Obviously, there are huge cultural differences between the United States and the rest of the world. But just how big are those differences? And what are they exactly?
If you’re curious — and, really, why else would you be here? — these people from all over the world recently went on to answer that question. These are the aspects of American culture that don’t make sense, as told by non-Americans. Some are funny, some are serious, some we might dispute. But all are a good chance to learn more about how the rest of the world sees this big, beautiful country.
40. This article brought to you by Prozac
TV Commercials for drugs/medicine – the whole “Ask your doctor to prescribe you _____” Doesn’t happen in the UK, and it just seems crazy to me.
39. It’s not all about us
I went to an Imagine Dragons concert (In New Zealand) a few weeks ago. The main guy stopped in between songs to say what was supposed to be an inspiring speech, and loudly proclaimed, “We have a problem! And that problem is all these shootings in America!”
Obviously nobody cared because what the hell are New Zealanders gonna do about it. I don’t know if he was just recycling a speech he used for other concerts, but in general Americans seem to think all other countries care about them, cause we really don’t.
38. Red fighting blue
Having just two political parties.
Also the massive partisanship like they were freaking football teams. They aren’t, mate.
Someone told me in heavy tone about turning from Republican to independent like it was a big deal. Mate, I swing vote harder than a swingers’ party.
37. Paid to learn
College debt. And its close friend, medical debt.
Just graduated medical school all paid by the government and got paid $810 each month while doing it, also by the government, and now I don’t have to worry about medical insurance because guess what. All paid. Oh, Denmark.
36. College sports get more money than the colleges themselves
You guys get tens or hundreds of thousands of people attending your college sports events and it blows my mind! At my university there’s about 6 people that turn up to school football games; any other sport basically no one turns up.
For perspective I went to a university that’s got roughly 3,000 students; although small it was pretty clear from away fixtures that this was a common occurrence for university sports here. It’s just not a thing people care about unless their kids are on the team.
35. If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much
Time off work, whether it’s illness or holiday — you guys seem to get almost none.
Man, where I work it is mandatory to take 4 weeks a year. Mandatory as in if you don’t take them your manager will send you home because it is required by law.
But where I work we are lucky to be able get more vacation days. I took 45 days off last year and that isn’t even the maximum.
Sometimes I think, “Well, I could make twice the money in the US.” But then I realize it isn’t worth to give up my working conditions.
By the way, this is in the Netherlands.
34. I think I’ll be heading to Spain now
My friend got injured in America. He worked out it would have been cheaper to get an early flight home and head to the nearest hospital to the airport than it was go to a hospital in America that was a few miles away.
Even for Americans it can be cheaper to travel for medicine. For example, the price of a hip replacement in America can get someone:
- A ticket to Spain
- A hip replacement in Spain
- Two years of living in Spain
- A second hip replacement (hey, when in Pamplona…)
- And a ticket back to the States
33. We’ll be back right after these messages
All the medicine adverts – not illegal ones obviously. And the frequency of adverts in general. Like you watch 2 minutes of some TV program, then get 3 minutes of adverts for a haemorrhoid cream, some insurance product, cat food, then the same haemorrhoid cream again. Then 6 minutes of program and 5 minutes of ads, etc.
32. I think it has to do with available resources
Why are so many American homes built out of wood?
Especially in places like tornado ally or other locations where natural disasters are likely.
Here in the UK we build nearly everything using bricks.
The story of the 3 little pigs springs to mind.
31. The gap
Huge gaps between toilet door and frame. I don’t need eye contact, thanks. It’s really awful. Who designed that? And why is it the standard?! I love going to Europe and having bathroom privacy.
30. Stars and stripes
The treatment of the flag. I worked at a US summer camp and was taught about flag raising, how to stand during the pledge of allegiance, how to fold the flag and how important it was to never let the flag touch the ground.
All these kids knew so much about it!! I was 21 and didn’t have a clue if the rules were the same for my flag (UK).
29. The priority is sports
How well organized and funded high school/university sports and facilities are while the actual educational aspects are so underfunded. If your school can’t afford textbooks but has first class sports facilities then questions should be asked as to where priorities lie.
28. Getting well vs. going broke
(To add to the many medical debt comments:) Canadian here, frequently browse online. I feel so bad about the constant posts that are like “I broke my leg and now I have to pay a $20k hospital bill, what do I do???”
The worst one I’ve seen is someone who owed something like $200k for chemo treatments that was sent to collections. They had to do another round of chemo and was considering going back to work while they were supposed to be recovering from freaking CANCER just to keep their head above water. That’s so freaking awful.
27. Keep your religion to yourself
Political corruption being institutionalized and politicians mentioning religion. Rule of thumb in the UK is to never being up religion in an election campaign. If you do, you will generally be thought of as a weirdo. It’s a private thing over here and talking about it openly makes people uncomfortable.
I mean, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was told to play down the fact he’s quite religious wasn’t he? And while I personally don’t like Theresa May playing the “I’m the daughter of a minister thing” I can’t help but feel she’d never shut up about it if she were in US politics.
26. Just the tip
Tipping, it’s just not normal or socially acceptable to have to pay someone’s wage because their employer won’t. As much as they’ve been brainwashed to think they should… Somehow it’s the customers’ fault for low wages, whilst the owner laughs all the way to the bank.
25. The ultimate penalty
It’s not brought up frequently, but sometimes I wonder how the death penalty can still be a thing in a civilized western country like the USA. I really don’t get it.
What’s particularly interesting about the US is that because different states have their own laws but have a broad overreaching culture (yes I know different states have their own cultures) they make a pretty good case study for whether things like the death penalty have any effect on murder rates. Last I checked, they do not.
Saying you’re Irish when you were born in America
I think it’s funny how some Americans speak no other language but English, have little to no clue about the world outside of the States but say things like: “Oh, I’m also part German, part Czech, part Polish and I have some French in me as well! My cultural heritage and ancestry are very important to me!”
23. Focus on the individual
How soon Americans seem to get a job, even in high school and the struggle to keep their personal finances with no help from parents or family.
Here in my country it’s completely normal to only start working after college (when you’re about 22-23 years old) and then only moving away from your parents’ house when you move to another city or when you marry.
American culture is more individualistic than other countries, I gather. You’re expected to move out after college, some people even move out right after they turn 18 or high school. It’s viewed as immature to keep living with your parents since people think you don’t grow as a person unless you move out. This is not the same elsewhere.
22. Buy your own supply
How much money teachers make. I’m a supply teacher in Canada and make more per day than veteran teachers in a lot of US states. Tip: more people will actually want to work in your district if you pay well.
Also teachers having to buy their own supplies all the time or just not providing enough to buy the supplies that students need. My friend is an art teacher in the US, and she was asking for supplies like pencils, paint, etc. The school gave her $100. $100 in a school of 500+ students. Then the school turns right back around and builds a brand new basket ball court and buys 2 new football scoreboards. Like seriously?
21. Don’t amend my amendments!
Your obsession with the Founding Fathers and the Constitution.
I mean, I get it, you’ve had some great men and they pretty much built your country. I’m French, we had a revolution too, with equally great men leading the charge, but we’re not revering them like saints and holding up what they did as some sort of divinely inspired act.
Take the Constitution. For a lot of people it seems like it would be absolute heresy to change it in any way, while my country is on its fifth one (without counting the momentary monarchies and empires).
20. Super friendly folks
I moved to America a while ago and here are some of the things I’ve found interesting:
Older people are always smiling at you/waving/chatting you up. It’s really nice but some times you almost feel like everyone else is in on some joke. Everyone has been really nice and friendly which I really appreciate.
Commercials – your commercials suck. I can’t remember what it was I heard on the radio but I remember it sounding like a sleazy business deal taking advantage of people who don’t know better.
There are soldiers in uniform at every major airport returning from deployments I’m assuming. I’m front Canada and the military just doesn’t have as much presence there so it’s interesting to see. All the airports offer them priority boarding but I haven’t actually seen the military personnel take advantage of that.
Lots of flags, lots of patriotism. I don’t know if it’s superficial or not but I’m just not used to the quantity of it yet and it comes off as a little weird. This coming from someone who is a very patriotic Canadian. Possibly this intensity is artificially increased because July 4th is coming up.
Gorgeous scenery. Can’t say enough about the beauty of the country.
19. Phone plans in the US are a rip-off
The American healthcare system, and general views towards taxes. It’s seems like a lot of people in the US want excellent public services, but don’t want to pay towards it.
As a bonus phone/cable/internet bills. I pay £17 a month in the UK for unlimited 4g data, unlimited texts and 200 mins. Which to extend to 600 mins is gonna cost £3 more when I “upgrade.” I don’t understand how it costs like 5 times as much in the US for a similar service.
18. Um, it’s ‘good food fast’
To me it seems like Americans are way too obsessed with food, junk food in particular. People seem to discuss new burgers or other items, seasonal changes in the menus etc. Amongst the people I know, we usually make our own dinners at home, and fast food is more of a treat you get once, twice a month, tops.
17. In Russia, students teach you
Pretty much everything related to education. Middle/High school separation, for one thing. In Russia, you usually stay with the same class from 1st grade to 11th (though some people may elect to leave after 9th to enter trade school, but this is considered a loser’s way), at least in big cities (a village school may not have teachers for upper grades, obviously).
Next, college application process. Cover letters? WTF even that is? Why do colleges need them? In Russia, you just show your end-of-school exam grades, and if they are above some level, you’re in. (Though some more prestigious or specialized higher education institutions like theatre/movies/musical education are allowed to hold their own additional entrance exams.)
Dorms. Everyone in America lives in dorms when in university/college. OK, so do some people here, the ones who came from another city. But if you live in a big city here, you probably will not leave it to get higher education, so you probably will live with your parents until you can get a job and rent a flat, which only usually happens during the last few years of the education.
Paid education and students debt. You may say what you like about Russia, but our higher education is still mostly free. If you have low grades, you may pay to be placed in a “commercial” education class, but people who do this are frowned upon by the rest of the students. Even if you do, the price of education is so far below American one (even adjusting for salary differences) that students’ debt is not even a problem here. Of course, one might question quality of such education, but American companies seem to love to snap up Russian programmers, at least, so I guess our education is not particularly crappy.
Majors/minors. It’s such a big deal in a lot of fiction, for example. But even though I read about it a lot of times, I still don’t quite get it, along with class selection. In Russia, you choose a specialization when you enrol (e.g. Applied Math), and from day one to the end, all students in your group will attend the same classes and take the same tests and exams.
American system seems like a computer game’s research tree to me – “you must unlock A, B and C before studying D”, and somehow, it’s your burden to keep track of what classes you attended and got grades in. WTF. Here, you just get a ready-made complete curriculum, no need to do anything but study. If you feel you chose a wrong specialization in the beginning, you might change it, and then things become a bit complicated, but it only happens rarely, and usually only right after the first semester.
16. Udder madness
I’m gonna go with the boobs. The US culture has a rather bizarre obsession with female breasts (male ones are totally fine, somehow). You can show how much skin you want, and any suggestive pose, clothing or talk is fine too but holy crap hide the freaking breasts at all costs!
15. Pay more, get far more
Today I saw a post about a woman having to give birth to the child of a man who assaulted her because she couldn’t afford to terminate the pregnancy.
Religion is at best frowned upon in most of Europe.
Paying out of pocket for an education. Everything is ‘free’ here. Granted we pay like 50% taxes but our minimum wage is very high and few complain. I’ll happily pay 15% more taxes then the average American since it pays for pre-school, elementary, high-school and college, plus infinite free healthcare.
14. Locked and loaded
See, I’m in the UK, and we unfortunately had some evil guy go into a school and shoot it up. And in response, we tightened our gun control laws. Not had a single shooting since. Every time we’ve had a shooting over the past few decades – I can remember 3 off the top of my head since the ’80s – we’ve restricted our gun laws further, and in each case, the perpetrator legally owned their gun (hence the further restrictions each time).
I think that 3 mass shootings in 3 decades is pretty good going. Still 3 too many, but in terms of our population, it’s a low figure. Kind of makes the whole US argument of ‘but the bad guys will just buy an illegal gun and shoot up schools anyway!’ kind of moot. OK, we don’t have 0 gun crime, but it’s a heck of a lot lower than the US.
There’s just a complete refusal there to even contemplate that restricting – not even necessarily banning! – guns would be in any way helpful. Even when you bring up things like Australia and Port Arthur, and how that was their first and last mass shooting before they tightened gun laws, they just turn around and start talking about how there is still gun crime in Australia, paying no attention to the cultural causes of mass shootings (i.e. the idea that everyone should have a gun and guns are super cool being really pervasive).
Obviously not all gun owners are like that, but the particularly pro-gun people tend to be, in my experience.
13. Taking the plunge
Toilet plungers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen seen one in real life. I’m Australian. Apparently our toilets don’t clog.
12. The shoes inside thing is the real sticking point
I’m from Finland and here’s a few I can think of.
Lack of empathy for strangers. Social security issues, no one is willing to pay even 1% more taxes if it is going to help others. They just say sucks to be you, you should work harder. You are on your own and if something happens you are screwed. They just don’t care.
Healthcare. Suffering at home rather than going to a doctor because you cant afford it. We have universal healthcare in Finland so everyone can afford it.
Homeless people. We have social security here that allows everyone have the basic things they need. Home, food, clothes, internet etc. Only people who decide to live homeless lives do so or people who are avoiding the law.
Patriotism. Constant need to try to convince yourself and others that your country is number one. We all know that is not the case.
Nudity and sexuality in general. Killing someone is fine, but just one small breast slip and its the end of the world. Teaching teenagers about their bodies and how to be safe is somehow a bad thing in the USA.
Religion. Most people I know are atheists and only part of the church out of tradition. In nordic countries people who are truly religious are usually thought to be just a little bit on the slow side.
Corporate worship and anti-regulation. Thinking that large corporations give a crap about you or the world. They would 100% strip-mine and despoil every last bit of this planet without regulations.
Shoes inside. We take our shoes off when we come home or visit someone because we aren’t barbarians.
Fake activism. Getting offended for every little thing. Acting like some words are worse than murder and getting offended on behalf of others about random things. Especially when those other people don’t give a crap about it or actually like the thing.
Diehard political party loyalty. The fights they have between Republicans and Democrats are just crazy. Even going as far as disowning family members if they support the wrong party.
11. Freedom isn’t free
Freedom. I feel more free with free education, free medicaid, unemployment benefit and so on. I don’t see Americans as a very free people, compared to Denmark.
A colleague has family in USA and I spoke with her about our high taxes compared to the US. Though you have lower taxes, there is other expenses making them higher than what we pay in taxes here in Denmark. Really surprised me.
10. The dead must govern the living
Not necessarily brought up online so much, but plenty elsewhere: “What did the Founding Fathers think of this or that?”
WTF? Those people lived ages ago, and were just human beings, not gods. As a Dutch person, I never consider a political or humanistic question by asking, “Hmmm… now what would William of Orange have thought of this?”
9. Lol yes, school buses are real!
Are there really yellow buses picking you up from home to get you to school?
So the drivers learn a new itinerary every year?
What happens if you miss the bus?
What happens if it is stuck, let’s say in the snow before it picks you up?
Are parents too busy to drive their kids to school? Or is public transport that bad?
8. They really are that way
Those middle aged home owner society/PTA moms? Are they really that bored/self obsessed/clueless/easily offended or is that just on TV?
I’ve seen the near retirement couples tourists in Dublin and they just look like they are waiting to be offended, dragging some poor beaten down guy with them.
I think I’d enjoy spending half my evening winding them up by allowing one patch of my garden to grow and paint my house one colour shade off standard
7. How lucky you are not to have experienced this
What the friggedy frack happens when you’re in the shower and someone flushes the toilet? Does like lava come out of the shower head…or does it get colder? Why do people in TV shows always scream when this happens?
6. Size matters
Apparently, American schools are so big!
Whenever I read about high school graduation online or elsewhere, I always see a few American comments that say, “My graduation class was really small, we were only 150/200/300 people,” or something like that.
I’m on one of the biggest schools in the entire city in one of the biggest cities in the entire country and we have, with class 5 to 13, so nine different years, only a bit more than a thousand students total. Total! That’s about 112 students per year! And regarding graduation, not everyone does. So at the end, there’s even less than 112 students.
What constitutes as a big graduation class in America? And how big are your classes?
5. If you’re old enough to die, you’re old enough for a taste
The idea that a naked body is so offensive it needs to be pulled off the air (i.e. Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction) but violent movies are all viewed by children (R rating not really enforced).
Also the idea you can die for your country at 18 but god forgive you have some wine before being of age (age 21).
4. Like a wax museum
Every single time I went to a store, the apples (and probably the other fruits, but apples were the most obvious ones to me) were so unnaturally shiny. I legit though they were plastic ones the first time I saw them.
I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m sure most countries cover their fruits in stuff (in big chain stores) to make them last longer, but I’ve never seen it going that far.
It’s just wax, and I know you can wash it off. I was just really surprised by the amount that was used.
Somebody (of USA origin) in my study group today (in Australia) took out a jar of peanut butter and casually started slathering their whole banana with it and I 100% could not relate to that.
For the record, I asked her wtf and she was all like, “Oh, you guys don’t do this here? Is it weird?? It’s normal back home.” And the study group were all like, “… No…?”
2. This guy has some strong feelings about chocolate
Not an issue as such but you all sing the praises of Hershey’s but it’s just so awful. It barely uses any cocoa so it’s hardly chocolate at all, but it all just tastes so fake and there’s something off about it. One of the people in my apartment building is a friend of ours from the States and after getting her to try proper chocolate here we ended up just pigging out on share bags of all kinds of chocolate just so she could actually see the various forms of what chocolate is supposed to be. I don’t know what is wrong with Hershey’s but it has no right to call itself chocolate. Or edible.
Once a friend brought some Hershey’s for me to try from the US. I tried it and immediately assumed it had gone bad, though checking the sell-by date, it should have been fine. Maybe it was the flight conditions, maybe it froze in the luggage compartment, I thought. It’s hard to describe the taste – like mould/vomit/chemicals – but for sure it didn’t taste fit for human consumption. The texture was also very crumbly and brittle, not creamy.
Years later, I found out that it’s supposed to taste that way. Who eats this stuff?
1. This sounds like a pretty good deal to me!
The whole “if my boss doesn’t like my shirt, I can instantly lose my job and my health insurance” is just so alien to me. American employment law sounds like a nightmare landscape to me.
In Germany, if your company has more than 5 employees, you cannot be fired without cause. Legal causes are economic problems for the company (and even then the company cannot just fire who they want; they have to make a list ranking the employees along several criteria; the older you are, the more dependants you have and the longer you have worked at the company all put you lower down on the list); behavioral problems (insulting the boss, constant low performance, stealing); or personal problems (lost the driver’s license required to perform your job).
In all but the most serious cases (like stealing or attacking coworkers), you have to be given the chance to improve.
I’m 32, married, 2 kids. Half of the company will be fired before they can fire me for economic reasons. As long as I am a semi-competent employee and don’t assault anyone, my job is safe.
My healthcare is independent from my employment. I don’t lose anything or change anything just by switching employers. If I lose my job, unemployment benefits pay for it. If that runs out after a year, social security benefits pay for it.
Did I mention that I have 30 vacation days (legal minimum of 20 days; most employers offer at least 25) and unlimited sick days (6 consecutive weeks with full pay, after the 6th week at 70% pay; resets after working one full day)? If I’m sick, I stay at home, period. I can choose between 6 extra vacation days or the equivalent in money. I’m expected to take all of my vacation days (at least 2 weeks worth consecutively; it’s not unusual to take a whole month) and will be pestered by HR towards the end of the year if I didn’t take them.
I work 39 hours/week; anything more will be taken as vacation days later on. I’m not legally allowed to work more than 10 hours per day and my boss is personally liable if he directs me to work more than that and something happens to me in my way home.
These are not ultra-rare benefits just for the elite; 20 days of vacation and unlimited sick days are legally mandated; even minimum wage employees get that.