Culture Clash: 21 American Norms That Make the World Go ‘Huh?

By Krystal Brown

We’re venturing into the diverse landscape of American quirks that make outsiders go, “Wait, what?” From the red cup phenomenon to the maze of tipping etiquette, the U.S. has its own set of head-scratchers that might leave our international pals raising an eyebrow or two.

Doggy Bags

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While some other countries are latching on to the trend, taking leftovers home from restaurants is something many people need help to get their heads around. The fact that many US meals are supersized means that all food cannot be eaten at meal times. Most people think that meal portions should be reduced rather than having to take food home with them on a night out.

Poor Public Transport

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People from around the world cannot understand why America has such a poor public transportation system. With the focus on climate change, most people think that fewer cars and more buses on the roads is the best way forward.

Advertising Prescription Drugs

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American healthcare is difficult to navigate with the high cost of getting medical insurance and a complicated insurance system. Additionally, drugs are advertised everywhere, and the rest of the world is left scratching their heads.

Drive-Through Everything

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Americans take their love for cars to another level with drive-through services for almost everything, from fast food to pharmacies. The idea of grabbing a quick meal or medication without leaving the comfort of your vehicle is both convenient and peculiar to onlookers from other countries.

Excessive Tipping

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Tipping culture in America is one of the most complicated things in the world to get your head around. People outside of the US can’t understand why companies don’t just pay their staff enough money so that they don’t rely on a tip for every transaction.

Hanging Flags Everywhere

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It could be argued that nowhere is as patriotic as America as there are flags hanging on every other building, it seems. 

Complicated Politics

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American politics can be confusing for people not used to a two-party system or an electoral college. The fact that election campaigns go on for months at a time could be more apparent to foreigners.

Ice Obsession

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In the U.S., beverages are often served with an abundance of ice, even on the coldest days. This icy habit might leave foreigners wondering if Americans have an unmatched love for chilled drinks or if it’s a clever ploy to serve less liquid.


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Cheerleaders are part and parcel of American sporting life, but people from other countries find it strange that every game you go to has people dancing about in short skirts.

Sales Tax

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Foreigners find it unusual that the sales tax is added when you checkout an item rather than being built into the advertised price. This isn’t very clear for people who want to keep an accurate check on how much they are spending while shopping.

Constant Legal Action

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US citizens know their rights and are very quick to file a lawsuit if they think they have been hard done by. Constantly being in litigation for one issue or another is something most people find stressful and weird.

Sports Tailgating

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Tailgating, the pre-game parking lot party complete with grills, music, and fanfare, is an American sports tradition that might seem perplexing to those unfamiliar with the concept. For many, the real question is, “Why not just head straight into the stadium?”

Lack of Vacations

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American citizens are not guaranteed paid leave which means they take fewer vacations than people from other countries. The heavy work culture is something that others find strange and unfair.

Gun Culture

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The fact that you can own a gun and potentially take someone’s life with it is too much for foreigners to get their heads around. While gun crime is a worldwide issue, having the right to bear arms is something else.

Extortionate College Fees

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The cost of studying in the US is phenomenal, and people from other countries cannot believe that the government does not step in to support young people in gaining a college degree without getting into tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt.

Car Obsession

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Americans love cars and will drive almost everywhere, even if it is just a 5 minute walk away. The obsession US citizens have with cars worries others who look at the impact it is having on the environment and people’s health.

Writing the Date Beginning With the Month

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Unlike other countries, the US writes the date with the month in the beginning rather than the day. This leads to a lot of confusion for some people, with many thinking it is just very strange.

Drinking Out of Red Cups

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Nobody knows why red cups are the choice for consuming alcohol, but while Americans love it, others feel it is strange. Foreigners once thought that red cups were simply for the movies, but people actually do drink out of this type of cup.

The Color of Money

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The majority of countries will have different colors for each type of bull, but the US has one color for every bill, which people find very confusing.

The Imperial System

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Americans still use the imperial system, which is very confusing for foreigners as most countries moved to the metric system a long time ago. The different units of measurement can make it difficult when people are staying in the US and want to buy groceries.

Handing Over Credit Cards

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Most countries have a system in which you order food and drinks and then pay for it at the end, using a card machine. In America, however, people will hand over their credit card, and it stays behind bars until they are ready to leave. This seems very trusting, and most foreigners cannot fathom why Americans are happy to do this.