10 Quirky Things About America That I Learned From Traveling Abroad

Lady Liberty

Today marks my 1 year anniversary since being back in the United States! It was bittersweet coming to the decision to conclude my long-term travels and returning to my home country, but after a year of being back I’ve slowly adjusted from a life living out of a backpack and being somewhat settled. I’ve been fortunate enough to work for a great company that gets me out and traveling a few weeks out of the year in Europe, so I’ve managed to find a compromise! Although I’ve gotten back into the routine of working 9-5, paying rent, and being able to hang out with friends and family again, one thing that’s different is now I notice things that I never did here before. Oftentimes we don’t think a whole lot about the little quirks and behaviors that we encounter everyday, but after being away so long I began to notice things that I was so accustomed to before:

1. We Sell Cigarettes and Alcohol in Pharmacies
During my first weekend back in the US, I walked into a Walgreen’s in New York City with some British friends and they pointed this out to me. I never thought of it before, but it really is pretty silly that we sell alcohol, cigarettes, candy, chips, and other unhealthy foods at the same place where you go to get medicine! In other countries, you go to the pharmacy specifically for prescription drugs. Although pharmacies here are really more like convenience stores than a true drugstore, it is a bit of a medical paradox!

2. We’re Super Casual When It Comes to Dress
In other countries, especially in Europe, I’ve noticed people seem to be more well dressed while they’re out and about. Not necessarily fancy dress, but overall it seems people are more mindful in presenting themselves in a fashionable way when in public. In the US, especially in smaller towns like the one I grew up in, it’s not uncommon to see people shopping at the store in their pajamas or gym clothes (even if they didn’t actually just come from the gym). Baseball, football, and other sport related apparel for men, yoga pants for women, and tacky graphic t-shirts are also more common here than most other places.

3. We’re Behind In Credit Card Technology
Does anyone else think it’s weird that we’re okay with letting our server walk away from the table with our credit cards in hand? Or that we simply authorize the transaction with an illegible scribbled signature? I never thought it was until I moved abroad and started using foreign banks and credit cards. In pretty much every other modern country, your card has a chip in it and you verify a transaction using a personalized pin number. Oftentimes at the restaurant, the waiter will actually bring a wireless card reader to your table. While I noticed we are starting to see more cards with chips in them here in the US, nearly all of them still require a signature. Pin numbers clearly seem more secure.

4. We Tend to Wear Shoes Indoors
This doesn’t apply to every household, but it’s not unusual to walk in and around the house with shoes on. Which when you think about it is super unsanitary, especially after walking around in who knows what is on the ground outside! There are exceptions though, usually it’s polite to take your shoes off when you’re a guest at someone else’s home or if it’s been raining. But generally I’ve noticed we don’t always take shoes off in our own homes.

5. We’re Obsessed With Gift Cards
Again, something I never really thought about much before, until I walked into a Walmart the first few days back in the States and saw an entire shelf stocked full of hundreds of gift cards–all for random things! Gift cards for restaurants and retail stores are the most common, but we even have gift cards for airlines now. I have even seen gift cards for Harley Davidson–just a little something to go towards your next motorcycle purchase!

6. We Don’t Include Tax In Our Prices
This is probably one of the little Americanisms that irks me the most. Every other country I’ve been (except maybe Canada) includes VAT (value-added tax) in the price. It was pretty convenient in other countries knowing that a $5 box of cookies is going to cost $5, not $5.52. I’d rather know the total price I’m paying for something before I buy it, rather than having to guess or calculate how much tax will be added on later.

7. It’s Necessary to Own A Car
Unless you live in a big city, it’s pretty much necessary to have a car in order to get around here. Especially out west, where communities are sparser and farther in between. I was amazed in Europe especially at how well connected everything is by train and bus–even between small rural towns.

8. Our Country Is Huge
It’s no secret that the US is a big country, but I never realized how vast it really was until I started visiting others. I once took a train from Amsterdam in the west of Holland to Arnhem near the eastern border and it took 1 hour to cross the entire country. To compare to the US, a cross country rail journey can take nearly 3 days (or 5-6 hours of flying time)! Even France, the largest country in the EU, takes about 10 hours to drive from end to end. My home state of Washington takes about 8.5 hours to drive from the westernmost point to the border of Idaho, and we’re not even among the biggest states!

9. Our Vacation Times Are Short
The average American gets 2 weeks of vacation–and it doesn’t necessarily mean paid time off since we’re the only developed country in the world that doesn’t require employers even a day of paid leave. Even working a modest job as a bartender in both Australia and New Zealand, I had 4 weeks of paid holiday time per year. In France it’s 5 weeks. Pretty much every other developed country guarantees some sort of paid vacation time.

10. We Pronounce Our Z’s Differently
We’re the only English-speaking country where we pronounce the last letter of the alphabet as “zee”. Everywhere else (neighboring Canada included) it’s pronounced as “zed”, which blew my mind when I learned everyone else pronounces it this way! Even in other non-English languages, such as French, German , and Spanish it’s “zed”. How and why Americans ended up pronouncing Z this way I have no idea, but I’ve found that we like to be a little different from everyone else sometimes.


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