Every country has its own peculiar quirks and customs, but it’s safe to say that the United States is in a league of its own. A melting pot of races, religions, and people of all kinds, you can’t turn a corner without spotting varied influences in everything from restaurants to architecture, combining to form a culture that can only be defined by one word: American.
Whether experienced firsthand or admired from afar, American culture is ever-present, though that doesn’t mean it necessarily makes sense to everyone. In fact, some customs and habits from the U.S. of A seem downright crazy to the rest of the world — and most of us are guilty of all of them.
1. America has become synonymous with supersizing, an idea that most other countries can’t wrap their heads around. Sure, getting an ice cream sundae with 16 scoops or building a 30-pound burger may look good for a photo op, but in other parts of the world, quality typically trumps quantity.
2. The concept of baseball’s World Series — or really any other American-based “world championship” — is one that baffles foreigners. After all, calling yourself the best in the world at something without going up against international competitors makes the whole “world champion” thing seem a little hollow.
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3. Very nice — or, maybe not. Though Americans toss a “thumbs up” as a sign of approval, in places like Australia, Greece, and the Middle East, the gesture is actually akin to flipping someone off.
4. American patriotism has become a lifestyle in and of itself — too bad there’s really nothing “American” about it. Overseas, the word “America” refers to any of the 23 countries that make up North and South America, making Mexico, Canada, and even Brazil just as “American” as the United States.
5. Personal space is something of an unusual concept to most foreigners: in America, even the slightest bit of physical contact from a stranger can make some people uncomfortable. Of course, when it comes to animals, exceptions are usually made.
6. Americans develop a strange fixation with pumpkin flavors around the autumn season, an association that leaves most foreigners looking like Mr. Pumpkin here. They basically see pumpkins as just another member of the squash family — and not even the tastiest one, either.
7. To top it off, most countries outside of the U.S. don’t even celebrate Halloween. The holiday is considered to be just another American cash-grab by most foreigners, but, hey, at least we get a few laughs out of dressing up.
8. Ice seems like an essential part of any beverage to most Americans, but overseas, it’s seen as kind of gross. That’s because not only do most ice cubes come from questionable sources, but they also tend to water down whatever you’re drinking.
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9. What kid didn’t rip open their birthday presents the moment they got them? Well, while that kind of thing may fly in the U.S., opening presents in front of the gift giver is actually considered rude in some Asian cultures and may even make you appear greedy.
10. They say variety is the spice of life, but in the eyes of most foreigners, Americans take this saying a little too far. That’s why literally every product on the market comes in at least a dozen styles, colors, and flavors… some more appealing than others.
11. Americans may giggle over the fact that most European cultures have embraced nude sunbathing, yet it’s our labeling of the practice as “indecent” that’s made us the weird ones. But even with our tendency to cover up, we still manage to wind up with people walking around looking like this…
12. Paying tens of thousands of dollars for a secondary education is appalling to most foreigners (and to anyone who’s attended college in the U.S. over the last 30 years). Why saddle yourself with decades of debt when you can get the same education overseas for free?
13. Most Americans avoid sitting shotgun in a cab, but in countries like Australia and New Zealand riding in the backseat of an otherwise empty taxi is considered elitist — this driver, however, was probably thankful his passenger thought so highly of himself.
14. Tipping is also a foreign concept overseas, as most service industry employees there are paid much higher hourly wages than those in the U.S. So if a foreigner ignores your well-drawn tip jar, don’t take it too personally.
15. Red solo cups may not seem too American, but that’s exactly how most foreign countries see them. That’s because the unassuming beverage holders are most often featured in American-made films, especially those involving those wild American college parties. Thanks, Hollywood!
16. Who could say no to free refills? Well, despite the concept being the norm in the U.S., some countries have attributed this American practice to rising obesity rates and have even banned unlimited-refill sodas.
17. In Japanese culture, showing one’s teeth is considered rude and unbecoming. Americans are known for their hearty, open-mouthed laughs, so if you ever decide to take a trip to the land of the rising sun, make sure to leave your copy of Airplane! at home.
18. Most foreigners are perplexed about the fact that American public bathrooms typically have that weird space between the floor and the bottom of the stall. Some might say it’s so that you can see if anyone else is in the bathroom — others, however, may argue it’s an easy way to share your bathroom burger.
19. Some foreigners are put off by Americans’ penchant for making small talk, believing they’re trying to have a deeply personal conversation instead of simply shooting the breeze. In some countries, in fact, asking something as casual as “How are you?” can incite a person to spill all their worries and troubles onto you.
20. Trying to explain that football in America isn’t the same thing as football everywhere else is already an uphill battle, but things become even more complicated when you bring tailgating into the mix. Even people in the U.S. don’t understand why Buffalo Bills fans dive through tables, but, hey, what else is there to do in Buffalo, New York?
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American customs do take some adjusting to, though there are plenty of other countries whose traditions are just as hard to grasp. You’d likely encounter a food fight in a high school cafeteria, but not anywhere else…unless you’re in Italy for the Carnevale di Ivrea. Watch out for an orange to the face!
Each year the traditional battle of oranges wages on, and 350 tons of the fruit are mercilessly destroyed. But, why is this strange practice carried out annually?
Historians attribute the 3-day battle as a symbol of rebellion against a 12th-century tyrant. Legends say a girl named Violetta was being taken by the tyrant but she fought back, and he was killed.
Guards tried to arrest her, but citizens saved her by pelting them with stones. Oranges represent stones, thank goodness, but still, things get raucous at this one-of-a-kind gathering.
Andrea Daddi / Flickr
2. Tree Marriages – India: Comparing star charts on a first date is a fun hobby in the states, but in India, traditional astrology is regarded with much more importance.
According to Hindu beliefs, people born under the strong influence of Mars, or manglik, aren’t suited for happy marriages. That’s a big deal for a woman born with her sign in Mars. But what do trees have to do with it?
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Because manglik women face a more complex challenge pursuing marriage — it’s believed they negatively affect the health of their husbands — they must first marry, you guessed it, trees.
This waves the manglik curse, and after the ceremony is over, the tree is cut, burned, and the women are able to marry freely. It’s not exactly kind to the environment, but hey, there’s one less spinster in the world!
3. Fighting Cholitas – Bolivia: Think of an American female wrestler and some typical images come to mind: spandex, massive muscles, and scant clothing. These garments, of course, are part of their performance.
But female wrestlers exist in other countries, too, where they rock their own unique styles and charisma. The Bolivian Fighting Cholitas of the Titans of the Ring use contradiction as their gimmick.
Grady C Mitchell
Clad in traditional petticoats, bold colored shawls, and bowler hats, these indigenous gals battle it out in the ring. It all started in 2001 when declining ticket sales gave the Titans manager, Juan Mamani, an idea…
He decided to recruit unconventional wrestlers. They aren’t professional athletes — and they still balance day jobs — but that doesn’t stop them from stepping into the squared circle and kicking some butt.
4. Voting Fines – Australia: “Don’t boo. Vote!” As former President Obama chided during the last election, Americans sometimes have trouble actually getting to the polls. That’s not as huge a problem in other countries…
Citizens in Australia, for instance, aren’t afforded the opportunity to cop out on their civic duties and stay home one election day. There, not voting results in fines!
The penalty isn’t huge — in Australia, it’s $26 — but it’s enough to incentivize eligible citizens to flex their rights. It may seem strange, but it forces people to use their voices. They can always write in a cheeky candidate suggestion if they’re cheesed off.
5. Fast Food Portions – Philippines: You thought super sized was big? Well it’s a puny joke compared to the heaping portions you can order at a Filipino McDonald’s.
Mugtown10 / Instagram
The Filipino slang term barkada refers to a casual meeting of friends where you share food. Snacking with buds is a universal pastime, but the Philippines cuts out the drive through squabble of who’s getting what with their shareable sizes.
Claude Corpuz / Flickr
6. Kumari Goddesses – Nepal: Little girls often dream of being princesses, but in other parts of the world, they get to be goddesses! The Kumari, or living goddess, of Nepal are young girls believed to be manifestations of divine female energy.
Public Radio International
Selections are made by Hindu monks and astrologists who choose a girl among the Shakya caste to undergo a series of strict rituals to prove her incarnation. If she passes, she’s whisked off to a palace and worshiped until she comes of age and returns to normal life.
7. Banana Leaf Plates – Indonesia: Though a family-style meal in America doesn’t involve sharing the same plate, in many other countries, cutlery and dishes are unnecessary barriers. They eat off banana leaves.
Botram directly translates as “eating together,” and the Sudanese custom eschews etiquette to get right to the good stuff — the food! Eating with your hands off the same surface puts everyone on the same level, despite your social standing.
8. TV Licenses – United Kingdom: Other countries regulate television and radio signals via the government, and cutting corners results in big fines. In the UK, each household pays £150.50 per year license fee to access TV, radio, and the internet.
If you try and dodge the system, agents from the Enforcement Division could show up on your doorstep and bust your operation. They can even get search warrants! The fee goes directly to funding the services provided, so even though it’s a bit of a bother, it won’t be lining the pockets of a cable company executive.
9. Bagged Milk – Canada: Back in the 1970s, Canada transitioned to plastic, non-resealable bags to store milk, as glass storage became too costly. Ever since the drink has resembled a sinister water balloon. But, there are other advantages to bagged dairy than just of the comedic variety…
When Canada transitioned to the metric system, redesigning plastic jugs and paper cartons was a headache. Resizing plastic “milk bladders,” as they are jokingly referred to, was a simple fix! The con is the bags have to be placed in pitchers once opened. Still, milk bags have been around for over 50 years and are still wobbling strong!
10. East Asian Age Reckoning – South Korea: In this country, the aging system starts at 1 year old rather than zero. A newborn baby is 1 sal, which is their traditional aging unit. But before you throw the cake away you got for your South Korean pal’s bday, don’t fear, birthdays exist.
You add a year to your age on the Lunar New Year. So, a person could have a December 30th date of birth and add another year to their age only a few days later. Most people still celebrate their individual birthdays though. They just get double the party opportunity on their sal day!