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35 American Customs That Baffle Foreign Tourists

Ice Cubes

If you take a trip to Europe, or most other places around the world,  you'll get some odd stares for requesting ice in your water or soda. It makes sense for locales that are less developed—they just don't have the refrigeration infrastructure. Some places even prefer hot drinks in hot weather. Ever been to Turkey? They regularly drink hot tea during the hot days they experience.


One of the differences between the U.S. and Europe is that Americans think a hundred years is a long time, while Europeans think 100 miles is a long distance. Maybe it's because we live in a country with so much elbow room, but driving isn’t a big ordeal for us. 


We tip our wait staff because "tipped wage" means that your server is making as little as $2.13/hour and relies on the generosity of strangers to pay the bills. Waiters, if a tourist stiffs you, it's probably because nothing in their life has prepared them for our culture of tipping.  

Portion Sizes

Food portions in the U.S. are gigantic compared to almost everywhere else. While some of us are used to sharing meals or taking home leftovers, visitors from abroad take a look at our huge dishes and shake their heads in wonderment.

Black Friday

The joke has been made many ways, but only America could take a holiday about giving thanks for what you have and follow it with a nationwide shopping spree! At least there's been some pushback lately on Black Friday creeping into Thanksgiving.

Sensationalizing Trials

Sure, impeachments and celebrity trials are a thing in other countries. However, the U.S has a way of making people celebrities because of trials. Turning people like Casey Anthony into household names is not something you see everywhere.

(image via Instagram)

Tailgate Parties

Turning your car into a party zone is a uniquely American tradition. While it has spread from football to other sports and even opera, it really hasn’t spread beyond the U.S.


Trick-or-Treating traces its roots back to "guising" in Scotland and Ireland, but the practice isn't widespread. In some places, like France, it was regarded with ambivalence or even resentment.


Cashless Culture

When was the last time you paid for something with paper money? It might be a decent way to stave off identity theft, but most of us don't bother with carrying it. Maybe we don't want to be mugged? Whatever the reason, we stand out as a cashless culture. 


From the Presidential pardon of the turkey to the weird meat-inside-a-meat like John Madden's famous "turducken," Thanksgiving is a dense web of baffling traditions for those on the outside.

Wasted Vacation Days

Americans may not have the most toxic work culture around, but we still wasted 658 million vacation days as a nation last year. That stands out to people!

Sales Tax

We have a weird habit of putting pre-tax prices on things in stores. We either get to break out the calculator or roll the dice when we reach the checkout. International visitors are used to just paying what they see on the tag. Go figure.


Americans have a long, rich history of having a really weird relationship with sex. We indulge in two unique assertions: nudity is inherently sexual, and sex is somehow more objectionable than violence. The rest of the world just doesn’t understand these notions. 

(image via Wikipedia)

Groundhog Day

Granted, we're not the only people to pin our hopes and dreams on an animal, but the whole nation turning its eyes to a groundhog is a little odd.

Pharmaceutical Ads

Advertisements for prescription medication are almost inescapable in the U.S. What we maybe don't realize is that many other countries in the Western world have outright banned direct-to-consumer advertising of drugs.

American Flag Decor

From bathing suits to home decor, the American flag has become a major style and fashion statement in the United States. While many foreigners don't find using a national flag for these purposes offensive, it's definitely something that doesn't happen a lot in other countries. 

(image via Pinterest)

Free Drink Refills

Free drink refills at restaurants are so omnipresent in the United States that we don't give them a second thought. However, foreign tourists find themselves baffled by the fact that we manage to drink so much and that restaurants can make a profit when giving away so much product for free! 

Turning Right at a Red Light

While some places in central and south America allow this driving practice, most European and Asian countries prohibit turning right at a red light--or left, depending on which side of the road you're driving on. So, don't be surprised if your foreign friends have a heart attack when riding with you! 

Sugary Bread

Spreading jams, jellies, and other treats on bread seems to be a near-universal practice, but foreigners find themselves downright baffled at how sweet and sugary the bread itself is in the United States. Who knew enjoying a sandwich at lunch required a trip to the dentist afterward? 

Sweet 16 Parties

Some countries don’t get why we celebrate Sweet 16 parties. In America, you don’t get any extra rights when you turn 16. It certainly isn’t when you’re old enough to be considered an adult, so what’s with the whole “Sweet 16” thing?

Pledging Allegiance

Specifically, pledging allegiance to the flag. In all fairness, some find it strange we do it in school every single day because it seems “dystopian.” Others are just confused about why we pledge allegiance to the flag at all.

Small Talk

We Americans love our small talk. We’re super friendly. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s weird for people who live in another country. “How’s the weather?” “It’s fine, are you not outside as well?” It’s kinda weird if you think about it.

(Image via Pexels)

Superbowl Commercials

Most of the time we (and most of the world) avoid commercials. That being said, there’s one time a year that we tune in and pay special attention to commercials—during the Superbowl. It’s weird, but they’re much better than usual, okay?

(Image via Facebook)


One of the big ones is tax season. Taxes in other countries are often automatically deducted from wages, and if employers get something wrong, the country sends a letter saying how much the person owes. Alternatively, some get a letter stating how much will be refunded. In America, the whole thing is done by us.

24-Hour Businesses

Some cities are famous for never sleeping—looking at you, New York. Even in smaller towns, there are tons of businesses and restaurants that are open around the clock. In other countries, they don’t need to eat at 3 a.m.

(Image via Unsplash)

Moving Around

Depending on the country, some people find it really odd that we uproot our lives and just move to a new state. It isn’t strange for someone to be born in Michigan but move their entire life to Colorado. Then, later in their lives, move again to Texas.

Our Openness

In other countries, you just don’t tell strangers stuff about you. In America? Different story. It isn’t weird for someone to open up about themselves on any subject. Sometimes, if you try to make small talk, you may very well learn about someone’s entire life.

(Image via Pexels)


Cheerleaders? Totally a strange concept for people that aren’t from America. Other countries don’t have cheer squads at their sports games. Just take a look at the World Cup!

(Image via Pexels)

Punkin Chunkin

Every year, when Pumpkin Spice Latte season hits, Punkin Chunkin season follows. Families get together to pick out pumpkins and then hurl them through the air at great distances only to explode upon impact. What isn’t fun about this?

(Image via Wikipedia)

Doggie Bags

Apparently, other countries don’t do the whole “packing up your food” thing if you don’t eat it all. Their meals are “regular-sized,” but isn’t that relative? Whatever. We love our doggie bags so we can have lunch the next day.

Shoes Indoors

For some non-Americans, there isn’t a single good reason to wear shoes inside your house. For us, it’s not that strange. Maybe it’s because our friends across the pond (England) do the same, but in other places? Nah, you better take those shoes off.

Turkey Pardons

Gotta admit that this one is pretty quirky. A live turkey is presented by the National Turkey Federation (yes, a real thing) to be pardoned. This tradition has been going on since 1947.

(Image via Facebook)


Starting in high school (or middle school for some), we start having proms. Short for promenade, these get-togethers are when kids get primped and party with classmates. Some countries are beginning to adopt this tradition, but they usually aren’t as formal as ours.

(Image via Unsplash)

Giant Superstores

Maybe it’s because we have more room than other countries, but almost everyone shops at Costco, Walmart, or another superstore. Those who visit our nation are baffled by the volume of stuff and choice at these places.

(Image via Facebook)

Kicking Kids Out at 18

In America, we’re believers of going out there and getting your own life started. For most people, that means booting your kids out of the house at 18. While it's true the age is getting closer to 21 at this point, many people still tell their kids to get their own place at 18.