Every country, every culture is a little bit different…some more than others. And you can really experience that first-hand once you spend any amount of time in another country, whether it be for a six-month trip abroad or a quick vacation. When it comes to stereotypes, it seems there are many surrounding the United States and American culture. Most of these things are perfectly normal if you live and grew up in the U.S., but are completely confusing and shocking to travelers. Just take it from these Europeans, who recently shared the craziest moments they had when traveling through the U.S.
44. Banter Then Drinks
First thing I saw after sitting down to have my first beer in Portland was some guy walking in the middle of the street, kind of dressed as a ninja, with two weapons on his back.
Oh, and before that some homeless guy told me and my friend to “go back to your country.” Then some slightly hippie looking girl apologized for his behavior. We just laughed at how scripted the situation felt and went to have the drink mentioned above.
Also, when you play Grand Theft Auto you hear strangers on the street yelling and talking about weird stuff. That just felt exaggerated until I went to the US and realized it actually happens all the time.
43. See You Later, Alligator
In 2015 I went to Florida. We walked past a putt-putt golf place and a guy was holding an alligator in his arms; he also told me he had an 8-foot alligator in the back.
I’m from England, so I don’t think I’ll ever quite get over just how casual he was having a real live alligator in his arms.
42. Quick Pay
I went to pay with a card in a restaurant and the waiter just took it and walked off.
41. Romantic Refills
Not European but Arab. Went to some diner in Portland, Oregon and I ordered coffee. Halfway into my coffee she asked me if I wanted a refill. I politely declined to tell her I was short on cash. She laughed and said refills are free of charge, and to top off my amazed reaction she complimented my shirt. Needless to say, she cured my hangover and I fell in love.
40. Super-Size Stores
Had my cousins come over from Latvia for a few weeks. They never got over the absolute size of stores like WalMart and the sheer amount of products offered.
39. Holy Commute
European gone to Texas. The difference in religion is astounding, it’s so much more prevalent in people’s lives here. There are some beautiful churches in Europe, but they don’t seem to have the same spirit as Texas.
Also holy smokes the driving distances are immense. An hour commute in the morning is normal for people.
38. Climbing The Car
I really wasn’t prepared for the size of the cars! I’m used to getting into cars by opening the door and sitting down, not climbing up. And we had a rental car, a Dodge of some sort, that was pretty much a tank, with tiny windows so you could barely see where you were going.
37. Erasing That From Memory
So I’ve been living in the States for three years now, originally from England. I turned to my co-worker one day and asked: “Can I borrow a rubber?” She proceeded to do a double take and said “What??” I asked again and told her it was to rub out the mistakes I made with a sketch I was working on. She proceeded to burst out laughing and explained to me what a rubber really means… I should have said eraser.
36. Endless Fountain Of Sugar
I was extremely surprised that in fast food restaurants you will find unlimited soft drinks from time to time (like a refill cup). Yet people pay extra for a bigger cup. So they don’t have to walk too often I guess?
35. Substance Disclaimers
Your commercials on TV for prescription substances. We found the disclaimers for the side effects hilarious.
34. Flag Fanatics
There’s so many flags everywhere. The American flag density per square mile is so much higher than any other place I’ve been. It’s like every other house has a flag.
33. Guest With A Weapon
Was at a 4th of July party in the middle of the woods: chilling, having a great time and some drinks, zip-lining from a tree into a lake – it was like a 90s film come true.
Out of nowhere, this fellow comes in with a weapon slung over his shoulder shouting “LETS SHOOT SOME STUFF UP!” Naturally, I pooped myself and made to run into the woods before realizing he was just a guest who turned up a bit late.
He turned out to be a really nice guy.
32. Tip-Toeing Through Texas
I left my hotel in Texas at 7:00 AM – stopped at McDonald’s and got enough breakfast sandwiches to last me through lunch. I then stopped at a gas station to get gas, some smokes and two cokes. I gunned it through Texas, sometimes going over 90 miles an hour. I stopped one more time to go to the toilet and get gas and snacks. At 7:30 PM I stopped at the hotel to spend the night. I was still in Texas.
31. Real-Life Cowboy
First time I flew to America, right at the airport I see this guy walking around just all dressed up like a cowboy and my day was just made right there.
They’ve always just been these fantasy characters from TV or movies, in the back of my mind I knew they’re real but no matter what you can never be prepared to really see one.
He wasn’t even a cowboy, just an American.
30. So Much Room For Activities
The space. You guys have so much unused untouched space, it’s crazy. In Europe there is barely anywhere that isn’t owned or isn’t being used. In Europe we have protected forests, in America, you have some unrestricted, uncontrolled forests that are massive!
29. Snakes In The Park
I’m actually in NYC right now! I’m from the UK.
Yesterday I went to Central Park and there were literally two guys just driving around on segways with giant snakes around their necks. Occasionally they’d take them off and drape them around the nearest random person. I was actually frozen with horror.
28. Cereal Celebration
We LOVED our visit – loved the whole bloody place, but I was absolutely gobsmacked when I found Fruit Loops with marshmallows. I genuinely did not think it was possible to make Fruit Loops more unhealthy, but you guys did it – love your work!
27. Talkative Trips
My brother lived in Tampa for a while. When I went to visit, any American I spoke to told me their life story: their military career, how many jobs they had, kids they had, how old they were etc.
I took a 40-minute trip in an Uber from the Keys to Ebor and, I’m not kidding, this guy talked, seemingly without taking a breath, the entire time.
As a Brit, this was very very uncomfortable.
26. Problematic Pricing
I’d go into a store, and everything had a price on it. Then I’d take it to the checkout, and all of a sudden they’d add a load of extra charges on top of it. Why not just include it in the price so I know what I’m going to have to pay for it?
25. Troubled By The Toilet Situation
Went to New Jersey for work.
The classics: portions are enormous and public restroom stalls might as well not be there considering the size of all the gaps. Toilets have a weird shape and hold too much water.
Also everyone is so polite and talkative. As someone who is really horrible at making conversation myself, this made me feel a lot less awkward talking to people, so that was nice.
24. Hopelessly Homeless
I went to Portland at the beginning of this year while on a business trip and I couldn’t believe the number of homeless people in downtown Portland; I am not talking about the odd person just sitting on the corner begging.
There were a couple of streets with people just strewn on the pavement, some laying down, some sleeping, some just talking to themselves and screaming.
This was the first time it really hit me at how big the class divide is in the US and how this is normalized. I would like to believe if this happened in the UK it would be all over the news. And don’t get me wrong, we do have displaced people in London, but not at this level.
While this is happening, a few streets over you’ve got the most hipster of markets with people talking about stopping gentrification and changing the country and I’m thinking “Look a few streets over mate, there are about 20 people just on the floor without a home and no one cares.”
23. A Dozen Donuts
I know this is the biggest stereotype, and I don’t think this is an actual representation, but holy smokes this ACTUALLY HAPPENED!
My first day ever in America was in Miami and my family and I went to a donut shop. First of all, when we asked for a donut each they looked at us oddly. “One donut!?!? Are you sure?” We felt weird so we bought a couple each.
Moments later, two cops entered and proceeded to buy 12 donuts. 12 donuts EACH. AND THEN, A guy walks in with his two kids, maybe 3 and 5, and buys them a dozen too. One of the kids eats 3 and starts throwing up. So Daddy calms her down and feeds her another donut “to make her feel better!” Wow. 10/10 stereotypical experience. It was like a show was put on for us.
22. In-And-Out System
The whole restaurant culture. Here in Europe, it’s common to go to a restaurant or terrace to socialize and it’s not uncommon to spend the whole evening there. You’ll typically have a bunch of beverages and restaurants typically want to stretch your stay as long as possible so they can sell you more.
In America (and Canada for that matter) I felt that restaurants were purely functional. Terraces so you can cozily sit outside were scarce. You’re led to a table, brought your food very quickly, if you’re lucky the waiter/waitress asks you if you want a drink for a second time and the minute you finish your meal they ask if you want to check out or want dessert (and immediately ask you to check out). Felt very rushed and baffled me every time.
It’s a lot more of a fun experience in Europe. And it’s more profitable for restaurant owners as well, as in the long run, they’ll be profiting more from customers who spend 3 hours or longer in their restaurant or on their terrace.
21. Back To Cali
There’s a lot of negativity in the UK. My experience of visiting California at 15/16 was wonderful. I had never left the UK before and it was honestly the best experience of my life. The people were so friendly and everyone was so excited to meet a tourist, they would genuinely care about hearing why you were there. The food was amazing. I ordered a milkshake, most of it was in the glass but then all of the extra was given to me in this metal cup thing. It was great. It’s really hard to describe the tangible difference in people. The best way I could describe it would be openness, I guess. I was queuing to use a toilet and the guy in front of me just turned around and was like “Hello, my name is (blank), what did you think of the Golden Gate Bridge?” The same thing happened in a supermarket too. It was great. The only irritation was the tax not being added on to prices; my teenager brain wasn’t prepared for that. Someone explained that they like it though because it helps them identify how much they’re paying for the product, and how much they are paying in tax. 10/10 would visit the US again. Would like to see more states, too.
20. Lawyers At Large
When you see things like the Simpsons, you think the lawyer thing is exaggerated. But the highway really is full of signs like “Been in an accident and need help? Call a lawyer.” Which is pretty far down on the list for accident help for me. I was also somewhat surprised at huge confederate general statues in the middle of large cities. I thought the Civil War was a bit more touchy of a subject.
19. Road Signs Are Suggestions
England: Red light means don’t you dare go past the line.
America: Red light means if you feel like it, you can ignore it when making a turn.
I almost got hit about a hundred times whilst walking through NYC.
18. Extra Cheese, Please
Cheese, cheese, cheese…EVERYWHERE!! Even on stuff where there’s already cheese, like pizza! Insanity!
17. Off The Beaten Path
So I’m from Germany and I think the thing that shocked me the most is how unnecessarily and overly friendly everyone was; that kind of gave me the creeps. I also do not understand why there are literally no paths for bikes anywhere so that you have to have a driver’s license. I also saw cars driving through the streets that wouldn’t even be allowed to drive anymore in Germany because they were so damaged.
16. The Poorer Parts
We were on a roadtrip in California. Obviously, the variety in scenery is amazing. You go from a huge lively city to mountains, from mountains to deserts and from deserts to beaches. My biggest head-scratching moment, however, was when we were driving from Yosemite to Death Valley. We drove about 100 miles from the relatively big town (European standards) where we spent the night and passed through a town in the middle of nowhere that I can only describe as sad. While obviously, people were living there, the town simply felt lifeless. The saddest part was probably seeing the school. I’ve been to some African countries and visited extremely poor towns there, but I’d honestly rather grow up there than in that town in the US.
Don’t get me wrong, the US is an awesome country, everything about it including the people, but there are exceptions.
15. What’s The Tea
My partner and I stayed with a couple in NYC in a beautiful apartment. They loved their gadgets and had loads of tech for simple things, such as a doorbell, and the coolest shower. However, they still put a kettle on the oven hob (stove to any Americans reading).
My partner, who used to live in NYC, pointed out most places in the states didn’t have a plugged in kettle that boils at the flick of a switch.
Funnily enough, as we walked around the shops, I didn’t see one “normal” kettle, only the really old fashioned ones that you boil yourself.
14. Brawling On The Bus
Getting into a long-distance bus, and while waiting for the bus to start, a woman starts to yell at a kid and run after him through the corridor. The kid hides behind a guy, so the woman starts to hit the kid across the man, hitting him in the process too. Apparently, the kid had stolen her phone and didn’t want to give it back. The driver, seeing the commotion, comes to intervene, but gets hit by the woman with her bag. They yell at each other for a while, the driver leaves the bus, the woman follows him, and they come back with a security guard. He then proceeds to grab the kid, who apparently doesn’t have the phone anymore, goes to check the different seats, but can’t find the phone. He leaves with the woman again, only to come back with another security guard, that proceeds to arrest the kid, who looks about 12 years old, by handcuffing him in the back and leading him out. They all leave again, apparently to go make a deposition or something. When the lady comes back, she gets mad because someone has taken her seat while she was gone. So she leaves the bus and never comes back.
13. Subway Shenanigans
First visit to New York. Taking the subway when a crazy old person steps in.
He starts rambling about “the war” to himself, then after a while he gets silent, then he stands up straight, salutes and proclaims “God bless America,” and proceeds to pee himself, still saluting.
This “what the heck” moment was a sad one. Both mental health and homelessness is a way bigger issue in America than back home. I had never seen anything like it in my life and during that week alone I got two similar homeless moments.
12. Into The Wild
I went to a little town in the middle of a forest in NH, near the border of Vermont. The thing is that while I was sleeping I kept hearing this weird sound, so I decided to take a glance. It was a deer…being followed by a wolf.
11. No Sippin’ In The Street
Spent a semester in Minnesota. On move-in day we were over at an American friend’s place. Everybody was having a good time, partying and playing yard games in the front yard. I see someone across the street and start walking and about a foot short of the sidewalk my friend pulls me back and almost tackles me to the ground. He goes, “What are you doing? There are cops like 10 feet away from you!” That was the moment I learned I can’t carry an open beverage can across the street.
10. Uniform Bills
Mine was a few things. The main two are price labels. That the price on the label or the menu is nothing to do with the price you pay. In the UK and Australia, any sales taxes are legally required to be included on the label.
The other was more annoying than anything. Dollar notes and that all the other paper money is the same size and color. At a glance, you’ve got no idea how much money is in your wallet. I can’t help but feel sorry for the blind or visually impaired.
9. Overly Large Breasts
Staying with some friends in MA, went to a supermarket to find something to cook for dinner. I was walking past the refrigerated meat section. The giant size of your chicken breasts! That’s not normal, what the heck!
For Europeans who haven’t seen these things – there were two in the pack and they were each bigger than turkey breasts! Absolutely huge, equivalent to maybe four organic chicken breasts back home each. Coming from Ireland – I never, ever want us to have a trade deal where we import meats from America.
8. All You Can (Literally) Eat
I’d been to all-you-can-eat places in the UK several times and can put away a fairly unethical amount of food myself, but I found that in America “all-you-can-eat” is taken very literally. It was like an extreme sport, and everyone there was brilliant at it.
When certain foods were put out there were actual stampedes, with pushing and elbows.
Plates were piled so high food was falling off as people walked back to their tables. They didn’t seem to notice.
Several people were so obese they were technically in a state of medical emergency. In that respect, it was no different to a pub serving an inebriated drinker – not ok.
It all had the effect of killing my appetite, making me worried about the lives of perfect strangers and generally disorientating me.
Oh and I like queuing. The free-for-all stampedes were not ideal.
7. Deformed Balloons
The amount of very obvious plastic surgery in Manhattan. I realize the rest of the country isn’t like that but it was so weird to see all these people who looked like deformed balloon animals walking around. Do they not own mirrors?
6. Outdated Banking
US banking feels like a thing straight from the XIX century. You guys still use checks. And the only way to transfer money between friends is PayPal and Venmo. In Europe bank transfers between accounts of different people are super cheap and simple to do online. Also, American banks don’t use IBAN. Banking in the US sucks big time.
5. Quick To Smile
Being greeted in kind. Polite, friendly faces with an actual smile!
It was so weird at first, as I’m used to evil looks and a grunt when I enter a store. People are so friendly in Arizona.
The first of many to casually come up to me just to chat and compliment my t-shirt (which NEVER happens in the UK) had me thinking he was going to hit me. Like a chav.
Don’t ever stop being awesome, I look forward to every visit, in part, because of this.
4. Out On Lines
Queues for everything. You guys have some patience, especially in shops. Why the heck does it take at least 2-3 minutes to scan a few items and take out money? Seems to be consistent in theme parks and supermarkets. Also, why is someone paid to put stuff in bags? I am quite capable of doing that myself thanks. In England, people would go absolutely mad queuing this long in a shop, despite our reputation as good queuers.
3. Automatic Panic
Northern European here. On my trip to America, I booked a rental car online, for a trip from New York to Niagara Falls. When I arrived to collect the car, the customer service lady called a manager and both started apologizing that the last car model that I booked was manual. I will never forget their facial expressions when I told them that I have never driven a car with automatic gearbox.
2. A Nice Day In New York
I went to the US from the UK for the first time this year, had a long weekend in New York with my Dad. I live a 30 minute train journey from London so I go there regularly for days out, concerts etc.
What hit me initially was how clean and spacious NY was compared to London. Americans probably see it as crowded but to me it was more of a breath of fresh air. Saturday evening got busy but in comparison, it still felt less busy over London. Also, the size of all the cars and trucks was a reasonable difference. Where we have a Range Rover as the executive cars, you guys had Chevy Suburbans and the engines sounded beefy.
The other stereotype we hear is that all Americans are fat but I didn’t see many overweight people at all. However, I thought this could be down to the amount of walking people probably do.
Your subway system also confused us initially. In the London Underground, we have 2 platforms where one train goes one way and the other goes the opposite. What we found in NY (eventually) was that one platform is the quicker train which stops at certain stops but the other side stops at all the stops?
I have to say NY was one place I always wanted to visit and I adored the city. The atmosphere was so good and within 12 hours I was already talking to a guy about my camera, just so friendly. I imagine not everyone is as friendly but everyone we met was really nice.
1. A Christmas Story
I went to Phoenix twice (in-laws live there), and the first time was around Christmas. It was my first time in America, and my girlfriend assured me that no one would walk the streets, you have to travel everywhere by car. Well, being the ignorant European that I am I said screw it the first day and persuaded my girlfriend to go to McDonald’s (it was the only option available in walking distance) a couple of blocks away the first morning. We were stopped five times on our way there, asked if we needed a place to stay in the local church, or if we’d like to have a Christmas dinner for the homeless in another. I just like to use my legs!
Oh, and apparently there is such a thing as ‘regulated weapon access at crossings’: A store owner complained to me that he wasn’t allowed to sell guns anymore as the crossroad his store was located at was determined to have sufficient gun access by the city council, meaning that 4 stores could sell weapons and he no longer could sell them. That was an eye opener!