Just like any other country, America’s pride doesn’t erase its quirks, its strange attributes, and its fair share of odd people. While the U.S.A. has contributed its resources to all sorts of brilliance and innovation across the globe, it has also served as a source of laughter, hilarity, and side-splitting foolishness!
Certain American experiences may stray from the norm of a tourist’s home country, yet they can also be plain odd all by themselves. No matter which end of the spectrum they fall on, there are plenty of U.S. based tales of amazement, horror, idiocy, and fascination waiting to be uncovered! Luckily for us, many who have seen the odder sides of what the country has to offer have tracked their most hilarious moments. From getting asked if there were trees in Scotland to mistaking Canada’s currency for Monopoly money, some situations are too ridiculous to forget!
These are 44 of the best stories that had foreigners, citizens, and locals all asking the same thing: “What the heck, America?”
73. How else will we know what to buy?
I find American TV to be unwatchable honestly. The cycle just breaks my brain : 3 minutes content, 1 minute cliffhanger, 2 minutes advertisement, 1 minute recap, rinse and repeat. Makes me feel like a hamster on amphetamines after 5 minutes…
72. They do care.
In Germany “How are you?” is an actual question and you generally only ask it, if you know the other person. It was super hard to explain to my mum that the answer is always “fine, thank you” and that cashiers don’t really care about how you actually feel, when we visited the US in 08.
71. Drink up.
Free refills. Went to a restaurant with my dad (both German) and all of a sudden the waiter took away my drink with another perfectly good sip in it and I must have looked pretty shocked. It was only then when my dad explained to me that you guys have free refills.
70. What are those flashing lights?
I live in the south and one time I was hanging out with a friend smoking by a lake in late spring / early summer. He was Egyptian and had just moved here over the winter. All of a sudden he freaked out saying he was seeing weird lights in the trees. I thought he was too high or something before I realized he meant the lightning bugs. He’d never seen them and didn’t know what they were, so I started catching them and he was mind blown that they were just a normal seasonal thing.
69. Getting to know you.
Canadian here, I was blown away by how weirdly social people are with strangers. Like some random guy I’ve never seen before just starts telling me his life story on the street. He is super normal, and doesn’t seem crazy, just wants to talk to me for some reason. But then also, the dude at Wendy’s is loudly threatening some 16 year old cashier in front of like 45 people. I got the impression the Wendy’s guy was uncool, but the other guy seemed normal, and where I live I generally assume that a stranger talking to me for no reason is either crazy or high.
68. You won’t go hungry.
After a week in the US I was so horrified at the portion sizes. Hubby and I regularly ordered one meal for the two of us, but I wanted fish and he wanted a burger, so I ordered a salmon filet with salad. The “fillet” was the size of an iPad and there was enough salad to feed a hungry vegan convention.
67. You look nice.
Complimenting strangers. When I visited the US I went to an amusement park and a girl complimented my glasses and that was my first time getting complimented and at the same amusement park a senior lady complimented my dad for having a beautiful family and a handsome son (me). I was really happy that day.
66. Come on over.
The weirdest thing is that Americans will ask what you are doing for thanksgiving. Are you going to your family etc… When you say no, they invite you to their home. I was a student, my family was thousands of miles away, and I’m happy that the local Cracker Barrel is open and looking forward to a meal there.
My Professor did that. Invited me to his home. I had a good time, but it was strange. I’m meeting his uncles and aunts. and one little girl threw a tantrum, I had to take her to calm her down etc… It was weird. But also wonderful. In my country things like this would never happen. You don’t bring a stranger to a family event.
But I’m thankful things like this happen here.
65. Can you see the golden arches?
Canadian here, Canada’s fast food restaurants have signs that fairly normal height, just enough to get the point across while not being obnoxious, cross over to the USA and within 5 seconds of leaving customs you can see fast food signs hundreds of feet in the air on giant poles. 2 – 3 times taller than here in Canada, why!? Also, finding peanut butter and jelly swirled into the same jar was shocking.
64. Standing ovation.
I went to Seaworld with my mum when I was in my mid teens. Halfway through the show, the performer (not the whale) asked everybody in the military to stand up and the whole crowd gave them a round of applause. They sat back down and the show continued as if nothing had happened. Couldn’t imagine anything similar happening back in Blighty.
63. Large and in charge.
Everything in America is huge. I don’t just mean the people or portion sizes, because we all know about that- but the roads, the buildings, the ceilings, the space between everything… America is gigantic. It just feels larger than it does here. I’m Australian but I’ve been to Asia and size-wise it’s similar to Australia, and I’ve seen Europeans say the same about America. Everything is bigger.
62. Drive up to the window, please.
For context: I’m from The Netherlands. The weirdest thing for me was a drive through liquor store. And a drive through ATM. In fact, it was the realization that Americans do everything by car.
My wife went to Philadelphia for work about ten years ago and wanted to walk from the hotel to the Target store across the street. People thought she was crazy.
61. If you don’t like it, toss it.
Waste. Especially of food. I’ve seen half of a large pizza thrown in the garbage, simple as that. Broke something? Don’t even bother fixing it, just throw it into the bin and buy another.
I once went to a show in Broadway, they had special themed cups for the Phantom of the Opera show that you could purchase. They were made of glass. Some of the theater bought it, consumed it, and just left it there. They didn’t even bother taking it home as a souvenir. They saw it, had the urge to buy it, and just did it.
That’s something insane for me.
60. Can we help you?
As weird as it sounds – the level of customer service is amazing! Ok, there are horror stories, we’ve all had bad experiences, and some companies are famous for having grumpy CSRs but in general – DAMN! Everyone comes across really cheery and almost genuinely willing to help you.
But as I’m not used to it, I’m like ‘Ummm, no thanks – I don’t really need/want anyone stood with me in the hardware store to hold my hand through the perilous world of picking up a box of screws. I’m fairly sure that’s down to the tipping culture and the labour laws that mean you can be fired at a moment’s notice.
59. Don’t walk this way.
The fact that nobody walks any significant distance ever for any reason. A while ago I was on holiday in New England and did a lot of wandering about for pleasure – coming from a country which is at least 70% rambling footpaths, I thought that it might be fairly similar in rural America. Nope. I was forced to walk on minor-to-fairly-large roads almost all the time. I had people call out to me from their gardens to ask where I was headed and reply with incredulity when I told them it was about 10 miles away. I had a lovely old woman almost hold me hostage and force me to let her give me a lift to my destination because she couldn’t understand that I genuinely preferred to walk and I wasn’t trying to get to help from my crashed car or something. I had a really nice policeman pull up in his car next to me and ask me where I was headed, if I was lost, if he could give me a lift – he laughed at me in a these-foreigners-are-crazy sort of way when I said I was alright. I didn’t quite expect to attract that much attention just by wandering about by foot. For all that, though, it was genuinely one of the nicest holidays I’ve ever taken myself off on, and almost all of the attention was pleasant and helpful. You did good, America, you weird place.
58. Trust issues.
I’m in the US right now, and one thing that always gets me is the extreme lack of trust. People have checked my ID using a credit card, you usually hand it to the cashier instead of entering it yourself. At fast food type places when they say like ‘Number 71’ you don’t just say that’s me and grab it…you show them your receipt number so they know you’re not stealing it.
Things that you pay for admittance to like movies or buffets or something might as well have armed guards, there’s like multiple people checking to make sure no one sneaks in, checking receipts etc… Going to a sporting event requires bag checks and metal detectors, going to your seat requires an usher or two to check your ticket to let you into the section.
It just constantly feels like people think you’re going to steal things. You have to ‘prove’ everything.
57. Red means go.
In America I found out it’s perfectly legal to turn right on a red light. In the UK you only turn left (since we’re on the other side of the road) if the light’s green. Sometimes you get a filter arrow that says you can turn left, usually because the road you’re turning into is on green so you won’t get in anyone’s way, but otherwise red means stop.
In the US, though, if you’re turning right a red light is basically a give way sign. I found this out because I crossed a road at a pedestrian crossing on like my second night and even though I could see my light was green and the cars light was red I had to wait in the middle of the road for two right turners. I went back to my hotel room where the friend I was visiting was waiting on the snacks I was bringing and I very dramatically asked, kinda in a David Mitchell voice, “is there some law in this country saying turning right on a red light is just fine?”
He said “…yes?” like I was an idiot.
That can’t be safe!
56. Is she nice?
You keep asking if we (British people) have met the queen.
Like, I know we’re small compared to you, but we’re still a country of 65 million people.
But part of me really wants to answer, “Yeah, I ran into her in the milk aisle of Tesco’s once. She drinks full fat.”
55. A man in uniform.
Canadian here. The military/first responders “hero worship” weirds me out. I’m a career firefighter up in a large Canadian city and I travel to the US several times a year for vacations (cruises out of Florida, road trips…) and I just can’t wrap my head around the whole hero-worship thing. The whole “thank you for your service” thing just doesn’t happen up here and like most of my coworkers it makes me horribly uncomfortable when I visit my friends to the south (when asked what I do I now just say I work for the city. which is true.)
Anecdote: I’m sailing on a caribbean cruise with a large group of friends 10 years ago and on the formal “Captain’s Dinner” where everyone dressed fancily many american uniformed personnel are wearing their parade uniform. I’m wearing a suit. The people sitting at my table knew what I do for a living and were genuinely insulted I was not in parade uniform, they even accused me of being ashamed of being a FF… I had to explain to them that wearing uniforms off duty is just not done where I’m from.
54. One to a room.
I went to Boston for a conference and we stayed in a student dorm. The entire dorm had one kitchen and ONE FRIDGE for ~400 people. It was bursting at the seems, we couldn’t even use it. How on earth do students cook and eat??
The beds were crazy uncomfortable and they didn’t give us a duvet, only a sheet(!) and a really old pillow. It was so cold and uncomfortable.
The fact that you share dorm rooms is also super weird. I would never sleep in the same room as another adult that wasn’t my significant other on a regular basis. The fact that this is normal in the US for students is perplexing.
53. Depends where you are.
Ordered ice tea at a restaurant. Where I come from, ice tea is just another word for something akin to lemonade, often in peach flavors. So imagine my surprise when I could immediately taste that it was regular cooled down tea, and the waitress couldn’t understand my shocked reaction.
Now, it wasn’t bad by any means, but when you’re expecting a completely different feeling and flavor, it throws you off a little.
52. It’s a problem.
Australian here, did a 3 month road trip doing a lap of the USA in 2015. The poverty is what stood out to me. Every town/city in every state had so many homeless people. Almost every park I went to had people living in tents. Hard to get used to people asking for change outside of shopping centers and anywhere really. I mean we have homelessness and poverty here but not to the extent that it is in the states. It was weird how the ‘normal’ Americans I met treated people on the street like they didn’t exist or were aggressive towards them.
51. Going above and beyond.
I’m Israeli and I spent 4 months in the US last year living with host families for 3 of them. I would say that one difference that is kind of under the radar is that Americans expect more. Department stores are a great example, in Israel if a store I would go to to buy electronics would start selling gardening products I would think to my self “what are they doing, get this stuff out of here, it doesn’t need to be here.” While an American would think “awesome this store offers even more stuff” even if he doesn’t need or want gardening equipment.
I felt that Americans always expected more from the services and people around them. Israelis like to “make do” with what they have and if someone went the extra mile and did some thing we didn’t need him to do, we would think it’s weird and that he is a fool to do it.
50. Cruisin’ together.
Driving is so different! Automatic cars almost seemed like the default, the roads were sometimes easily twice as wide than they are at home, and I didn’t see a single roundabout. Even the road signs were easier to read. Nice big parking bays everywhere too! I’m sure a lot of it is because cars tend to be bigger in the US and land is a much more abundant resource, but it was a massive difference. I failed my driving test 6 times in the UK and gave up in the end, but I’m sure I would have passed it no sweat if I’d taken it where I was staying in PA.
49. Way into sports.
The idolization of college and high school athletes, and treating them like superstars. I don’t think anywhere else does this with their teenagers/young adults. It’s creepy and weird.
Where I’m from, no-one except the team themselves cares about the football or rugby team, and even then you’re lucky if everyone turns up to practice.
Our high schools don’t have huge floodlit pitches with stands that fit the whole school and their parents.
I don’t think anyone goes to matches even at the university level, I’m pretty sure the only televised university sport is the Oxford/Cambridge boat race and that’s kind of an embarrassment really.
48. Something is rotten.
I’m from Denmark. I’ve had people ask if it was a city in Sweden or the UK. Americans generally don’t believe it’s an actual country. (A lot of said people also refer to Europe as “a country” and believe that everyone here speaks the same language — British or English.)
This might be a compliment to my American accent, but when I was in NYC a woman asked what state Denmark was in. When I told her that it was a country in Europe, she asked if it was an “english country”. Unsure what she meant, I replied, “No. We speak Danish back home if that’s what you mean.”
So she asked, “Then how come you can speak English?” She was really sweet though so I just explained that we have a good school system, and took the entire thing as a compliment.
47. Funny money.
This guy was shocked that Canada had its own money. They said, “Y’all have your own money up there?” This was in Vegas, where I would’ve expected them to be familiar with non Americans.
46. My wife.
I am from Kazakhstan.
Obviously, hearing any joke about the Borat movie insulted me. But sometimes it gets even worse, like when an athlete from my country won a contest and had to listen to a Borat-version of our national anthem.
It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad and ignorant.
45. Where are you from?
My father-in-law still doesn’t know what country his married daughter lives in or what the name of the capital is. We’ve been living here for a little over a decade. We live in the Netherlands, AKA Holland, the capital of which is Amsterdam.
He keeps referring to it as Denmark. I’m guessing it’s ’cause Dutch also starts with a D, but frankly you’d think he would take more of an interest.
44. You don’t say.
I’m from the UK (England) and I once had an American tell me : “You don’t speak English. We speak English. You speak British.”
43. Maybe someday.
This dialogue happens more than It should:
Them: Where are you from?
Them: Where is that ?
Me: Africa, North Africa.
Them: But you are not black…?
Me: Yeah, I know. I’m working on that.
42. A man for no seasons.
The first guy I met in America didn’t know that in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are the opposite of the north. When I explained to him that in Australia it’s summer in December, he became angry and called me some not-so-nice things.
41. It’s right there in the name.
When I was in Louisiana, I asked for a cell phone voucher at a petrol station. The lady asked what language she should print it in, because she “could sense a bit of an accent.”
I said, “English please.” To which she asked, “Where are you from?”
“England,” I said.
And she replied, “Ya’ll don’t speak French there?”
If I hadn’t heard it with my own ears I’d never have believed it.
40. Oh say can you see.
I was surprised by the value people put on The Flag. I worked in a shop in a state park in California for a while and was in charge of putting the flag out in the morning and taking it in at night. It was monstrous and I really struggled carrying it. Every time people saw me coming with it, they would stop walking and stand around silently while I put it in the slot. It made me so nervous. Like, I imagined dropping it would be a huge faux-pas.
39. Explain yourself.
I think I saw more cops in my first month in the US than my whole life in Europe. And it was very weird for me that i actually had to justify what I’m doing to them more than once. They seem to see kids (I was maybe 13-14) always as troublemakers.
For example, I rode my bike through some tiny village in the Rockies and just rested on a bench. I sat there and watched the world go by because everything was new for me. 10 minutes later, the police showed up and asked why I’m here, what I’m doing etc.
They were not nice and I didn’t understand what I’m doing wrong. The only time a police officer stopped me in Germany as a kid was when he asked me if I could spare some of my crisps…
38. Locked and loaded.
Went to this sport shop to buy goggles in Texas. At one end of the store, they had the biggest collections of weapons I’ve ever seen. So I decide to snap a picture to send home.
The shop assistant comes over and says, “Sir, I’m so sorry.”
“Oh,” I say, “I can’t take a picture?”
“No, go ahead, I’m just sorry we don’t have ammo anymore.” (This was a couple of weeks after the sad event that took place at Sandy Hook.)
When I then told this to my Texan friends, I realised all of them (even at the wedding I was invited to) had at least one firearm, if not several. When they told me it was for self-defense and I told them we don’t have that many guns in Europe they asked me what would I do to defend myself. I’ll never forget how hard they laughed when I replied, “Well, I run!”
37. Bottoms up.
When I visited the US from the UK, I deliberately bought a large McDonalds cup just so I could take it back with me to show everyone the sheer size of your portions. Most people I showed were in awe, and I usually forgot to tell them about the refills, as well.
36. It’s complicated.
I was flabbergasted by the amount of choice Americans have. Buying a sandwich was utterly bewildering the first few times.
For example, in the UK a typical exchange between me and sandwich guy might go like this over the period of 30 seconds:
Me: “Can I have a ham sandwich please.”
SG: “White or brown?”
SG: “Any salad or sauces?”
Me: “Lettuce and mayo please.”
SG: “Here you go. That’ll be £15 million, and your car and your house.”
Similar exchange in the US, over ten minutes:
Me: “Can I have a ham sandwich please.”
SG: (over-enthusistically) “Sure thing, sir! Which of these two thousand varieties of bread would you like today?” (None of which qualify as bread, but that’s another subject…)
Me: “Oh, er, not sure really. That one please.”
SG: “Sure! That’s a multi-grained-bad-tasting-full-o-sugar-fest-foot-long-sub-roll. Do you want enough ham to sink a battleship, or would you prefer just enough to make you sick for an entire week?”
Me: “Erm, I’ll go for merely enough to induce meat-sweats for 8 hours, thanks.”
SG: “What kind of cheese are you after?”
Me: “What have you got?”
SG: “Montery Jack, Jack-o-Lantern, Jack of all Trades, Tastes of Jack, Chilli-Jack, Rubbery-Jack and Jackie Chan.”
Me: “No Cheddar then. I’ll go for Monterey Jack”
Me: (confused and overwhelmed by all the choice) “Can I just have the sandwich now?”
SG: “Sure! I just need to know what else you want on it. Jalapenos?”
Me: (exasperated): “No, thanks but really…”
SG: “…Olives? Cucumber? Lettuce? Relish?”
Me: (eyes glazed over): “No, thank you, it’s fine as it is”
SG: “Toasted, roasted, basted? Mayo, coleslaw, salt or pepper?”
Me: “No, thank you, really, the sandwich is fine as it is, please can I have it now before I starve to death?”
SG: “Sure thing! Here you go. That’ll be $0.000000001 please.”
35. We’re a happy family.
We took a trip to California my senior year in high school and went to Rodeo drive to see the walk of fame and the street performers.
I watched all kinds of street performers and people dressed as various fictional characters. Some were cool, others were kind of odd. But none compared to Barney the dinosaur.
His costume was made out of purple carpet. Not even joking. You could see where it had been stapled together and could see that plastic hairy looking stuff sticking out. Probably came out of a hippy van or something.
Anyway, a friend of mine got called something highly prejudice by this Barney because he wouldn’t give him $5 for a picture and then snapped a pic of him with his camera.
Not ten seconds later, a little girl, who couldn’t be over the age of 6, came running up to Barney (while he and my friend were still talking angrily) and hugged his leg. I don’t know what happened exactly, but he yelled something and pulled his head off.
The little girl proceeded to cry and not in just a sniffly tearful way. She bawled.
I was in Atlanta with my family.
Downtown was really nice. Olympic Park, World of Coke, a very good Aquarium, blah, blah, blah.
But outside the perimeter was like running the gauntlet in the post-apocolypse. I had a guy come up to me, pull up his shirt showing a weapon in his pants, and say, “Hey, you got fi’ dollas?”
I still tell myself giving him $20 while my daughter went pee in the worst gas station bathroom her or my wife had ever seen wasn’t a “mugging”.
I’m certain if our car happened to break down there we would have met a terrible end.
33. This is L.A.
My first night in Los Angeles, I watched as a stolen cop car and a million cop cars flew past me down Hollywood Blvd at 60mph. Then I turned and walked back into a Thai restaurant where I watched the fugitive get pit maneuvered and violently stopped live on the news via helicopter chase cam.
The dude sitting next to us was excited to tell me I had officially “experienced” L.A. Over the top car chases, action cam news helicopters, neon lights in Hollywood, an Asian restaurant that made me feel like I was in an art film? …I had to admit, he was right.
32. This is no time to split hairs.
The only time I’ve ever been in the U.S. was for two hours in an airport during a stopover. It was my first time travelling on my own and I was starting a new life in Canada.
Anyway, I got lost in the airport and the airport staff were being ‘nice’ with their super helpful comments: “Sweetie, those bags are too big”; “Honey, those baskets aren’t going to scan themselves, are they?”; “Darling, you’re really missing your parents right about now aren’t you?” Finally, when I found my gate, I took a seat and relaxed.
The old guy next to me was having a very educational conversation with his young daughter. They spotted an Indian man wearing a turban and the man told the girl: “You know why they wear a turban, don’t you? It’s because they’re actually not masculine enough to cut their hair.”
I hope that man enjoyed his flight to Omaha.
31. Let it all hang out.
I was sitting in Times Square with my brother and my mom when suddenly a naked man walks right past us, minding his own business. Just casual, like he was in his apartment or something.
30. Begging for table scraps.
While staying in San Francisco, I was shocked at how the fast food restaurants were perfectly okay with homeless people coming in and hounding customers, making eating out a really uncomfortable experience. Every time I sat down at a restaurant at least one homeless person would walk in and start demanding that I give them my burger or fries.
I had one guy who sat opposite me in the booth chanting, “LOOK INTO YOUR HEART, LOOK INTO YOUR HEART AND GIVE ME FRIES,” repeatedly.
It was really uncomfortable and unsettling, and the serving staff did not care at all.
The homelessness in San Francisco was really appalling, and I’m surprised that more wasn’t done for people who were clearly vulnerable and needed help.
29. Beer pressure.
Studied a semester at UC Berkeley. All of us Norwegian exchange students were invited to this frat party on campus. At some point we decided to walk from the frat over to the campus bar. A few people were still casually drinking on the walk over. Suddenly out of nowhere a bunch of police officers jumped out of the bushes and started arresting students for drinking in public.
Some got fines, some got court dates and some were even hauled in. It was so surreal. They must have been waiting in those bushes all night. Cops don’t do stuff like this in other countries.
28. You don’t say.
I’m an Aussie. When I started chatting with a cashier she squealed and asked where I was from. I told her Australia and she instantly dumbed down how she spoke. “DO… Y’ALL… SPEAK… ENGLISH… DOWN… THERE?”
I replied “sporadically.” She laughed and informed me that wasn’t a word.
27. Which country, again?
After moving from Africa, as a teen, I am repeatedly asked why I moved to Africa in the first place, to which I reply that I’ve always lived there.
I am also asked, “So why are you white?” To which I reply, “Oh my god, Karen, you can’t just ask people why they’re white!” However, when they reply with blank stares I realize they aren’t referencing Mean Girls…
Some other questions:
So Africa is one country and all the borderlines are, like, states?
Are there, you know, buildings?
You guys have memes over there, right?
Are you AUSTRALIAN???
26. That’s just embarrassing.
I went to Applebees (mistake number one, I guess) I was then served by a nice young lady called Brittany who asked me with a serious face if we have trees in Scotland.
25. You can really spread out.
It’s crazy to me how spread out everything is. Like, it’s pretty much impossible for me to survive without a car, while everywhere I needed to go on a regular basis back in London was in a ~ 10-minute biking distance. Also, the number of pickup trucks people own without needing.
24. Everyone loves movies.
When I went to Florida I was stopped by the police for Jaywalking. I protested that the road was clear so therefore safe to cross. He said, “I don’t know how you do it in your country but here in The U.S. we take road safety seriously.”
Aghast, I explained I was from England and my only knowledge of Jaywalking was from Lethal Weapon 3 and that I believed it was just a made up law that they used in the movie. He chuckled and said, “That’s a great movie, I prefer the first.” I agreed and said it was by far the best. After a brief chat about the entire Lethal Weapon saga, he said: “In the future make sure you use the crossings.”
I agreed but asked in a pretty decent South African accent “What if I have diplomatic immunity?” He chuckled nodded his head and pointed to the crossing and said: “Cross there, enjoy your vacation” and off he went. It was the highlight of my holiday.
23. That’s why he’s the King.
When I went to the U.S. the first time and ordered a meal from Burger King, ordering a large fry, coke, and a Whopper, I was blown away by the size of it all. Each item was larger than the same item back home, I was already like “what the heck?” but then the cashier said I could have a second Whopper for $1! Again, I was like “what the heck, sign me up!”
Another time, while I was in Daytona, I went to a restaurant and the woman kept refilling my drink, again and again. Being a bit shy, I did not tell her to stop, and expected a bill with $15 for sodas, but then I found out the refills were free, what the heck!? FREE REFILLS?! I’d only seen that at places like Subway, but so many restaurants in the U.S. had free refills.
I love the U.S. for restaurants and food in general, the portions are massive and very reasonably priced.
22. Ice cream headache waiting to happen.
I was at an all-you-can-eat buffet with a soft serve ice cream machine. As kids, we thought we were being little pigs by swirling as high as we possibly could (while our parents weren’t looking or they certainly would have stopped us). The guy after us grabbed a full-sized drink tumbler and filled it up with ice cream. No shame at all. No child-like glee at making the mother-of-all sundaes. I suspect now it was something he did regularly.
21. Remain in the vehicle, sir.
Someone I knew told me about his British boss getting pulled over for speeding. As is the tradition in England, he got out of the car to meet the police officer and it went about as well as you’d expect.
20. Language barrier.
Me paying at a ‘gas’ station. The attendant hears I have an accent and smiles at me.
“You speak English so well.”
“Thanks! Although I should… I’m from England”
Cue confused look. “Wait? They…” she trailed off “speak… English… there?”
Her colleague stared at her in open mouthed disbelief and then broke out laughing with the other customers. She looked mortified. To be fair I felt terrible for her. She was only trying to be friendly to a foreigner.
19. Mixed messages.
I’m a French ex-exchange teenager living in California. It is summer ’97. I was young and missed the fieldtrip bus to Disneyland from San Diego. So I did something pretty stupid, I hitchiked to go there by myself. The dude who took me looked like a plainclothes cop, but a good buddy.
When he heard I was French he told me to never ever hitchhike in the USA because its pretty dangerous. Plus people could assume I’m a criminal. So I boasted “look at you. You don’t think I’m a criminal? I’m not that dangerous looking or you are careless?” He told me to open the glovebox in front of me: There was supposedly a gun inside.
He dropped me at the bus station and insisted to give me 10 dollars for a ticket (I had cash) and waited for me to go in the bus.
I’m an Australian. I went to Houston last year and spoke to a girl my age in the airport. We got chatting about college (it was around July) and she asked me if I was on my summer vacation. I casually explained I was on my winter break. She was genuinely confused and did not understand how it was summer in the U.S. but Winter in Australia. I tried to explain but eventually gave up.
17. It also smells like maple syrup.
I’m Canadian and I went down to the U.S. to do a little shopping. I accidentally pulled out some Canadian bills and the cashier asked why I kept Monopoly money in my wallet.
16. From sea to shining sea.
I was in Northern New York (near Buffalo) and a waitress overheard that I was headed “back to the Pacific Ocean.” She asked where I was going and I said Vancouver. “No honey… Vancouver is in Canada and that is on the Atlantic Ocean.”
I said, “Canada is from sea to sea just like America.” She replied “no that’s not right, only America is from sea to sea”
The combination of her being absolutely sure about something and her total ignorance was surprising enough but the fact that she felt she should basically interrupt our conversation by telling me I am wrong about what ocean I live beside was weird.
15. Bribe your way out of it.
In Virginia, a cop pulled me over. He said I was speeding (I wasn’t, but ok) and that I owed him $300 cash or he would take me to jail since I had a Canadian license plate (his reasoning was as soon as I left the state I wouldn’t pay the ticket). I said I only have $80. He took it and pocketed it in front of me and let me go.
14. They just want to help.
I was in Vegas with 3 Danish friends, and we were very sick from the night before (3 of us, not the driver).
We decided to go for a drive in the convertible, after 15 minutes a police officer on a bike drives up next to us and just stares into the car.
This lasted like 5-10 seconds, so the driver turns his head and asks “anything wrong officer?”
The officer replied, in a super angry tone “Keep your eyes on the road!”
He continued to follow us for about a mile, just staring at us…
13. Stuff your face.
I’m from Canada and went to Cici’s Pizza in Florida. Holy wow $5 for an all you can eat buffet which was basically a fast pass to witness a lot of gluttony that was on another level.
12. That costs extra.
I’m from the U.K. and I lived in the U.S. for about 5 years now. There are a few things that annoy me – You want to get a loan for a new car? There’s a fee for that (on top of the interest). You want to take money out of the ATM? There’s a fee for that. You want to exchange some currency? There’s a fee for that (on top of the exchange spread). A product has money off? You’ll have to send something to receive it (they hope you can’t be bothered). Pretty much any service, someone will try to make a few extra dollars off you.
11. Why walk when you can scoot?
I went to Disneyland in Anaheim, and it just struck me that there were a large number of people with disabilities out and about enjoying the rides. I’m from India (where there is no shortage of people with disabilities) but it was just the sheer number of people with disabilities that made me extremely happy that the park was accessible to everyone. You did good America, I said to myself as I ate some horrible expensive fried thing.
I later realised that most of those people were not disabled but fat people on scooters who did not feel like walking.
Where do I sign up?
10. A horse of course.
My biggest what the heck moment was in Fall 2005. Google Earth had just come out, and my colleague at the University lab and I were looking at it. She was a blonde bombshell from San Diego, and I’m a portly Indian boy. When I showed her Mumbai, my home city, she was blown away.
“You have buildings?” “Look, there’s an airport!” “Oh my god, you have cars?” How the heck do you think we get around, I asked. Her reply still rings on my head. Not walking, not cows, not elephants, not bicycles, not horse drawn carts. She said camels. If I ever saw a camel in Mumbai I’d stop everything I’m doing and say “Holy wow, that’s a camel!”
9. No place to go.
I was in Spokane at Silverwood (amusement park) and asked where the ‘washroom’ was. I was promptly told there were no washrooms in the park. This happened a good handful of times and it never even occurred to me that I had to say ‘restroom’ to receive any real help.
8. Time for another apology.
A lady came up to my friend and I while we were wandering around Victoria’s Secret and basically apologized for George W. Bush being elected. She had heard our accents and literally approached us just to apologize. She also let us know that she was praying about it every night, which clearly made sense to her, but didn’t seem like a particularly effective way of changing the situation to us.
7. Free money!
So it’s the early 1980’s, and my mom’s plane touches down in LAX from Tokyo. As she was collecting her luggage and waiting for her friend to pick her up, a Hare Krishna (which she had never seen before) came up to her and asks her (in English) if she could donate a few dollars.
My mom, who only had a few yen and a poor grasp of English, tried to explain to the Hare Krishna that she couldn’t understand him and that she had just arrived in the United States. The moment she started talking to him in Japanese, he just gave her some of the money he had and went on his merry way, leaving her at the luggage carousel confused as heck.
6. Way to ruin it for everybody.
I am a Canadian and I was on tour in America. I witnessed an enormous man at a Big Boy in Wisconsin pull out 5 jumbo freezer bags and fill them to the brim with sausages from the all you can eat buffet. He hid every bag between the overhang of his belly and sweatpants, then filled a full plate of sausages and proceeded to sit calmly at his table and finish them.
5. Ain’t she sweet?
I’m English and visited California about a decade ago. We’d been staying in a small town called Mariposa while we visited Yosemite National Park for a couple of days. My friends had continued their road trip on to Vegas, while I had to head back down to LA and get the plane home.
I was waiting for a bus to the station in Mariposa. It was raining, uncharacteristic for April I was told. A pickup truck pulls up. The first thing I see is a huge dog sitting in the passenger side. Then an old lady, I’m guessing around 60, peers over and asks me “Where are ya headin’?” I told her I was going to LA, and she says “Me too, get in” and starts pushing the dog into the back.
Partly out of politeness but mostly out of curiosity I jumped in. I think it was around a three to four hour drive to LA. As we set off she starts listing all the things we have to do before we get there. Visit her friend to move a trailer, visit another friend who has broken her ankles to feed her dogs, visit a place where she could do her taxes (“that should only take a few hours”). It was going to at least double the journey time.
Now in my head I was saying no I don’t want to do any of that but I found myself saying “okay”. She was super happy. After about half an hour we arrived at her friend’s house. She had two huge dogs and I found myself carrying an industrial-sized bag of dog pellets to fill a huge automatic feeder.
While my new old lady friend went to use the bathroom, the slightly larger woman that owned the house showed me photos of her daughter and asked me what I thought of her. I said she was pretty, which wasn’t a complete lie. She told me she didn’t have a boyfriend and I nodded and smiled awkwardly.
Then she said “So you’re going all the way down to LA with Oldladyfriend are you?” I saw my chance. “Erm, actually, I think it might be better if I get the train. Do you know when the next one is?”
Slightlylargewoman checked the train times. Then she hollered out, “Oldladyfriend! He needs to get the train! The next one’s in 20 minutes!” Oldladyfriend rushes (as fast as a 60 year old can) back into the room, shows no signs of being perturbed, says we better get going then and we quickly get in the truck.
It looks as though we may miss the train. Oldladyfriend is literally speeding down the road. She turns to me all of a sudden and says “Has anyone ever told you about Jesus?” I tell her yes, that my parents have told me all about him. That doesn’t put her off giving me a little speech and I don’t say anything to stop her. I just smile and thank her.
As we get closer to where the station is supposed to be, she winds down her window at some lights and shouts to a surprised dude on the street “Where’s the station?” before accelerating hard and speeding round the bend in the direction the guy pointed to.
We get to the station and there’s time to spare. There’s a bit of a queue at the ticket booth and I say thanks, and take my place in line. After a few minutes I reach the front and buy my ticket. I turn towards the platform and feel a tap on my shoulder.
Oldladyfriend is standing there, apple in hand, a big smile on her face. She presses the apple into my hands and places her hands around mine. She bends her head in prayer. What she said I can’t remember, I was too busy looking at all the people staring at me, an old lady whose head barely reached my chest holding my hands. “Amen.” Without another word, she walks away. The train arrives and I leave.
4. Name your price.
Every time I’ve visited the US I’ve absolutely hated the tipping culture, along with the constant ‘up-selling’ culture. Add into that the lack of sales tax in any prices and you just end up as a foreigner not having a clue what you’re actually going to have to pay for anything.
The tipping was everywhere: we took a helicopter trip over the Grand Canyon as a special occasion for our family, and the pilot wanted a tip at the end. Sooo… the trip was $800 so what do I tip? $10? $100? I just ended up giving the guy a 20 because that’s all I had in cash on me, but then ended up feeling like he thought I was a tight bastard. How am I supposed to know whether the guy is underpaid and needs tips to make it up to a livable wage or whether he’s already perfectly well paid? Of course we knew from the start that he’d be wanting a tip since he spent most of the trip emphasising how much he personally wanted to ensure our enjoyment and seeing if we wanted bottled water.
The up-selling is possibly even worse. The number of times where you’d see e.g. a ad for a $12 buffet breakfast and think ‘sounds OK’, go through the door and suddenly you’re accosted by someone who wants you to have the ‘VIP experience’ breakfast for another $10 because then you don’t have to wait in line for the buffet, you get better seats and you get free refills of all drinks. Right… so you’re saying the regular breakfast has no free refills and I’d have to queue for my food before sitting next to the toilets? And then add tips and sales tax on top? It was pretty clear that the greeter trying to up-sell us was on commission because you could smell the desperation – she was practically telling us the regular breakfast was awful and we’d hate it. We just walked out again. Reached the point where I almost expected to see an option to pay an extra $5 to not get punched in the face while you’re eating.
Every time I go to the US I just end up reaching the point of going “will someone please just tell me a reasonable price they expect me to pay for the thing I’m asking for?” I hate this idea that I have to make constant judgement calls that tread a fine line between feeling guilty or feeling ripped-off.
3. In United States, manager calls you.
I was in New York recently and we went to a restaurant. Waiters showed up to take the order and deliver the food. And we didn’t see him after that. We needed a napkin, other things, he wouldn’t come. He only showed up with the bill (without us asking for it yet). It was $92, I left $100 and walked out.
The manager literally runs out, asks me to come back in, and starts lecturing me out loud in front of waiting customers about how “this is America and you have to leave 20% at least” he pulls out his calculator and does the math and puts it in my face. Asks me to put more tip. Then says “you are European aren’t you that explains a lot” out loud and very aggressively.
Quite a bad experience overall.
2. Stay healthy, or else.
I’m from the UK, and my parents took me to Florida in 1989. First day there we went to Universal Studios and had a great time on all the rides, but it turns out those rides shook my Dad around enough to loosen up some kidney stones that had him in agony that night. We didn’t have a clue what it was at first so I was sent down to the reception of our Best Western to call for an ambulance. Then things began to get weird. Apparently there is no such thing as just ringing for an ambulance, and we were sent two fire trucks instead. They rushed to the room then stopped dead and waited for the lead guy to get my Mum to sign some paperwork before bundling him up and taking him to a small hospital just down the interstate. Then when we got to the hospital my Mum had to sign a lot more paperwork before they touched my Dad. In the end we had a 5 hour wait in a tiny waiting room while my Dad was given morphine until he peed the stones into a paper cup. My Mum had to pay about $5000 before we could go. That meant we had to rethink everything we had planned for the rest of the holiday as money was tighter due to the hospital stay, and my Dad had to take things easy. So Mum came up with alternatives to rollercoaster filled parks and things. Anyway, long story short, Florida has a Tupperware museum, and that’s weird.
1. It’s not the same?
I was in an uber going to the airport and the driver asked where I was flying to. I said “Hong Kong.” He asked if I spoke Japanese. I told him that we speak Chinese in Hong Kong. He says “What’s the difference?” He genuinely didn’t know that Japanese and Chinese were different languages.