What is quirky about the United States?

by on November 6, 2011 at 4:30 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Via Joseph Burke, here is a long list of answers from foreigners.  I enjoyed many of them, how about this?:

My Norwegian friend visiting right now says,

4700 kinds of toothpaste.

Surprisingly clean big cities.

Everyone complains bitterly about the suckitude of government and is suspicious of it but they all follow the rules anyway even if nobody is watching.

How supermarkets not just let you wander off with carts into the wild blue yonder but will set up displays of firewood, plants, pumpkins, etc., out front with nobody watching and trust you’ll bring it indoors to pay for it. (see also rule-following above)

He finds these last two especially jarring given the U.S.’s high incarceration and violent crime rates.

Or this, from a Brit:

When Americans kid one another, they will wait a few seconds and then let the kidee know that they were just kidding. Every time. This shocked me for a while.

Or this:

I dated a guy from Austria and he asked why we have those concrete things in parking spaces.

I explained it was to keep us from running into the car in the opposite spot.

And then I bumped the concrete thing with the tires.

That seemed to make him nervous for some reason….

What can you all add?

The Anti-Gnostic November 6, 2011 at 4:43 pm

He finds these last two especially jarring given the U.S.’s high incarceration and violent crime rates.

Yeah. That’s really mysterious. I wonder what’s going on there. Just another one of those impenetrable mysteries we’re never meant to understand.

Sandeep November 6, 2011 at 4:46 pm

May be markets run by huge chains can absorb losses by pilferage, and perhaps that advertisement value of stuff displayed outside can off-set the pilferage losses?

Andreas Moser November 6, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Here in Britain, there are cameras everywhere, filming every square foot of the country.

Brad Ackerman November 6, 2011 at 6:43 pm

And that doesn’t stop the JDs from stealing anything that isn’t nailed down… not that nailing something down is a guarantee of anything. You’ll also notice that most storefronts in England have anti-theft gratings, whereas they aren’t used in the US outside of really crappy areas.

sapphire_407 November 6, 2011 at 6:17 pm

No that is not the reason. Most Americans not thieves.

WTF November 7, 2011 at 2:12 am

American are rich and so are the thieves. So when they steal, they make it count. Brits are poor and stores carry things that poor people can afford, so when Brits steal they steal crappy stuff.

Tuco November 8, 2011 at 12:51 pm

1% of Americans are rich. The rest of us are hanging on by a thread.

Jonas November 7, 2011 at 4:52 pm

America is a high trust society. This might be changing in terms of dealing with people of different status, but it’s still true when dealing with people of similar status.

It really lowers transaction costs across the board. IMO it’s one of the big competitive advantages of the US versus foreign countries.

Jason Sorens November 6, 2011 at 4:57 pm

U.S. incarceration rates are obscenely high, but U.S. crime rates are about average for the industrialized world. Burglary & such are actually below average. It’s homicide that’s above average:

Davis November 6, 2011 at 7:11 pm

it’s common for retail stores to optimize security costs vs. rates of loss due to theft, and it is certain the big chains have added up the numbers on this. the items involved are typically very heavy/low value items like firewood and pumpkins, that are certainly not worth the cost of hiring a guard or of displacing higher value items from store shelves. I would guess that these items are probably unprofitable anyway and the store has them only as a reminder to buy seasonal items — oh, pumpkins, i need to buy halloween candy.

Talo November 6, 2011 at 8:25 pm

There are big chains overseas as well. Why is the optimal level of security lower in the states than overseas?

Rahul November 6, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Because costs are lower. I bet you can buy pumpkins and firewood at 30% of what those cost you in the EU. Low cost = low potential losses.

Marian Kechlibar November 7, 2011 at 8:34 am

In Bulgaria, some grocery stores will place the green vegetables + fruit outside the shop onto the street, and people pick them at will, then go inside to pay.

Now Bulgaria isn’t particularly rich country, and the price of groceries is similar to the EU average.

Still, it works.

Kit November 7, 2011 at 11:38 am

This, basically. Plus, some of the things they sell outside are messy.

Sebastian November 6, 2011 at 7:57 pm

also, those displays are more common where the crime rate is lower. I’ve seen them in lower middle class neighborhoods, but never in high crime areas.

Careless November 6, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Indeed, even in a city like Evanston (median family income: $102k) you’ll find stuff outside at all the grocery stores except for the one in the middle of the “worst” part of town.

dave November 7, 2011 at 12:55 am

oh, good. we just like to kill people.

Willitts November 7, 2011 at 1:24 am

No, a very small demographic group likes to kill people – usually people who look just like them – for little or no reason at all.

Jarz November 8, 2011 at 11:52 am

No, it’s just so darned easy to do so. Thanks, NRA!

Tonestaple November 8, 2011 at 9:03 am

Perhaps it’s not that our incarceration rate is obscenely high but other countries’ rates are foolishly low. In Britain, I believe you have to be convicted of non-violent crimes many, many times before you will actually see the inside of a prison. Obviously this is no deterrent and you can see that by the same people committing the same crimes over and over.

The logical comparison to see if our incarceration rate is too high is to compare recidivism rates.

Joshua Lyle November 14, 2011 at 10:13 am

I imagine it’s a mix, actually. We’ve got nearly a million people in jail for largely petty drugs crimes, which seems to have a much lower payoff than incarceration for violent or property crimes.

bluto November 6, 2011 at 9:59 pm

What those from more homogenous nations have a hard time realizing is that the US is quite diverse, and we tend to leave others to make their own mistakes and suffer the consequences of said mistakes. However, one of the reasons we have a high GDP per capita is that no one want’s to live near the poor people (where crime rates are very high) so they all work hard to buy homes (and thus schools and transit options) built on artificially scarce land that keeps prices high and rising and thus the poor folks out.

Tollhouse November 6, 2011 at 10:58 pm

It’s because shopping carts are expensive whereas bundles of wood and pumpkins are not.

IIRC, a shopping cart costs around 200 dollars and they are very popular among the vagrant set.

Eric Larson November 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm


Foobarista November 7, 2011 at 1:40 am

The vast majority of crime is related to drugs. Petty property crime in the US is almost vanishingly low compared with much of the world.

NAME REDACTED November 7, 2011 at 2:56 am


NAME REDACTED November 8, 2011 at 1:06 am

Yes. It was a shock to me to see nice houses that didn’t have large stone fences around them topped with barbed wire, spikes, or broken glass.

Rob K November 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Probably because in much of the US, committing property crime (petty or not) is likely to get you shot. Our rate of home invasion is lower because everyone has guns at home. Break into a house and you’re very likely to get a belly full of buckshot.

John B. November 7, 2011 at 10:25 am

Why would anybody steal firewood, plants or pumpkins? Suppose supermarkets put cases of beer out front. Or roasted chickens. I think the story might be a little different.

Michael Demmons November 8, 2011 at 12:10 pm

This is it exactly. The stuff that’s outside is stuff no one would steal. To the extent it’s desirable to steal something (for example, a barbecue grilles outside a supermarket) they are chained together.

No one ever says, “Dude! Let’s go down the the supermarket and steal a couple chuncks of firewood!”

TallDave November 7, 2011 at 12:25 pm

He finds these last two especially jarring given the U.S.’s high incarceration and violent crime rates.

There are also places in which everything in the store is behind bulletproof glass. These are generally not the same places as where things are left outside.

Careless November 7, 2011 at 1:07 pm

#1 in designing bullet-proof, robbery-proof drive-through windows!

Curmudgeon November 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm

It’s not mysterious at all . In the high-crime “ghetto” areas, supermarkets *will not* just let you wander off with carts into the wild blue yonder and *will not* set up displays of firewood, plants, pumpkins, etc., out front with nobody watching and trust you’ll bring it indoors to pay for it. In fact, in those areas supermarkets often don’t exist or no longer do.

Once you get outside the nasty inner cities, America is incredibly placid.

Vader November 8, 2011 at 9:53 am


It’s just astonishing how many commenters completely missed the point of your sarcasm. Isn’t it?

mystic megatron November 6, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Everyone is a salesperson.

Andreas Moser November 6, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Americans really believe it when they say “this is the greatest country in the world”, “we have the best universities in the world” or “we have the best justice system in the world” WITHOUT ever having been to another country. They don’t even see any problem in that.

Dustin November 6, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Not that those things are correct, but I don’t think you’d have to visit other countries to determine the correctness.

Robert Easton November 6, 2011 at 6:29 pm

The universities one probably actually is correct, and by a large margin (see for example these guys rankings of it http://www.arwu.org/ARWU2010.jsp). I’ll avoid judgement on the other two for now.

Matt November 7, 2011 at 5:28 am

Uh, if your sense of `correctness’ is in inherently personal (is this country the greatest in the world for ME), then yes, you sort of have to.

Dustin November 7, 2011 at 10:48 am

Why? I don’t see any reason you’d have to unless the reason you think it’s the greatest country in the world is the way the sunlight feels on your skin whilst there or something.

Anshuman November 6, 2011 at 9:50 pm

American universities *are* the best in the world. Easily and by a long shot and you don’t have to travel anywhere to know that, you can read about it in publications that rank world universities.

Also, even Noam Chomsky considers America the freest country in the world, at least as far as the rights of its citizens go.

But all citizens of all countries consider theirs to be the greatest in the world. Just talk to someone from France for example.

John Skookum November 6, 2011 at 10:46 pm

I don’t know a single person who thinks we have the best justice system in the world.

dave November 7, 2011 at 12:56 am

Two words: death penalty.

Doug November 7, 2011 at 4:20 am

Yeah – Like the man say best justice system in the world. ZZZZZZZttttttttttt! One less murderer.

John Skookum November 8, 2011 at 12:17 am

If we have a problem with the death penalty, it’s that it’s not fast enough and not used enough.

I think we need to do two things:

1) cut the number of felonies by 90% — Undersize lobsters are a felony? Really?

2) Institute a mandatory death penalty for all 3-time felons. You are allowed two prison terms for felony crimes, and then the third time you get the rope. Every time. In public.

Addie November 9, 2011 at 11:03 am

Look, man, undersize lobsters are a felony because lobstering is a HUGE part of (for example) Maine’s usable natural resources and a giant part of the state’s inhabitants’ income––Maine’s 2010 lobstering profits were something like $308.7 million for 93 million pounds caught. If people start picking off undersize lobsters without giving them a chance to mature and breed, it leads to a slow destruction of the resource, which leads to a moratorium on that resource, which leads to no more money coming in from that resource. See: Atlantic cod. So yes. It is a felony, and, I think, for a good, sustainable reason.

That said, I still respectfully disagree with your reasoning (unless you’re being sarcastic, which I suspect might be the case but I can’t actually tell because I am not that skilled at the internet; if so, sorry for responding so intensely!).

Right Wing-nut November 7, 2011 at 11:07 am

I tend to base that claim on a simple metric: How many people are dying to get here? (As in…how many seek to live here at the risk of their lives?)

As for freedom specifically, all other measurements have to be factored by the ability of the country in question to militarily defend itself. Betting on another countries willingness to send soldiers to die for your freedom is NOT a strategy that has a good long-term outlook.

LWATCDR November 7, 2011 at 12:01 pm

I have been to other countries and yes I think the US is the best. I am not saying that the others are bad but if one does not think that their nation is the best the shouldn’t one.
a. Leave.
b. Do everything they can to make it better?

You left out the best space program and largest economy in the world. Let me know when the ESA or Russia sends a probe to Neptune or land men on the Moon. And not to mention the rebuilding of Western Europe after WWII. When people from the EU ask me why the US feels that it has done so much for the world I just tell them to go here.
You will not find any Cemetery in the US for Europeans that fought and died to liberate the US. You may want to go and vist since they are many in the EU. After all Nov 11th is coming up.

However best does not mean perfect or without room for improvement.

akageorge November 11, 2011 at 1:32 am

Well, I was going to use the Phobos-Ground probe as an example of Russian space technology, but … well … http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/russias-attempts-save-mars-probe-unsuccessful-14921343#.Try0_3Ep_QM

However, as for Europeans who died to liberate the U.S., how about the Old French Cemetery in Vincennes, Indiana? http://graves.inssar.org/NO/oldfrenchcem.html

Or the Yorktown French Memorial? “The memorial includes the names of the some 600 Frenchmen who lost their lives in this campaign.” http://xenophongroup.com/mcjoynt/sf-mon.htm

French and Spanish soldiers fought and died throughout the Colonies (and the West) alongside the American rebels for much of the war. (Check out the Siege of Pensacola.) France, Spain and The Netherlands went bankrupt fighting in our revolution against the British.

Bill November 6, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Quirky about the United States:

1. American Exceptionalism, We Are Number 1 In the World For….[fill in the blank for good things]

2. No One Else Has a Democracy, and They All Look To US

3. No Means No

4. A Taste For Squirrel, Snake and Possum Meat and a Detestation of Horse Meat

5. Cellphones for Eight Year Olds

6. Simultaneously Holding Inconsistent Thoughts of Themselves And Their Fellow Citizens [I am all good and everyone else is crazy]

Bill November 6, 2011 at 5:10 pm

7. Love of Weaponry–Personal or Otherwise

8. Surgical Strikes

10. 9 Out of 10 Television Programs

11. Certain Blogs

Bill November 6, 2011 at 5:13 pm

12. Some of the Republican Primary Candidates This Year

Bill November 6, 2011 at 5:15 pm

12. Amended….and Some of Those Who Didn’t Run to Continue Their Broadcast or Television Career

Bill November 6, 2011 at 5:18 pm

13. That Our President Was Born in Kenya

Bill November 6, 2011 at 5:41 pm

14. Opening a Sports Event With A Prayer and Watching Scantilly Clad Cheerleaders at Half Time

15. The Electoral College

16. Founding Fathers

17. A History of Slavery And All That Followed

Bill November 6, 2011 at 5:47 pm

18. That We Take Pictures of Your Underwear Before Boarding a Plane

ricardo November 6, 2011 at 5:55 pm

19. Bill.

ricardo November 6, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Just kidding, Bill…

Bill November 6, 2011 at 6:10 pm

20. That Ricardo and Everyone Else Is Entitled to Free Speech

21. That Judges Shall Have No Discretion in Sentencing

22. That When Our Constitution Says That A Bill Shall Require The Vote 50% of the Senators For Passage, We Didn’t Mean 50%, We Meant 40%

23. That We Like Divided Government, and Even Better, Rule by 40% to Deny Passage and While Making the Majority Responsible for What Happens (Or Didn’t Happen)

Bill November 6, 2011 at 7:01 pm

24. That Conservative Means One Thing for Economics and Another For Social Issues

25. That Your Rights To Privacy (Including Personal Decisions, And Whether a Right to Privacy Exists at All) and Unreasonable Search and Seizure Depends on a Majority of the Supreme Court At Any Given Time, and on Whether Kennedy Is Having a Bad Hair Day.

Bill November 6, 2011 at 7:27 pm

26. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Means Don’t

Bill November 6, 2011 at 7:30 pm

27. You Can Have Whatever You Mean As “Sex” in the White House, You Can Adulterize in the Senate and Get Re-Elected, But If You Show Me A Picture of Your Penis in a Speedo You Are Out’a Here.

Bill November 6, 2011 at 7:35 pm

28. You Can Give Money to Your Representative, Discuss Your Concerns, and Not Be Considered to Have Bribed Anyone But Simply Have Engaged in Free Speech.

29. You Can Elect a Corporation to Office Because It Is a Person (This is coming next term.)

Jim November 6, 2011 at 8:21 pm

If you follow the link provided in the post (recommended reading, by the way) you will see a veritable swarm of intelligent, insightful commenters who rose to the challenge of mentioning interesting quirks without ranting — in precisely the same way that Bill didn’t.

As for my own contribution — so many things have already been covered — I’ll just say that Americans appear to love (demand?) ice in their drinks while most others abhor the idea.

While in Germany, a friend’s Mom made a rather big deal about putting out a special pitcher of ice on the table because there was an American in the room. I didn’t even want it, but pretended I did. So there I was: yet another fiscal conservative improving international relations with the USA.

Bill November 6, 2011 at 9:20 pm

30. That some conservatives lack a sense of humor and refer to others comments, and not their own, as rants, so as to intimidate others in the exercise of their rights of free speech and attempts at humor.

ziel November 6, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Bill, you’re not humorous, you’re just annoying.

Bill November 6, 2011 at 9:37 pm

31. That some people can’t pass up reading stuff that annoys them.

Bill November 6, 2011 at 10:22 pm

32. Americans have signs on the door of a church saying that you may not bring firearms into the church.

John Skookum November 6, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Y’all speak for yourselves, I find Bill rather entertaining.

Careless November 6, 2011 at 11:11 pm

as long as he’s complaining about graph axes/labels, John, and then he’s hilarious. Rather, “hysterical” is probably the correct word.

Bill November 6, 2011 at 11:53 pm

33. Telephone answering services that begin with the phrase “Your views and comments are important to us.” There is no blog equivalent to this message, nor will there ever be. Nor should there be unless you want to be controlled by the views of someone else.

Bill November 7, 2011 at 1:00 am

34. That the partiotism of elected officials is measured by whether they wear an American flag on their lapel.

Willitts November 7, 2011 at 1:27 am

No, lack of patriotism is measured by refusing to wear an American flag lapel pin for specious reasons, and then religiously wearing said lapel pin EVERY DAY after one is elected president. And not knowing how to wear it properly.

Bill November 7, 2011 at 7:59 am

You prove point 34 by stating:

“lack of patriotism is measured by refusing to wear an American flag lapel pin for specious reasons”. The same statement would be true if there would be no reason or if the viewer attributed his opinion of the wearer to the lack of a reason, or a specious reason. As far as I could tell, no one offered a reason, so I am open to your proof that the elected official offered a specious reason, when none was offered. So, if you are an insincere patriot and mouth the words and wear a lapel pin you get a pass, but if you are silent or don’t wish to pander to an audience without saying so, someone gets to question your partriotism.

Bill November 7, 2011 at 8:00 am

35. You are not a patriotic elected official if you do not know how to wear an American flag on your lapel properly.

Right Wing-nut November 7, 2011 at 11:11 am

Hey Bill, care to substantiate #22? What’s the exact quote?

Bill November 7, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Right Wing

Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution:
Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

You have to understand the definition of the term “concurrence” as it was used at the time.

You might also look at the article which gives the Vice President a vote when there is an evenly divided Senate, which then satisfies the concurrence language of the constitution.

The constitution does set out super majority requirements for some matters, and the members may establish procedures (from which we get cloture rules to block filibusters (there is no constitutional right for a filibuster), or suspension calendars in the House (bills passing with 2/3rds without right of debate and if suspension fails the House Rules committee may or may not schedule a vote). The bodies also have rules which permit members to force bills out of committees and bring them to the floor for a vote.

If you are interested in this subject, then you may want to pick up Jeffersons Manual–written by guess who. Each new congress by majority vote starts off by setting the rules for their term, but cannot bind future congresses. So, anyone going too far afield with rules gimmicks will likely get booted out of office the next term, particularly if they get cute in limiting majority rule.

Right Wing-nut November 7, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Section 5 – Membership, Rules, Journals, Adjournment

Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.

Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two-thirds, expel a Member.


“Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings”–such as requiring a supermajority to obtain cloture. Note that this is NOT the same as requiring a supermajority for passage. As for Jefferson’s manual, you might recall that these are the rules of the House of Representatives–not the Senate. A very nice thing, but not something that the other house is going to use as any sort of authority.

Bill November 7, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Rules of proceedings are procedural, not substantive. (We can get into a whole debate on this, but look at article 1, section 7 which mentions “votes” and Article 1 Section 5 which deals with Rules of Proceedings)

If you are interested, I would refer you to the Senate Parliamentarian for a ruling, which is how this would be handled in the senate, from which an appeal could be made, requiring–guess what– a majority vote to set aside the rules.

Right Wing–you have been reading some really weird stuff….did you get it from Rush or Beck?

Bill November 7, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Right wing, by that last remark, I was not intending to dis you. In the real world, you would face fillibusters which have the effect of backing up other legislation. We haven’t had a fillibuster in AGES. I almost ache for one to remind people of the majority vote, notwithstanding a fillibuster. Or, the threat of a nuclear option: to change the fillibuster rule at the outset or even during a session. But, since both sides view themselves in the minority from time to time, both sides have a desire not to be ignored.

Unlike the House.

Bill November 7, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Right wing, You might want to read this Harvard article http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Gold_Gupta_JLPP_article.pdf and this summary of another article from the ACS: http://www.acslaw.org/acsblog/gerhardt-on-the-the-constitutionality-of-the-filibuster

As we like to say, on the one hand this (first article) and on the other hand this (second)

Right Wing-nut November 7, 2011 at 9:33 pm

The Constitution is really weird stuff? Each house sets its own rules, and the Senate has chosen not to allow itself to be buffaloed by bare majorities. I applaud this for more than one reason, even as I decry the selective extension of the practice. As for the arcana of the Senate, I would point out that individual Senators can (and do) put holds on bills and nominations. Again, I see this as a good thing.

Okay, I see article 1, section 7. I the terms “passed” and “repassed”. The only terms which specify a voting threshold relate to overriding vetos, which requires a two-thirds vote. Nothing in 1/7 has anything to say about what procedures each House might choose to use when they “pass” a bill.

“Rules of proceedings are procedural, not substantive.” Who says? Procedures are all about how one moves forward. If a procedure prevents one from moving forward, then it is certainly substantive.

According to Wikipedia, the Senate rules allowed for filibusters since 1806. The Senate page says that both Houses had filibusters in the early years of the Republic. The Supreme Court has never intervened in a cloture fight.

More to the point, as the early pages on the Senate report on the filibuster indicates, the ability to filibuster does not come from a rule but from its absence. This is extremely importance, since each House is an originating authority of its rules. Nothing in the world has any authority over the rules of either House outside those exceptional instances mentioned in the Constitution (Declaration of War, Constitutional Amendment, Override of Veto, …).

If you don’t like the rule, fine. Get yourself elected, and convince two-thirds of your fellow Senators to change the rule.

BTW, the Senate rules have been changed. A filibuster does not block other legislation. I know that recently, there have been almost no filibusters, merely their threat. So? You are charging that the rule is un-Constitutional. I don’t see any evidence to support that view.

“Unlike the House”. Exactly. What’s your point? If you think the filibuster is bad policy, we can debate that. You charged that it is un-Constitutional, an entirely unrelated question.

Careless November 7, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Bill, you wrote 40% instead of 60% on 22.

Bill November 7, 2011 at 7:30 pm

40% controls if 60% is needed.

Albert Ling November 6, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Here in Fairfax, VA, things that captured my attention:
– People protesting a lot! There are so many anti-abortion folks hanging around everywhere with signs, even on a Sunday morning.
– Roadkill everywhere
– U.S. Flags everywhere
– Parking enforcement will fine you every single time
– Young people are mostly healthy but over 30 years the majority overweight
– Lots of (public) infrastructure projects, very few little private construction
– Immigration officers at airport incredibly sadistic and envious
– Fruit is SO expensive, Gasoline is so cheap (Relative to Brazil).
– Oversupply of car dealerships?

Alan Gunn November 6, 2011 at 5:16 pm

I’m surprised so few people talked about traffic lights and nobody (I think) mentioned our having stop signs all over the place. What struck me about Europe (especially Italy) was how far you can drive through a city and suburbs without stopping.

Ari T November 6, 2011 at 5:23 pm

There’s a massive difference between driving cultures of Southern Europe and Nordic countries.

Mark November 6, 2011 at 9:09 pm

I don’t remember stop signs in Finland; pedestrians and cyclists were given more consideration than in the U.S.

ivan November 6, 2011 at 9:30 pm

I noticed this on a recent trip to France. However, the difference is more than just stop signs. In the US, drivers mostly follow the rules, even when they are by themselves (i.e. 2 lane road, no one else within sight, you stay in a single lane). In Europe, esp France, drivers are much more…opportunistic.

I do believe that about 80% of stop signs should really be yield signs. And “california stops” at 4-way stops without another soul present are adaptive, and correctly so.

Tom Noir November 6, 2011 at 10:42 pm

I don’t think that Americans are such saints behind the wheel as some comments have given them credit for. It’s more that our police are keen to ticket drivers for minor infractions such as speeding and not coming to a complete stop. Most American drivers at some point in their lives have been ‘busted’ by a cop when they thought they had the road to themselves and no one would mind if they went a few over. All but the most reckless American drivers have a healthy fear of of the cops.

Komori November 7, 2011 at 9:19 am

Unfortunately, our police ignore tailgating, which is one of (if not the) most dangerous behaviors on the road. I’ve never talked to a single person who has ever received a ticket for it, but just by driving around town it’s obviously the single most common road rules violation.
One my co-workers has spent a lot of time in Germany, and says that things are very different there. Tailgating on the audobahn is a sure way to get a ticket. I haven’t compared, but I suspect highway traffic fatalities are rather lower per person-mile there.

Silas Barta November 7, 2011 at 10:46 am

IIUIC, people don’t tailgate on the Autobahn because German drivers are decent enough not to camp the passing lane!

Anthony November 7, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I *have* received a ticket for tailgating, but when I went to court to fight it, the story the cop told was such an obvious lie that the judge dismissed the ticket. Had the cop told the same story I did, I likely would have lost my case.

jk November 6, 2011 at 5:16 pm

This thread has a 51% chance of degrading into why Amerikkka sucks (then move your lazy fat-American ___ and get a job in the EU) type of discussion.

Todd November 6, 2011 at 5:20 pm

We permit individuals to spend enormous amounts of money running for public office, and we allow “persons” and “nonprofit” groups to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence public elections.

We then sit around and bemoan the access and influence that these groups and individuals have in Washington.

This looks much sillier and quirkier to me than the shopping cart/firewood pardox.

Cliff November 6, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Maybe the people sitting around and bemoaning are different than the people permitting? Very liberal use of the “we” pronoun.

Todd November 6, 2011 at 7:52 pm

We = Citizens of the country (in both instances). If the voting population had a real problem with the former, the latter would necessarily occur with far less frequency.

I call that a central quirk of this country.

Cliff November 7, 2011 at 1:06 am

But those are often two entirely different sets of people. Your claim makes no sense. If you replace “we” with “some people” there is no contradiction and no quirk.

Todd November 7, 2011 at 9:10 am

So unless all 300+ million people engage in exactly the same behavior have exactly the same behavior, the use of “We” for “Americans” is inappropriate. Got it.

English is tough, but its not impossible. Sometimes a “we” is just a “we”.

roystgnr November 7, 2011 at 11:57 am

Speaking for the people replying to you: we agree with you completely and we think we were just being snippy earlier because we were embarrassed at being correctly called out for misusing pronouns to create an appearance of paradox and hypocrisy where none necessarily existed.

Hmm, the over-broad we has some advantages after all!

Sanchit Kumar November 6, 2011 at 5:27 pm

The size of everything! I grew up in dense, dense Hong Kong, and my first day here in the US I went to a friend’s house in Michigan suburbia. The space inside! Having your own basement and everything! I was so used to living in an 800 sq ft apartment with 3 other people, to suddenly be in a guest room the size of my old apartment?!

This extends to the supermarkets, the grocers, the big box stores, the serving sizes in restaurants… Even Philadelphia and New York felt spacey compared to Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, KL, and all. Took me a long time to get used to the scale of things!

El November 6, 2011 at 6:22 pm

So true – when I got to NYC for college, I was frankly a little underwhelmed. Everyone assumed that because I grew up in suburban Ohio, I’d have such trouble adjusting to all the people and all the buildings, etc, etc, but I spent a lot of summers in Shanghai with my relatives. After experiencing the sheer mass of humanity there, everywhere else feels spacious.

Ah, and that reminds me – the US generally feels a lot more diverse than other countries. This may well be mostly a function of living in NYC, but even my suburban Ohio childhood included a lot of religions & races, despite all the stereotypes usually associated with the Midwest. On the other hand, when I was living in London, I was shocked to learn that minorities are only ~5% of the UK population, though that data may now be outdated.

Marton November 7, 2011 at 4:37 am

Dude, less than half of the London population are white and British (let alone Christian). In Ohio, 80%+ of people are white all-American, and less than 4% were born abroad…

Andrew' November 7, 2011 at 4:53 am

London versus Ohio? Try London versus Alabama.

Rayson November 6, 2011 at 5:36 pm

As you can read here in the comments: “The” United States may exist as a political entity, but for every strange (or quirky) behavior you will find another American who makes fun of it, generally so spot on and convincing that they beat every foreigner who may try the same.

gg November 6, 2011 at 5:41 pm

The abundance of yard and garage sales. Why would anyone want to buy my junk? At the same time, the fact that there may actually be usable stuff, which may be associated with a perception of Americans as wasteful; they tend to throw out stuff before it has been fully consumed (hence the belief that someone else will be paying for it) and likely to make room for newer junk.

Frank November 6, 2011 at 5:45 pm

No, they put it in storage to make room for the newer junk!

Bill November 6, 2011 at 9:35 pm

We are never satisfied with what we have, and even envy someone else’s junk while the owner of the junk wonders why he purchased it in the first place thinking it would make him happy.

Andrew' November 7, 2011 at 4:49 am


They are quirky.

Randall McElroy November 6, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Going abroad and then coming back, what struck me was how many American flags there are all over the place. For example, the bridge over the highway up the road from me has a flag on it that someone just stuck there, and car after car has a flag bumper sticker. And nobody seems to think it’s tacky or nationalistic.

Dain November 6, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Yea. Having been in Scotland recently where the only folks sporting hoodies that say “Scotland” are tourists, it was funny to arrive back in the US and see mostly non-tourists wearing such patriotic “USA” attire. How do I know they were Americans and not tourists? The dumpy style of dress and baseball/NASCAR caps gave it away.

jk November 6, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Have you ever seen Canadian tourists? You can’t miss them, the younger guys at least, with Maple Leaf brand clothing.

Anthony November 7, 2011 at 1:30 pm

That’s so they don’t get mistaken for Americans, because otherwise they look and sound the same, eh.

Tollhouse November 6, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Never been to Switzerland then.

I think they have a law that requires a swiss flag or stylized one on every product sold…

karl November 7, 2011 at 1:28 am

You exaggerate.

Rahul November 7, 2011 at 2:27 pm

No he doesn’t. The Swiss are flag obsessed. At least in the US it’s mostly a rural thing.

Peter November 7, 2011 at 6:52 pm

You all are also missing the Middle East where flags are pretty much displayed everywhere all the time and not just by force or law.

palerobber November 8, 2011 at 1:22 pm

i guess you travels abroad didn’t take you to scandinavia then.

David November 6, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Coming from a central European perspective:

1. Weird discomfort about alcohol. Try to order a beer at Friendly’s and they’ll say they’re a “family restaurant” – as if that explains their lack of beer. What family doesn’t drink beer?
2. People often don’t know their neighbors.
3. Everybody seems self-confident, even when they don’t know much about what they’re doing.
4. “Maybe” means no.
5. People care a lot about what they have, but not about its quality. Houses, food, clothes, etc. are superficially impressive (maybe containing exotic ingredients) but Americans don’t seem to mind that the contents are actually cheap, low-grade, shoddy and unsatisfying. I’ve never seen plastic Greek-looking (non-load-bearing) pillars anywhere else.
6. When Americans do eventually start to care about the quality of everyday things, they always think that more of some good thing is better. When they learned their beer was awful, they decided it needs more hoppiness and body. Now American microbrews are so hoppy and heavy that they don’t refresh you after a summer workout. Loving crazy dense porters is considered a sign of good beer taste. Americans can’t even drink it like beer anymore; they sip that stuff like it’s wine. When they learned their coffee was awful, they reasoned that darker roasts must always be better. Now “fine” coffee is roasted to the edge of burning the beans. When they learned their bedding was crap, they reasoned that a higher thread count must always be better. Now they buy “luxury” sheets that are so dense that even they must find them uncomfortable! When they realized their bread was awful, they decided it needs more things inside, like spinach, cheese, peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, etc. It’s like Americans don’t trust their own judgments of quality and instead look for some reason to think “This *must* be good because it has lots of some good-making feature X.”

ricardo November 6, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Completely that the hops obsession is bizarre.

ricardo November 6, 2011 at 7:11 pm

whoops, “Completely _agree_ that…”. Too much Dragon’s Milk.

ivan November 6, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Hops obsession? Are you from 2010?

“Belgian style” relatively hop-less beers have taken over in SoCal.

The thing about alcohol that totally weirds me out is the dissonance we have about in. On one hand, we have lots of heavy-handed policies, some legislated and some not, about drinking in public, buying alcohol, strict enforcement of the drinking age, etc. I’ve *never* been carded traveling, and I look pretty young. Also, drinking in public – why can’t I buy a beer and drink it in the park? Am I going to hurt someone? And drunk driving laws are pretty intense.

On the other hand, binge drinking in college is pretty huge. And it’s pretty much accepted that college and high-school kids have ready access to alcohol (so the strict enforcement of ID in restaurants and such is kind of missing the point).

Bizzare, bipolar behavior. Maybe if drinking didn’t have such a “naughty” stigma heavy underage drinking would be less common?

Rahul November 6, 2011 at 11:12 pm

What I find typical is the European’s pastime to carp about American beers.

Mike November 7, 2011 at 12:41 pm

I was in Germany recently and was shocked and depressed by the advertisement for Beck’s Lime. In addition, the local brewery had closed. Also on that trip, we were in Dublin and watched with dismay as patrons drank “Bud 0”. Craft beers in the US are not all high quality but the variety and quality is improving while Europe seems to be going the other way.

Rahul November 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm

On my recent EU trip the most ubiquitous beers were Tuborg, Carlsberg and Heiniken.

Judge for yourself.

Urso November 7, 2011 at 2:23 pm

So true. I thought the whole post read like an American’s conception of the things a stereotypical European would complain about America.

Cliff November 6, 2011 at 7:36 pm

They decided to stuff things inside their bread??

DKN November 6, 2011 at 7:55 pm

This is a very good list. I also find the hops obsession bizarre and irritating. The hoppy beers are called India Pale Ale because they used the hops as a preservative so it would survive to trip to India. The stuff is the Wonderbread (TM) of beers. Disgusting. Yet Americans think more hops is always better.

As someone who has lived in the US for 12 years I still get in trouble sometimes when Americans don’t pick up when I’m kidding/being sarcastic/teasing. I guess I should clarify things within 5 seconds if I utter a statement that is not literally true.

Sebastian November 6, 2011 at 8:02 pm

I think that’s (at least) 5 years ago. The good microbrewers have moved on from that. In Boulder we still get a good amount of IPAs, but many breweries specifically say that theirs aren’t super-hoppy.

Jordan November 6, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Agreed. Colorado microbrews for the win!

Rahul November 6, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Great breweries in Wisconsin too. Also the Seattle area has some nice microbrews. The American beer scene is not how the Europeans stereotype it to be.

*daniel November 6, 2011 at 8:13 pm

I could not disagree more. American IPAs are their own kind of beer, and they need to be judged as their own kind of beer. I’ve brewed both crazy hoppy IPAs and more traditional ales… and it’s a new kind of beer. It’s going to be part of the American traditional brewing canon the same way a Pilsner is part of the Czech brewing canon.

Complaining about hoppiness in American beer is like complaining about maltiness in Belgian Dubbels. It’s a matter of taste, and if you don’t like it, don’t drink it. There are plenty of fantastic American microbreweries that make every kind of beer under the sun, and if you can’t find one you like, you’re not looking very hard. And if you can, no problem, stop complaining :)

NAME REDACTED November 6, 2011 at 11:56 pm


DKN November 7, 2011 at 12:59 am

Well, I actually find Budweiser perfectly fine (seriously).

Let the flaming begin . . .

Marton November 7, 2011 at 4:40 am

You mean the Budweiser from Budweis, not the one from St. Louis, right?

…Just kidding.

Brown Line November 7, 2011 at 5:59 am

If that’s what you like, go for it. You can have my share.

Lou November 7, 2011 at 10:31 am

Regular old budweiser straight from the bottle. My favorite as well. Equally good in a 20 degree parking lot tailgate or 95 degree backyard wiffle ball championship.

Brown Line November 7, 2011 at 6:05 am

Agreed. In the summer, my wife likes to cook Indonesian dishes – sate, hot peanut sauce, coconut rice, cucumber salad – and a nice bitter IPA (like the Sierra Nevada IPA) complements the hot, sweet, and sour dishes perfectly. God, I miss summer already!

David November 7, 2011 at 4:58 pm

I think that’s a pretty weak comparison. Pilsner from CZ is almost 200 years old. American IPAs are the product of a very recent (3 decades) “race to the hop” – a pissing match by American microbreweries and beer drinkers to make something more bitter and more heavy than what everyone else has. I think you’re wrong that Americans will settle into this as a national tradition. Already, I’ve seen young people in the US checking out and returning to PBR, which is a serious overshot in the opposite direction. This back and forth tells me that gourmet culture in the US is still in its early days, and that when traditions finally settle out, they will probably not follow the patterns established now. One thing that’s right is that the US will always probably have a wide diversity of beers with widely varying flavors. This is very different from Germany and the rest of central europe, where there are only a few major brewing styles: Pils, Helles, Dunkles, Koelsch and Weissbier (and some variants thereof). Of course there are also small-batch brews that don’t fall into these categories, but they aren’t the sorts of things that would ever appear in a normal grocery store.

John November 6, 2011 at 8:52 pm

“I’ve never seen plastic Greek-looking (non-load-bearing) pillars anywhere else.”

So you caught the Obama nomination on TV?

palerobber November 8, 2011 at 1:26 pm

move on.

fischer November 6, 2011 at 9:17 pm

hey mate, cut America some slack. there’s a learning curve, and for a while the pretentious follow the pattern that you’ve described (more hops=more badass). But, that will pass, and the pretentious will move more in a direction that you favor. You’ve gotta remember that we’re still fairly new at this “Not drinking horse piss” phenomenon.

Vanya November 7, 2011 at 4:04 am

As an American who has recently moved to Central Europe I think this list is pretty spot on. Although the converse is that Central Europeans are so satisfied with “quality” that innovation suffers. Pastries and bread in Vienna are a good example – 30 years ago they were much better than the US. They haven’t changed at all, and the US has gotten much much better. In Boston and New York there are bakers (Flour bakery in Boston for example) who offer better quality (and not just “stuffed with random crap”) than anything you find here.

#1.It is true that the alcohol issue is a big plus in favor of Central Europe. Beer and wine are available pretty much anywhere in Austria all the time, yet public drunkenness does not seem to be a big issue.

Andrew' November 7, 2011 at 4:56 am

It may be the ability to make money faster than you can spend it intelligently. Maybe they should target interest rates to the amount of hops in the beer.

Bill Frecci November 6, 2011 at 6:00 pm

An obsession with determining whose “fault” it is whenever a problem occurs

Willitts November 7, 2011 at 1:33 am

Having lived and worked overseas, the obsession of many foreigners with not caring whose fault it is and allowing those with fault to save face is a loathsome and contemptible trait.

I’m not talking about underwriting honest errors, forgiving minor faults, accepting group responsibility, or realizing that from time to time people screw up. I’m talking about the pervasive and systematic denial of guilt, blame, or fault in any and all circumstances that permits persistence of error.

This trait often goes hand in hand with pathological lying and persistent tardiness.

Vanya November 7, 2011 at 4:07 am

I have noticed that apparently one of the worst insults you can throw at a Central European is “it’s your fault”.

Andrew' November 7, 2011 at 7:45 am

I think this is a problem when it is used to let the system off the hook. A Deming cheat sheet 12 inches from my face says “Placing blames on workforces who only responsible for 15% of mistake where the system desired by management is responsible for 85% of the unintended consequences.”

Dain November 6, 2011 at 6:04 pm

I thought riding the underground in the UK was fun until commuter time. Christ, give me bumper to bumper traffic any day.

NAME REDACTED November 6, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Public transportation sucks at rushhour and the rest of the time its a horrible wate of resources.

Andrew' November 7, 2011 at 4:57 am

Why do we go to the trouble of coordinating our work for the reward of artificial scarcity?

Bob November 6, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I often wonder if there is even a single pair of “truck nuts” anywhere in the continent of Europe. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truck_nuts

Dave Barnes November 6, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Probably could find some on a less hoppy beer truck.

Murphy November 7, 2011 at 1:06 am
Ado November 7, 2011 at 9:17 am

Iceland is not continental Europe.

Joshua Maciel November 6, 2011 at 6:23 pm

From a Japanese perspective:
– huge drinks with free refills
– short sleeves in winter
– basements
– lots of old houses
– free wifi everywhere
– huge portions in supermarkets and restaurants for dirt cheap

Nikki November 6, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Where is that everywhere, I wonder. My experience looks like this:
Walk into a Starbucks, the only place around that at least promises wifi. Try to get connected. Fail. Ask the barista. Be informed that you need to buy a card, go back home, get online, activate the card, come back to the Starbucks and then use the card.

Ken Rhodes November 7, 2011 at 8:46 am

Goodness, Nikki, where do you live? Here in Virginia Beach, in shopping areas near my home, they have free WiFi (with no “activation” required) in:

Starbucks, McDonalds, Hardees, Panera, Atlanta Bread Company, Subway, Taco Bell, Dunkin Donuts, … that’s just off the top of my head, and just cheap eats places. Then there are all the new car dealerships service departments, all the hotel and motel lobbies, most car service places that have a customer waiting room (tire stores, lube shops, etc.), … The list is virtually endless.

And that’s in a city that doesn’t yet have a municipal WiFi network, which many cities do now in their retail areas.

Michael November 6, 2011 at 6:59 pm

A lot of foreigners in that Metafilter thread talk about how surprisingly nice sales people are and how good customer service is, how if one complains, the store/restaurant readily fixes “the problem,” and how easy it is to return merchandise.

The last time I was in Canada, I was out to dinner with a large group of friends. The group was slow to arrive and the waitress spent probably about an hour just filling up water glasses as we sat around waiting for others. I felt sorry for the restaurant. Later, the group became even larger and we had to ask the restaurant to push together another set of tables and move us all. They were very nice about all this. But then, when the meal was over, our waitress (who was very busy with other tables) seemingly forgot about delivering us the bill. After about 25 minutes of waiting (and no one doing anything), I walked over to her and politely reminded her. She immediately apologized and brought us our bill. My table mates were absolutely SHOCKED that I had done that. Apparently, that was a very rude thing to do, resulting in a lot of “rude American” comments. I guess we were just supposed to sit in silence for an hour until she remembered. Then, when the bill did come (the restaurant split all our bills up), remembering how patient the waitress was during our slow arrival and how nicely she helped move everything to a big table, I still laid down a 20% tip (what I consider to be normal). To my surprise, nearly everyone else at the table had opted for a top of ZERO. They all agreed that zero tip was due since we waited for the bill for so long. To me that was MUCH ruder than anything I did!

In general, I find Canadians to be incredibly petty (by American standards) when it comes to tipping. They’ll pick up on the slightest little thing to justify completely stiffing someone on a tip (“my water only had one ice cube”). People from other countries were tipping is not the norm, I understand that…but in Canada, tipping is normal (if not to the same level).

And, while on the subject of Canada, I love to tease my wife about how, despite her claims of the abundance of American flags in America, Canada beats the US in that regard. It’s EVERYWHERE! When we’re in either country, we count. Yes, you’ll probably hit about 30 flags just in the car ride to/from the airport in the US, but in Canada, you’ll easily hit 50 (we’ve played this game MANY times in MANY cities). There’s a stretch of highway (I think between Pearsons and downtown Toronto) where the highway is literally lined with them.

If you count the flags and maple leafs on nearly every bag, sweater, or product label, the comparison becomes even nuttier. I’m willing to bet that every single Canadian owns at least one piece of clothing with a flag/leaf on it.

Bill November 6, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Re Large Number of Canadian Flags:

That’s because each Tim Horton’s has a Canadian flag.

If Starbucks had an American flag, we would beat you hands down. But, Starbucks is disloyal and is an internationalist. They even use foreign words like barrista.

*daniel November 6, 2011 at 8:18 pm

I’ve never seen a Timmy’s with a Canadian flag, and I have traveled from coast to coast visiting Tim Horton’s in each province. That’s absolutely bizarre.

The only flags in my city are on municipal buildings. No-one I know owns a flag.

Bill November 6, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Was just in Ottowa three weeks ago, and they certainly did have a flag. It was on a highway, right next to the Comfort Inn. Didn’t like the coffee, but the donuts are pretty good. If they are not displaying a flag near you, you should talk to them and tell them about McDonalds use of the flag to draw customers.

Patrick November 6, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Tim Horton’s is now an American company, it’s HQ is in Columbus Ohio.

NAME REDACTED November 6, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Much like Canada.

Bill November 7, 2011 at 12:49 am


I spoke with my travel companion, my wife, who recalls the Canadian flag at the hotel, but not at the Tim Horton’s next door to the hotel.

I apologize, and can only blame the maple frosted donut that imbued in me the sense of Canadianish when I visited that fine establishment.

But, my wife does recall a flag at or near the Tim Hortons in Niagra Falls. But, she may have been influenced by a jelly donut.

To this point, lest you think I took this potential sighting of your flag lightly and my memory operating under a sugared daze, I did a search forTim Hortons Uniform Franchise Offering Circular and for their Franchise Manual, either of which would describe signage requirements, including, believe it or not, flags. Alas, no mention of the Canadian Flag.

Could it be optional? Or, could the franchisor run it so tightly that it would seek to block the free expression of patriotism by the local franchisees.

That too was answered with further research.

There is evidently an organization called The Canadian National Party which has a campaign to have all businesses display the Canadian Flag. http://www.natparty.com/canflag.htm

They send letters to tire dealers, hapless restaurants, auto repair shops, Canadian Museums (!!) demanding they display the Canadian Flag.

Sadly, in their collection of letters is the demand that Tim Hortons display the Canadian Flag at all its locations.

Here is the text of the demand contained in an article entitled: “No Flag: Tim Hortons’ Canadianism Called into Question”

Text: “The CFPPC has asked Tim Hortons’ Ltd. to display Canadian flags at all their locations in Canada and as yet we have not received any reply to our requests.

Text of Letter “Your Afghan globalist mission to serve troops has gone to your heads; it would be a better use of time to have our national symbol displayed at Tim Hortons’ locations across Canada.

We look forward to seeing our maple leaf flag at Tim Hortons soon.

Bob Smith
Canadian Flag Perpetual
Pride Campaign
April 12, 2011”

Could Tim Hortons have capitulated since April when the letter was written? Or, perhaps they have resisted the call to “flag up” now that they are owned by Wendys.

I don’t know, but since you are there and I am now here in the States, I must, sadly, defer to your unsugared eyesight, hopeful, though, that the Tim Hortons on that highway in Ottawa did break away in the spirit of rebellion and that my memory was not clouded by the maple frosting.

*daniel November 6, 2011 at 8:16 pm

I don’t know what part of Canada that was, but it’s perfectly customary here in Ontario to approach the wait staff if you’re not being taken care of. Not rude at all.

Rahul November 6, 2011 at 11:17 pm

If you think Canadians are petty about tipping try going out with Germans or the Swiss. Horrid tippers.

Stephen November 11, 2011 at 4:41 pm

That’s because people make living wage. It’s trinkgeld in German. It’s drinking money — at the end of the night, you have enough cash for a few beers. Your paycheck is for living on.

Garth Wood November 7, 2011 at 9:51 am

In general, I find Canadians to be incredibly petty (by American standards) when it comes to tipping. They’ll pick up on the slightest little thing to justify completely stiffing someone on a tip (“my water only had one ice cube”). People from other countries were tipping is not the norm, I understand that…but in Canada, tipping is normal (if not to the same level).

*AHEM*  Southern Ontario is not “Canada,” any more than London, England is the United Kingdom or Paris, France is France.  The “American” style of tipping you’re describing is quite common and accepted in the Prairie provinces, particularly Alberta.  And British Columbia is different again from the rest of Canada.  Like the U.S., Canada’s geographically too large to make sweeping statements about its consumer culture — it all depends on where you are.

Jimbino November 6, 2011 at 7:34 pm

The American things I miss when I’m overseas are:

1. Easy conversation in public.
2. Peanut butter.
3. No-questions-asked returns of purchases.
4. Amazon.com
5. Craigslist.com
6. Thrift stores.
7. Harbor Freight tools and cheap tools in general.
8. Mechanics and repairmen who are competent.
9. Sharp tools and a culture of sharpening tools.
10. Culture of real service in restaurants, etc.

What I don’t miss are:
1. Fascist cops.
2. Christianism.
3. Flagwaving, anthems, prayers and moments of silence ad nauseam.
4. Oktoberfests with no beer (as in Helen, GA on Sundays).
5. Lack of sidewalks and pedestrian-only city centers.
6. Stupid tipping culture.
7. Thousand-mile drives through dry counties in Texas.
9. Ignorance of foreign languages, affairs, history and geography.
10. Total lack of pedestrians in some cities (e.g., entire E coast of FL)

ivan November 6, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Nail. Head. You got it.

Bill November 6, 2011 at 10:28 pm

True Americana.

Willitts November 7, 2011 at 1:36 am

From the perspective of an America-hater.

Py November 7, 2011 at 4:54 am

You nailed it Willits.

palerobber November 8, 2011 at 1:32 pm

i love my america, it’s only your america that sucks.

Andrew' November 7, 2011 at 4:59 am

It is kind of funny that you have to go to America to get cheap Chinese tools.

Jay November 7, 2011 at 7:12 am

Not really. Plenty of American made stuff where I live, usually priced within 5-10% of the Chinese crap, sometimes cheaper.

jb November 7, 2011 at 11:48 am

This made me LOL, since I live in suburban Atlanta, GA:

“Oktoberfests with no beer (as in Helen, GA on Sundays)”

Dick Potomick November 6, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Bill: Borrowing from your “24. That Conservative Means One Thing for Economics and Another For Social Issues,” that Liberal Means One Thing for Social Issues and Another For Economics.

Put otherwise, the only intellectually consistent political position is libertarianism.

Bill November 6, 2011 at 8:07 pm

I was going to say the liberal point you made but thought it would elicit support.

How about classical liberalism instead.

I know the word “liberal” would be tough for a libertarian to swallow, even preceded by the word “classical”, but since Americans engage in wars of words without meaning anyway (eureka!! make that my Number 30: America Engages In Wars of Words Without Meaning), we would probably only confuse the populace more than they are already.

On the other hand, confusion over terms and words may cause people to think without attaching a particular label to the argument.

Nah, it will never happen.

Andrew' November 6, 2011 at 8:04 pm

German disapproves of daddy long legs


FYI November 6, 2011 at 8:40 pm


Sebastian November 6, 2011 at 8:11 pm

To limit this I’ll try to stay with “quirky” rather than “different” – and especially trying to stay away from bad/good:

The obsession with running.
The obsession with running for a cause.
“Doggy bags” in restaurants – both that they’re super normal and that they’re called Doggy bags (though I’m not hearing that much anymore, so that seems to be fading).
That each state has about 30 symbols, from a state bird, to a state cookie, to a state gun.
College Football and Tailgating.

Henry November 6, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Yeah I really miss the “doggy bag” term. IN the 70s at least in Minnesota and the upper midwest was very common. Haven’t heard it in decades.

Rahul November 6, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Now they are called a “box”

The Laughing Hyena November 7, 2011 at 12:34 am

I definitely remember doggie bags from growing up in Louisville, KY in the 1970s & ’80s. Many bags I remember had cartoon dogs drawn on ’em. As a kid I remember I associated leftovers with a fun cartoon.

Jordan November 6, 2011 at 8:14 pm

I wouldn’t say that most of these things are necessary what generic “foreigners” would find quirky about the US, but rather what Europeans (and more specifically Western Europeans) find odd. Asians would have a very different list of top American quirks, although perhaps it is more interesting to note the subtle cultural differences between the US and Europe.

Jordan November 6, 2011 at 8:24 pm

It’s always frustrating to hear people talk about America compared to “the rest of the world” when “the world” apparently is comprised of the US and Western Europe.

I hear this a lot: “The US is sooo socially conservative compared to the rest of the world.” No, the US is in the top 5% most socially liberal places in the world. Could it be more free? Sure. Is western Europe more socially liberal? In many areas. But as a general rule? America is significantly more unique for being socially liberal than restrictive.

Urso November 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm

It makes sense to me that Americans compare America to France, not to Iran. To pat yourself on the back for being more liberal than Iran is meaningless.

It’s like when you’re watching an NFL game and someone says “that guy sucks.” Well, compared to 99.9999% of the population he’s an elite athlete. But within the confines of the NFL maybe he sucks.

msgkings November 7, 2011 at 2:51 pm


Sebastian November 6, 2011 at 8:15 pm

oh yes – seeing “short sleeves in winter” above:
flip-flops in Winter.

Jim November 6, 2011 at 10:51 pm

It depends on where you are. Here in the Deep South, you can always tell who the Upper Midwest transplants are because they wear shorts and T-shirts during moderately cold days.

Sebastian November 7, 2011 at 11:26 am

very true – that was a Chicago observation. Minnesotans are even crazier.

Careless November 7, 2011 at 2:15 pm

speaking as a Chicagoan who would wear shorts and sandals 330 days a year if he could get away with it… Meh.

jonm November 6, 2011 at 8:22 pm

In Boston / New York : apartments without decent washing machines – sharing [eugh!!] machines that look and perform like ones from 50 years ago does not count, nor does the presence of a laundromat nearby. Speaking of which – laundromats.

The *appalling* quality of American household goods.

John November 6, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Especially the ones we by at Ikea.

John November 6, 2011 at 8:50 pm


Jordan November 6, 2011 at 8:32 pm

As an American living in Taipei, I’d say one of the biggies would be:

Non-white people born in the US are not only granted citizenship but are actually considered “American”

This is something that is completely bizarre to Asians, and from what I’ve heard is still a pretty novel concept in Europe outside of the UK and maybe a little bit in France.

BC November 6, 2011 at 11:53 pm

As another American living in Taiwan, I thought a few of the observations applied more to Asia than to the US.

Frank November 6, 2011 at 8:38 pm

A lot of what has been discussed upstairs is due to price differences. Huge food portions in US restaurants are nothing more than price discrimination, only possible that way because food is free compared to Europe. Household goods in the US of A are totally crap, and so cheap! The US is a great country–stuff is half as good and costs a quarter of the price in Europe.

Brian November 6, 2011 at 9:12 pm

When you say you’re going to “table it” you mean you want to talk about it later, if ever. People from other countries think you want to talk about it now.

RM November 6, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Ha — excellent.

Right Wing-nut November 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm

My understanding is that after the Japanese bombed Peal Harbor, the British & Americans spent months arguing about whether or not they should “table” the discussion of submarine warfare…

JSIS November 6, 2011 at 9:26 pm

The number of people who don’t believe in evolution.

Ado November 7, 2011 at 9:39 am

“believe” :)

Nikki November 6, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Clean cities? Has he/she ever been to NYC?
Following the rules? There’s everything from the ubiquitous availability of weed (for the record, this is not to say that weed is bad: just that it is generally illegal in the US) to outdoors consumption of alcohol from bottles hidden in paper bags, to American friends’ puzzled looks as I wait for the green light to cross the street.

Here are a few things that are indeed bizarre.
* The lack of a common language. You’d think it’s simply impractical, but no, in the US it’s a matter of freedom.
* The size of portions at restaurants. Those are just monstrous.
* People who work in public bathrooms turning the water on and off for users in exchange for tips. I suspect in Europe that would be enough to topple a government.
* Football that is not football, and football that is football not being called football.
* The abundance of one-family houses in big cities.
* The locked cell phones.
* The popularity of litigation — and at least some Americans are baffled by lack thereof in Europe. A friend visiting from NYC was shocked to see a passer-by slip on ice, fall, get up and go away: Shouldn’t he be suing the city over this?
* What in Europe is Spanish (= first world, despite the current trouble), in the US is Hispanic and comes with the connotation of inferiority. “Look, Dad, he speaks Janitor,” as they put it on American Dad. On the Freakonomics forum, somebody mentioned that Eduardo Porter changed his name to Edward for the US edition of his The Price of Everything.
* Letters sent to voters during election campaigns. Don’t really know how widespread they are, but somebody shared one during a previous campaign, and it went along the lines of “Dear [Name]! I was talking with the President last night, and he told me what a loyal supporter of our party you had been all these years…” Assuming high-ranking politicians know what they are doing when it comes to getting elected, people apparently buy this.

RM November 6, 2011 at 9:53 pm

FYI, many of us welcome a multitude of languages. I have never seen the public bathroom/thing — what city was that it? Spain has been a backwater country in Europe for a long time.

Nikki November 7, 2011 at 8:19 am

A multitude of languages is wonderful, as long as people also share a language for interaction. It’s merely being pragmatic. If you run a store and I want to buy something from you, and you only speak Chinese, and I only speak Italian, nobody wins.

The faucet operators, that’s once again the glorious Manhattan. The first time I saw that was on a New Year’s Eve at a night club. Very depressing.

As to Spain, that’s incorrect. The country was an economic miracle until the housing bubble burst, which was — what, three years ago? And leaving aside the crumbling economy, you’d be hard pressed to find another region that has such a complete collection of all things amazing.

Sam P November 7, 2011 at 2:04 am

New York City used to be far dirtier than it is now.

JSK November 7, 2011 at 2:34 am

New York City is cleaner than Amsterdam (Netherlands), dispite being about 10 times as large. Its on par with Berlin, I think.

Peter A November 7, 2011 at 4:17 am

” What in Europe is Spanish (= first world, despite the current trouble), in the US is Hispanic and comes with the connotation of inferiority. ”

No. Spanish, as in Europe, refers to Europeans from Spain. “Hispanic” refers to people, mostly of Native American (e.g. Nahuatl, Mayan, Incan, etc.) or mixed ancestry, who speak Spanish. Hence the connotation of inferiority – “Hispanic” is really a racist tag to indicate someone is not white. Most Argentinians, for example, would not be considered “hispanics” by the average American.

Vanya November 7, 2011 at 4:21 am

No common language? What on Earth are you talking about? It is all English all the time in the US. There is a lot more linguistic diversity on the streets in Vienna, Berlin or London than in the US. Or Singapore or Hong Kong for that matter.

Anon November 7, 2011 at 10:01 am

Seconded. One gets the feeling that people who complain about too many non-English speakers have never set foot outside the U.S. America is one of only a few countries that are essentially monolingual (and fewer if you exclude other native English-speaking countries). Most Indians and Filipinos are bilingual (regional language plus national language) and many can speak 3 or 4 languages remarkably well and switch between them depending on to whom they are speaking. Same with most Europeans, non-native-Mandarin-speakers in China, and many Southeast Asians. Non-Malay residents of Malaysia and Singapore can usually manage with their own native language, English and a smattering of Malay. I’ve never been to Africa but I’d imagine it’s the same there in the capital cities with people speaking one or more native languages, English and maybe French. People who bitch and complain about “For English, press 1” need to call customer service in one of these countries.

Careless November 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm

my Chinese Indonesian nephews on java don’t speak Hokkien (their Chinese) and the ones on Sumatra will probably have children who won’t, it’s dying out there and they’re going monolingual while learning some English and/or Mandarin in school.

Tom T. November 8, 2011 at 8:29 am

“People who bitch and complain about “For English, press 1″ need to call customer service in one of these countries.”

When Americans call customer service, they ARE calling those countries. :-)

Dave Barnes November 6, 2011 at 10:14 pm

The ability to go for weeks without forking over cash.
I actually paid $5 cash at a restaurant this morning because it was silly to put $2.38 on my debit card. But, I could have.

Iop November 7, 2011 at 1:21 am

If it ends in anything but “.00” it goes on the card.
Actually, even then it’s probably not an option cause I never carry cash on me.

Benny Lava November 6, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Some of these observations are priceless.

Louise November 7, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Who put the goat in here?

Anshuman November 6, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Really cool acronyms, abbreviations and catchy/funny names even for serious policy and serious institutions, military or commerical products.


Plan B , Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, START, TARP, SHARP, LAMPS and many more I can’t remember.

I feel like someone in every organization spends some non trivial amount of time coming up with these.

RM November 6, 2011 at 10:56 pm

I think this represents the marketing/entrepreneurial spirit of Americans — sell, sell, sell. And one way to do that is to come up with a catchy title. Even grant writers do it. We have gotten so accustomed to doing it that it does not take much time.

Borealis November 6, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Americans watch sports where athletes use their hands.

Miguel Madeira November 8, 2011 at 7:58 am

Americans play football with hands

Anon November 6, 2011 at 10:48 pm

The obsessions about race and political correctness are the two things I’ve noticed about the US.

Willitts November 7, 2011 at 1:39 am

Perhaps because most other countries are 99 and 44/100ths percent racially pure.

bodley heath November 7, 2011 at 4:29 am

Western Europe though far from perfect is definitely more relaxed about race

MP November 7, 2011 at 7:41 am

It is and it isn’t. It seems more relaxed day-to-day, but there also seem to by a lot more “football team under investigation because supporters threw banannas at black opposing player” type incidents.

vanya November 7, 2011 at 7:58 am

Europeans may tend to be more relaxed about Africans than Americans, but are often viciously racist toward groups that don’t even register on American radar. My observation in Central Europe is that Turks are generally not considered “white”. Americans generally find that attitude pretty odd/retrograde.

Anon November 7, 2011 at 10:16 am

People tend to be racist toward a group once it attains a certain critical mass or prominence. Historically, if there were only a few black people in a given area in America, people would be very accepting as in some states in New England where blacks had voting rights and legal rights even before the Civil War. Once the black population approaches Mississippi levels, racism tends to become more prominent. Likewise, California had a parallel system of Jim Crow for Asians that developed when the Asian (especially Chinese and Japanese) populations reached critical mass.

It really cannot be to any European country’s credit if they are not racist toward the very few black people who actually live there. Let’s look at how the society treats Jews, Gypsies, Turks, Arabs or any other group that forms a significant minority in the country before congratulating it for its tolerance.

bodley heath November 8, 2011 at 7:29 am

good points above

its not too nice being a muslim in denmark or a black person in america

Fazal Majid November 6, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Minor in the grand scheme of things, but the fact the week starts on Sunday in the US. I’ve been in the US for 11 years, and I still can’t figure out how the US diverged from Britain and Europe on this one.

The fact Election Day is set to occur on a Tuesday, rather than a Sunday as in most other places.

Waiters constantly interrupting your meal and asking you how things are going (with the subtext: “remember my tip”).

The fact all currency bills are the same size, shape and color, and can easily be mistaken for one another.

Ado November 7, 2011 at 9:45 am

Considering that our week originates from the Hebrew calendar, where Saturday (Shabath) is the last day, it’s Europe that diverged on that one.

Fazal Majid November 7, 2011 at 10:56 am

Well, since an edict of Constantine n 321 and the Council of Laodicea in 364, Christians have observed Sunday as the day of worship, presumably to differentiate themselves from Jews, and thus Monday as the first day of the week. Some Protestants wanted to change it back to Saturday, as a way to differentiate themselves from the Catholic Church.

I haven’t been able to find any sources as to the comparative history of the first day of the week in England and the US. Did they both start on Monday and the US go back to Sunday, and if so, did that happen before or after Independence? Did they both start on Sunday and did the UK move to Monday and the US not follow?

A similar situation exists with the Gregorian calendar, which was only adopted by the British and their colonies in 1752. If the pre-independence US adopted Sunday as the first day of the week out of rejection of the Catholic Church, wouldn’t they also have rejected the Gregorian Calendar for the same reasons?

IVV November 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Election Day is on Tuesday because it’s a holdover from when it was set over 200 years ago.

Travel was slow, and people were spread out then. It would be a reasonable expectation back then that it would take a day’s travel for a farmer to reach the polling place in town. You couldn’t expect someone to travel on Sunday–that’s the day of rest, after all. So, the idea was that the farmer sets out on Monday, reaches town, spends the night, votes first thing on Tuesday, and heads back home.

So, Tuesday. It’s also in early November so that it would be after the main harvest (everyone’s too busy then) but before the major snows that stopped travel altogether.

It’s incongruent by today’s standards, but there you have it.

dw November 8, 2011 at 12:41 pm

When I lived in England, the week started on Sunday. What’s your evidence for the claim that it starts on Monday?

FE November 6, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Americans sure like to stand on both sides of escalators. What’s the country-by-country breakdown on that?

The sporting divide grows ever greater as our sports get slower and weirder. I like baseball and football as much as any American, but how could I explain to the average earthling why we play 4-hour World Series games that end after midnight or football’s obsession with instant-replay review?

Chris R November 7, 2011 at 9:18 am

Germans are the same way with the escalators.

OTOH, the advertising breaks get to me when I return to the US. A 90-minute game lasts…92 minutes…in Germany.

Rahul November 7, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Brits OTOH are extremely good elevator riders. I read somewhere that London Underground elevators operate at higher speeds than the run of the mill variety. Maybe this gets credit for training them.

Patrick November 6, 2011 at 10:59 pm

I went to a fan forum that was held for my local MLS team where you could ask players questions. He was from Argentina and he could not believe that when his car broke down that a courtesy car showed up and fixed his car for free. He also could not get over how safe it is here, no worries about you or your family getting Kidnapped. This guy is a sports Icon like Tom Brady in Argentina.

When I went on my honeymoon, I was asked by some Australians about guns. They cold not understand why you would need more than one gun. I explained that we have different hunting seasons and with different types of gunsalso it’s boring just shooting only one gun.

affenkopf November 7, 2011 at 9:49 am

This guy is a sports Icon like Tom Brady in Argentina.

If he was he would be playing in England or Spain not MLS.

kunal November 7, 2011 at 12:39 pm

The Argentine in question (Schelotto) came to the US to play in his early to mid 30’s. He’s still an icon, just an older one. (He never played in Europe, ever. Doesn’t mean he isn’t a Tom Brady level icon in Argentina)

Nedim November 6, 2011 at 11:09 pm

1) Giant, barren, blacktop parking lots in Florida, with no attempt to make any shade.
2) When the traffic light turns green, people do not start driving. They wait for the car in front of them to start driving, then a second later start moving. Compare to Germany.
3) Wooden poles with power/telephone/cable lines. Often crooked.
4) People depending on government services for their livelihood (Social Security/Medicare) not aware that those provided by the government and demonstrating against those very services.
5) Dividing land in 1/2-2 acre lots and building homes far from each other, making services delivery costly, and walking impossible. Yet, idyllic images in advertising will show a village with open fields or forests around it and even kids shows like Arthur show walkable, downtown like areas, a clear indication of preference. Yet, something that is completely impossible with this policy.
6) Horrible stretches of plaza’s/strip malls along major routes.

Rahul November 6, 2011 at 11:24 pm

You actually get free water in restaurants. Europe with all its claims to being a welfare state is unusually stingy about free water. You pay for taking water in and also for dumping water out. What’s so bad about public restrooms and drinking water fountains?!

Willitts November 7, 2011 at 1:40 am

If you ask for “water” in Europe, they serve you a bottle of mineral water that isn’t free and isn’t cheap.

vanya November 7, 2011 at 8:01 am

Depends where in Europe. In Austria free tap water with your coffee at a cafe is obligatory, and you can get it in restaurants as well.

Rahul November 7, 2011 at 9:48 am

Yes, but isn’t that like a shot glass of water? I never got a decent sized glass.

drew November 7, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Knowing how to ask for tap water in the local language tends to solve this problem. Many Europeans also seem to hold the questionable belief that their tap water is not fit for drinking.

Anthony November 7, 2011 at 1:37 pm

I found that it was easy to get water in England, and sometimes, they’d even bring it without asking. But ice? Never. They must have forgotten to repeal ice-rationing after the War.

Rahul November 7, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Never brought the ice in India too. To think of it, India’s the one nation where that ice would really be quite welcome. OTOH, I’d rather pass the typhoid.

Ag80 November 6, 2011 at 11:33 pm

I always like how it’s fun and amusing to stereotype U.S. citizens, but if that happens to anyone other nationality, it’s taboo.

Because, stereotyping is fun as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. And, god knows, Americans aren’t really, you know, people or anything.

FYI November 7, 2011 at 12:10 am

Well, that would be one ‘quirkiness’ I would mention: Americans are extremelly tolerant.

In my case, the three things I noticed right away after I moved here were:
– Very ‘intellectual’ take on sports. In Brazil (and Europe too) all the sport shows (about soccer of course) consist mostly of people trying to defend the teams they root for while yelling at each other. Here you got analysts explaining convoluted diagrams and all the intricacies of the Cover 2 defense or something like that.
– Private charity is everywhere: I don’t remember donating to charity once while I lived in Brazil. In the US you not only get hit with mail from all the major organizations (Unicef, Doctors without borders, Smile Train, etc) but you get a lot of ‘opportunities’ (a.k.a. pressure) from your friends, neighbors, church, and even at work!
– People are very engaged in ideological discussions: Even though you get the usual right and left confrontation in almost every country out there, it is usually a pretty weak debate. In Brazil for instance, most of the arguments are about who is more honest and who will give you more (their right wing is waaay left of our Democrats). Here in the US a good chunk of people know at least the basics of the different ideologies. Maybe because of that, our Presidential debates are pretty interesting in comparison.

Eva November 6, 2011 at 11:33 pm

– Automatic flush toilets in public restrooms. When I first saw them, when a kid, I wondered “Can’t they trust others to flush the toilet?” Apparently not.
– Religion, guns, and references to the Constitution/Amendments. Where I’m from, we didn’t have any foundational document until very recently, so of course nobody regards it as truly important but an artificial creation subject to modification.
– The large extent to which things vary by state rather than federal law.

NAME REDACTED November 7, 2011 at 2:58 am

Its so you don’t have to touch the handle.

Eva November 7, 2011 at 9:21 pm

But you could just as easily let it be a motion sensor triggered by a hand swipe that you don’t have to touch, as in paper towel dispensers. No need for automatic flushing that half the time shoots water out at you when you least expect it!

NAME REDACTED November 6, 2011 at 11:36 pm

My asian friends were shocked about everything being covered in cheese.
My biggest reverse culture shock when I returned here from overseas was the lack of petty crime. I didn’t have to constantly worry about pickpockets when in large public areas.

Sbard November 7, 2011 at 4:32 am

My (Chinese) girlfriend always comments on the prevalence of cheese in our food and the inevitable game of twenty questions that results whenever you order food (would you like white or wheat bread? Chedder, american, or swiss cheese? What toppings? etc.)

Careless November 7, 2011 at 2:24 pm

my wife is Chinese and didn’t move here until 25 (and we spend a lot of time in Wisconsin). The cheese has been easily the hardest thing for her to adjust to in terms of food. In general terms, the large number of road signs and the fact that we’ll pull over for emergency vehicles seemed strange to her for years.

Ric Locke November 6, 2011 at 11:50 pm

What German visitors always remarked on to me was damaged cars. Apparently, in Germany body&fender repair must be really profitable — fender crumples, cracked glass, missing plastic bumper covers, the general problems of poor people who can’t afford to get it fixed right away, would keep a car off the road there.

On the other hand, I was driving back from Dallas with my friend from East Germany (back when there was such a place) and we saw a road crew patching potholes. “That’s like home,” he said after we’d passed. When I raised my eyebrows at him he explained, “Eight people, one has a shovel, the others are watching. Just like the DDR.” Some things are universal, I guess.


Willitts November 7, 2011 at 1:45 am

Germany has extremely strict inspection standards: the dreaded TUV.

A car that has body damage, rust on the frame, or any of hundreds of other deficiencies will fail inspection. These standards are touted for “safety” but are actually just a government employment program. It forces people to get their cars repaired or buy new cars.

While it does create much nicer scenery, it’s a horrendous waste of resources and imposition on individual liberty. My car has dents and scratches on it. I would love to fix it, but repairs will cost more than the car is worth. It’s completely paid for, and I neither want a car payment nor full-coverage insurance. I’m doing more to “save the planet” by NOT fixing my car than by following the German standard.

Filip Jolevski November 7, 2011 at 12:25 am

A Macedonian perspective (in the DC area for the past 5 years):

1. The openness and acceptance to different cultures, ideas, and perspectives, and your social value/position is based on your abilities, and not your last name or relatives that were/are something. (Very different than Europe)

2. The weird, but warm relationship with your neighbors. (Back home, you know all your neighbors and half of them don’t like you for no apparent reasons. Here I know only one the guy who lives next door, yet every time I walk on my street, everybody says hi even though I have no clue who they are)

3. The size of everything. (Speaking from the size of the microwave, the plate of food, all the way to cars, buildings, distances)

4. The pureness and structure of its history. (There is less of presence of the bias of different interpretations of its history. It is very different to read European history by French and by German or British. Also [besides the earlier history] its cool that each the history is structured around the presidents)

5. Contacting your representative. (the idea that if something is going wrong, you write a letter to your representative)

6. The “College Experience”. (here it is an actual experience, whereas in other places is just another thing that you have to do)

7. Being able to drive from 16. (True for most states)

Bill November 7, 2011 at 8:41 am

#3 Re: Observation about rapid relationship with your neighbors, even if superficial: This may just be a DC feature. Everyone is new in DC, and if you don’t get to know someone soon, you will not get to know anyone because they will have moved.

To give you an example. My wife was waiting to play tennis, and sat next to a woman who was also waiting. During the 10 minute conversation, she got the other woman’s life story, including the birth control she was using. The person also tried to set up a tennis event later.

If you go to other parts of the US, particularly those parts which do not see in and out migration or where everyone is related to everyone else or they all go to the same church (hey Utah), expect a different result. The same is true for NYC where you may not even see, much less talk to, the neighbor in the appartment next to you, but you will get to know your doorman.

By the way, the other thing about DC is if you go to a party, people very quickly ask what you do for a living and where you work. My wife, a stay at home mother sick people asking this and then walking away, began to reply to this question with the answer: “For reasons I can’t disclose, I am not able to tell you.”

I had asked her to not tell anyone she was a housewife, and not tell anyone that I had made the request, and she was literally complying with my request.

Ken Rhodes November 7, 2011 at 9:02 am

“For reasons I can’t disclose, I am not able to tell you.”

Bill, that is absolutely brilliant. Thank you for lighting up my morning.

FYI November 7, 2011 at 12:13 pm


So I bet you never been to Utah correct?

Utah is by far the most friendly place I’ve been to. And I lived in 3 other states (Georgia, Virginia and Washington) before moving here.

Urso November 7, 2011 at 2:48 pm

The claim that Washington DC is a friendlier place than Utah is suspect indeed.

Bill November 7, 2011 at 8:21 pm

My Utah experiences are second hand.
I had a friend who served as the Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust in Utah.

He was not a mormon and said the community was so tight it was suffocating because he could not be a member of the community. He left.

He also said that the religious community is tight–in that if you need help, you get it from the church, not the government–and if you are not a mormon, good luck buddy.

I’m happy things are good to you, and just remember that my friends was his experience and yours is yours. Small sample size but one sounds a little more probable because it has some factual statements.

Right Wing-nut November 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm

That’s because Washington is such a violent culture. “If you can’t advance my career, I’m done with you.” Is the rule for far too many. The response you gave her (what a sexist thing to do, btw) makes her sound like she works for State. Brilliant!

Bill November 7, 2011 at 8:23 pm

It was my wife who talked to her, not me!

Nikki November 8, 2011 at 5:31 am

#1: so true. Paris Hilton or Nicole Richie would never have happened in the US. Oh wait…

Hal Duell November 7, 2011 at 1:30 am

The ability to comment about everything except all the guns.

Andrew' November 7, 2011 at 10:47 am

What do you mean? I love talking about guns.

Reed Perry November 7, 2011 at 1:48 am

As an American who has travelled all over, here are some oddities that have struck me about the UK and Europe:

– Generalizations. Euros are quick to apply overall stereotypes to Americans and assume American ways are “wrong” or don’t make sense, even when American methods represent a newer, more advanced take on old Euro practices.

-Critiques of American culture. Euros love to ridicule American culture awhile it not only saturates, and is modeled by the entire world, but is the most successful US export (including corporate symbols, movies, TV, literature, even commercials).

-History. Americans are forced to be schooled in European history, oftentimes knowing nothing about the ancient tribes or empires in their own region, yet Euros know nothing of internal US history.

-The cities are a mess. Nothings appears to have been planned. Getting directions anywhere is ridiculous as streets weave around and split up, with houses in the middle of roads. Almost all cities were planned by pioneers in the US.

-Surveillance!!!! I get creeped out and pissed off at cameras anywhere outside of bars and banks. In Europe, nobody is alone, the government is quietly watching everything, everywhere, which seems unnecessary considering the lack of violence.

-Everything is more expensive. Even tiny things like a beer or bus fare are twice the cost in the US (why?).

-Portions of food. I am skinny by American standards, but I still find the Euro foods to be disappointing. I almost find it embarrassing when I order something and it is much smaller than what I expected.

– RUDENESS. Only certain US cities (New York or Boston come to mind) even compare to the utterly despicable rudeness of most Euros. Euros (particularly English) find American kindness to be childish and funny. Perhaps the worst of them all are the English, who being Anglo, imagine they have some kind of cultural superiority over the US. Americans are actually very proud of their hospitality. Living in towns and cities with “old fashioned” unconditional American hospitality reminds me that the US is the greatest nation that has ever existed.

Vanya November 7, 2011 at 4:29 am

I generally don’t find Europeans, other than perhaps Russians, to be rude. As long as you know the basic rules of courtesy, people tend to be very nice. In some countries, like Austria, they will even bend over to kiss your ass if they think you are important for some reason. Of course, I am from Boston. I have also never ever had a strange American in any part of the US, other than possibly Utah, offer me the hospitality that I have received from Italian, Spanish, Austrian or Russian acquaintances I had just met. Some of the meanest most suspicious people I have ever met in my life were in small towns in the Midwest. Generalizations are just that after all.

Gunnar Tveiten November 7, 2011 at 1:51 am

The ability to drive from 16, and to put your life on the line as a soldier from age 18 — yet 2 years later, at 20, still not being allowed to buy a beer.

The *huge* deal made out of totally non-issues remotelt close to anything to do with sex. like 1-second “nipple-slips”, you could show the clip in children-tv in large parts of europe without anyone raising an eyebrow.

The total batshit craziness of some parts of the election-system.

Right Wing-nut November 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Ever study the election rules in other countries? The way that individuals end up in their various parliaments is often dizzying.

Also, the winner takes all electoral college has been one of the best accidents of history. I ensures that politics will be dominated by two major, centerist parties, which, for all of its maddening properties, is a long-term boon to liberty.

Carsten Valgreen November 7, 2011 at 2:32 am

The sheer number of signs everywhere. And the stupidity of many of them. “Dont touch the electrical outlet”.

Carsten Valgreen November 7, 2011 at 2:33 am

The absolute determination not to invest in any kind of public infrastruture that works. (compare US trains with European or Asian, or airports!)

NAME REDACTED November 7, 2011 at 3:03 am

European and Asian trains are not an investment but a cost. In the US our trains are almost entirely freight. Furthermore, we have the best rail freight system in the world.

Carsten Valgreen November 7, 2011 at 7:12 am

Average US passenger car train speeds are lower now than in 1940s. In part because rail curves were flattened to accomodate freight instead of passengers.

And in terms of costs,externalities and subsidies, US transportation policy and economics is as hard to judge as European and Asian ones. I am not saying that one is better than the other. Just that the social choices taken in the US strikes me as very different (quirky even) compared to every other rich country.

Add US health care to that list btw.

Carsten Valgreen November 7, 2011 at 7:17 am

… and the lack of VAT as a tax instrument. All other countries have it. And dont tell me it is bad, it is probably the least distortionary tax with large revenues. And the lack of VAT means that the US tax system is as distortionary as most other rich country systems at a lower revenue/GDP ratio. Thats just inefficient.

Carsten Valgreen November 7, 2011 at 7:20 am

… imperial units!

roystgnr November 7, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Average US passenger train speed today is around 400 mph, much higher than in 1940. This is sometimes mis-reported by statistics that don’t take into account the ~95% of US train traffic that is carried on newer flying models.

NAME REDACTED November 8, 2011 at 1:08 am

good point.

TallDave November 7, 2011 at 12:29 pm

We have the best health care in the world, asinine NGO rankings notwithstanding.

I like living in a country where the actual cost-effectiveness of rail transportation is occasionally taken into consideration.

Jim K November 7, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Look at the stats on per capita energy consumption. Germany, France, and the UK’s are all 50-60% that of the US. Compact cities where people take rail to work, maybe?

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