20 Things the World Doesn’t “Get” About Living in America

published Jul 4, 2018
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Casey Barber)

One of the best parts about traveling the world is getting to experience different cultures. In fact, it might be the best part. Nothing beats getting to sit down to chat with a stranger on the other side of the planet, listening to them describe their life story. And if you listen long enough, they just might clue you in on a totally new perspective of your own lifestyle.

As an American website, the majority of our readers live in the U.S.A., which means that we don’t bat an eye at things like drive-through milkshakes the size of your face, and chatting up the waiter before leaving them a big tip. But it turns out that kind of behavior is downright strange to people who live elsewhere.

It’s enough of a curiosity that “What don’t you get about America?” is a popular question on Reddit’s Ask Reddit forum, year after year. So here, I collected some of the more popular answers to that question, compiling a comprehensive list of the things foreigners find unusual about life in America:

Our Food:

Why you call the main course the entrée. elpaw (Entrée literally means “starter dish” in French.)

That weird dish with sweet potato and marshmallows. – Midsky (Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.)

People from Europe don’t like root beer, don’t understand why anybody would want to drink it. They say it tastes “foreign.” – Jewels_Vern

Food sizes. Their small milkshake is the same size as Australia’s large milkshake. – onelovesuperwoman416

Drive-thru everything! – outofplaceandstrange

(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

The ways we travel:

Why do so few Americans own a passport? – phlap (America is big, and international travel is expensive. There are plenty of wonderful places to explore without ever leaving the continental U.S.)

When they travel abroad and are being asked where are they from, [Americans] almost always reply with the city or state they’re in, as if everyone in the world knows about U.S. geography by default. I have yet to meet any person other than Americans that would do this when asked the same question. – rafoberto

I don’t understand the obsession with heritage. To me, if you have no relation to the culture you are from you don’t get to say that you are from that culture. – TenNinetythree

The spacing. I know the US is a huge area (and of course big cramped cities like NYC are exceptions), but the size of the roads and parking lots just seemed really strange as a Central European. – musland

(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Our Money:

Do you guys really leave money on the table when you are done at a restaurant? Or is that just something in movies and TV shows? – TalosOurSavior (Yep, sometimes it’s just a tip for the waiter, but sometimes we’ll pay for the whole meal with cash on the table.)

The price of things never being the real price. You go to the store, this thing costs X, then you go pay and you add tax. You go to the bar for a beer to cool off, the beer costs X… but noooooooo, now you have to tip! – blindedbyhindsight

(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

Other sacred American traditions:

Why they haven’t switched to the metric system yet. IT MAKES SO MUCH MORE SENSE. – ilopuch (Imperial units, FTW!)

Met some Swiss guys at a house party after a mutual friend’s wedding. They couldn’t believe that we were all actually drinking out of red Solo cups, it blew their minds. They kept on taking pictures and saying “It’s just like the movies!” – DillSe

(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

Everyday life:

You’re very friendly, like, talking to strangers on elevators friendly. It’s confusing for those of us who are used to staring straight ahead and pretending everyone else in that confined space doesn’t exist. – phedre

The few Americans I have been in contact with for more than a few minutes seem to be very uncomfortable with silence, personal space and stuff like that. – triste_est

All the commercials for lawyers. On the side of the road… In television… In hotel rooms… – hn-t (Yep. “And so, so many pharmaceutical ads.” – Prophage7)

American toilet stalls: why is there a massive gap under the door, above the door, and even vertically alongside the lock. Now let’s talk about the toilet itself. Why is the pan so flat and the water so high? – echocharlieone

I know a guy from Germany and he was in awe at how long our lines are at the supermarket. He said in Germany everyone bags their own stuff and the cashier just scans it and slides it. The lines move really fast. – TDeath21

Turning right on a red. So many times have I been scared I’m about to be run over. – Reddit user (And apparently Jeremy Clarkson called this “America’s only contribution to Western civilization.” So, yay?)

There are a lot of squirrels. – SthrnCrss

International readers, now’s your time to pipe up! Do you agree with these sentiments? What confuses you about life in America?

Re-edited from a post originally published 10.2.2016. This post was most recently updated on 7.4.2019 – TW