When everyone around you does things a certain way, you start to view it as normal and “the way things are done.” However, visitors stepping inside the bubble wonder at the habits and customs developed a world away.
Americans tend to see our way of doing things as the right way, but travelers from other regions wonder at our practices.
While scrolling through the popular r/askreddit sub of Reddit, I found a thread asking users to share the things about American culture that confuse them the most.
Here are some of the top responses.
Most Americans are in debt. We have car notes and mortgages and rely on credit cards to pay for daily expenses.
The financial system in some other countries doesn’t allow folks to take on such substantial debt. One user said they must have at least a 25% downpayment to purchase a home where they live.
On the positive side, easy access to debt makes homeownership easier in the states than in some other countries.
Little Vacation Time
The two week yearly vacation is something to strive for in the states, while other countries mandate even more time off.
Some European users can’t wrap their heads around the minimal time off Americans get to enjoy.
“Two weeks seems so wild for me,” expressed one user. “We have 28 days mandatory vacation per year,” they added.
Even Americans agree, saying the lack of vacation time is one of the worst things about the US.
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Users from other countries can’t understand why Americans give millions of dollars to televangelists so they can live in luxury.
One American tried to explain it, using their own family as an example. “They teach that if you give your money to the church (and to them), god will bless you with prosperity, and you’ll be rich,” they said, adding that their parents regularly donated but are still poor.
Others said that most Americans also see through the scam, and only a tiny percentage fall for it.
A Canadian Redditor expressed shock at the low educational standards in the US. Although they admitted that the country hosts plenty of intelligent people, they were shocked that many people didn’t seem to have basic knowledge.
Americans blamed the infamous “No Child Left Behind Act,” which epically failed at what politicians promised. Rather than ensure equal opportunity for all children and create a culture that values knowledge, it prohibited teachers from failing poor performers and tied school funding to test scores, forcing teachers to teach to the test rather than teach to instill knowledge and understanding.
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Americans are peppy, embracing school spirit and our favorite “home team.”
One European user found America’s obsession with mascots, rallies, and school sports confusing.
“Where I live, we just have teams and just play matches against people,” they said. “In America, it’s all like “GO EASTTOWN EAGLES!!! OOGACHACKA!” and there would be some person in a cheapo eagle suit spinning a basketball on his fingers or something.”
We love to make a production of our sporting events. It adds a bit of flair and entertainment, making it fun for the whole family.
Zero Tolerance Rules
Some users expressed confusion at America’s zero-tolerance policies in schools. Although designed to stop bullying, they often result in harsh punishments for victims who stand up for themselves.
Many said the rule has unintended consequences. Kids who usually try to get away or stop a fight to avoid getting in trouble will go all out since they will get the same punishment regardless of what they do.
It also gives groups of bullies opportunities to gang up on kids they don’t like. If each three bullies each attacks once, the same kid will have three fights on their record, risking expulsion.
Many users said the backward rule only allows schools to say they did something to address bullying, but it doesn’t fix any problems.
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Americans worship political leaders like they worship favored celebrities. We get flags showcasing our “team” and defend every action and decision they make, regardless of how horrible.
“Looking at the US from the outside, it seems like idolizing presidents is a typical American thing,” said one user.
Redditors from other countries said they generally hate politicians instead of worshipping them. “I think hating politicians might be the norm, at least in Europe,” offered one.
America’s tipping culture is wild to foreigners. Most Europeans rarely even tip in restaurants, so being asked to tip an additional 20% on retail transactions is especially flummoxing.
Even Americans think tipping culture has gone too far.
“It drives me insane, and my kids think I’m a major boomer,” said one.”Almost everywhere you go, they present you with the opportunity to tip, like there’s no service being rendered other than what you’re paying for, and they still flip the screen around and ask if you want to pay at 10 or 15 or a 20% tip.”
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Redditors from across the globe express bewilderment at America’s overly expensive and confusing healthcare system.
An American user living abroad highlighted the differences. “I had a five-day hospital stay back home in the US, and my bill was over $10000. I had another five-day stay in the country I live in now and my total bill was about $300.”
To be fair, many Americans agreed that our healthcare system isn’t working and needs restructuring. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough political will to make the drastic changes necessary.
European shoppers experience sticker shock when they make their purchases at the register. It’s common in the states for sales tax to be excluded from the price tag. American shoppers know they will pay more than the listed price at the register, but the practice confuses those from other countries.
In most of Europe, the price on the tag includes taxes, so it’s the price you will pay at the register.
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How Do You Feel About These Common American Practices?
After seeing the perspective from outsiders, do you agree that these ordinary “American things” are a little weird? Would you change any of these things about American society, or do you think we have the right approach?
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.