for future interactions.

Driving Cars Everywhere

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Europeans don’t mind walking to the store nearby, riding a bicycle to save strength, or taking trains for much longer distances. Americans, however, drive everywhere. As an American, you drive twice as many miles as your European friend, probably because there are much longer distances to cover in America than in Europe.

Flying Flags Everywhere

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The typical French home doesn’t have a French flag hoisted in its yard, and the typical German driver doesn’t mount a flag in his car. As a symbol of pride and patriotism, Americans put flags everywhere. Flags are so revered that Americans have them on the moon.

Wearing Shoes Indoors

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It is quite common to see Americans wear shoes in the house, which is one thing they share with Western Europeans. Footwear isn’t even necessarily patted clean before it’s taken indoors. For many households in Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, Southern Living says this could be interpreted as a sign of disrespect.

Loving American “Football”

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A majority (53%) of Americans see American football as their favorite sport. South Americans, Europeans, and other parts of the world see “football” as a whole different sport—the most followed sport in the world, which Americans love to call “soccer.” Even North American neighbors in Canada play more soccer than American football.

Loving Baseball

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Unless you’re from Japan, you’ll probably not understand the magnitude with which Americans also love baseball—or why they even love it in the first place. Only American football is more popular than baseball among Americans, and maybe this is because baseball also originated here.

Using the Imperial System of Measurement

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Most of the world uses the metric system, which quantifies measurements in meters, kilograms, and seconds. Even Canadians switched to the metric system in 1975. Americans, however, have theirs different, using imperial system measurements like inches, pounds, and tons. The American system is so obsolete that CBC reports that only two other countries use it—Myanmar and Liberia.

Having Bathroom Stalls With Giant Gaps

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One thing you’d probably find an invasion of privacy if you weren’t an American is the large gaps at the top and bottom of bathroom stall doors. Some say they’re there because of air circulation, while others say it’s to make cleaning easier. Nonetheless, they’re more of a legal requirement, as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes them compulsory for public stalls.

Enjoying Larger Portion Sizes

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When it comes to fast food servings, dining in American restaurants will be a shock for many. As Joe Avilla shares in a McDonalds review via Business Insider, “American small and large drinks are both 89% bigger than their British counterparts.” Americans even get 40 pieces of chicken nuggets instead of the UK’s 20 pieces.

Ordering Free Refills

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Asking for a refill is an understandably common practice around the world. What isn’t common is Americans getting theirs for free. Now, it isn’t even just about the commercial side of things. Free refills are so frowned upon in other places that countries like France have outright bans on them, as CBS shares.

Formatting Dates With the Month First

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If you’re not an American, you probably saw a date presented as “MM/DD/YYYY” and shook your head in disappointment. It gets confusing sometimes, and we absolutely understand why. Americans took this format from the pre-20th-century British and have refused to switch to the more common “DD/MM/YYYY” format ever since.

Using One-Dollar Paper Money

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Many countries in other parts of the world make one unit of their currency available in the form of coins. This isn’t the same in America, though. Although they are still legal tender, the Federal Mint has stopped producing one-dollar coins since 2012, which makes them hard to come across today.

Advertising Prescription Drugs

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It’s understandable to see advertisements for over-the-counter, self-help drugs to take care of minor inconveniences like headaches and skin cuts. The culture shock in America is that prescription-only medicines (POMs), like antidepressants, are also being advertised to the public. Many think they should be suggested only by doctors.

Pharmacies Selling More than Just Drugs

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When you enter an American pharmacy, drugs will hardly be the first thing that catches your attention. American “drug stores” sell soda, bags of chips, ice cream, and other junk food alongside their prescription and nonprescription drugs. It’s simply a way for them to make some extra money.

Filling Parties With Red Cups

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An American party isn’t the same if the red cups aren’t featured. These disposable cups aren’t only used to drink alcohol or other party specials. They’re also used for various party games like beer pong and flip-cup. No one is ever ready for how much they’ll have to use these.

Going Into Debt for College

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The cost of tuition is hardly the most surprising element of American universities. What people find more shocking is the willingness of students to go into tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Maybe this is because many universities in Europe offer college education for free.


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The first thing you’ll notice about American work culture is the significantly higher number of hours everyone works. Coming from Europe, you’ll probably have to work about 350 hours more than you’re used to per year to meet up with the average American. We can owe this need to overwork to the US’s comparatively higher cost of living.

Putting Ice In Drinks

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Unlike Americans, many people don’t like having large chunks of ice in their drinks. Europeans, especially, aren’t used to adding ice to meals, given their cooler weather. Many even see it as either taking too much space in the cup or diluting the quality of the drink.

Spending So Much in Hospitals

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If you visit the US, you better hope not to fall sick. Americans spend twice as much on healthcare for the same services as people in other wealthy, developed countries. The costs are so high that CBS says 40% of Americans delay medical treatment or even skip medical care altogether.

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