Daniel Richards

24 Unique American Customs that Confuse the Rest of the World

The USA is a vast and diverse country that still manages to maintain a uniquely American identity. But just how strange are American practices to people looking in from overseas? Here are 24 very American practices that leave the rest of the world scratching their heads.

Supersizing

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One thing the rest of the world understands about Americans is the belief that bigger is better. From meal portions and cars to mega stores and churches, American culture is determined to prove that you don’t have to “go big or go home” – you can actually do both.

Flag Obsession

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Other countries often consider Americans to be overly attached to their flag as the ultimate symbol of patriotism. It’s been suggested that while other countries have institutions like a royal family to express their sense of national identity, America, as a republic, might make citizens look to the stars and stripes as their greatest expression of national pride.

Length of Election Campaigns

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The amount of time other nations spend on election campaigns pales in comparison to the US. While America doesn’t have an official campaign season, this forces politicians to start much earlier, as there are no legal limits dictating when they can start. This means political opponents try to gain an edge by starting as early as possible – sometimes more than a year ahead of an election.

Love for College Sports

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Every country has diehard sports fans, but only in America do college sports like football and basketball have such a passionate following. The most obvious reason for this is that it’s the best place to spot future stars of the professional game. But apart from that, it is also thought to encourage feelings of community and celebration.

Tipping

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One of the oldest and most common surprises for visitors from around the world is America’s serious tipping culture. The differences in tipping customs from country to country have been well documented, with the US always topping the list. These days, even some Americans are starting to be surprised by what has become known as “tipflation” in the country.

Drive-Thrus

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Visitors are often shocked to realize just how many things they can do in America without ever having to leave their car, from getting a coffee in the morning to dinner in the evening. Some states now even boast drive-thru marijuana dispensaries. 

Extreme Patriotism

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Although anyone can be proud of their country, patriotism is so deeply woven into the American experience that the act of being patriotic is seen as an American characteristic. While not everyone in America can agree on what exactly is or isn’t patriotic, almost all Americans agree that it is an important part of who they are.

Car Culture

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The USA is such a young country compared to many others around the world. This has meant that while other nations had to adapt to the invention of the car, much of America was built to accommodate personal vehicle use. It is much more important to young Americans to get their driver’s licenses than elsewhere in the world.

Suspicion of Public Healthcare

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The United States has a unique perspective on socialized health. It is the only country in the developed world without a system of universal healthcare. Some Americans defend the system by explaining that it leads to better care and more modern technology. But other Americans, and many people around the world, feel that a more universal healthcare system would be fairer for all.

Black Friday Madness

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The phenomenon of Black Friday sales has spread around the world, but other countries are still shocked to see just how intense the day is in the States. Some nations have been very resistant to the spread of Black Friday, with countries like Brazil, Mexico, and Poland experiencing worker strikes in protest.

The Pledge of Allegiance

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Public schools in 46 states are obliged to make time in the day for students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. There are a few other countries that engage in similar practices, such as India, China, and North Korea, but most of the world sees a contradiction between America’s mandatory recital of the pledge and its commitment to encouraging free thought and speech.

The Super Bowl

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Of the 10 most-watched TV broadcasts in US history, 8 of them were Super Bowls. Other countries struggle to comprehend a national sporting event that captures the imagination of so many citizens at the same time. 

Proms

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Prom is seen as the defining moment for most of America’s high school students. Other countries have started adopting the tradition after seeing proms represented in all their American glamor in Hollywood movies and TV shows. Parents of school seniors in other countries like the UK have been bewildered to hear what was called “end-of-exams discos” referred to as proms in more recent years.

Free Refills

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One of the more pleasant surprises for visitors to America is the discovery of the country’s generosity when it comes to drinks. The practice, which started in 19th-century coffeehouses, is seen as a symbol of America’s love for great hospitality.

Prison Population

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The rate of incarcerated citizens in America dwarfs that of any other country on Earth. It is thought that the US makes up roughly 25% of the global prison population at around 2 million prisoners.

24/7 Stores

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When Americans travel abroad, they are often left disappointed to find that many convenience stores usually close at night. Visitors to the States are similarly surprised upon discovering that a lot of stores in America are always open to cater to their needs, with 90% of shops thought to be round-the-clock operations. 

Ranch Dressing

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What’s strange to the rest of the world is not that America loves ranch dressing. It’s more that many Americans seem to hate how much America loves ranch dressing. Although it’s as much a staple as ketchup or barbeque sauce, the polarizing effect that ranch has on the country leaves the rest of the world at a loss.

Deep-Fried Food

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Another aspect of American cuisine that foreigners often mention is a passionate dedication to deep frying everything within reach. But the truth is that deep frying is far older than America. It was invented in Ancient Egypt around the 5th century BC. In the couple of millennia since, America has perfected the art, introducing to the world such wonders as deep-fried butter, deep-fried avocado, and deep-fried Coke.

So Many Street Parades

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America’s love of street parades stands out for the scale, diversity, and sheer number of parades throughout the year. There is even a “Holiday Parade Season,” starting around Thanksgiving and carrying on through December, which the rest of the world just can’t compete with, or even fully understand.

Celebrity Worship

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America is the home of Hollywood, the biggest television industry in the world, of reality TV. American fascination with celebrity can be seen in two ways: a celebration of a very American love for success and realizing your dreams, or else an unhealthy obsession with fame, attention, and scandal.

Lack of Travel

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A study published in 2019 that surveyed 2000 Americans found that more than 40% had never left the United States, and 10% said they had no interest in doing so, meaning that Americans are among the least likely people to travel abroad. There are many reasons for this, including financial constraints and the fact that America is so vast that a lot of travelers never feel the need to look beyond its borders to discover something new.

Ice in Everything 

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It’s not just foreigners who think Americans have an unusual fondness for ice in their drinks. A study in 2020 revealed that over 50% of Americans consider themselves to be “ice obsessed.” 

Drug Ads

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America is 1 of only 2 countries where pharmaceutical companies are allowed to advertise prescription drugs directly to consumers, the other being New Zealand. To the rest of the world, this can seem like an irresponsible way to try and convince people to buy medication. 

Halloween

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It’s one of America’s most successful exports, but there’s still no other country that does Halloween quite like the US. One of the biggest differences is that in America, more than anywhere else, celebrating Halloween is something adults do with as much enthusiasm as kids.

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