Small differences in the U.S.A (international people)
February 11, 2011 12:16 AM   Subscribe

What are some small differences you've noticed about the US? Examples: My Japanese friend says that in Japan, large buildings have multiple public entrance/exits. My Dutch friend says that in the Netherlands, women shower in the gym showers. Specifically, I'm interested in things that could imply some theory (elaborate or not) of US culture, of some region of the US.
posted by oneous to Society & Culture (113 answers total) 74 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm a Canadian who lived in the US for 4 years, and then has been living and traveling abroad for the past 3.5 years. When I went back to California for an extended vacation, I was absolutely shocked at how polite everyone was, compared to the countries I had been visiting recently! And that experience continued for the entire 6 weeks that I was there. Cars stopped to let me cross the road, people said please and thank you, they smiled at you, etc... So for me, one thing that I associate with American culture (when it takes place in America) is how polite y'all are! (Rude Americans traveling abroad are another story, and I have experienced plenty of those, as well)
posted by hasna at 12:24 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


My Dutch friend says that in the Netherlands, women shower in the gym showers.

I don't understand this. I'm an American woman living in the Netherlands, and I've showered in gym showers in both countries.

Among Europeans I know (Dutch and non-Dutch), the U.S. has a reputation for better customer service than most of western Europe, both in the service that you receive at shops and restaurants, and in the service that you receive from corporations (e.g. if you want to return a product).

According to an Italian person I know, tables at home and at restaurants in Italy always have a tablecloth. He was surprised to learn that, typically, only upscale restaurants in the States use tablecloths.
posted by neushoorn at 1:04 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Using dollar bills - most Western countries I've visited (UK, Australia, NZ, Eurozone) moved to coins for their equivalent denominations years ago.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 1:23 AM on February 11, 2011


Everything is enormous
Everybody drives automatic cars
Unless you go to the "mall" you likely have to drive just to get from one shop to the next shop.
People's drives are so long they have to have a letter box at the end of the drive to save walking to the door.
Some of the styling of interiors and appliances and so forth looks very dated to a European eye.
Many service employees have an air of constantly obsequiously scheming for tips.


On the other side of the coin, I'm dying to know what American women do in the women's showers!
posted by emilyw at 1:56 AM on February 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


As an American living in China for a few years, who has asked for observations from both Chinese people and Europeans:

-Americans smile more than people in other countries

-Americans "act friendly" but might not want to really be friends

-Americans are loud

-Americans are agressive

-Americans are opinionated

-Americans are modest in gym locker rooms (as opposed to Chinese people who sit around and chat casually, fully nude)

-Air-conditioning in public places in America is freezing!

-tipping culture

-everyone (alomst) has a driver's liscense

-Americans are always interested where other Americans went to college

-Americans are optimistic but will complain and protest when something is wrong
posted by bearette at 2:31 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


One thing which always baffled me about the USA is, when you say "thank you", sometimes people reply with "Uh huh" or "sure".

I'm saying, in abbreviated form, "I thank you". And you're replying with an affirmative. "Yes, you thank me"? It's very different to "you're welcome" or "don't mention it".
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:32 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, and the coins not actually saying how much money they're worth. I guess "a quarter dollar" is implicitly saying "25c" but a dime is a mystery. You just have to know.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:34 AM on February 11, 2011 [12 favorites]


I've noticed that when you ask an American overseas where they are from, or when they introduce themselves, they will usually tell you the city and state, and not mention USA. E.g. in a bunch of various expats in Europe, you'll do the rounds of introductions and get:
"Hi, I'm Jim, from England."
"Hi, I'm Sally, from Australia."
"Hi, I'm Andrew, from Ireland."
"Hi, I'm Sarah, from Madison, Wisconsin."

Maybe that implies that Americans feel more closely tied to their state identity than to their national one? Or that they assume everyone can recognise their national identity by their accents? Or that they assume everyone knows all the US states, so that info is enough? (I'm just speculating because you asked about theories.)
posted by lollusc at 2:49 AM on February 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


- Drive through bank automatic tellers
- Gigantic portions of food and drink
- Huge/wide seats on the rides at Disneyland
- More smiling, more congeniality at stores from staff than anywhere else I've been
- Mostly nice manners and down home charm in even large cities
- Topless bathing seems a big deal at major beaches
- Great breakfasts
- Bottomless coffee at cafes
- Having pickled things on the breakfast plate - and bacon n pancakes n maple syrup n eggs [excellent idea]
- Sales taxes added onto the price of things that you [a clueless foreigner] only discover at the till
- I met many people for whom the 'American Dream' is a believable dream = less cynicism
- Confronting numbers of homeless people and panhandlers
- Moving across the country when choosing tertiary study options
- I agree with other posters that there is more coyness in showers and gyms in US
- People on TV have better teeth than anywhere else - but it makes them look robotic, toy-like and mechanical to me as a foreigner.
- Americans says things like "I'm an Irish-American" or "I'm an Italian-American" when they are four or five generations removed from the ancestral lands.
posted by honey-barbara at 2:53 AM on February 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


lollusc, I never say I'm from Canada. When people ask me where I'm from, I always just say I'm from Toronto. (I never mention Ontario, because most people can't figure out what/where that is).
posted by hasna at 2:59 AM on February 11, 2011


Another money one: the bills look like toy money compared to the heavy-duty, multi-coloured high-security notes the rest of the world uses.
posted by ninebelow at 3:01 AM on February 11, 2011


I'm an American living abroad, and I can't stand having to deposit a coin to use a shopping cart, because I never have the right coin.
posted by mdonley at 3:22 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Maybe that implies that Americans feel more closely tied to their state identity than to their national one? Or that they assume everyone can recognise their national identity by their accents? Or that they assume everyone knows all the US states, so that info is enough? (I'm just speculating because you asked about theories.)

If they've been out of the country for long enough, they'll know that just answering "the USA" almost always results in a follow up "Where in the USA?" question. I just say "San Francisco" or "California" and it cuts some of the tedious follow-up questions off.
posted by cmonkey at 3:26 AM on February 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


The block-numbering thing, where people live at 10234 Whatever Street. Reading YA fiction I used to think your streets were actually miles and miles long, thousands of houses in a row.
posted by jaynewould at 4:02 AM on February 11, 2011 [17 favorites]


Stairways in large public buildings are dimly lit and grungy, apparently intended only for use as fire escapes; everyone in the US seems to prefer elevators. In other places it seems that the stairs are wide, clean, and brightly lit and obviously intended for daily use whereas the elevators tend to be smaller and more of an afterthought.
posted by TedW at 4:39 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


While I was with a tour group across Europe hardly anyone would use the urinal in the bathroom. They'd all wait for a stall to be open so they could pee, I'd just go.
posted by theichibun at 4:40 AM on February 11, 2011


And driving habits are very different; in the US people tend to cruise along somewhat oblivious to the fact there are others on the road; in other countries although it looks chaotic to US eyes, the drivers are much more engaged and aware of the other cars. Perhaps this is because they are crammed into streets originally designed for pedestrians and horses as opposed to infrastructure designed around the car.
posted by TedW at 4:44 AM on February 11, 2011


What cmonkey said, absolutely. I always say my state-of-origin, because people will ask. Sometimes, I think they do this to create an appearance they know one state from another, even when they don't.

Someone said Americans aren't good at making fun of themselves. WHAT? Compared to whom? Certainly not compared to the Germans or Swiss! Maybe less good than the British, I'll give you that.

The #1 thing I miss most about Americans, is our tendency to be open. We talk about ourselves rather freely. You can go quite far into personal details with Americans, and no one thinks anything of it. Europeans tend to insist on keeping things very superficial and impersonal. That gets terribly old and boring.
posted by Goofyy at 4:44 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


In Britain, "excuse me" means "sorry, you are blocking my path, could you step aside?". In the US, "excuse me", as far as I can tell, seems to mean "I'm about to enter your personal space to an uncomfortable degree, but do not necessarily require you to move".

This leads to me feeling a frequent but unjustified flash of irritation when people say "excuse me", because I take it to mean they're accusing me of being in the way when there's actually plenty of space.
posted by oliverburkeman at 4:59 AM on February 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


Americans shop for food in a different way from most of Europe, at least (can't speak for any other region, but I've got a suspicion it's the same.) Americans buy food less frequently, but in bigger quantities.

If you want a theory about why, I think it's because of cars/suburbs/etc.

Oh, another one: the majority of American adults own a car.
posted by punchtothehead at 5:04 AM on February 11, 2011


My experience is that many American people express themselves with tone of voice while most Scandinavian people would express the same feeling with choice of words.

As a result I have several times heard Scandinavian people described as cold. We on the other hand might describe Americans as loud and a bit fake, as you seem so overly enthusiastic about things. The feeling is probably enhanced by the look of some American tv-personalities that look made out of plastic (including the extremely white teeth honey-barbara mentioned earlier).
posted by furisto at 5:06 AM on February 11, 2011


Windows are seldom shaped as squares.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:20 AM on February 11, 2011


I always say Rochester, NY (home of Kodak) so people know it's not Rochester, MN (home of the Mayo Clinic). Also, if you just say you're from New York many people assume New York City.

In my travels the thing that reminds me the most that I'm not in the US is portion sizes in restaurants. I think the UK probably comes closest but they're still obviously smaller than here. That's not a bad thing.
posted by tommasz at 5:24 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Americans are more... excitable than Brits. They enthuse much more, though in my experience it has the tendency to come across as insincere. They seem to love history, or... given the nature of how the nation came into being, finding out their own history (Spend any time in Edinburgh in summer and see how many people consider themselves Scottish despite being the first person in six generations of their family to set foot in Scotland).
posted by dougrayrankin at 5:27 AM on February 11, 2011


I'm not sure whether this is just a way of talking, but I often think Americans work on a faster time scale. What I would consider small intervals (e.g., minutes to an hour) are discussed as though they were really long blocks of time during which a lot could happen or change or be done. Similarly, if you start asking about past events, you get statements phrased as though, say, the sixties were deep history, even though probably half the current population can remember them.

And companies actually market themselves using this sort of time-compression. Just a few months ago I realized that Maker's Mark whisky, which hasn't been around more than fifty years, was often regarded as an old-school, steeped-in-history-and-tradition sort of option. Lots of universities, including my own, have their campuses done up like Hogwarts. I think Yale actually built a Gothic church for its library and then washed the walls with sulfuric acid to make them look older. It's a bit kooky, to be honest.
posted by d. z. wang at 5:29 AM on February 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Extremely minimalist privacy walls on toilet cubicles!

In public spaces toilet walls and doors seem to be made as small as possible, with huge gaps between the door/walls and ceiling or floor. In Europe it's much more common for the cubicle to be totally enclosed without any gaps at all, or for the walls/door to perhaps show a few inches at the bottom and be over 6 foot high if not full ceiling-to-floor length.

I feel incredibly exposed on American toilets where you can practically see the knees and face of anyone sitting down!
I have no idea what this might mean about the American psyche...
posted by AFII at 5:31 AM on February 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


As US citizen who had the opportunity to travel young (thanks to Uncle Sam) I noticed a few things about my countrymen.

We tend to have a short view of history. There was the last hundred years and all of antiquity, but they are separate things to us.

I sometimes think the short view of history can make us a bit more impatient and time focused. Both on near term things like appointments and long term things like political changes we want it now.

We are much more shy about nudity in public than most of the Europeans I met. I plam the Puritans.

We also think more in absolutes. I blame the Puritans for that as well.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 5:37 AM on February 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


"People's drives are so long they have to have a letter box at the end of the drive to save walking to the door."

This is actually because the post office makes you; in newer neighborhoods (and on rural routes), the postman can deliver without getting out of his truck and therefore save time, and therefore save staff, and the post office is always cutting staff. In older neighborhoods, dating from when all postmen routinely walked, mailboxes are attached to the house. I don't actually know anyone who LIKES having the mailbox down by the street ... you always have the feeling you're about to get run over when walking down to get the mail. At least I do when I have a streetside mailbox. :)

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:38 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I traveled/lived overseas for a few yrs, and the best insights were shared wtih me from people who had also been to the states. Here are my favorites:

• All food portions are huge and always have bread with it. If you order a hamburger, it comes with giant pieces of bread. If you order eggs for breakfast, it still comes along with bread.

• Everyone asks “how are you” but they don’t want you to respond in an honest way, you are supposed to say “fine” ….comparatively, there are other countries in the world (e.g Gabon, Africa), where the answer to how are you (Ca va) is always,always supposed to be “un peu” or “I’m doing a little”…you were not supposed to brag or call attention to yourself. Don’t know if that comparison helps for other regions of the world.

• (My favorite) There is cement everywhere, people love cement and pavement. If you go to an area that would normally be open with trees, the trees are taken away and cement and pavement is put there…that way, the cars can drive and go everywhere. If you go to a large city, most of the city will be paved so that t cement and pavement covers everything.
posted by Wolfster at 5:53 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe that implies that Americans feel more closely tied to their state identity than to their national one?

Or that, in light of the fact that the US is the third-largest country in the world by geographical area, saying that you're from the US doesn't narrow things down nearly as much as saying you're from, say, Belgium.
posted by valkyryn at 5:56 AM on February 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


the postman can deliver without getting out of his truck

In the US, everything is so big that the postman drives from house to house in a truck!

Either way, in the UK our "letter box" is a hole in the front door with a flap on it, the better to deliver the letters, on foot, straight onto the doormat.

Also:

It seems like "That sounds like socialism" is a great way to finish any argument.

There seems to be a huge amount of baggage associated with being "Hispanic" which is a great mystery to everyone over here. I watch your TV shows and only at the end realise that one of the characters is apparently of Hispanic origin and if I had worked this out earlier on the plot would have made a lot more sense.
posted by emilyw at 6:01 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


The block-numbering thing, where people live at 10234 Whatever Street. Reading YA fiction I used to think your streets were actually miles and miles long, thousands of houses in a row.

This is regional, not applicable to the entire US -- maybe a midwest thing? I've noticed huge street numbers when I've visited Michigan but they're definitely not the norm here in the northeast (CT).
posted by reptile at 6:03 AM on February 11, 2011


Stairways in large public buildings are dimly lit and grungy, apparently intended only for use as fire escapes; everyone in the US seems to prefer elevators. In other places it seems that the stairs are wide, clean, and brightly lit and obviously intended for daily use whereas the elevators tend to be smaller and more of an afterthought.

I would wager that if you compared the buildings based on when they were built, this difference would disappear. The US just isn't as old as many other places, so more of our buildings will be newer, with the amenities expected by the populations existing when they were built.

Same with the "youthful ancientness" factor. Stuff just isn't that old around here, so a 50 year old bourbon brand IS kind of old.

Another difference in time perception: the US is huge. There are 30 STATES larger than England. Ignoring Alaska, the US is nearly as large as continental Europe. So some progress moves more slowly in the US than in other places. Technological infrastructure is one of them. And we move so fast because we have a lot of ground to cover. This isn't a "we're #1" kind of thing, just one of the factors of why people from the US do some things differently.

(Politically: imagine if the EU had a president like the US president. Imagine how powerless that person would be, trying to shape the bureaucracies of all the constituent countries. That is nearly how little power the US president has.)

Friendliness of Americans: Depends on where they are from. Wander the streets of Midtown Manhattan or Downtown Chicago, and nobody will be friendly to you. Suburban DC is also relatively rude, from this midwesterner's perspective. I believe, but can't prove, that this is a function of population density.
posted by gjc at 6:10 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Remember the McDonald's spilled coffee case? One thing that made absolutely no sense to me (as a non-American) in that story was that that poor woman was trying to drink her coffee in her car. Because where I live people eat and drink seated in comfortable places - at home, in a restaurant, perhaps in a park - but certainly not while walking around, let alone driving.
Then I was invited for a week in California and the first thing my hosts did was to drive me to Starbucks and put a hot cup of coffee in my hand. We went back to the car and, as expected, I spilled the coffee on my lap (no harm done).
posted by elgilito at 6:16 AM on February 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


There seems to be a huge amount of baggage associated with being "Hispanic" which is a great mystery to everyone over here. I watch your TV shows and only at the end realise that one of the characters is apparently of Hispanic origin and if I had worked this out earlier on the plot would have made a lot more sense.

1- Don't expect that television is going to reflect reality. You can tell someone is hispanic in sitcom america because they are the ones who are wearing the most colorful clothing.

2- Other places do this as well. Only when I realized that the Scots are presumed to be "frugal" did a lot of British television jokes make sense.
posted by gjc at 6:16 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Amercans, even in manhattan, are more open and friendly than Canadians, as well as louder In public places (though the British are almost as loud).

Some of the things described here (car-based urban layout with box stores, large-lot suburbs, the dominance of driving) not uniquely American, but are also shared by the other settler-colony countries: Canada, Australia, also New Zealand? and they are features which are dominant in the areas which were developed in the 20th century, rather than earlier. (I lived in an American city first laid out in 1639, and it was very "European" in scale, though more classical and grid-based due to it's planned lay-out). Food and shopping habits (shopping less frequently but in larger amounts) are also very similar between the US and Canada.

This is a very interesting question, but I just brought these things up so that the New World/Old World differences could be separated from what is really uniquely American -- like the dollar bill thing, and clinging to the imperial system. (in both cases, the gov't switched over years, or in the case of metric centuries, ago, but felt for some reason that it could not impose the change on the people, as other govts have done.)
posted by jb at 6:29 AM on February 11, 2011


Advertising is everywhere. Often very sophisticated strategies are used to sell you what is in effect useless crap.
posted by From Bklyn at 6:29 AM on February 11, 2011


My first three weeks in the US (N Va/DC) I had my apartment burglarized (I would say burgled but Americans speak funny), was held up at gunpoint, saw a man shot dead in an attempted bank robbery and an unknown woman sat down next to me on the subway and, after 20 minutes I knew more about her sex life than I did my own. None of these has happened to me elsewhere.
posted by TheRaven at 6:30 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


The block-numbering thing, where people live at 10234 Whatever Street. Reading YA fiction I used to think your streets were actually miles and miles long, thousands of houses in a row.

This is regional, not applicable to the entire US -- maybe a midwest thing? I've noticed huge street numbers when I've visited Michigan but they're definitely not the norm here in the northeast (CT).


It has to do with who got there first. Older areas in the US were a lot more like Europe, with small towns dotting the countryside, and each town had its own numbering scheme. You added numbers when you added houses. Newer areas in the US were laid out by surveyers and the addressing grid was created before towns were. So the address is a point on a grid, not the number of houses. DuPage county here in IL actually uses a vomitous grid based address in some areas. Your address might be 15 W 223. If a street is a diagonal, look out.

And relative size. Manhattan is not nearly as huge as I thought by looking at addresses, because their street grid is mostly in one quadrant. The streets and avenues go from zero up. Mostly. Compare this to Chicago, where the 0,0 address is in the center of the city. Chicago's addresses would be twice as big if there was no "negative" space. Another difference is that there are 20 street numbers to the mile in Manhattan, and only 8 in Chicago.

You'll see the giant street numbers in the Los Angeles area too, because many places are very lateral, laid out in a valley. So one dimension is always going to have large numbers.
posted by gjc at 6:33 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your mass-market chocolate bars all have peanuts in, either whole or peanut butter (or both?). I bought some kind of chocolate bar that I'd heard of (all the others that I'd heard of turned out to have peanuts in), and it was waxy-plasticky horribleness. (I have spent a grand total of three days in the USA, it's entirely possible that the peanuts thing is really due to the limitations of the place I was trying to buy chocolate, I am aware that nice chocolate does exist there).

Your mass-market bread tastes sweet, and everything else is enormous portions of sweetness. And it doesn't seem to be possible to get Ocean Spray cranberry juice drink with actual sugar ANYWHERE now, thank you fructose-glucose syrup (HFCS).
posted by Lebannen at 6:33 AM on February 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


oh, yeah, the guns. I often get asked by Chinese people if "everyone in America has a gun."
posted by bearette at 7:00 AM on February 11, 2011


I've travelled and lived lots of places outside of the US. My Dad is from Europe. I've seen and heard all sorts of stereotypes about americans. Nearly all of them are overly broad unfair generalizations.

The one thing that I will absolutely acknowledge as truth is that nobody like Peanut Butter & Peanuts the way Americans do.
posted by JPD at 7:03 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


oneous: "My Dutch friend says that in the Netherlands, women shower in the gym showers."

Can you explain what is unusual about this? All the gyms I've been to in the US that have shower facilities also have women who use them.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:19 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ice. Particularly in the summer, Americans (including me!) love enormous quantities of ice in their soft drinks, water, iced tea, etc. I remember visiting Versailles on a brutally hot August day and deploying my French at some cafe to especially ask for ice with my drink to get some relief from the heat, and being incredibly disappointed when the soda came with two tiny ice cubes floating pathetically on top of the drink.

Time perception is interesting, because a lot of it has to do with where you're from regionally in the US, I think. I grew up in the Los Angeles area and then went to school in New England -- so I'm one of those Americans that moved 3000 miles away for tertiary education -- and now live in Chicago. In Los Angeles, I would've considered an 80-year-old building to be quite old, while in Chicago I have a slightly longer standard (over 100 years or so?) and in New England something would have to date from two centuries ago for me to find it remarkably old. This has to do, of course, with the relative age of all these cities.

The street numbers in the Los Angeles area get so high because there is a rough street hierarchy extending from 1st St* in downtown Los Angeles to 266th in Long Beach (it's interrupted very frequently, and the major streets have all been renamed with names, but it's still fairly regular) and unlike in Manhattan and somewhat like in Chicago, the addresses match the street numbers, so, for example, 9200 S. Western will be at 92nd St and Western in South Central, so if you have street numbers like 166th St then it's natural that you'll have address numbers like 16620 or whatever.

*It's also my impression that numbered streets are an American/New World feature?
posted by andrewesque at 7:24 AM on February 11, 2011


After doing some traveling around the world, it seems like most folks in most countries do not expect foreigners to speak their language. However, Americans often assume everyone speaks English no matter where they go in the world—especially in our own country. Of course, there are good reasons for this (dominance of English globally) but it's still a curious thing and can be pretty rude.
posted by dubitable at 7:24 AM on February 11, 2011


"In the US, everything is so big that the postman drives from house to house in a truck!
Either way, in the UK our "letter box" is a hole in the front door with a flap on it, the better to deliver the letters, on foot, straight onto the doormat."

My "letter box" is also a hole in my front door (okay, next to it) with a flap on it ... because my house was built in 1950. Lots in my neighborhood are actually larger than lots in the neighborhoods built in the 80s and 90s, with huge houses smushed up on zero-lot-lines ... but even though the houses are CLOSER together (and closer to the street, for that matter, to have bigger backyards, since there's no "street life" in those neighborhoods), it's still considerably faster for the mailman to deliver by truck from box to box than on foot from door to door. It's not a matter of distance or bigness. It's a matter of speed of delivery, as the USPS is not tax-supported and must pay for itself. People cost more than gasoline.

One little quirk common to the US Midwest (but not necessarily other places in the U.S.) is that streets in the core of the downtown are typically named after early presidents, in order -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe -- if you know this, navigating is much easier. (Midwestern cities are always on a grid.) Often there's an alley or a short street named "Quincy" which is kind-of a funny street-naming joke, I think. Other popular street name groups in the Midwest include Great Lakes and US states ... if you find Ontario St., you know you're near Erie St. and Superior St., not Quebec St. or Manitoba St. :)

When I came back to the U.S. after living abroad in Europe, I found myself frozen with indecision before the toothpaste display because there were SO MANY CHOICES. Could. Not. Cope.

(I think it was Mark Twain who said the only truly national characteristic of Americans is their fondness for ice in beverages.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:45 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Americans order fast food value meals by "#1", "#2" etc. Here in Spain it's "Big Mac". Followed by "what drink do you want with that?". "Fries or salad?" To me this speaks to the American need for instant gratification and a sort of simple-mindedness.

There is more variety with soft drinks, beers and ethnic food types in the U.S. I miss this.

Variety of sports here is greater. Granted, futbol reigns supreme, but there's a staggering variety that seems to be actually popular.

In the US, produce is generally weighed at time of checkout in the grocery store. Here you have to ask a clerk to help you while in the produce section.

The US has... generally... an anti-littering/dumping attitude. Not so much here.
posted by melt away at 7:53 AM on February 11, 2011


Sorry, more....

Pay-at-the-pump seems to be an American thing. A convenience I liked.
posted by melt away at 7:59 AM on February 11, 2011


I really like American hand-writing. We [Australia/UK] were taught 'tick-turn' handwriting in school. Not that everyone persists with their school habits, but it is quite indoctrinated in primary school. When I first worked in the US I was struck by how many people of my age and older had lovely roundy writing that flows across the page. I see it in films too, the roundy, flowy, what I call "Mom-writing" when I see it.
posted by honey-barbara at 8:02 AM on February 11, 2011


My favorite) There is cement everywhere, people love cement and pavement. If you go to an area that would normally be open with trees, the trees are taken away and cement and pavement is put there…that way, the cars can drive and go everywhere. If you go to a large city, most of the city will be paved so that t cement and pavement covers everything.

I assure you many of us do not love pavement. The cause here is government policy of subsidizing suburban sprawl and the fanatical devotion to the car, not intrinsic love of cold concrete.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:15 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I lived in Germany for several years when I was younger (the late 80s) and I and my ex-pat friends took to referring to the US (home) as "The Land of the Round Doorknobs". All the doors in Germany seemed to have handles, which are a lot more practical since you can open them with your elbow!
posted by Alexdan4 at 8:16 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, and the coins not actually saying how much money they're worth. I guess "a quarter dollar" is implicitly saying "25c" but a dime is a mystery. You just have to know.

Legally a dime is defined as a tenth of a dollar just as a cent is defined as a hundredth. Yes, you have to know, but you also have to know what a penny/cent is. The unusual aspect is that we have three legal subdivisions of a dollar, the dime, cent, and mill, not just one.
posted by grouse at 8:25 AM on February 11, 2011


Ignoring Alaska, the US is nearly as large as continental Europe

Which helps explain another difference: most Americans don't travel to other countries. Only about 30% of American adults own passports. I love to travel and believe Americans would benefit from seeing other countries, but the fact is the US is vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big and there are only two countries next door, so getting to other countries is kind of a production. (And it's hard to do on two weeks' vacation, which is still another difference.)

I guess 'a quarter dollar' is implicitly saying '25c' but a dime is a mystery.

I don't see why it's such a mystery. "Dime" comes from "disme," an obsolete English word based on an obsolete French word for one-tenth. (And there was a half-disme--not a nickel--in the late 1700s.) And the dime is smaller and thinner than the penny, which is worth 1/10 as much. See, no mystery!
posted by kirkaracha at 8:30 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


"You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?"

"They don't call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?"

"Nah, they got the metric system. They don't know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is."

"Well, what do they call it?"

"They call it a 'Royale with Cheese.'"
posted by kirkaracha at 8:39 AM on February 11, 2011


Random generalizations:

- Cupholders are built into cars, strollers, baby seats, cinema seats
- Chocolate bars don’t come with hazelnuts, but peanuts instead
- Americans show their teeth when they smile, and their teeth are rarely crooked or yellow
- American women wear skirts with black tights and white socks and white sneakers on their subway commute to work, and then change into heels at the office
- Americas are quite comfortable with self-promotion
- Middle-class American families always live in houses, never apartments
- American cake frosting is always too sweet
- Americans have no qualms about using store-bought birthday cake for their kids’ birthday parties
posted by Dragonness at 8:42 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


German living in the US -
- Americans are much more polite, friendly and open than Germans. This does not necessarily mean they are better persons, it just means they have different values.
-"Caring" about fellow humans is seen as a virtue, whereas in Germany, it makes people suspicious ("What does he/she want from me?"). If someone wishes you a nice day in Germany, he/she is probably hitting on you, or mentally disturbed. Or both.
- Speaking the truth, on the other hand, is not seen as valuable as such in the US (only if it serves a certain purpose) - this is different in Germany, where honesty is extremely valued, not only among close friends and family, but also among acquaintances and at work
- Germans are more likely to openly judge you and your life choices. This is especially true for women and their decisions re: childcare/work. The US is more accomodating for different life plans.
- Americans self-promote to a degree that makes Germans shake their heads in disbelief. In Germany, you're not allowed to say you're good at something (even if you are)
- Many things seem to be "professionalized" in the US (e.g. there are rollerskate lessons for kids and companies that hang your Christmas decorations and people who pack your groceries in the supermarket - we just do all that stuff ourselves!)
- The American ritual of "dating", with its implicit rules and complications, seems extremely strange and funny to Europeans
- Overall, the (urban) US seems to be more civilized than (urban) Europe. This is sometimes a good thing (politeness, professionalism), sometimes silly (puritan rules about alcohol, public nudity, overprotected and coddled children and pets)
posted by The Toad at 8:50 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Isn't the drinking age in the USA older than pretty much anywhere else in the world?

-The going away for college thing.
-The generalist, four year college thing where you don't pick a major until two years into it.
-The PhDs that take forever.
-Law and medical degrees as a post-grad degree (even in Canada law at least is technically and sometimes practically still an undergraduate degree).
-I think the two party system, with relatively little actual party authority over its members, a high degree of local representation (where you can have a democrat who basically votes republican because that's what their constituency wants), and the system of balance of powers is pretty unique?
-The hugeness of high school and college sports (I think elsewhere leagues/teams aren't so connected into the educational system).
-Iconic yellow school buses.
-Mega churches with food courts
-I think (not sure) it's more common here than elsewhere to have different religious groups (even large difference, ie, not just Presbyterian and Methodist, but Jewish and Christian, Jewish and Muslim, etc) share one religious space/building
-Prom
posted by Salamandrous at 8:52 AM on February 11, 2011


Drinking! Aside from the ages, many 15yr old British people are already trying to get served in pubs. Teenagers who drink in the States are seen as socially deviant but it's totally normal here. I read a book about a woman with a drinking problem who first got drunk at 14 - it was written as shocking but almost everyone I know had their first night of cider at this age.

Driving to get everywhere. I went to California and I was struck by how difficult it was to get anywhere by foot. I'm exempt from driving at the moment so I have no idea how living there would work, unless it differs in very urban areas.

Socialism being a massive evil rather than simply one of many available political philosophies.

Things that struck me as surprising but may not be true as I've not lived over there - that healthcare isn;t automatically free if one is unemployed, and young people seem happier with renting - there';s no idea that if you aren't on The Property Ladder, you're wasting your life and money.
posted by mippy at 8:55 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Regarding the shower thing, I asked this question previously about people who don't shower in American gyms. I have no idea what percentage they are, but that behavioral quirk is certainly not universal.

When I'm in Europe or Asia and people ask me where I'm from, I say California because it's a great place and I'm happy to live there. The history, policies and inhabitants of the United States, on the other hand, often embarrasses and shames me, so I'd rather not associate myself with them.

More generalizations: in US office buildings, you can never open the window, unlike their European counterparts. On the other hand, drinking fountains are everywhere in America, unlike Europe where nothing's ever free, not even a drink of water.
posted by Rash at 9:12 AM on February 11, 2011


As a Canadian who travels to the US a lot, here's what always stands out for me:

- American customer service is much more friendly/active than back home.
- Consumer choice is enormous (though not in potato chips).
- Food and drink portions, particularly at chain restaurants, are huge, and yes, always seem to be served with starches or bread. Going to the US always wrecks my diet if I'm not careful.
- Food tends to be sweeter. The US has a sweet tooth comparable to the UK's.
- The US has a surprisingly conservative streak when it comes to the everyday: drinking, sex (as opposed to violence which is a-ok) on tv, money, units, language and the like.
- The US is noticably more religious than many other places. Billboards with religious messages, random comments put religion far more in the public sphere than in Canada (and many other places I've been). Religion isn't nearly as polite a topic of conversation elsewhere.
posted by bonehead at 9:13 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


One other thing -- Americans pay for so many things with personal checks, a method of payment which Europeans find rather quaint.
posted by Rash at 9:33 AM on February 11, 2011


This is such a great thread, as an American without a passport I find a lot of these really fascinating.

One thing which always baffled me about the USA is, when you say "thank you", sometimes people reply with "Uh huh" or "sure". I'm saying, in abbreviated form, "I thank you". And you're replying with an affirmative. "Yes, you thank me"? It's very different to "you're welcome" or "don't mention it".
posted by AmbroseChapel


With this, I believe it's just a more relaxed etiquette in the US, if I respond 'sure' I would be surprised if someone found that offensive or disrespectful. As intended I believe it to be more of a humble 'it's no problem, really'.

- Having pickled things on the breakfast plate - and bacon n pancakes n maple syrup n eggs [excellent idea]
posted by honey-barbara


Ok, this one is stumping me! What pickled things were you served for breakfast!? When a friend studied abroad I was shocked to learn that the idea of 'breakfast food' isn't a universal one. Cereal, pancakes, eggs, waffles, bacon are all thought of as breakfast only foods. Well, you can put bacon on a sandwich or burger.
posted by sweetmarie at 9:44 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


American living in Switzerland:

- Public spaces in the US are much louder, especially shopping areas. Which is to say that the Swiss are quiet, but when I was in Jersey City visiting my brother last month we went to a mall and I was taken aback by the sonic overload: music blasting in every story, everyone talking louder to make themselves heard above the music, etc.
- Ubiquity of always-on televisions in public areas (like airports, hotels, etc), usually tuned to the interminable inanity of a 24 hour "news" network. So much blather, so little concrete information or insightful commentary!
- Americans are polite (varies by region) but much more gregarious and informal than in Switzerland/France -- the default address is first name, even to random strangers, and as others have mentioned questions and topics that are seen as incredibly intrusive even towards casual acquaintances in Switzerland are completely acceptable for conversation with people you've just met in the US.
- In Switzerland plenty of middle-class older couples and their families live in apartments; in most parts of the US if you're married, older than your mid-thirties, and live in an apartment, you're either poor or weird.
- In the US in my experience (this could vary by region and type of living space) when someone tells me they have a good relationship with their neighbors, that means they talk often and very likely socialize on a regular basis. In Switzerland, if you have a good relationship with your neighbors that means you exchange superficial pleasantries and see them at your homeowners' association meeting once a year.
- Americans put in far more hours at work and get much less vacation time. Even in Switzerland (which has a rep as an "industrious" country compared to places like France or Italy) most people work 40-42 hours a week (max 45) and get a minimum of 20 vacation days (i.e. four weeks) a year.

Also nthing size and variety of products/portions, sugar, puritanism, terrible chocolate (the mass-market kind, I mean, I'm aware there are great chocolatiers in the US), socialism panic, self-promotion.
posted by bettafish at 9:54 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I spent two years in Buenos Aires (and now my Argentine husband is here, and we're constantly discussing differences). One biggie: the efficiency vs. inefficiency cultures.

We are efficient: lines comparatively aren't long, we have cars, we can check ourselves out at the grocery store, and can get more done in a day--nay, we expect to, and make ourselves rush around. People use terms like 'I'm double-booked' when they mean to say 'I goofed and made multiple plans for the same time slot,' and even personal hangout time is scheduled, i.e., people will squeeze in coffee with a friend between two other activities. There aren't many public spaces for idleness, so you don't get to meet neighbors/build community as much.

In B.A., lines are long everywhere and it takes forever to do simple errands. On the flip side of the inefficiency culture, however, is the 'hang out' culture: restaurants and cafés don't think twice when you lounge there for hours. You can sit on a park bench for a long time without looking like a weirdo. When the first Starbucks in B.A. opened up, everyone commented on how novel it was to be served coffee in a paper cup, which isn't even an option in cafés there. Breathing and 'not doing anything' is generally allowed.
posted by blazingunicorn at 9:57 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm an American who has lived in Iceland and Germany and has been bi-culturally married (Icelandic, Portuguese) twice now. Yes, I've been accused of being "Euro-sexual" but I assure you, it's just coincidence.

The thing that sticks out the most between Portuguese and American culture is definitely interpersonal interaction. It drives me completely crazy that when I go to Portugal with my husband, we don't have five free minutes to ourselves. The entire family, by which I mean so many people that it necessitates three cars, picks us up from the airport and then we're surrounded until the time when the same merry band drops us off. This is and in of itself weird to me in that in the US, you just drop and run. You don't sit around in the airport café with every member of your immediate family until it's time to go to the gate.

It would seem that because they spend so much more time together ("face time" is a HUGE thing) and talk SO MUCH MORE (yes, if you think Americans talk a lot, go to Portugal - or, from what I understand, any Mediterranean country) that the Portuguese are friendlier, but that's not really true. Americans are much more open - it's often baffled my husband and his family the way I'll drop personal details into conversation with no hesitation. They don't really do that so much. Also, my husband noticed that compared to his family - my own family listens more and tends to do better at remembering personal details whereas the Portuguese are always talking and always spending time together, but don't necessarily remember that thing you did last week.

To sum up very briefly: Americans are much more trusting and much more open than the Portuguese, but spend much less time together in a family unit and don't value "face time" to the same degree.

Really, the friendliness of Americans is what I miss most when I travel anywhere in Europe. By which I mean, around here I get into six or seven small-talk type conversations a day with cashiers, waiters, baristas, etc. Just chit-chat. That doesn't happen anywhere I've been in Europe and I kinda miss it when I'm abroad. (Though sometimes it is nice to go and buy shampoo without getting the American Inquisition.)

I'll agree with the statement upthread that to Americans, Scandinavians seem cold. This is even true to me, and my family is of Swedish origin. Living in Iceland felt very, very cold to me - socially speaking that is. There's very much a tendency to keep your business to yourself that Americans just don't share.

I found that Germans misunderstood Americans to be "rude" quite a lot of the time as their social interactions are comparatively formal to our own. For instance, living with my host family, I didn't realize I was expected to greet each person individually every time I went into a room until it was explained to me. The way it works in the US is if you live with people, you say hi when you get home and you're pretty much covered until you leave again. I wasn't trying to be rude or ignore anyone, but it took some getting used to to remember that if I left a room and came back, I'd have to start over again from "Hello." Also: inside homes, if a door is shut in the US that is a big immediate red flag of "NONE SHALL PASS." In Germany, apparently it just means someone closed the door. Never got used to that one at all. "Why didn't you join us in the living room?" "Oh, the door was closed, I thought you wanted privacy." Yeah, made no sense to me whatsoever.

Also, I bring this up every time European/American cultural differences are brought up - Americans are more fun. I don't know another group of people so fond of doing just dumb shit just for the hell of it. Things like building pumpkin cannons after Halloween, or just having Halloween in the first place - we really put a lot of stock into "work hard, play hard" that I haven't seen anywhere else.
posted by sonika at 10:01 AM on February 11, 2011 [14 favorites]


US-born, raised, and living, so I don't notice a lot of things in the way that a fish doesn't notice water, but one does come to mind: the bazillions of different law enforcement agencies we have. Just on my daily commute I might easily see police from four different agencies: state police, sheriff's department of the county I live in, police department of the town I live in, and police department of the city/county I work in. (And of the last, the city and county forces were merged quite recently, so before that it was five.) And that's just doing general traffic monitoring and the like; it doesn't even take into account more specialized agencies.

That never really consciously occurred to me until I went to Ireland. First I went to Dublin, and saw some gardaí there. Then I went to Cork and saw other gardaí, with the same uniforms, members of the same agency. Then I went to Galway and also saw still other gardaí. All members of a single law enforcement agency.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:15 AM on February 11, 2011


A lot of good stuff here.

Here's one thing that occurs to me: water. Compared to many other places, Americans are funny about water. We expect to be given an endless stream of water in restaurants (and I've been to restaurants where the busboys were so vigilant in refilling water glasses that they were practically daring you to empty yours). This is not the case in a lot of countries. If you ask for water with your meal, you get a small glass of water, and that's it.

Passing through Phoenix, everyone I saw out walking around had a water bottle. Everyone. Including a cop jumping out of his car responding to a call.

Bureaucracy. Actually, that's not the right word. Let's call it "proceduralism." Obviously other cultures are not immune, but I get the impression that American organizations (and perforce the people who work for them) value following a procedure more highly than the result that procedure is intended to achieve. If you're dealing with someone in a customer-service position, that means that A) they won't do anything that doesn't appear on their flowchart of possible actions, and B) they will do everything that does appear on their flowchart, even if it doesn't really get them any closer to fulfilling your request. Customer service in other countries may not be as cheerful, but it often is more results-oriented than process-oriented.

Despite the powerful forces of homogenization that mass media imposes, there are a lot of regional variations within the USA. Service in restaurants is faster in northern cities than southern. Driving habits vary greatly from city to city. A friend who came to Austin after living in DC observed that the grocery stores here are always busy, but in DC they'd be empty during normal office hours.
posted by adamrice at 10:36 AM on February 11, 2011


We tend to have a short view of history. There was the last hundred years and all of antiquity, but they are separate things to us.

Oh, that reminds me of another one. I've heard it said, "An American thinks a hundred years is a long time; an Englishman thinks a hundred miles is a long distance."

I think nothing of driving 150 miles to visit my brother and his family, then another 150 miles back home, all in the same day. While I don't have a large sample size, Europeans I've mentioned this to seem surprised by this.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:38 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Grocery stores are always open. If you need to buy milk and bread at 3AM you can do it (this may not be true all over the US, but it's been true everywhere I've lived).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:49 AM on February 11, 2011


Americans order fast food value meals by "#1", "#2" etc.

This was an invention of the fast food restaurants - probably McDonald's first. When they first started having value meals, there were big signs at the counter saying "Order by Number!" I'm assuming this was to make it easier on the cashiers. Now that the value meal has been around for a generation or so, everybody knows you're supposed to order by number.
posted by Daily Alice at 11:00 AM on February 11, 2011


Americans show their teeth when they smile, and their teeth are rarely crooked or yellow

Teeth quality in the US is a major class-marker. Among my European friends, even the well-educated successful professionals don't have straight teeth. That would never happen in the US where a rite of passage for the middle classes is to get braces as a teenager. There was even an episode of Law & Order:Criminal Intent where the detective correctly surmises that one of suspects was covering up lower-middle class origins because she wasn't getting her teeth straightened until relatively late in life.
posted by deanc at 11:08 AM on February 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


New Zealander here, lived in the NE USA for 9 years.

To add to the above, the most generous people I have met have all been American.
posted by gaspode at 11:18 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


-Americans seem to take school honor codes more seriously than many Europeans. In general, we seem more earnest.

-Americans can't make a legal claim for "moral harassment."

-Workplace discrimination claims are less likely to succeed in America than in Europe, but when they do succeed, they get much more money in America.

-What is considered "sexual harassment" in America is considered "life" in many European countries. Many Europeans are shocked by our sexual harassment laws.

-Americans work longer hours and take fewer vacation days than most of the rest of the world.

-Teenagers in America keep sex a secret from their parents, in contrast to teenagers in other countries. (E.g. the Netherlands.)
posted by equipoise at 11:25 AM on February 11, 2011



One thing which always baffled me about the USA is, when you say "thank you", sometimes people reply with "Uh huh" or "sure".

I'm saying, in abbreviated form, "I thank you". And you're replying with an affirmative. "Yes, you thank me"? It's very different to "you're welcome" or "don't mention it".


Oh, I do that. I think a lot of people take "Thank you" as "(I) Thank you for doing this", and say "Sure" ("Sure/uh-huh, it was no problem"). I never really thought of it as being strange before.

I think everyone's covered most of it already (though there are so many misconceptions/blanket statements about America here, seriously), but I'll just reiterate the drinking age, availability of water, and the more conservative attitude towards sex/nudity. I'm mainly comparing America with asian countries, though...I've never been to Europe. In China/Taiwan (at least where I've been) soda is like the "standard" water in America. I guess this makes sense, since I wouldn't trust the tap over there. Also, nobody cares if you're younger and drink beer (as opposed to the drinking age in America).
posted by sprezzy at 11:33 AM on February 11, 2011


As a Canadian living in Alabama, here are some things I've noticed. These may be specific to the region:

- Chatty customer service: There's almost always some casual chit-chat involved with every transaction, more if it's somewhere we go regularly (like the grocery store). The only place I remember this happening in Canada was a very small island community where everyone knew everyone else, and it drove the mainlanders nuts. I quite like this.

- Food portions: Oh, my lord, yes. Huge! The only other place I've seen such massive portions is in Alberta. The exception is vegetable portions, which are relatively small, and generally way overcooked for my taste. (I've learned to order salads.)

- Drink refills: Drink sizes seem massive to me, and refills of pop or sweet tea are free and infinite.

- People I've encountered here have a very different attitude towards official paperwork. It's like they're terrified of getting anything government-related wrong. Possibly as a result, it takes for-freaking-ever to get anything official filled out.

- Driving everywhere: The transit system in Birmingham is so negligible as to be essentially useless, and once you're outside of downtown it seems like you just can't get anywhere without a car, even if it's across the street. For instance, I went to a movie and was going to meet BitterOldPunk at the bookstore across the street afterwards. I offered to just walk there, and he had to explain to me that that just wasn't possible, as there were no crosswalks or crossing signals between one and the other, and the roads were far too big for jaywalking. Also, people will drive from one end of a strip mall to the other rather than walk to the other store and back.

- Religion as a topic of conversation: Granted, we're in the Bible Belt, but holy crap do people talk about Jesus a lot, even at casual get-togethers. As a third-generation non-religious person, I'm viewed as quite an oddity, and find the frequent Jesus discussions unsettling. I don't think I'll ever get used to this.

- Polarity: It seems like there's a lot of black and white, and not much room for grey, especially when it comes to political views. There also doesn't seem to be much room for agreeing with someone on one thing if you disagree with them about something else (again, particularly when it comes to politics). Along with this, I've noticed a lot of hyperbole: something is either the best thing ever or the worst thing ever, rarely just kind of a nice thing.

On the whole, the people I've met here have been friendly and generous (much warmer towards a stranger than Canadians would be) and seem genuinely curious about Canada, though they may just be doing the polite ask-the-stranger-about-herself thing, which is also kinda nice. People have also gone out of their way to make me feel welcome and comfortable, which is something I did not experience moving to different cities in Canada.
posted by elizard at 12:06 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Very fun thread.

As an American who briefly lived in Brussels I can say that non-Americans are far more likely to be multilingual. Almost everyone I came into contact with spoke two or more languages. Once I was paying for a meal in a Greek restaurant with a credit card and the Greek woman started to speak to me in Italian. I had to sheepishly admit that I didn't really know any Italian.
posted by mmascolino at 12:07 PM on February 11, 2011


One thing I've heard a lot from people new to the US is that Americans compliment each other a lot, which can come across as insincere to people who are from countries where compliments aren't a basic component of small talk.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:10 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here are my observations as an American that frequently travels abroad:

Banks in the U.S. are much more casual than banks in many countries. In some countries going into a bank involves walking through a metal detector, removing your hat, drawing a number, and quietly waiting to be called to a station where a stoic banker behind safety glass or bars assists you with your banking needs while menacing security personnel watch your every move. In the U.S. you simply walk into a bank stand in line and wait for the bubbly young teller to help you.

Finding a free place to take a shit in public can be a stressful ordeal overseas, particularly in Europe. In the U.S. you can often just go into a restaurant or convenience store to use the bathroom. I was shocked when in Germany I went to a rather large gas station to take a dump and discovered it didn't have a public restroom. I eventually found the employee restroom and got yelled at mid-dump by one of the employees. "You must get out now!" Sorry dude, I'm either going to do it in here or outside next to my car.
posted by Beardsley Klamm at 12:11 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, and the socialism-as-inherently-evil thing. I find that baffling.
posted by elizard at 12:27 PM on February 11, 2011


- Religion as a topic of conversation: Granted, we're in the Bible Belt, but holy crap do people talk about Jesus a lot, even at casual get-togethers.

elizardbits: definitely a Bible Belt thing. I've lived in the Pacific Northwest for over a decade and I don't know if I've ever heard anyone talk about Jesus. Maybe once or twice in the 14 years I lived in the northeast and mid-atlantic before moving to the west coast. Not generalizable.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:30 PM on February 11, 2011


Goofyy: "The #1 thing I miss most about Americans, is our tendency to be open. We talk about ourselves rather freely. You can go quite far into personal details with Americans, and no one thinks anything of it. Europeans tend to insist on keeping things very superficial and impersonal. That gets terribly old and boring"

I assert that this is another regional difference. In the northeast U.S., where I'm from, people tend to be much more formal with strangers, and are very unlikely to share many personal details. I live in the southern U.S. now and perfect strangers regularly tell me very intimate details of their lives, including their health and marital problems. I actually find it extremely irritating.
posted by katyggls at 12:32 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


rabbitrabbit: Yeah, that's why I said where I was living. I think a lot of what I described is probably region-specific (as just one example, a lot of US cities have decent transit systems and I've found the parts of Seattle I've been in to be pretty pedestrian-friendly). There are a lot of regional differences, so I can only speak from my own experience. (Also, I'm not elizardbits, though since she posts a lot more than I do, I can see why that confusion happens.)
posted by elizard at 12:49 PM on February 11, 2011


... definitely a Bible Belt thing

Same here in the mid-west/great lakes area. Outside of funerals, weddings and sporting events you don't hear much Jesus talk.
posted by octothorpe at 1:04 PM on February 11, 2011


Serving in various developing countries for the last 10 years I have come to find out that American aid workers are more respected generally and put on less airs than most of our Euro counterparts. I know this is shocking and against the narrative but it is true. Time and and time again I have been told this by local staff.
posted by tarvuz at 1:07 PM on February 11, 2011


You want to read Notes From A Big Country [UK]/I'm A Stranger Here Myself [US].

melt away: "Sorry, more....

Pay-at-the-pump seems to be an American thing. A convenience I liked
"

It's all over Europe too. However, the US is the only first world country I can think of with people to pump your fuel for you.

honey-barbara: "I really like American hand-writing. We [Australia/UK] were taught 'tick-turn' handwriting in school. Not that everyone persists with their school habits, but it is quite indoctrinated in primary school. When I first worked in the US I was struck by how many people of my age and older had lovely roundy writing that flows across the page. I see it in films too, the roundy, flowy, what I call "Mom-writing" when I see it"

I see that just as much in the UK. But, in general, people in Europe or NZ/Australia are much more likely to actually be capable of joined up handwriting.

Beardsley Klamm: "Finding a free place to take a shit in public can be a stressful ordeal overseas, particularly in Europe. In the U.S. you can often just go into a restaurant or convenience store to use the bathroom. I was shocked when in Germany I went to a rather large gas station to take a dump and discovered it didn't have a public restroom. I eventually found the employee restroom and got yelled at mid-dump by one of the employees. "You must get out now!" Sorry dude, I'm either going to do it in here or outside next to my car"

I've never noticed any consistent difference between Western European countries and the US for this.
posted by turkeyphant at 1:55 PM on February 11, 2011


This is true to some extent everywhere, but the United States is so enormous that it's particularly significant here: there are so many different regional, professional, religious, class- or age-related subcultures -- plus other groupings I haven't thought of, with interesting and complex intersections -- that for relatively mobile people, a difficult and indispensable skill is figuring out which manners apply in which social environment.

(Digression: The tech industry, for example, is in some ways a world of its own.)

I was very amused by the recent discussions about taking off shoes in the house, in which lots of people insisted -- contrary to my own personal experience -- that everybody in their city/area does it one way or the other.
posted by tangerine at 2:05 PM on February 11, 2011


doublehappy, how would you prefer a toilet be designed? I admit, an occasional splash of water on my butt isn't the most pleasant experience, but in my travels to Europe I ran into a couple of situations where there was little to no water at all in the toilet. This made the smell a LOT worse. And don't get me started on pit toilets, even in the porcelain kind. Ugh!
posted by wwartorff at 2:10 PM on February 11, 2011


If you're on a highway in the U.S., and stop at a road stop, you expect the food to be pretty terrible, basically the lowest on the food chain. In Italy, I had some wonderful salads when our tour bus stopped on the highway, and underneath the little cafe was a wonderland of wine, cheese and fruits for sale in a kind of larder arrangement. Blew my mind, and I loved this about Italy.

Trains in Switzerland are where they are supposed to be, down to the minute. They don't spend longer than 5 minutes or so in a station, and officials on the train, taking your tickets, know every stop on every route and can tell you where and when to switch from one line to another.

The Swiss also seemed to keep mostly to themselves, but when we asked one man for general directions, he led us directly to where we wanted to go and even seemed a bit apologetic that he couldn't do more for us. So, more reserved in general, but very accommodating when approached.

In England, people are fabulous for lining (queuing) up and NOT butting in line. They seem to do it automatically, and are very firm when someone tries to cut in line. Here, people will try to get in front of you and have no shame when caught out.

Case in point: at a recent visit to a theme park (no, not Disney), a woman holding her daughter's hand was shoving past people as her daughter pulled her along, even though the rest of us had been waiting longer. She saw me glaring and said, "Sorry, but my daughter wants a seat in front." And I said (much to my husband's chagrin), "That's not an excuse for you going along with her, though." And she pretended not to hear me. I admit I am petty enough that later, when we found ourselves in front of her for another attraction, I enjoyed seeing our group spread out so she couldn't pass us again. Can't understand why all parents don't use this as a teachable moment for their kids: "No, honey, we have to wait our turn!"

Sorry, I'll get off my high horse now.


Ahem. England has also mastered hot tea, but they cannot, or will not, make iced tea. They seem constitutionally opposed to ice in England.
posted by misha at 2:28 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, another thing I forgot -- except in a few of the larger cities like NYC, etc, Americans dress much more casually than the Swiss and many other Europeans. You don't see many people over high school age wearing hoodies or sneakers, for example, and in airports there's never anyone in sweats or pajamas as there would be in the US. And of course air travel outside the US is much less fraught with endless security measures and the like.
posted by bettafish at 3:53 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


"In the UK a woman that spills hot coffee on herself, then demands compensation from the company that sold her hot coffee at her request when the spill was not the fault of company would have been told in polite legal terms to fuck off. It seems in the US you can find a lawyer willing to pursue anything and a court willing to hear it."

Even if the UK corporation had done a study calculating how many more patrons would be injured by raising the temperature of their coffee vs. how much more in profits they would earn by having the hottest coffee available, undrinkably hot, because so many people drive to work with it and let it cool on the way, and put this study in a memo, and concluded that the injuries that would occur, including extremely severe burns requiring hospitalization that were anticipated, and all following litigation, would cost them less than they would earn in excess profits? And even if what the jury awarded her as a result was merely one day's coffee profits for the chain? In the UK you're in the habit of allowing companies to make a calculation and decide to profit off other people's devastating injuries with no reprecussions?

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:56 PM on February 11, 2011 [19 favorites]


We [Australia/UK] were taught 'tick-turn' handwriting in school.

What is this, exactly? Google returns zero results.

When I first worked in the US I was struck by how many people of my age and older had lovely roundy writing that flows across the page.

That "roundy" writing is known as cursive, and it's becoming obsolete, due to keyboards and computers. In the US we were all taught how to write this way in elementary school, and many teachers insisted upon its use, saying writing's faster that way; but when a friend looked at my notes in 7th grade and said "I can't read your writing" I realized that I couldn't either, so from that point on I wrote only with block letters, using cursive only for my signature.
posted by Rash at 3:57 PM on February 11, 2011


Oh yes, the mobile drinking thing - Americans seem to love that. They cannot go anywhere without water bottles or huge coffee travel mugs. Cupholders everywhere. I suspect that this is related to the fact that it's so easy to find public toilets.
(In Germany, even pregnant women and moms with little kids are shooed out of customer toilets if they don't buy/consume anything! On the plus side, you don't get arrested for "indecent exposure" when you pee behind a shrub in the park.)
posted by The Toad at 4:16 PM on February 11, 2011


Americans (and Canadians) like root beer, whereas most Europeans think it tastes like cough syrup. I think its one of those flavors you have to have as a kid to enjoy.
posted by benzenedream at 4:24 PM on February 11, 2011


Taking half-finished restaurant meals home with you. The portions are so large, as several people have mentioned, that to leave the leftover food would be a waste.
posted by martianna at 4:49 PM on February 11, 2011


bettafish: " You don't see many people over high school age wearing hoodies or sneakers, for example, and in airports there's never anyone in sweats or pajamas as there would be in the US."

This is so far from being true it's absurd.
posted by turkeyphant at 5:23 PM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was talking to an Austrian co-worker about speeding tickets in the US. I explained to him that in the US we can go to court and actually contest a ticket, often resulting in its dismissal. He was shocked and told me that if you did that in Austria the judge would laugh at you and probably increase the fine.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 5:29 PM on February 11, 2011


JohntheContrarian: "I was talking to an Austrian co-worker about speeding tickets in the US. I explained to him that in the US we can go to court and actually contest a ticket, often resulting in its dismissal. He was shocked and told me that if you did that in Austria the judge would laugh at you and probably increase the fine"

Did he have any actual experience? I've heard that this is possible (and fairly common) in the UK and would expect a similar situation in the rest of Western Europe.
posted by turkeyphant at 6:04 PM on February 11, 2011


When I went to Germany in 1980, we went into a fruit and vegetable shop. They had kiwi fruit, and it was the first time I had ever seen it. I picked one up to examine it and the shop owner ran up and yelled at me for it. I't not your food until you've bought it. You point at the one you want, and the guy puts it in a bag for you. In the US, you help yourself. Where I shop, they have scales in the produce section. You put your onions or whatever on the scale and key in the PLU number for that kind of produce. You press "print" and a label is made with the price for your purchase. I would be interested to know how it's done in Europe now.

Around here, if you ask for tea in a restaurant, you get iced tea automatically. If you want hot tea, you have to ask for hot tea specifically. Nothing is more thirst quenching than iced tea!
posted by Daddy-O at 6:56 PM on February 11, 2011


Did he have any actual experience?. I know he had speeding tickets ( I drove with him and I'm not surprised) but the way he reacted told me that he couldn't imagine a scenario where a traffic ticket could be contested.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 7:49 PM on February 11, 2011


=. More friendly, smiley people everywhere
=. Americans are more accepting of other people, cultures etc.
=. Americans are also a lot more independent at a very young age than say people from asia. I think it's got to do with the earn money by doing a part time job culture.. which I think should be adopted in other parts of the world too.
=. Americans are also more diplomatic. I'd rather prefer you tell me straight to my face than beat around the bush giving subtle hints, or most often, no hints at all.
=. Very easy to go to another city and get settled over there.
=. All bills look the same
=. ATMS only dispense $20 bills. That'so prehistoric.
=. One line addresses. I *so* love this.
=. Guzzling down a litre of soda with a meal is okay.
=. Bad public transport in most places except maybe major towns. People seem to be expected to drive.
=. Paper thin walls in apartment complexes.
=.

things I agree/disagree on
-Americans "act friendly" but might not want to really be friends
+1

>> Americans are modest in gym locker rooms (as opposed to Chinese people who sit around and chat casually, fully nude)No, they don't. It's normal for Americans to chat naked. In both girls/boys locker room.

One thing which always baffled me about the USA is, when you say "thank you", sometimes people reply with "Uh huh" or "sure".
+1
posted by bbyboi at 9:00 PM on February 11, 2011


bbyboi: Americans are more accepting of other cultures than where?

I've lived in the US, the UK and Canada. In all three places, I found that openness to other cultures differed more by location within the country (eg rural vs urban) than by country. But at the same time, overall acceptance of other cultures seemed to be slightly higher in Canada -- multiculturalism has been a policy since 1759, though it wasn't called that yet. (And the toleration of Catholocism in Quebec in 1759 was one of the "intolerable" acts that triggered the Am Rev).
posted by jb at 6:51 AM on February 12, 2011



Ice. Particularly in the summer, Americans (including me!) love enormous quantities of ice in their soft drinks, water, iced tea, etc.


I know a Brit who joked that he moved to the US just so he could get ice in his drinks.

And yah, god we love Peanut Butter.
posted by The Whelk at 9:12 AM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know if this is something that's unusual in Canada or something that's unusual in the States, but (as a Canadian living in the US), one tiny difference that I've noticed is that restaurants in Canada very often give you a mint or a candy at the end of the meal, whereas restaurants in the States tend not to. (Sometimes there is a bowl of mints at the host stand, but not often enough.)

I don't know what this says about the US. Or about Canada.
posted by cider at 9:14 AM on February 12, 2011


There is a great section in a business book about Hershey and Mars. The Mars brothers, although American, spend their formative years in the UK, and as such had developed UK tastes for candy. The result of this was for years they attempted to introduce various Hazelnut flavored chocolates - all of which failed, while at the same tom refusing to roll out any peanut butter filled chocolates proposed by their employees.
posted by JPD at 9:32 AM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


bbyboi: "One line addresses. I *so* love this."

Not sure what you mean by this. US address I know usually need a number, a road, a city, a state and a ZIP. What would a US one-line address consist of?

Conversely, UK addresses are incredibly short. Just a 1-3 digits for a house number and between 5 and 7 character for the postcode. That's all.
posted by turkeyphant at 10:04 AM on February 12, 2011


For filipinos (I'm an American married to one), parties are all about the food. In the U.S. parties are all about the alcohol.

It's not unusual for a filipino to drop $500 on food for a 20 person party and not serve alcohol. An American might spend $200 on 20-person party just for drinks and snacks.

God, I love filipino parties.
posted by qsysopr at 11:51 AM on February 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


+ 1 to the public bathrooms and waterbottles. I'm so excited to be in public, need to pee and not have to dig around for 40 centimes in my purse!
posted by raccoon409 at 12:56 PM on February 12, 2011


@jb: I've almost always experienced that people are more or less indifferent to where you come from, which religion you follow and what demographic/ethnicity you belong to - but I've only lived in major cities so my rural experiences are limited to the occasional roadtrip. I haven't lived in Canada/UK but compared to many asian countries, US is a lot more accepting.

@turkeyphant: I meant the whole "housenumber street (apartment), city zip" way of writing an address. I find it very easy to look up addresses - I mean, even if you end up on a long street, you can continue going towards the housenumber to find your address" (especially helpful in major cities where a street can traverse through the city). Addresses in India could be 3-4 times bigger and you'd still need a map.

=. + In America you actually have freedom of speech and other rights. You can say whatever you want, even publish books/movies etc about a sitting President and it won't hurt you one bit. (ofcourse, except if you say you want to kill him :-))
posted by bbyboi at 6:05 PM on February 12, 2011


There seems to be a huge amount of baggage associated with being "Hispanic" which is a great mystery to everyone over here. I watch your TV shows and only at the end realise that one of the characters is apparently of Hispanic origin and if I had worked this out earlier on the plot would have made a lot more sense.

This, as well.
posted by Xany at 3:56 PM on February 13, 2011


Middle and upper class people from the East Coast of America seem significantly more interested in where you went to college, than people on the West Coast. "Where did you go to school?" isn't a conversation starter in the west; it's halfway towards rude.
posted by talldean at 7:57 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


One more, about public toilets -- yes they're rare in the US. In Europe, they're often tended by the individual I call the troll, who lives inside and demands a coin for use. To avoid the troll, go to multi-national fast food restaurants -- I wouldn't advise eating there but the Golden Arches are the international sign of the bathroom, to me. On the other hand, in Japan, free public toilets are everywhere. And if you just want to wash your hands, step into any pachinko parlor and head towards the back where there's usually a sink for this purpose.
posted by Rash at 8:39 AM on February 14, 2011


Teenagers who drink in the States are seen as socially deviant but it's totally normal here.

Nah, I wouldn't say that's right, although it does vary regionally. It's just bumped up two-to-three years because the drinking age is three years higher. So the type of "getting pissed on tesco cider on the football pitch at 11 pm" stuff you do at 14 we do at 16 except it's a football field and natty ice. The sneaking into pubs you do at 16 we do at 18.
posted by Diablevert at 1:33 PM on February 14, 2011


School sports. Absolutely nobody gives a shit in the UK if you are in your high school sports team - it doesn't make you a star. (I've been struggling with Friday Night Lights for that reason - totally different culture.) I realise college sports are a big deal over there for various reasons, but nobody cares about those here, either. On the other hand, we sign teenagers to Premiership clubs for massive sums of money, which may be the equivalent to a sports scholarship.
posted by mippy at 4:19 AM on February 15, 2011


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