Don’t you sometimes find it confusing when people ask how you are the moment you walk into a shop? Have you ever found yourself in an argument with a friend about measuring that new table you’re going to get for your apartment because you use a completely different measurement system? I guess many of us have gone through the gauntlet of not knowing exactly how much to tip after having a romantic dinner with your significant other.
Different countries have different customs as well as a variety of eccentricities. From the way words are pronounced and spelled to what unit of measurement is acceptable for daily use, every country around the globe has its own way of presenting things. However, most of these tend to agree with each other from culture to culture and from country to country, but when it comes to America, a lot of foreigners and visitors end up baffled and confused about certain practices and customs that seem to be unique in the United States.
Maybe you have experienced a few of them and have asked your American friends why they are so. In any case, here are some things that may help you along the way as you traverse the tricky trail of uniquely American practices.
# 15 — You Can’t Drink Until You’re 21
Let’s start with the bone of contention among foreign visitors to the US. Americans have strict laws against purchasing and consuming alcohol if you are under the age of 21. If you are, let’s say someone from England, your 18-year-old might be surprised to find out that he or she will not be served any alcohol anywhere. This confuses a lot of visitors who come from countries where they become of age at 18, and that includes buying and drinking a few beers.
#14 — The Metric System VS Imperial System
If you are from Asia or Europe, it would be easy for you to find out how close the nearest restaurant is to your hotel or home because you have grown accustomed to using units of measurement like kilometers, centimeters, and the like. When you fly to the US, however, you may end up confused and struggle to convert your units of measurement to adapt to local units like inches, yards, and miles or having to convert today’s weather from Celsius to Fahrenheit to know if you should bring a jacket out.
#13 — Prom & Homecoming
Prom is a school event that is common in many countries. It is a chance for students to socialize and kick it back a little from the grueling life of studying. However, what confuses many countries is how big a deal it is to Americans who openly consider and accept it as a teenager’s rite of passage. The amount of effort to ask someone out alone is incredibly amazing, and what we see on TV shows and movies do not really downplay its real life equivalent. Also, aside from prom, another school event called Homecoming has confused many teenagers around the world who are asking what really is it and how is it different from prom?
#12 — Sporting Scholarships
We have all seen it in movies and sometimes the news where a promising student with incredible athletic prowess gets accepted to a university. In the US, it is common for school athletes to be accepted in college because of how good they are at sports. In fact, many of them are even offered scholarships as long as they bat for the right university team. This academic practice is found to be bizarre by many countries mainly because no such program exists in their curricula.
#11 — Flag Pride
There is not a single piece of sky in the US where you will not see the American flag waving proudly in the wind. While patriotism is another commendable trait of the American culture, what confuses foreigners is that almost every establishment that they visit has the country’s flag present. Whether they are at a restaurant or a strip mall, if there is an outdoor space or a large display wall, chances are, there will be an American flag. Even more confusing to tourists and foreigners is the fact that flags are even hung or displayed at people’s private homes.
#10 — Calling Jam “Jelly”
Whether it’s a point of confusion or just plain happy coincidence, the word “Jelly” seems to be used interchangeably with jam seeing that they have similar consistencies. It’s the interchanging of the use of the word that confuses non-Americans because jelly is generally used in other countries to describe a food product that is made out of gelatin and the homemade fruit preserve used to spread over bread is called jam in other countries. So, to an Englishman, offering him a spread of “Jelly” on his scone might give him the impression that he has unwittingly stepped into the Twilight Zone.
#9 — Gun Laws
In general, gun and ammunition laws in the US are an often discussed subject by many countries around the world. Many non-Americans have been stumped by the fact that generally, anyone can easily buy bullets over the counter and military grade firearms on the internet without any screening process. While there are provisions in the US Constitution provides individuals the right to bear arms, foreigners show an amount of concern and confusion over some clauses in different states that allow, for example, people to openly carry firearms in public. To this day, even concerned citizens and groups in the US itself are fighting for amendments and limitations on the country’s gun control laws after several gun-related tragedies shook the country over the past few decades.
#8 — Price Tags without the Tax
In the US, no matter which shop you go to, you would be surprised to find out that sales taxes are not included in any price tags - which is quite strange given that many countries around the world adopt the practice of including taxes in any product’s tags to do away with the burden of making estimates in your head while in line at the checkout counter. The reason behind this is that since the US has a different set of regional laws governing each state, that would mean that taxes will also vary per state; and in each state, items may cost a little more or a little less than the retail price depending on individual state tax.
#7 — Trick-or-Treating
When we were kids, we were told by our parents never to accept anything from strangers or talk to them. It is a golden rule that any parent applies no matter where they are around the world. But this changes when Americans celebrate Halloween. Indeed, going trick-or-treating is a creative American custom that people across the world copy or envy. Who would not want to dress up their kids in colorful costumes and show off to the other kids? What’s rather odd though is the practice of trick-or-treating itself where parents basically encourage children to ring other people’s doorbells asking for candy. It's contrary to warning them about accepting anything from strangers.
#6 — Super Bowl Advertisement
America has a consumer-driven economy, and it works for them. You may say that the US is an Ad Man’s paradise because all he has to do is to put something up on a billboard or on a TV screen and almost immediately, a product will sell. Speaking of ads, commercials and advertisements during Superbowl season are given so much attention and effort that it is almost an event unto itself. Every year, advertisers would put their best and creative foot forward to show their wittiest and most entertaining pieces of advertisements. What’s even more amusing is how people become emotionally invested in these ads that some of them even rank them in lists and talk about each one over the dinner table like matters of State.
#5 — The Icy Love Affair
Americans love iced drinks. From their coffee to their soda, their cups are almost brimming with ice. While we cannot argue that ice can freshen up a drink, the average American’s obsession with these frozen bits of water confuses many people from other parts of the world simply because they can drastically water down your drink and, at some point, add a little bit of dirt into it if the water used comes from a questionable source.
#4 — Spelling & Pronunciation
This phenomenon is mostly a bone of contention between the US and their English and British friends. Where countries like England and Australia spell certain words like “Colour,” “Neighbour,” and “Prioritise,” and pronouncing every letter in the word “Fillet,” Americans would argue that their way of pronouncing and spelling words is a universal standard. We can’t argue, though, that dropping a few vowels here and there makes spelling a bit more sensible and practical, it cannot be ignored that they seem to be the only people in the world who have their own standards in spelling and pronunciation as opposed to what’s widely practiced around the world.
#3 — Going Out for Drinks
TV shows like Cheers and How I Met Your Mother seems to have reinforced the American practice of casually inviting friends out for a few drinks at a local bar. In countries like Japan, it is not an entirely alien concept to go out for a few drinks after work. However, casually calling up people to go out is something unheard of in many cultures. In some parts of the world, people get to gather with a drink in hand at parties or special occasions but not on, let’s say, a Thursday night.
#2 — A Classless Society
One of the most endearing qualities of American culture is the virtual eradication of social classes. It may sound absurd in countries that have a hard-line drawn between the wealthy and the poor but in the US, social status is given little to no attention at all and people may “move from one social class to the other” with ease by just upping their performance and pay grade at work. By having this egalitarian way of looking at society, Americans have pretty much plucked out the social stigmas attached to different levels of society.
#1 — Spending for College is a Serious Matter
According to data from the College Board, from the academic years of 2014 – 2015, the average cost to get into an in-State public college is about $23,410.00. Going to a private school would burn $46,272.00 right through your savings. And by private, we are not including Ivy League schools such as Harvard University where a single year can cost you $60,659.00. The cost of higher learning in America is confusingly expensive, and many students who have graduated and have gone on to establish distinguished careers are still paying for thousands of dollars’ worth of Student Loans. Compared to countries like England where the cost of attending a single year at Oxford is only at $13,903, American colleges and universities basically drive students into deep debt even before graduating. In other countries, like Sweden, Germany, and France, it is interesting to note that college education is FREE or – in some cases – partially free; and in countries like Denmark, there are instances that the national government pays for your college education and even provides you with a student allowance.