20 American Things that Non-Americans Just Don’t Get

In the vast tapestry that is American culture, there exist peculiarities that both fascinate and baffle outsiders.

Intrigued by its linguistic quirks and supersized lifestyle, the U.S. holds a treasure trove of traditions and norms, shaping a distinctive identity.

Here, a few non-Americans offer their perspectives and inquiries into the intriguing facets of American life.

1. Tax Filing Woes

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“Does every worker have to file their own taxes or am I just confused?”

In the United States, not every worker is required to file a tax return; it depends on their income level, age, and filing status. Generally, most U.S. citizens and permanent residents who work in the U.S. need to file a tax return if they earn more than a specified amount in a year.

Self-employed individuals are required to file an annual return and pay estimated tax quarterly if they have net earnings from self-employment of $400 or more. Moreover, individuals claimed as dependents may still have to file a return depending on their gross income.

2. Political Merchandise

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“So, why do you buy politicians’ merchandise? Shirts, caps, banners, stickers, etc. They’re public servants, not rockstars. Also, usually the more boring they are, the better.”

Imagine walking into a store and finding a plethora of merchandise endorsing various political figures. This is a common sight in the U.S., where politicians are not just leaders but brands. From bumper stickers to T-shirts, the political fervor takes a commercial route, offering supporters a way to wear their allegiance literally on their sleeves.

3. Work Culture in America

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“Scottish person here but the work/always available for work culture. Minimal vacation time, minimal maternity/paternity leave, and the fact you can pretty much just be let go. It makes me sad to think about it!

But I do love that you guys cram so much into your time off – you guys love a road trip!”

Work culture in the U.S. is a mixed bag. On one hand, there is a remarkable spirit of innovation and a drive for achievement. On the other, it is characterized by limited vacation days, creating a high-pressure environment.

It’s a culture that fosters growth but at the pace of a relentless race.

4. Homeowner Associations: Blessing or Curse?

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“What is up with Homeowner Associations? Why would you pay to let a nosy neighbor dictate what you can and cannot do on your own property? I understand living in an apartment block and paying maintenance fees etc., but in a suburban home?”

Homeowner Associations (HOAs) play a pivotal role in maintaining the aesthetic appeal of American neighborhoods. They dictate everything from the color of your house to the kind of plants in your garden.

While this ensures a certain standard of beauty and uniformity, it can sometimes feel restrictive, curbing individual expression and preferences.

5. America’s Natural Parks

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“The amount of National Parks! My dream came true in 2017 to make an RV trip southwest of USA. Yosemite blew my mind away”

From the geysers of Yellowstone to the majestic Grand Canyon, U.S. national parks are a testament to the country’s diverse natural beauty. These parks, home to a rich variety of flora and fauna, offer an escape into nature, promising adventure, and tranquility to visitors from around the globe.

6. Linguistic Quirks

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“How you can say the word ‘mirror’ without the use of any vowels. Mrrrrrr.”

Ever tried saying “mirror” without using any vowels? In the U.S., it’s not uncommon to hear it pronounced as “mrrrrr.”

This playful take on the American accent showcases the linguistic diversity and the informal, often humorous, approach to language that is quite characteristic of American English.

7. Supersized Culture: A Bucket of Coffee, Please!

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“Why everything is just SO supersized?

My first time in America I went to get iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts, I ordered a large and my friend was like … are you sure you want a large?

Yeah no biggie, In the UK a large is not overwhelming I feel so I was expecting the same kinda thing.

Oh my god it was like a bucket of coffee. I think maybe a small would have been equivalent to a UK large, lesson swiftly learned.

Picture this: You walk into a cafe and order a large coffee, only to be handed what seems like a bucket of coffee. In the U.S., everything is supersized, from food portions to drinks, offering value for money and, sometimes, a dose of surprise for those unaccustomed to the generous servings.

8. College Roommate Experiences

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“How you have to share a room with some complete rando when you go to college.”

Sharing a room with a stranger is a rite of passage for many U.S. college students. This practice, while fostering unexpected friendships and learning experiences, also brings with it a set of challenges, including navigating different habits and finding common ground in a shared living space.

9. Conversational Openness

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“The culture of just… talking to people, strangers you don’t know and just up and start a conversation with them or join a conversation.

I’m British, and we go through great lengths to not talk to people, let alone opening up and pouring our hearts out to a random person.”

In the U.S., striking up a conversation with a stranger is as normal as greeting a neighbor. This openness can be refreshing, offering a sense of community and friendliness wherever you go. It stands in stark contrast to more reserved cultures, painting a picture of a nation where every stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet.

10. NFL Obsession

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“I’m American but I’ve worked with a lot of people who aren’t. The one thing they always wonder is why Americans are so obsessed with the NFL. They think it’s a boring sport. They explained ‘You wait for 30 seconds, they hike the ball, you get about 5-10 seconds of action, then you wait another 30 seconds, another 5-10 seconds of action, then commercial break’”

Why does the NFL hold such a revered place in American culture? It’s a question many non-Americans ponder. The game, characterized by strategic plays and bursts of intense action, captivates millions.

Despite the pauses and commercial breaks, the NFL offers a blend of strategy and skill that keeps fans on the edge of their seats, eagerly awaiting the next play.

11. Tipping Etiquette

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“The tipping culture is so foreign to me, I would be so scared to make a mistake or not tipping enough if I ever go to America because it’s not something which is common here in Denmark.”

According to a Bankrate survey conducted in May 2023, about 66% of Americans have at least one negative sentiment toward the tipping culture.

The survey reveals that a significant portion of the population believes businesses should pay their employees better rather than relying heavily on tips, which is a sentiment held by 41% of the respondents.

12. Teacher-Student Dynamics

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“My mom is from Moscow during the Soviet Era, and she is confused why there is no teacher-student hierarchy. She thinks it’s weird when teachers participate in school plays or speak to students informally.”

In American educational settings, the boundaries between teachers and students are often more relaxed. Teachers participating in school plays or chatting informally with students is a common sight. This friendly approach fosters a nurturing environment, encouraging students to view teachers as approachable guides rather than authoritative figures.

13. Public Restroom Designs

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“Why do public restrooms include a small opening between the doors that allows passersby to see you when you’re [urinating]?”

Ever noticed the gaps in public restroom stalls in the U.S.? This design, often seen as sacrificing privacy, actually serves practical purposes including ventilation and safety. While it might be unsettling for some, understanding the rationale behind it can offer a different perspective on this American architectural choice.

14. Price Tags and Taxes: What’s the Final Price?

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“Why tax is not included in the price tag?”

Shopping in the U.S. comes with a little surprise at the checkout — the addition of sales tax to the listed price. This practice varies by state, with each having its own tax rate. For tourists and newcomers, it’s a good practice to anticipate a higher total than the price tag indicates, ensuring you’re not caught off guard during your shopping spree.

15. Billboard Highways: The Lawyer Advertising Arena

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“There’s a lot. But I visited the US for the first time in December, and one thing that stood out to me: billboards. All along the highway. Billboards everywhere. Most of them for scummy-looking lawyers. Why this?”

As you drive down American highways, a common sight is billboards advertising services, notably lawyers offering assistance for various issues. This phenomenon is a testament to the competitive legal market in the U.S., where attorneys take to the highways to reach potential clients, promising justice and support in times of need.

16. Fixed Shower Heads

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“Why most of the shower heads are glued to the wall? How on earth do you wash your [bottom?]”

In many American homes, shower heads are fixed to the wall, a design choice that prioritizes simplicity and durability. However, it has sparked debates on its practicality, with some finding it limiting when it comes to cleaning certain areas. Despite this, it remains a staple in U.S. bathrooms, defining the American shower experience.

17. Sugar Everywhere

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“The amount of sugar in everything. It’s so very very much”

A stroll down the aisles of an American supermarket reveals a common ingredient in many products: sugar. The U.S. has a notable penchant for sweet flavors, incorporating sugar generously in foods and beverages.

While this satisfies the sweet tooth of many, it raises concerns about health implications, steering a conversation towards more balanced dietary choices.

18. TV Medication Ads

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“Prescription medication adverts on television.”

Turn on an American TV and you’re likely to see ads for prescription medications, a practice quite unique to the U.S. These ads, often accompanied by a long list of potential side effects, aim to encourage viewers to consult their doctors about the medication, fostering a proactive approach to personal health but also raising questions about the commercialization of healthcare.

19. Uniform Front Gardens

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“Housing codes, and why all your front gardens are just grass, and identical.”

In many American neighborhoods, front gardens follow a uniform landscaping pattern, often featuring well-manicured lawns devoid of any personal touch. This choice, influenced by homeowner associations, aims to maintain a cohesive and neat appearance. While it promotes uniformity and aesthetic appeal, it sometimes stifles personal expression and the joy of gardening as a creative outlet.

20. Political Leadership

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“Why such good people as American citizens are governed by such [awful people] as American politicians.”

The political landscape in the U.S. is often seen as a complex web of contrasting ideologies and intense debates. Leadership positions are sometimes occupied by individuals who polarize public opinion. Despite this, the democratic setup allows for a continuous dialogue, with the populace actively engaging in discussions, showcasing a vibrant, albeit contentious, democratic spirit.

With this myriad of perspectives shared by non-Americans, we uncover a rich mosaic of American culture, characterized by its unique quirks and deep-rooted traditions.

This journey through the eyes of the global community offers not just a deeper understanding of the American way of life, but also invites a dialogue that bridges cultures. While some aspects raise eyebrows, others evoke admiration, painting a picture of a nation that is as diverse as it is united.

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Sources

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Image Credit: Krakenimages.com/DepositPhotos.
  1. irs.gov/filing/individuals/who-should-file
  2. bankrate.com/personal-finance/tipping-survey/
  3. reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/10hpeci/nonamerican_people_whats_a_thing_that_you_dont/

This article was produced and syndicated by Viral Chatter.

Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.