17 American Behaviors That Other Countries Don’t Understand

Written By Jill Taylor

Lifestyles, priorities, and general cultural norms in the US differ from those found in other countries around the world. Some of them seem normal to us, and some are understandably strange. Either way, here are 17 unique things Americans do that other countries find odd.

Mount US Flags Everywhere

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In the US, you’ll find flags on the porch, in front of restaurants, at car dealerships, and pretty much anywhere else; it’s an obsession that many foreigners don’t understand. In other countries, flags are typically mounted on government-owned properties, so tourists are understandably confused at the prevalence of US patriotism.

Cash is Always Green

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Whether it’s $1 or $100, all notes in the US have the same dimensions and are in the same shades of green. This is unlike most countries across the world, which have different sizes and colors for different denominations of their currencies. We can understand why that’s confusing!

Advertise Pharmaceutical Drugs

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There’s a worldwide ban on direct-to-customer advertisements of prescription-only drugs, but for some reason, the USC says only the US and New Zealand don’t follow this trend. Many people find it problematic that Americans don’t leave drug recommendations for doctors only, which is undeniably much safer.

Build Huge Stadiums at Universities

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Americans, with their love for football, have 100,000-capacity stadiums sitting comfortably on the premises of colleges around the country. You’ll understand how ridiculous this is for some when you consider that the largest stadium in Europe, the Spotify Camp Nou, has a capacity of only 99,000—for a worldwide audience, too.

Have Gaps in Bathroom Stalls

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American restroom doors are also known to have space above and below them, and foreigners see this as an invasion of privacy that shouldn’t exist. The reason given for these spaces is to make cleaning easier, but this isn’t convincing enough for non-Americans, who find it very odd and uncomfortable.

Pay for College

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It’s no news that American students plunge themselves into debt just to afford college—or skip college to avoid these costs. Meanwhile, most European countries provide free college education, so many foreigners don’t understand how a rich country like the US still has these internal struggles around college affordability. Education should be free!

Excessive Ice in Drinks

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Americans put ice in everything—cocktails, soda, coffee, you name it. What’s more, they don’t mind that the ice dilutes the taste of their drinks or takes up considerable space in the glass cup. This is so different from cultures in other parts of the world, where people simply take refrigerated drinks instead.

Avoiding Hospital Visits

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Europeans never have second thoughts about visiting hospitals in their countries, but Americans try their very best to avoid them. Sadly, the reason for this is awful; American healthcare is too expensive to visit hospitals occasionally, let alone for regular checkups!

Using Kitchen Garbage Disposals

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Did you know that over 50% of American homes have kitchen garbage disposals? They’re seen as so important to waste management that a CNBC story shares how certain US cities now make garbage disposals compulsory! This is in contrast to Europe, where they’re generally unauthorized because they hinder efficient waste disposal processes.

Buy Huge Cups of Coffee

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Americans love coffee so much that, in addition to Starbucks’ tall, grande, and venti cups (which are already too much for some foreigners), they purchase 30-ounce Trenta cups, too! The sizes of these cups and the amount of coffee Americans drink are almost to foreign visitors.

Driving Everywhere

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Americans never hesitate to get their wheels spinning, even for short trips. It’s a shock to foreigners who are used to walking or taking bicycles, even when they’re moving between cities. As Bloomberg explains, the government, through car subsidies, has a hand in this car-dependent culture.

Always Tipping

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Workers in most countries would consider a $5 tip to be an extremely kind gesture, but their American counterparts will complain about a $50 tip if it’s not on par with the average 20%. This widespread tipping culture has become more of an annoyance than a puzzling concept for foreigners in the US.

Use the Imperial System

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Americans use imperial measurements like ounces and inches instead of the more common metrics like grams and meters, which causes great confusion for many foreigners. Again, only two other countries in the world use this alongside the US—Liberia and Myanmar, the former being a US colony.

Eating Peanut Butter and Jelly

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Both jelly and peanut butter sandwiches are common around the globe, but if you combine them, your favorite PB&J will become a culinary oddity for non-Americans. Foreigners can’t quite piece together how salty peanut butter goes well with sweet, sugary jelly, but they don’t know what they’re missing!

Use the “MDY” Format

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Another thing that confuses non-Americans is our date format, “MM-DD-YYYY.” It’s seen as an unnecessarily disorganized variant of the “DD-MM-YYYY” format used in every other country in the world. Even the British, from whom The Guardian says Americans adopted it, have abandoned the format since before the 20th century.

Give Free Refills

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Restaurants in Europe see free refills as affordable, while entire governments, like France’s, see them as unhealthy for the population. It’s an unfamiliar concept in many places outside the US, and it’s one of the few things on our list that many US foreigners would love to have in their countries.

Protect the Right to Carry Guns

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Finally, US citizens have the right to carry guns, as long as they aren’t previous convicts, deemed dangerous to society, or suffering from mental problems. This baffles foreigners, particularly in the context of the regular reports of mass killings and gun violence. We can certainly see where they’re coming from with this one!

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