When you live anywhere long enough, it’s all too easy to think that your society’s customs are completely normal, even if it’s considered incredibly strange to the outside world. American television and movies are often shown in other countries, so the rest of the planet is exposed to the strange things that happen in the good ol’ US of A…
10. Asking “How Are You?” When They Don’t Actually Care
In America, there is always a lot of friendly small talk going on in public places. These short conversations with cashiers, co-workers, and acquaintances almost always go something like this: “Hello, how are you?” Then, the recipient of the greeting responds so quickly, it blends into almost a single word, “I’mgoodhowaboutyou?” And the other person responds, “Fine, thanks.” It’s just a very long way of saying, “Hello.” It is such a pre-established norm that no one stops to question it.
In fact, if anyone actually responds to “How are you” with a truthful answer, the other person usually shrinks back in horror… because they don’t actually want to know about how you woke up late for work, or how your boss got on you about those blasted TPS reports. In other countries, they simply say “Hello” and don’t ask how the person is doing, unless they are actually friends.
9. Cheerleaders at Sporting Events
Other countries think that all competitive sports need a lot of protein, water, and cardio to succeed, but they’ve got it all wrong. Americans know what they really need to win a game: cheerleaders. Because it wouldn’t be possible to win a game unless the prettiest girls in school were cheering for them.
It’s so strange, in fact, that people in other countries will see a TV show like Riverdale or the movie Bring it On and actually believe it’s just an overly sexualized fictional trope for a series or movie about high school. Nope. It’s real, and it’s at virtually every high school and college in the United States. Cheerleading isn’t just a fun pastime for the sidelines of football games, either. It has become a competitive sport of its own, where girls and boys train in gymnastics and dance. There are even huge competitions on a state and national level where cheerleaders can compete for prizes and scholarships.
8. Pharmacies Are Basically Convenience Stores
In other parts of the world, a pharmacy is called “the chemist,” because it is just that — a place to pick up your medications. But in the United States, a pharmacy is basically a convenience store. You can buy makeup, snacks, drinks, perfume, magazines, and just about anything you would ever need. Many of the major pharmacy chains like CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens are even open 24/7, just in case you need anything in the middle of the night.
Even though it’s called a “pharmacy,” the actual medicine counter to pick up your prescriptions is all the way in the back of the store, which forces you to walk through the aisles to get to any medicine. Unless, of course, you’d rather get your prescription medicine in the drive-thru, which isn’t something you see in other countries, either. Many other countries do not even have drive-thrus for their fast food chains, let alone the place where they are picking up drugs.
7. Wearing Pajamas in Public
When you’re on a college campus or the suburbs, it’s not at all uncommon to see Americans walking around in their pajamas or sweatpants. Whether it’s someone who is out late at night to grab something at Walmart, or a student who is rolling out of bed and showing up to class, everyone has an excuse as to why they think pajamas in public are okay. The idea behind this is that American people care more about their personal comfort, and most people can sympathize with that.
Some American people truly don’t care if you see them in their rollers and flannels. In fact, if you are living outside of a city and you get too dressed up to go out in public, people will stare and wonder why you’re trying so hard to look good. In other countries, people always get dressed before they leave the house. What a concept! It is completely unheard of to go anywhere unless they actually make an effort to look presentable. And if they don’t, everyone assumes that there is something seriously wrong with them.
6. Smiling at Strangers
Indeed, in most countries around the world, if you smile at a stranger it’s because you’re flirting with them. But in America, it’s considered almost necessary to smile and politely acknowledge another person’s existence. This is especially true for women, who are often harassed on the street by men who tell them to smile more. This can even happen in the workplace, where people are often told by their co-workers or bosses that they aren’t smiling enough. Not all Americans do this, though. In major cities on the East Coast, like New York City, people are so busy they don’t bother to acknowledge one another, so introverts can breathe a sigh of relief that they don’t have to worry about being rude.
Smiling at strangers is far more prevalent among suburban white people whose parents told them to be friendly. For this reason, it’s been called the “awkward white person smile.” It’s where you make eye contact with another person, so you feel obligated to smile. But, you’re not actually smiling, so it turns into an awkward closed-mouth curve of your lips. But in the Southern states, people actually smile and talk to you, so be prepared for an onslaught of friendliness.
5. Jumbo Sizes
In America, every fast food chain has an option to upgrade a meal into a “super size” or “jumbo size.” They make it even easier to indulge in more food by making these size upgrades just a few cents more expensive than the normal size, as well. Even with the standard sizes of small, medium, and large, America still has the biggest McDonald’s cups compared to everywhere else in the world, with the exception of Canada’s “large” cup. Even a “small” size soda is more than the daily recommended amount of sugar for a healthy diet, and yet Americans feel cheated if they don’t get to drink tons of it. They also expect free refills, which most people take advantage of, since… well, it’s free, so why not?
Other countries around the world do not give free refills, and they do not give their customers incentives to pay for larger size portions. This is one of the many reasons why the obesity rates in the US are some of the highest in the world.
4. Leaving Tips
In the United States, it is customary to give a tip to servers in restaurants, delivery people, and basically anyone who is doing a service-based job. For foreigners visiting the country, they are often confused about who they need to tip, and who they don’t, and it becomes very baffling and expensive.
In most countries around the world, people working in the service industry are actually being paid a living wage, so it’s not necessary to tip them. In fact, people from other countries are often shocked to find out that waiters in American restaurants make less than minimum wage, and that the customers are expected to pay the rest of their salary so that they can actually survive. To make matters worse, many of the waiters and waitresses do not get to keep their tips in full when they do an exceptionally good job. Tips are usually collected together and split evenly among employees so that the cooks and busboys get some of the money, too.
3. Using Red Solo Cups at Parties
Yet another trope in TV and movies about the American high school and college experience is those red plastic Solo cups you see everywhere. Just like cheerleading, there are people in other countries who aren’t sure if this is a real thing, or if it’s a badly written cliche. The idea behind drinking out of red plastic cup at a party is that no one can tell what you are drinking. If the cops show up, who’s to say you’re not just drinking soda?
This became popular among underage drinkers at college parties, and it continues to be an American staple to this day. They even make tiny shot-glass sized versions of red Solo cups. On top of them concealing what’s inside, it’s cheap to buy plastic cups in bulk and save them for parties. If things get crazy, it’s not possible to break the cups, and they are often used for a game of beer pong, as well. Other countries find this to be so funny they sometimes throw “American Themed Parties,” which is pretty much the only time they use red cups.
2. Overzealous Patriotism
American flags are plastered all over the US. They are outside of homes, in front of public buildings, and even on the back of pickup trucks. This may seem normal to most Americans to show some national pride. They see it as being grateful for living in a country that allows them to enjoy the freedoms that others don’t. And if you refuse to salute the flag or stand for the national anthem, it’s seen as practically an act of treason. In fact, the NFL now takes it so seriously that if players refuse to stand during the national anthem, their team will receive a fine for not showing ample amounts of patriotism.
But for people from other countries, this is overzealous national pride is totally bizarre. In the United Kingdom, the Union Jack flag is rarely ever seen, except for national holidays. People don’t hang the national flag anywhere in their homes, and they are not constantly singing the national anthem or saluting the flag on a daily basis, either.
1. The Drinking Age is 21
In most countries, the drinking age is just 18-years-old. After all, if you’re old enough to vote for the next President or go to war to die for your country, why can’t you have a drink?
The drinking age was raised to 21 after the passing of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. If anyone is caught giving someone under the age of 21 alcohol, it is taken very seriously, and it’s considered “corrupting a minor.” Everyone knows that high school and college kids are breaking the law, but teachers still try to stop it. Before every prom night, most high schools in the US have a crashed car sitting on the lawn of their school. Some towns have even gone as far as to stage a mock crash — with the blood and all — to show students what happens when you drink and drive.
The logic behind this is that at 18, most people are still in high school, and they are seen as being too young and stupid to be trusted with the responsibility. By age 21, though, most young adults are either in college or working their first full-time job, so they may think twice about screwing up their life.