Andrew Parker

25 Common American Privileges That Puzzle and Frustrate Foreigners

When some people visit America, they get pretty confused about some things, and we don’t just mean the big cars or our love for fast food. Even some of the everyday stuff that we don’t think twice about has them scratching their heads. Let’s look at 25 everyday American things that others just don’t get.

Ice, Ice Baby

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If you order a soda or even just water in the States, you can expect a glass nearly filled to the brim with ice cubes. It’s refreshing, but people from warmer climates or places like Europe might find this obsession with ice a bit over the top. They’re used to sipping their drinks at a more moderate temperature, where you can actually taste the drink and not just the chill.

Tipping is Not Just for Cows

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Here in the US, it doesn’t matter where you go because tipping is expected. Staff members at restaurants and bars rely on those extra dollars, usually because their base pay isn’t great. For tourists from Japan, where tipping is something insulting, this can feel like a strange thing at the end of every meal.

Go Big or Go Home

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When it comes to food, we Americans don’t joke around, especially when it comes to the size of our portions. For some visitors, a single American meal is enough for two days worth of dinners. While some might see it as too much, we think it’s just a slice of America, just in a supersized style.

Drug Ads

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Watching TV in America can make you feel like you’ve stepped into a pharmacy because there are ads for prescription drugs everywhere. Unlike in most countries, where doctors tell you what you need, these ads are instructing you to “ask your doctor” about this pill or that. It’s no wonder some visitors are confused about our healthcare system.

Flag Fans

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Our sense of American pride is always on full display, meaning you’ll see the Stars and Stripes hanging from homes and even trucks. This sense of patriotism is entirely normal, but not for people in other countries. In places like the UK, they usually keep their flags for national holidays.

Daily Pledge of Allegiance

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Likewise, we teach our kids to be proud of our country from a very young age, and that’s why we start every school day by pledging allegiance to the flag. But to foreign ears, it can sound a little intense since they’re not used to feeling this sense of patriotism. Even so, what’s wrong with loving your country?

Added Tax

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In America, the price tag you see isn’t exactly what you’ll pay, as sales tax gets added at the register. It can get confusing for visitors because almost every other place in the world includes it in the tag price. What you see is what you pay without the surprises. Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?

Choices Everywhere

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Going grocery shopping can get a little overwhelming when you’ve got 27 types of peanut butter, but that can only ever be a good thing. Locals love the variety, although visitors from other countries might find it difficult to decide. They can’t understand why we need so many choices for everything, even toothpaste.

Drive-Thru Convenience

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In most other countries, drive-thrus are just for grabbing a burger or a quick drink, but not in America. You can bank, fill prescriptions, and even get married without needing to leave your car. This drive-thru lifestyle has helped to create our culture of speed and convenience, which only some are used to.

Refills on the House

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If you order a drink at most fast-food places or diners, you can return for refills as often as you like, which may surprise some visitors. In many parts of the world, once you finish your drink, that’s it, unless you want to pay for another. It’s part of our American view of customer satisfaction, where more is always better.

Customer Service With Smile

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And speaking of customer service, “Hi! How can I help you today?” is probably the most American phrase around. Here, customer service means giving a big smile and idle chit-chat to make customers feel welcome, though some international visitors might think it’s a bit over-the-top. We don’t see anything wrong with making everyone have a positive shopping experience.

Commercial Overload

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Americans are used to watching more commercials than actual content on TV, but not people from abroad. They might find the constant interruptions annoying and a culture shock. It’s just a tiny part of our commercialized American media, where advertising is important to TV economics.

Supersized Cars

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Big roads and big parking spots mean big cars, and we mean really big. It’s normal to see huge trucks and SUVs on American roads, although visitors from countries with narrow streets and high gas prices might find it confusing. This comes from our love for space and power since we believe bigger is always better.

2 AM Shopping

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Need a new pair of shoes at 2 AM? No problem. The idea of 24-hour stores is another example of how we try to make things convenient for everybody. These stores are a life-saver for those late-night cravings or emergencies, but most visitors don’t understand why anyone would need to buy groceries in the middle of the night.

Free Parking

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Finding a parking spot in America is usually pretty easy, and it’s usually free, too. This can be a real shock for visitors from cities where parking is rare and comes with a huge price tag. So why’s it free in the States? It’s because of our car-centered culture and the fact that most of us see personal vehicles as a necessity, not a luxury.

Arctic-Level AC

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If you go inside on a hot day, you might need to wear a sweater because Americans love their cold conditioning. And we mean really cold. After all, the most important thing to us is feeling comfortable, including the temperature. However, visitors might think that the sudden change is a bit extreme.

The Individualist Spirit

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In America, we encourage everyone to be their own star, as we teach kids they should shoot for the moon to make a name for themselves. Sounds totally normal, right? And here, it is, but not in other countries. Some of them teach kids that they should do what’s best for the group, which is pretty different from how we celebrate standing out from the crowd rather than fitting in.

High Healthcare Costs

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Anyone visiting from a place with universal healthcare is in for a huge culture shock when they see the price of prescription drugs. They can’t believe medicines that are usually cheap or free back home can cost an arm and a leg in America. For example, an AstraZeneca inhaler costs $645 in America but just $9 in Germany.

Choosing a President

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How do we choose a president? We don’t do it directly but through the electoral college voting system, which confuses us, too. Many visitors can’t understand why the popular vote doesn’t always win, even though it’s a big part of our Constitution. Although some people are pushing for system changes, that won’t happen anytime soon.

Home, Sweet New Home

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It doesn’t matter if it’s for a new job or just a change of scene because people in the USA tend to pack up and move a lot. It’s become so common that most people don’t consider it a big deal. This can be a little strange for people living in places where families traditionally stick to the same neighborhood and roots for ages.

DIY Culture

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Why call someone when you can do it yourself? Most of us would rather roll up our sleeves and do home repairs independently instead of just calling someone to help us. We might see it as a badge of honor, but many people in other countries are used to calling the experts for help.

Credit Score King

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Many things depend on your credit score in America, including renting a flat or getting a loan. But credit isn’t so big in many other countries, so seeing this number have so much power can be a little jarring. Keeping that score high is part of everyday life, and missing just one payment can completely change your financial future.

Return It…Whenever

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If you change your mind about your new jacket, it’s no problem in America. Returning purchases is pretty easy, and most stores are relaxed about taking things back weeks or even months later. However, this can catch some visitors off-guard, as they’re used to being certain about their purchases because they’re stuck with them.

A Real Rush

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Life moves fast in the US, and everyone rushes around somewhere. It’s expected to be so quick here, but it’ll tire international visitors out because they’re not used to such a sprint. Our culture values efficiency, which sometimes comes at the cost of being relaxed. Everything here is designed to keep up with this pace.

Everyone’s Welcome

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Lastly, accessibility is something we take seriously here, and that means putting ramps for wheelchairs and Braille on signs. In some other countries, they’re not as accommodating as we are, so seeing how hard we try to make things accessible can get confusing. That’s not to say there aren’t issues here, but we try to make things easier for everyone.

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