What is quirky about the United States?

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?


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.

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?

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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:

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

oh, good. we just like to kill people.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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!"

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.

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

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.


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

Everyone is a salesperson.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Two words: death penalty.

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

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.

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!).

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.

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.

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.

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]

7. Love of Weaponry--Personal or Otherwise

8. Surgical Strikes

10. 9 Out of 10 Television Programs

11. Certain Blogs

12. Some of the Republican Primary Candidates This Year

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

13. That Our President Was Born in Kenya

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

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

19. Bill.

Just kidding, Bill...

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)

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.

26. Don't Ask Don't Tell Means Don't

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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?

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.

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)

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.

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

40% controls if 60% is needed.

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?

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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".

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!

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!

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.

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...

London versus Ohio? Try London versus Alabama.

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.

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.

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

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.


They are quirky.

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.

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.

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

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

Never been to Switzerland then.

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

You exaggerate.

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

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.

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

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."

Completely that the hops obsession is bizarre.

whoops, "Completely _agree_ that...". Too much Dragon's Milk.

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?

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

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.

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

Judge for yourself.

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

They decided to stuff things inside their bread??

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.

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.

Agreed. Colorado microbrews for the win!

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.

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 :)


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

Let the flaming begin . . .

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

...Just kidding.

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

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.

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!

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.

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

So you caught the Obama nomination on TV?

move on.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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."

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

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

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

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

Probably could find some on a less hoppy beer truck.

Iceland ?

Iceland is not continental Europe.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Much like Canada.


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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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)

Nail. Head. You got it.

True Americana.

From the perspective of an America-hater.

You nailed it Willits.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

German disapproves of daddy long legs



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.

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.

Now they are called a "box"

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.

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.

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.

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.


oh yes - seeing "short sleeves in winter" above:
flip-flops in Winter.

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.

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

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

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.

Especially the ones we by at Ikea.


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.

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

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.

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.

Ha -- excellent.

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...

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

"believe" :)

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.

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.

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.

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

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

" 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.

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.

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.

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.

"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. :-)

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.

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.

Some of these observations are priceless.

Who put the goat in here?

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.

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.

Americans watch sports where athletes use their hands.

Americans play football with hands

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

good points above

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

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.

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

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?

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.

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

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?

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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)

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.

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?!

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

- 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.

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

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!

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.

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.)

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.

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.


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.

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)

#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.

“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.


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.

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

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.

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!

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

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

The ability to comment about everything except all the guns.

What do you mean? I love talking about guns.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

... 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.

... imperial units!

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.

good point.

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.

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?

1. The absurd degree of safety awareness.
2. The reluctance to let children quarrel and sort things among themselves.

The way children are treated is /very/ different. Talking to a child as an adult in the US is a BAD idea.

I had a number of drinking buddies from England and Australasia. They noted that they always felt much safer drinking in the US than in the UK. I told them I thought the US had a reputation for being very violent. They said no, the US is very dangerous, but far less violent than Britain. They said bar fights are far more common in the UK. It's just that in the US, the chances are much higher that if you find yourself in a bar fight, that someone is going to produce a gun and blow you away.

I agree from the Netherlands. Going out in the US is really, really nice. To bad it ends so early.

Which is why there are fewer bar fights here to begin with. Starting something *should* be dangerous. ;-)

Take a European to Costco sometime. They are shocked at how cheap huge jars of peanut butter, spices, spaghetti sauce, etc. are.

Also how our hotels usually don't charge extra for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th person in a room.

Presidential candidates wearing overalls when visiting a farm state, then wearing a hard hat when talking to union workers, then wearing denim shirts and cowboy boots when visiting the South.

How about the paper toilet seat covers? When I went to England for university, I was shocked their public bathrooms didn't have them. Now I'm a bit surprised America *does*...

When I was at university I used to work in a tourist attraction in the centre of Edinburgh. I remember vividly the day a young American family brought their young child back to the shop to explain that he'd taken something. This was a relatively young child (under 5) who didn't really understand that he wasn't meant to have taken it, some small relatively worthless bit of tourist tat.

The earnestness of their effusive apologies led me to understand something about Americans that I didn't see in other visiting nationals. They were apologising not only to teach their son a lesson or through some fundamental honesty (which, to be honest, most citizens of most nations possess), and not only to ensure we didn't think badly of them, but also because they didn't want us to think badly of their country - generally, Americans abroad feel a genuine responsibiltiy to represent their country. The seemed far more 'bought in' to their citizenship than other citizens.

Perhaps it was simply indicative of the kind of American tourist who comes to Edniburgh (relatively wealthy), but it left a real impression on me to see their behaviour relative to other nations. Americans I encountered in my time as a minimum-wager in a tourist trap utterly reinforced my stereotype of them as an honest, big-hearted, generous and noticably civic-minded bunch.

Part of it is that America isn't a race (unlike most of the european nationalities). Its more like a club.

"Back in London…one more person started in on the Stars and Stripes. Eventually he got, as the Europeans always do, to the part about 'Your country's never been invaded.' (This fellow had been two during the Blitz, you see.) 'You don't know the horror, the suffering. You think that war is…'

"I snapped.

"A John Wayne movie' I said. 'That's what you were going to say, isn't it? We think war is a John Wayne movie-with good guys and bad guys, as simple as that. Well, you know something, Mister Limey Poofter? You're right. And let me tell you who those bad guys are. They're us. WE BE BAD.'

"We're the baddest-assed sons of bitches that ever jogged in Reeboks. We're three-quarters grizzly bear and two-thirds car wreck and descended from a stock market crash on our mother's side. You take your Germany, France and Spain, roll them all together and it won't give us room to park our cars. We're the big boys, Jack, the original, giant, economy-sized, new and improved butt kickers of all time. When we snort coke in Houston, people lose their hats in Cap d'Antibes. And we've got an American Express credit card limit higher than your piss-ant metric numbers go.'

"You say our country's never been invaded? You're right, little buddy. Because I'd like to see the needle-dicked foreigners who'd have the guts to try. We drink napalm to get our hearts started in the morning. A rape and a mugging is our way of saying 'Cheerio'. Hell can't hold our sock-hops. We walk taller, talk louder, spit further, fuck longer, and buy more things than you know the names of. I'd rather be a junkie in a New York City jail than the king, queen, and jack of all you Europeans. We eat little counties like this for breakfast and shit them out before lunch.'

"Of course, the guy should have punched me. But this was Europe. He just smiled his shabby, superior European smile."

-P.J. O'Rourke - Holidays in Hell - Page 203

Ahem. 1812. White House burned to the ground?

Lots of good points I could repeat, but in an attempt to be original (from the perspective of an American living abroad):
1) Cheese and crackers before the meal, not at the end.
2) Lots of discussion about how much more variety there is in the US supermarkets, but there's also a lot less variety of some items -- apples, pears, and cheese come to mind. One time, a friend was visiting me in London and asked at a market for "Swiss cheese". They guy looked at him confused. "They're all Swiss."
3) "Just about" making it means you didn't make it in the US, but you did in the UK.
4) Fanny packs. Probably UK-specific, and also probably out of fashion in the US by now, but still funny.

Maybe you should try asking for "Emmental cheese".

I lived in Madison, Wisc for 4 years in the early '70s. What struck me and others from India is the enormous trust the residents of apartments had in the apartment managers, who justified the trust. The managers would enter my apartment even when I was not around, carry out the required repairs, leave a note and go. When it first happened I was unnerved, especially because my wallet was right on top of the dining table . Not a penny was missing. I wonder if this can happen in any other country.

The fact that the U.S. is the reference point. This question would likely not have been asked, or elicited so many strong opinions, about any other country, which, I think, stems from the tendency of many countries (Canada especially, but also Western Europe) to define themselves in part by real or perceived differences (meaning 'superiorities') as compared to the U.S.

My own experience, having traveled quite a lot in Canada and Western Europe (but not Asia) is that the differences with the U.S. are not very great. Modern daily life is extremely similar -- there's not much culture shock. And the cultural differences between New York and, say, Houston or Salt Lake City are at least as large as those between New York and London or Paris (language differences not withstanding). But having visited friends who lived in the U.K. and other European countries, one impression I have is that ordinary life is just easier and more relaxed here in the U.S. It's takes much less time and effort to get around, to park, to shop, and so on. And the space. I could never get used to Med beaches all divided up into little clubs where you pay admission to sit on a chair under a little umbrella. Ugh. Where are the miles of open beaches, empty except for a few beach combers?

The "reference point" thing simply isn't true.
There are many passionate discussion about, e.g., the French and the Japanese. I think relatively large countries with a strong sense of national pride invite this type of discussion, but it's certainly not limited to them.

I'm sure this is a reiteration, but I spent some time with a couple of Danes and they were amazed by the size and availability of things. For instance, I took them to a Walmart and they were astonished (and a little grossed out) that you could purchase mayonnaise in gallon-sized tubs. They also thought it was hilarious that guns were available for purchase, and that they were only a few aisles over from the toy section.

When I go back to the States, I immediately get floored by how LOUD everything is. Loud ads at the checkout counter at the store, people loudly conversing with you while bagging your groceries, the Chicago 'L', and so on.

How easy it is to meet people--you don't go out to bars to meet new people in Europe; you go there to meet people you already know.

Driving pickup trucks like they're racing cars on the wide side streets but driving like a Danish tractor on the Interstates.

I lived in Chile for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer. The postman charged a tip to deliver mail to my house because the stamp only covered getting the letter from one post office to another. (But the PO stayed open until 7, so Chile wins on that one.)
My co-worker told me that the reason the bath mat was always upside down in the tub was because the purpose was to give you an elevated place to stand so you wouldn't be standing in water.
My host mom apologized for serving me warm vegetables. They didn't have time to cool, she explained.
On long bus trips, they play bingo. One Peace Corps volunteer yelled "Bingo!" after a few squares had been called, only to discover that the Chilean version of bingo has you covering every single square.
I had to carry my own toilet paper with me when I traveled.

My husband and I went to Munich in September. I was bothered (and thirsty) to learn the restaurant would not give me free tap water. Water was actually a menu item. Sevety euro cents, over a dollar with the exchange rate. In revenge, I did not tip the bathroom lady when I went to the ladies.
An old German man scolded me for crossing against the light, even though there were no cars coming.
The lady at the BMW factory started the tour at 12 sharp! Because that's when it started! She didn't make us wait for latecomers. I loved that part about Germany.

What is it with the bolster pillows in Spain and France? It's like trying to sleep on a log.

When I returned to the US after being gone for two years, I was struck by how much stuff people threw away here. And also by how many options there were at the store. I just wanted toothpaste, dammit! I didn't want to have to take ten minutes to choose which brand.

I grew up in Ireland, and lived three years in Germany before I first moved to the US. My husband and I landed in Newark and then drove to Ohio to see his family. What struck me on that drive was that I saw more dead wildlife between NJ and OH than I had ever seen live wildlife back in Europe.

As an American, one of the things that I realize I appreciate whenever I go abroad is the ubiquitous water fountains in the US.

Waist size. Being a Native of the Netherlands, the tallest nation in the world, we make up what we "lack" there with our height. I'm 1.90 m myself (yeah, imperial units :)))), and I believe the average young adult man is now around 1.85 m, so to us the Average American's size is not so shocking. But when I saw a few Americans from the Deep South walk into a bar in Russia it struck me that 3 average Russians would fit into any of them. Russians are surprisingly slim, especially girls and women even middle-aged. Most men develop something of a belly in their thirties, but would probably still be considered slim in the US. One notable exception: Russian police. All fat, regardless of age. Literally "Pigs".

I'm from Hong Kong, now live in Canada, went to US for college. The first thing I notice is that one can buy candies everywhere! Candies are right there by the register at the school bookstore. You can get candies at bookstores, hardware stores, electronic store, gift stores... It all seems "normal" to me now.

I find that Americans, more so with Whites, like to take pens. I guess pens are so cheap in the US ($1 for a dozen), people don't think it's a big deal. They take it like a piece of paper. I have nice pens ($10-20 each) and people in my class often borrow them without returing and it made me angry. I told my best friend, an American, and she was furious about my comment and insist it isn't true. Then the following months, we went to classes together while she observed how everytime someone asked me for a pen and never return it by the end of the class. Now she know it's true and gets angry when people take pens from foreigners because it makes Americans look bad. (They didn't mean it. I now carries cheap pens just for "lending".) I'm very surprised at why this stereotype hasn't been more joked about in popular culture.

Saying 'Hi how are you?' as a greeting requiring no response. I spent my first year at Grad School in Boston replying 'Fine how are you?' to find they were half way down the corridor and not listening. Most disconcerting.

College football and basketball. People who didn't even go to a particular school will watch its students playing sports on television, often with more excitement than professional athletes. An entire multibillion dollar industry has sprung up around it.

Americans are overly compeititive in recreational sports. Americans will work out, practice and design plays for their over 30 flag football league like it's the NFL. A team I played against actually had velcro wristbands with a list of almost 100 plays inside. And they called audibles even though we ran the same defense every time.

Another sports thing- wrestling is a completely different sport in the United States. It is less dangerous because you can't throw your opponent down hard on the mat, but much more physically demanding because there are no breaks in the action and you have to constantly work to score points.

An Indian lady living in the U.S told me that there is lots of hypocritical criticism of American society by Indians . But can you guess the the first thing these very same Indians do after landing on American soil? They conceive as soon as possible so that their kids get U.S citizenship ! My fellow country men and women are willing to even mortgage their dignity and self-respect to obtain American citizenship and yet keep running down American culture.Why not be honest and concede the superiority of Western, in particular, American cultural values?

Buildings are hot in the winter and freezing in the summer requiring two seasons of clothing at all times.

Americans are far more willing to strike up a conversation with a stranger while waiting in line, for the train, etc (my cousins are always shocked by this and will chat about "what nice people they met" for hours).

Americans do follow rules when no one is looking. My aunt thinks it's hilarious that a little "keep off the grass" sign actually keeps people off the grass. "No loitering" signs were also thought to be hysterical.

Packaging. My mother said she was shocked at individually wrapped cheese slices when she first arrived in the country. I recently met a South African who thought it was incredible that our hamburger buns were pre-sliced.

Giant, late model American cars. My other aunt was mesmerized by anything made my Lincoln.

When I went to Northern IL University, the girls from China were always amazed by the lack of people. (There was an article recently where it was explained that China is like the U.S. wouold be if it were half as big and a billion penniless peasants were added to the current population).

I ran into this when taking some Chinese friends on a road-trip to Yellowstone. I warned them in Reno that they should "take care of business", but they didn't pay too much attention and happily drank lots of water. Sure enough, about 75 miles outside of Reno, they started needing "to go". Since they were girls, it was, er, complicated, particularly since that part of Nevada is open desert, and Winnemucca is a long ways away.

They'd never been anywhere where settlements or little towns were more than a few miles apart.

My European friends find it quirky that Americans always have pictures of their children with them are willing to show them at any opportunity.

It's probably been said, but...religion and guns. I just don't get it.

Me either....and I'm a Christian! Apparently, I'm probably not a "real" Christian because I don't vote GOP....=( Bummer.

I'm American, so here are some things I noticed while in Ireland:

- No sprawl. American cities have huge suburbs, while Dublin pretty much just ended with no transition.
- Parking. Very few parking lots, no idea where I could park or how to go about paying for it. Not even sure in most cases where the parking began and the street ended.
- Dearth of signs. In America, you have a reminder sign on the road every few miles just telling you what road you're on. In Ireland, you better pay attention because if you miss the sign you won't see another one until the next junction. In cities there are no street signs so maps aren't really that helpful.
- Roundabouts. I was already familiar with them, but there were so many. Two and three back-to-back. They were quite helpful, since you could drive around and around puzzling out which way you were actually supposed to go (rather than sit at an intersection and annoy people).
- Very few traffic lights or stop signs. Kinda goes along with the previous one.
- Nothing was really what I would call "cold". I got a coke from a store and it was maybe 50 degrees if that low.
- General feeling of age. In America, everything was built last week.
- Ruins everywhere. Often nothing more than stone walls with no roof, but just everywhere.
- The smallest country church was more ornate and impressive than 95% of American ones.
- Profanity on network television.
- Everything closed by 5. I don't think I saw one place that was open past 9 that wasn't a pub.
- Had to use cash for most things that in America you can use credit for.
- Driving on the left side of the road--biggest oddity with this was that the car layout was reversed, meaning you're shifting with your left hand, the off-hand for most people.
- Very picturesque. Even the ugliest town was at least quaint, compared to America which repels you with its ugliness sometimes.
- Expensive, though some of this was exchange rates
- Very pedestrian friendly (not that I was in any hurry to drive around)
- Tipping conventions. I never was really sure what to do with tipping.
- Sheep wandering the roads in mountainous areas. You see it in movies, but it actually does happen.
- Every woman had boots on. It was a year ago, so it's not as noticeable anymore as the boot trend seems to have caught on in America.
- Tons of touristy stores. Sometimes it was like the entire country was there for tourists to gawk at.

I could probably think of more if I put my mind to it. One thing I didn't notice was food portions. They weren't any bigger than American ones, but didn't seem any smaller either. I never went hungry, that's for sure.

since no one has said this:

the way the bathrooms are closed off; back in India, all bathrooms have a small window through which light and air enter.

the number one thing that I dont get is how the drain is only in the shower/tub, making it difficult to properly clean the floor. I'm used to sweeping a bucket of hot water over the floor and just pushing the stuff down the drain. much quicker than mopping, vacuuming.

My European friends remark on how child-friendly Americans are in general and American cities in particular. Not only are small children welcome in all but the best restaurants, but people admire babies on the street. This, apparently, never happens in Northern Europe. Of course lots of people remark at how much more welcome dogs are in Parisien cafes than are children.

I blame Malthus.

I don't think that most Europeans realize just how incredibly big the US is. You can get substantial culture shock just moving across the country, or even within a single state. For instance: Great public transportation in San Francisco - Non-existent in San Diego. Can buy all kinds of liquor in the grocery store in Calli, but can only buy beer and wine in Texas, and only watered-down select beer in Utah and Kansas (and not at all on Sundays). The road bumps thing too... they don't exist in places where a snow-plow might be used.

People are not so friendly in California and New York, but super friendly in the Midwest and South. Crazy frontage road freeway exits in Texas, no frontage roads whatsoever in California.

I've been all over the place as well, and find that a good deal of Europeans have very strong negative opinions about the US without ever having been there as well. They also don't seem to find it rude to tell you how awful the US is after you compliment their country. Some things are the same everywhere...

Good points. Many European stores and shops stay open only until 6:00 or 7:00, and are entirely closed on Sunday. The US stores are pretty much open 364 days a year.

Yeah it's like every state in the Union is a different country practically. I do miss round-abouts though. Would help with slowing traffic and much better than those blasted 4 way stop intersections here in Chicago suburbs. Where I never have a clue if I should go or I should let someone else go. I invariably piss off at least one person on any given day at a 4 way stop....=S

I've noticed that roundabouts are slowly making headway among U.S. city planners, at least in my neck of the woods.

Despite the stereotype of rude New Yorkers, I've never had a problem. New Yorkers are a little abrasive, sometimes, but I've never encountered anyone who acted outright hostile or mean.

Having big American flags on the back of fire engines (in DC - is this elsewhere?). I half expected the siren to be replaced by http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZdJRDpLHbw.

In UK, officials are (generally) congenial and friendly whilst sales assistants are surly and disinterested...the opposite is true in the U.S (Compare U.S & U.K immigaration control and U.K & U.S waitress/waiter). Having said that, in Continental Europe, both official + sales assistant are surly and disinterested.

In Australia, if you see a cop, then something absolutely horrible has happened. Or they are conducting random breath testing and it's a long weekend. In the States - cops everywhere. All the time.

Americans do not drink anything that is room temperature -- all drinks are cold or hot.

In Europe, many drinks, such as beer and soft drinks, are often served at room temperature.

Yes....ice with every beverage.

Wearing white t-shirts under your dress shirt. No one else does this, although men might wear a sleeveless tee. Def. the little semicircle of white peering out is a fashion no-no in Europe and the UK. Does it look better? Sure. But I say this completely covered in sweat after a morning commute on crowded trains in Milan.

OMG you are right! I'd forgotten about that! I used to think my husband was going to work with PJs under his dress shirt. haha

I am an American who grew up in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. What intrigues me about most of the comments on US quirkiness is the assumption that the United States is a single entity. While it is more appropriate to describe something as 'American' than as 'European' or 'Asian', the reality is America is an immense, diverse place and there is a lot of physical and cultural variation in it. For example, you would need to travel from Lisbon to many miles east of Moscow to span the distance between San Diego and Maine.

This explains a lot of American 'ignorance'. If a Belgian want's to go to the mountains, he goes to a different country, we don't. Tropical island? Mediterranean wine country? Ditto.

The other reality is that Americans live inside the dominant world culture and language - everyone watches American films, TV, listens to American music, eats at American style restaurants and just in general consumes American culture. I learned Bahasa when I lived in Java but I didn't need to. Americans don't need a second language - either at home or most places they would go abroad.

If you are Dutch, Danish or Singaporean you need to learn English and consume Anglo Saxon culture to have the richest cultural experience it is less true but still relevant for larger cultures like China, India or Brazil. In America and the rest of the Anglo Saxon world this is not true. I call this 'cultural Seigniorage' - people from Anglo Saxon cultures come 'global ready' straight 'out of the box'.

A story:

Moved to Indiana from Canada in 2001. Two months before you-know-what. Yes, I have awesome timing. What I expected and was proven mostly true: Many Americans know nothing about Canada. Nothing. Nada. "Does everyone speak French up there?" Etc. What I didn't expect: Many Americans do not know that much of the rest of the planet knows what's happening in the USA on a daily basis. Especially Canadians. Many Americans effectively apologized to me after 9/11, some explaining that "it isn't always like this" here. Cultural and political hegemon and don't even know it. But they're mostly nice people.

From an Aussie now living in the States married to an American:
- Lack of footpaths in the suburbs. Can't really walk anywhere, not even to the shops across the road. Ditto lack of pedestrian crossing in the suburbs - so if you did venture to run down to the shops, you have to run across 4 lanes of traffic and risk life and limb to get there.

- Lack of bus stops in the suburbs. Have to drive to the train station still, instead of just walking up the road and catching a bus. The bus stops that do exist have no shelter, is usually in the middle of a patch of lawn and are few and very far between. I feel really bad for people who have to catch the bus when there's a snow storm.

- American flags everywhere.

- Cops everywhere.

- I STILL get asked if kangaroos roam the streets of Sydney followed by chuckles.

- Near universal belief that any retail item that claims to be Aussie must definitely for real come from Australia e.g. Outback restaurant, Aussie hair products.

- Jewell-Osco displays seem to indicate that I should be celebrating a different holiday every single month and not just the major ones.

- 24/7 opening hours for some grocery stores.

- Department stores opening up till 10pm, then 11pm then midnight progressively starting after Thanksgiving and right till Christmas.

- Guns and ammo......at the local Wal-Mart.

- No newsagents. I have to go to Wal-Mart or Jewell or a boutique paper store just to get a greeting card or the newspaper or wrapping paper. Or anything of the stationery variety.

- Very little under cover parking lots in the suburbs even at the mall. Most are outdoor parking lots taking up huge tracts of land.

- For some reason, not everyone has a fence in the front of their yard or the houses are set pretty close to the street. So the houses seem like it's all OUT THERE visible from the street. Quite jarring for me when I got here.

- Houses the size of Brazil in general. Master bedrooms and master bathrooms the size of a small apartment. Massive walk-in closets.

- Fries come with pretty much everything on the menu. Also....the option of ordering cheese on any item on the menu.

- Giant servings of soda practically the size of a baby.

P.S. No actual "world" news. World news is considered news outside of your particular state. As in:

"And now for the world news. In Indiana so and so happened and blah blah. Wisconsin state legislature decided to blah and blah. A runaway dog in New York was found safely etc etc."

I have to watch BBC America to see the actual world news! hahaha

OK last one....."candy" in the States = anything from chocolate to hard candy to Twizzlers. That term is hardly ever used in Australia. Also "suckers" = lollipops. A personal fave....hehehe....very cute.

Sorry....must add this....free ketchup packets at McDonald's as well as other condiments! And everywhere else pretty much. My Yankee husband was incensed at being asked to please pay 10c for each ketchup packet in Sydney.....I shrugged and chuckled =D

That list is pretty good. I think I do the "kidding" thing way too much!

Bizarre differences on the laws around guns and alcohol:

At 18 you can legally buy a gun and openly carry it around (with some restrictions). But, it's illegal to buy a beer, and even once you get to 21 you can't drink it in public.

The situation in the UK (and most if Europe) is the absolute opposite.

The fact that if you illegally sit in the seat for disabled/elderly people on the metro in DC it is a felony.
Sure it's definitely not the right thing to do, but a felony?

Having to go through 'Airport-style security' to visit Liberty Island.
Anyone see any contradictions here?

Heaps of NYC police officers per m2 in Time Square, yet the Times Square Walgreens still has more security cameras than most banks in many Western nations.

Something that strikes is the American obsession about "communities". The US is supposed to be an individualistic country, but it seems that every one has to define themselves by the community they belong to. Christian community, black community,etc.
As a French man, I find that amost fascist. I am black, so I should feel that I belong to a "black community" and share certain values?

Thank you very much for giving us this information

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