12 U.S. Customs That Make No Sense To The Rest Of The World

by SharonKurheg

If there’s one thing that travel does, it gives you the perspective that all of us on this earth, regardless of where we’re from, are more similar than different.

That being said, each country has its own way of doing things and although the people may be like us, their customs might be totally different from how we do things. Case in point, I don’t know why they eat salad for breakfast in Japan, but there ya go.

Of course, some of the things we do in the U.S. might seem a little weird to those from other countries as well. Like these:

Sales Tax
When you buy something in the U.S., the price is usually pre-tax. Once you get to the cash register, then tax is added on. It’s not that taxes aren’t charged in other countries, but they’re already a part of what you see on the price tag.

Drinking HUGE Coffees
Getting a 20-ounce coffee that’ll hold you over for an hour or two kind of screams “United States.” Coffee cups sizes tend to be smaller in other countries, and they don’t always get them to go. Instead, it’s “drink up fast and be on your way.”

Lack of Vacation Time
According to research by the Center for American Progress, the U.S. is the most overworked country in the developed world. We put in long our hours, sometimes work 2 (or even 3!) jobs, eat lunch at our desk, and then sometimes only get 1 or 2 weeks of time off per year. Some other countries offer 6 weeks of paid vacation time as a standard. We’re definitely losing out.

Tipping In Restaurants
For better or for worse, the United States is a tipping culture. We tip a percent for multiple service industries. Many other countries pay their servers, housekeepers, etc. a decent wage so tipping isn’t necessary or, culturally expected. But for us, yeah, it is.

Black Friday
Frankly, I don’t know how a holiday where you’re supposed to be giving thanks eventually turned into the day before a nationwide shopping spree, but there you go. And until a couple of years ago, no one else did it. Now a few copycat countries are, but it’s still nothing like us.

Ads For Medications
Pharmaceutical ads weren’t always a part of U.S. television, but they sure are now. Know where else they are? Nowhere. In almost every other county, advertisements for prescription drugs are considered unethical and illegal.

Refills On Drinks
Refills of soft drinks is a very U.S. thing. In most countries, you order 1 drink and you get 1 drink. If you want more, you’ll pay for it.

Trick Or Treating
Halloween is Pagan in its background and going trick or treating can be traced back to guising in Scotland and Northern England. But the whole, “Get dressed in costume, go door to door, say “trick or treat” and they give you candy” thing? Uniquely ours.

Using The Flag As Decor
It’s one thing to hang the flag of your country in front of buildings. But to use its likeness on everything from pool toys to lawn chairs to napkins? We’re pretty much alone in that respect.

Heaven knows that other countries are as crazy for their sports as we are about ours. But I have yet to see a cheerleader squad for any non-American football (you know, what we call soccer) team.

Putting So Much Ice In Our Drinks
In some countries, you might get 1 or 2 ice cubes in your drinks. In others, you’ll get none. And in other countries, they drink hot drinks all year round, even in the summer. And here we are, with practically more ice than liquid. I dunno…

Bathroom Door Gaps
In the U.S. (and pretty much only in the U.S.), many public bathroom stalls tend to have a 1/4″ to 1/2″ gap between the door and the wall. No one really knows why. And although no one wants to be seen doing their business, it’s something that’s gone on for decades. At least here. Nowhere else.

The U.S. has a thing about sex and nudity. Even today, some women get nasty comments for just breastfeeding in public! And it’s not like Speedos ever really made a huge impact here. For whatever the reasons that we have this weird relationship with sex and nudity, other countries generally don’t feel the same way.

Using The Imperial System
Only three countries still use the imperial system for measurements – Myanmar, Liberia and the U.S.  Why? WHY??? (Actually, I know why. They tried to change us in the mid-70s, but we’re stubborn and no one wanted to change, so we never did, save for bottles of soda)

Doggy Bags

In the U.S., it’s a common practice to get a doggy bag to bring home. In lots of other countries, it’s considered weird and potentially even rude.

Feature Photo: Walmart

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Bill October 26, 2020 - 1:18 pm

South Korea has two sets of cheerleaders at baseball games and a guy who has a loudspeaker to lead the crowd in chants. They’re positioned on risers about halfway up the lower deck of the stadium straight up from the dugouts.
Being an American, I found it out of place, yet amusing to watch!

disdadisdisdis October 26, 2020 - 1:50 pm

Fully agree with your assessment as a 40-year old European who lived in the US on-and-off (studying, some jobs) for about 10 years.

One thing I’d add–and it’s related to the doggy bags for sure–are the oversized portions in mainstream restaurants. Doesn’t happen if you go for a more refined place dubbed Italian, French, whatever. But at your average diner, family restaurant, sports bar, bar & grill, etc., the portions are so large that nobody reasonably expects you’ll be able to finish 😉

derek October 26, 2020 - 2:13 pm

Ads for medication should be banned as it used to be. Neither Trump nor Biden will do it because they are in the pocket of drug companies. They want people to pester their doctors to prescribe some super expensive medication. In the whole history of health care, I don’t think there has ever been a case of a doctor saying “gosh, I never heard of that medication, thanks for telling me about that ad”.

Sales tax in Europe are built into the price so it can be raised and hidden. That is why sales tax is greater than 20% in some countries. The US method is better.

Tipping is not because wages are too low. In major cities, the minimum wage is already $15/hour. When Biden increases it to $15, watch some cities increase it to $20/hour. In some restaurants, some waitresses/waiters can earn nearly $100,000 per year because of tipping, more than European waitresses/waiters earn.

Huge soft drinks and coffee is a bad American habit.

AlohaDaveKennedy October 26, 2020 - 5:15 pm

Using the flag as decor? No country tops the Republic of Texas where the flag often appears on clothing and an element, The Lone Star, appears in building details, from marble foyers to outdoor lighting elements.

Mike October 26, 2020 - 7:43 pm

I think America is generous toward food in general, you get your money worth, exact opposite of Europe where restaurants think they are doing you a favor and not a business relation.
Tipping percentage is a bit high dough, 10% is usually enough.

What is really weird is your relationship with boose: special licenses to serve, only specialty stores (weird sketchy ones) to sell them- like you’re buying something forbidden, you can’t consume it outside, you can’t take the leftovers of a wine bottle home, it looks like the prohibition era left some damage.
We can buy it in any kind of supermarket or specialty stores like wine distributors (nice, fancy); restaurants need licenses to serve food (includes drinks, not separate licenses), you can drink it anywhere ( but usually don’t). No stress about it.

Quo Vadis? October 26, 2020 - 9:28 pm

“Hi, welcome to Burgers-r-us! Would you like to jumbo-size your fries and drink [in a half-gallon, dishwasher-safe, to-go cup] for only a dollar?”

Joseph N. October 26, 2020 - 11:55 pm

As Bill pointed out, a lot of the things you list are NOT unique to America.

As for the direct to consumer advertising of prescription pharmaceuticals, which really is unique to America, you can lay the blame for that 100% on President Bill Clinton. Before David Kessler left the FDA in 1997, a drug maker advertising directly to consumers would get a cease-and-desist letter from the FDA.

For years the AMA has been trying unsuccessfully to get it changed back.

Torsten Bender October 28, 2020 - 2:32 pm

Isn’t that crazy? A different country has different customs.

SO_CAL_RETAIL_SLUT October 28, 2020 - 3:20 pm

Speaking of Imperial measurement – I remember as a kid on trips to Canada seeing prices for the “imperial gallon” and of course – to a kid, the weird way Canadians spelled “centre”, “licence” and “colour”…and all the packages were “en francais” and english…lol


Eric February 18, 2023 - 3:31 am

Fun reading!
I’ll say that Denmark, Norway and Switzerland can give the US a run for its money, when it comes to fondness and use of own flags.

David February 18, 2023 - 4:47 pm

You hit the nail on the head!


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