Things Only Americans Think Are Normal

You can’t really understand how strange or special an American custom or life standard can seem to a foreigner until you walk a mile in their shoes…or until you ask them.

From overpriced medical bills to ordering lemonade, what we take for granted might just seem strange to a non-American.

Walter White’s Medical Bill

US actor Bryan Cranston tries on a prop hat for his Walter
Photo credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images
Photo credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

“The plot of Breaking Bad being about a science teacher getting cancer and worrying about leaving his family with massive medical debt when he dies.” —NoxicGasDeployed/Reddit

Breaking Bad would have been way less interesting in any other country, like Canada, where health care is free.

Listing Side Effects In TV Ads

remote pointed at television
Photo Credit: Glenn Carstens / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Glenn Carstens / Unsplash

“With (insert ad), I can get through the day with ease! Side effects may include loss of sight, loss of hearing, loss of sense of smell, coma, headaches, fever, vomiting….” —typicalcitrus/Reddit

…and possible death. Up to you whether it’s worth the trade-off or if you’d rather just be sick.

Asking Everyone What They Do For Work

man holding briefcase on the way to work
Photo Credit: Marten Bjork / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Marten Bjork / Unsplash

“Asking everyone ‘what do you do?’ when you first meet them. I live outside the US and realized there are some people I’ve known for years and I still don’t know their job. I think in the US, jobs are a bigger part of a person’s identity than in some other places.” —Ssffxx//Reddit

Being Able To Vote Before The Legal Drinking Age

pile of
Photo Credit: Element 5 / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Element 5 / Unsplash

According to Reddit user dingdongimprblywrong, it’s odd the age is different both adulthood-defining acts. However, there was a time when drinking, voting, and the draft all used to require being 21. Then, during WW2, they lowered the draft age to meet the demand for more troops.

Only Asking For Water At A Restaurant

woman drinks water at restaursnt
Photo Credit: Pontus Ohlsson / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Pontus Ohlsson / Unsplash

“Saying ‘I’ll just have water’ at a restaurant and not be charged for it or be asked, ‘what kind?'”

In fact, many countries only serve bottled water for which they must charge you. Also, many European places assume you mean sparkling water unless you specify.

Drinking Out Of Solo Cups

red solo cups on wooden table
Photo Credit: Nico Ismaili / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Nico Ismaili / Unsplash

“We use them for beer pong here in Europe (mostly knock-offs, though) but that’s just because the standard here is like 0,2L plastic cups, which are way harder to throw ping pong balls into.

“Generally, you can’t buy them as disposable cups in the supermarket though, and you have to buy some sort of beer pong set.” —Bolts_and_Nuts/Reddit

It’s not unheard of to see them advertised as “American party cups” in some countries.

Debating Taking A Lyft To A Hospital To Save The Ambulance Fee

Ambulance rushes by on the street
Photo Credit: Camilo Jimenez / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Camilo Jimenez / Unsplash

Americans chimed in to give their experience, too, with this as an example: “I’m still paying off debt from an ambulance ride that cost me $3,500. I went like two miles. And I have amazing health insurance by US standards.” —Big-Operation/Reddit

An Uber or Lyft ride seems more cost-effective. The sum you pay for the stay at the hospital is another story.

The Portion Sizes

burger, fries, and drink
Photo Credit: Chris A Tweten / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Chris A Tweten / Unsplash

“Extra large bottomless cups for cola or soft drinks…you could bathe in those…” —SlyDigits/Reddit

If you’ve been to the Cheesecake Factory lately, you know that your cheesecake will be the size of your head. It’s great in the sense that if you go out to eat once, you don’t need to worry about cooking the rest of that week.

Striking Up Friendly Conversations With Strangers

two men sit at coffee table and chat
Photo Credit: Lilibeth Bustos Linares / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Lilibeth Bustos Linares / Unsplash

“I’m British and the most you’re getting out of any of us in a line is ‘are you in the queue?’ I must say when I’ve visited the States, people are extremely friendly.” —Sarah3006/Reddit

In the US, it’s very common to smile at passersby and even ask “how are you” to a stranger sitting beside you on the bus without feeling creeped out.

The Debt That Comes From Going To College

students toss their graduation caps
Photo Credit: Vasily Koloda / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Vasily Koloda / Unsplash

“Willingly putting yourself massively in debt for a college degree…I come from a place with free university education (which has its own drawbacks of course), and the fact that you can make such a huge, life-altering decision at 17 seems downright strange to me.”

This might be why careers end up holding such big value to Americans’ identity…

“Putting A Ton Of Sugar In Products Like Bread”

basket full of bread on the proch
Photo Credit: Marta Volskaya / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Marta Volskaya / Unsplash

As Reddit user TheThingsWeMake points out, although it’s transparent in the ingredients, American food tends to have a lot of sugar to preserve it longer. Most people also find that it makes it taste better.

Driving Hours For A Day Trip

woman on road trip peaks out the car
Photo Credit: William Bout / Unsplash
Photo Credit: William Bout / Unsplash

“In Australia, we have only 3 million square kilometers less than the United States, but a good 300 million fewer people. The people we do have are concentrated for the most part in several coastal cities. The middle of our country is so empty if your break down you may not see another car for several days.” —a- ferret_80/Reddit

In America, it’s quite common to take a four-hour drive to a beach town just to spend the day, and you’ll pass multiple little towns along the way.

Leaving Home At 18

woman taping packed box
Photo Credit: Ketut Subiyanto / Pexels
Photo Credit: Ketut Subiyanto / Pexels

“I live in Southeast Asia. There’s no stigma about living with one’s parents. Most of the time, there will be three generations living in one house.” —HollowMist11/Reddit

Although it’s not required, as movies often show, children often move out at 18 to start their lives or go to college, and it’s considered quite normal.

A Lemonade Drink

Lemonade Drink In Hand
Photo Credit: Brando Makes Branding / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Brando Makes Branding / Unsplash

“Here in New Zealand, lemonade generally equals Sprite or similar. But you can still get ‘American’ lemonade—it’s usually called ‘old-fashioned lemonade’. You wouldn’t get it at your standard restaurant, but you can find it at most supermarkets.” —dobiewan_nz/Reddit

I can’t believe that places like New Zealand call Sprite “lemonade.”

Calling A Main Course An “Entree”

girl smiles as she holds her food with chopsticks at restaurant
Photo Credit: Nate Johnson / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Nate Johnson / Unsplash

“Entree is French for entrance—literally the starting point of a meal. It’s usually an appetizer. What you guys call the entree is called the main dish in English (plat principal in French) because that’s what it is. Italians are even more straightforward, with the first plate, second plate, etc.”

This is quite interesting considering that the word is French but the French don’t use it the same way.

Displaying The American Flag Everywhere

woman and man carry the American flag across the boardwalk
Photo Credit: Frank Mckenna / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Frank Mckenna / Unsplash

“I traveled throughout Europe and the Caribbean and I usually only saw their flag on government buildings and here and there. Whereas here in the USA the flag is like Franks Red Hot. We put that on everything. Magnets, churches, cars, and every front porch and street lamp.” —doughydonuts/Reddit

Some countries don’t even see their flag expect for on national holidays.

Taking Shoes Off Indoors

pile fo shoes in indoor closet
Photo Credit: Jakob Owens / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Jakob Owens / Unsplash

“Here in South Africa, it is also considered normal to wear shoes inside. Especially during the winter. It is kinda weird if people (e.g., friends coming over for a visit) come into your house and take their shoes off. Like no dude, no one wants to smell your stinky feet.” —Koalatjie/Reddit

In some parts America, we take our shoes off out of respect and cleanliness, especially in the winter months where we drag in snow. In other parts of the U.S., we keep our shoes on. We’re complicated.

Prom

boy places on corsage on prom date
Photo Credit: Tai S Captures / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Tai S Captures / Unsplash

“In Germany, we kinda sorta have a thing like a prom, where you also wear a suit/dress and pay for tickets, but there is no such thing as limos and stuff or basically needing a date.” —Xen0bius/Reddit

Movies have glamorized the concept of prom to the point where teen girls worldwide dream of attending their own.

Generational Labels

70s Volks Van with peace symbols painted
Photo Credit: Vasilios Muselimis / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Vasilios Muselimis / Unsplash

“Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, etc. The US had a baby boom in the ’50s so these terms make no sense outside the US.” —kevexgirl/Reddit

Although there are similarities in generations worldwide, a lot of these labels depend on historical events such as the post–World War II baby boom, so they don’t apply to all countries.

No Metric System

Outdoor Thermostat on red wall
Photo Credit: Daniel Von Appen / Unsplash
Photo Credit: Daniel Von Appen / Unsplash

“In Ireland. We use metric almost always, but for height, we’d use feet and inches. For bodyweight, we’d use stone. At least everyone I know does anyway.” —What_IS_Ned_Flanders/Reddit

Most of the world uses the metric system, but a lot of countries use a mix depending on what they’re measuring.