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?”
47. 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.
45. Very Nice?
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.
44. My Daughter And The D
43. Tell Me About Me
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.”
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.
41. A Man For No Seasons
40. 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.
39. 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.
38. 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…
37. Lock And Load
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!”
36. 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.
35. It’s Like Building A House
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.”
34. I Hate You, You Hate Me
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.
32. This Is L.A.
31. First Impressions
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 spoted 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.
30. Wanna Hang Out?
29. Scraps From The Table
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.
28. 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.
27. A Beyond Ditzy Cashier
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.
26. Insanely Ridiculous Questions About Africa
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???
25. Scotland’s Apparently Questionable Greenery
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.
24. The Excessive Distance Between Everything
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.
23. A Cinematic Assessment Of Jaywalking
When I went to Florida I was stopped by the police for J Walking. 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 J Walking 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.
22. The Mystery Of Cheap Food And Free Refills
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.
21. Soft-Serve In A Super-Size Glass
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.
20. Hopping Out After Speeding To Chat With The Cop
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.
19. Yes, They Speak English In England
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.
18. French Student Hitchhiking With Potential Serial Killer
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.
17. Under The Impression Of A World-Wide Summer
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.
16. Mistaking Foreign Currency For Monopoly Money
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.
15. An Argument Over Canada’s Oceans
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.
14. Trying To Catch You Riding Dirty
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.
13. Creepy Policeman Trailing Danes On A Bicycle
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…
12. Mystifyingly Cheap Cici’s Pizza Buffet
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.
11. Mad Obsession With Money
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.
10. A Scooter-Filled, Deep-Fried Disneyland
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?
9. Amazement Over Modern Mumbai
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!”
8. The Distinction Between “Washroom” And “Restroom”
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.
7. An Apology For The Election Of George W. Bush
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.
6. Getting Free Money Out Of Sheer Confusion
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.
5. A Hilarious Wisconsin Sausage Incident
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.
4. Google Earth
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 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 smokes that’s a freaking camel!”
3. All You Can Eat
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.
2. The Sweetest Old Lady
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 fuck 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.
1. This Cab Driver’s Insane Ignorance To Language
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.