I'm an American who has been living in the US for 30 years, and even I can identify some cultural norms that must seem totally bizarre to non-Americans (for starters, sales taxes still confuse the daylights out of me). So Redditor u/JuniorGarlic6053 asked, "Non-American people, what’s a thing that you don’t understand about America?" Here's what people said.
1."The way that Americans seem to be liberal or conservative, and they will support their side no matter what bad decisions are made. In Ireland, we frequently change allegiance in terms of political parties and support the ones that are doing the most for the people at that time. We are person-centerd, not party-centerd. I could never understand this about America."
2."American high schools. Growing up watching American media made my perception of high school so distorted. Apparently at some point in one's late teens to mid-twenties, you're still attending school, but you're also dating on a pretty serious basis and have a car and a job (not to mention a fairly dedicated sports career), and if you're really driven you might also be in a band and tutor while managing the yearbook, school newspaper, and local Shakespeare production. And you still find another two hours to spend lunch with your friends at the mall!"
3."The fact that workers have to file their own taxes, even though the government knows how much everyone owes. But they won’t tell you. They make you do complicated calculations based on a set of ever-evolving rules to figure it out. And then they fine you if you’re wrong."
4."As a Scottish person, I'm baffled by the work culture. It seems that Americans are always working or available to be working. They take minimal vacation time and minimal maternity/paternity leave. Add to that the fact that companies can pretty much just let employees go. It makes me sad to think about it!"
5."Pajama day at school. This is just the weirdest thing in the world. In Russia, there is an important distinction between clothes for home and clothes for outside. 'Home clothes' are your cozy or ugly clothes that you are supposed to change into after school or work. At bedtime, you change out of your home clothes and into pajamas. As a result, pajamas are considered to be extra-extra private. So private, in fact, that the idea of pajama day in the US sounds like people go to school wearing only undergarments."
6."Why do they buy politicians' merchandise like shirts, caps, banners, stickers, etc. Politicians are public servants, not rockstars, after all."
7."I visited the US for the first time in December and many things confused me, but one that stood out: billboards. There were billboards all along the highway. Everywhere! Most of them for advertisements for scummy looking lawyers. Why do these exist?"
8."I do find it odd and confusing that service industry workers aren’t paid appropriately. As such, really stresses me out because I know it’s not simply a bonus for great service in the US."
9."The sheer amount of sugar in so many foods in America. It's so very, very much."
10."WHY IS THERE NO EAST VIRGINIA???"
11."Why do Americans mount their TVs so high up the wall? I understand that sometimes it’s because there’s a fireplace below, but how do they watch TV without straining their necks?"
12."Why most of your shower heads are glued to the wall. How on earth do you wash...all of your parts?"
13."I would love to know why public restrooms include a small opening between the doors that allows passersby to see you while you're taking a piss."
14."Why so many American parents just kick their kids out of the house at 18. If they get into financial trouble in their early 20s parents just say, 'you're on your own.'"
15."What is up with homeowner associations in the US? Why would anyone pay to let a nosy neighbor dictate what you can and can not do on your own property? I understand living in an apartment block and paying maintenance fees, but why would you do that to live in a suburban home?"
16."How everything is just so supersized. When I was in America for the first time I went to get an iced coffee from Dunkin. I ordered a large and my friend was like, "Are you sure you want a large?" I figured it was no biggie since in the UK a large beverage is not overwhelming. Turns out, the American version of a large was like a damn bucket of coffee. I learned that lesson quickly."
17."I’m American but I’ve worked with a lot of non-Americans and they are always curious why Americans are so obsessed with the NFL. They all think it’s a boring sport. As one explained it to me, 'you wait 30 seconds for them to hike the ball, then you get about five seconds of action, then you wait another 30 seconds for another five seconds of action, and then it's a commercial break.'"
18."The common culture of just talking to people — strangers you don't know will just start a conversation with you or join in on a discussion. I'm British, and we go through great lengths to not talk to people. The idea of pouring my heart out to a complete stranger is unimaginable."
19."How Americans have to share a room with some complete stranger when they go to college."
20."The exorbitant cost of healthcare and higher education. Isn’t having a healthy and educated population what society would benefit from the most?"
21."Waiting like eight weeks after your elections until the new guy comes into power is pretty damn weird."
22."That there are like 50,000 kids in your high schools."
23."College and even high school sports. One of the last times I was in the US I passed a high school. Their football field looked like a university stadium — complete with lights, stands, logos, and advertising. My Canadian high school had football too but nobody cared about it other than the team and the players’ families."
24."The fact that many Americans are given just ten vacation days a year. There’s life outside of work!"
25."Valet parking. Why would I want some stranger messing with my car? I can park my own car, thank you very much."
26."The tipping culture is so foreign to me. If I ever visit the US, I'll be so scared of making a mistake or not tipping enough because this just isn't something that is common here in Denmark."
27."How people commonly wear shoes indoors. It is intensely weird to me. American floors [will] either be extremely dirty or require very frequent cleaning. There doesn't seem to be any good reason to wear shoes inside."
28."Pledging allegiance. To me, this is just silly. I love my country, but I would never expect or be expected to stand and salute the flag in school."
29."Why is one state Kansas, but the other is not pronounced Ar- Kansas?"
If you've traveled abroad or spent significant time in another country, what cultural norms or common behaviors did you find confusing or intriguing? Tell us in the comments!