The truth is in the eye of the beholder. For Americans, this means endless free refills, red solo cups and supermarket aisles dedicated to an entire kingdom of cereals, sour and crunchy, salty and sweet, family boxes and portion size. For Europeans, this is something they only see during Netflix TV series while shamelessly devouring entire seasons on rainy Sundays.
But in order to find out what cultural differences really stand out as major when comparing the American lifestyle and the rest of the world, one has to look at what people themselves have to say. So we compiled a list of the best answers that reveal what’s totally normal in the US but looks very out-of-this-world in other countries below.
If you have something to add, please hit us in the comment section! And in case you’re in the mood for more culture shocks, check out our previous article on an American living in Italy who shares the incredible USA vs. Italy culture differences she has experienced.
The idolization of politicians. They are public servants, similar to a courthouse clerk or a city hall coordinator. They are not rock stars. You dont need to scream their name, buy their merch, fully commit your life to them and believe everything they say. Just... treat them like public servants. Sure, they get power and position, but hold them accountable when they abuse it. Dont let corporations and politicians take over, the political system is created by the people, FOR the people. It just... boggles the mind.
When you are 18 years old, you can be shipped to a foreign country to kill humans, but you are not allowed to drink alcohol.
To find out more about what an American living abroad had to say about cultural differences, Bored Panda reached out to Kacie Burns, actor and dancer from Canton, Michigan, who has been documenting her daily adventures after moving to live in Florence, Italy. Kacie has a whopping 479.6K followers on her TikTok, where she has amassed 12.9M likes for her fun and lighthearted videos.
Having lived in Europe for quite some time now, Kacie has confirmed that American culture is really different from European in so many ways. “Everything from what they eat to how they dress to what they value to culture/society norms—and then it differs even further when you look at the cultural differences between different European countries,” Kacie told us.
Gratuitous violence in entertainment is normal. But show one boob and people lose their [minds].
Why the big amount of flat-earth and antivax people?? Is your education system not doing well??
She also said that she experienced “major cultural shocks living in Italy, but I know that if I visit or live in any other European country, I'll experience different culture shocks there as well.” The biggest lifestyle and mindset difference Kacie sees is “the old saying, 'Americans live to work, while Europeans work to live.' It's so true.”
Being concerned when anyone speaks a language you can't understand.
I live in India and we have 22 language here, with multiple dialects of the each language.
Actively avoiding healthcare visits/checkups because if there's something wrong and you don't have the money to pay for treatment, then you'd rather just not know
That women only get about 6 weeks off work after having a baby and it's most likely to be unpaid.
She added that in general, “Americans are constantly on the go—constantly working, constantly moving, constantly striving for the next best thing, which is great for its own reasons, but I've also found that because of this, Americans are much more stressed, much more overworked, and much more burnt out compared to Europeans.”
Kacie recounted that when she moved to Italy, one of the biggest culture shocks she experienced was “how Italians take time during their day to slow down and relax, whether it be closing the store for 3 hours in the afternoon to go home and spend time with family or having mandatory paid vacation weeks by law, no matter your job.”
Having said that, the actress and TikToker added that it also has its negative connotations “but in general I've found they make enjoying their life a priority. It's definitely something I've gathered is similar as a whole in Europe as well!”
American flags everywhere. I traveled throughout Europe and the Caribbean and I usually only saw their flag on government builds and here and there. Where as here in the USA the flag is like Franks Red Hot. We put them on everything. Magnets, churches, cars, condoms, every front porch, and street lamp. #murica
Registering to vote. As a Canadian, you're automatically enrolled when you turn 18 and get a notice where your polling station will be for every election.
Prescription drug ads encouraging people to ask their doctor about the drug being advertised.
Not using the metric system. Counting in football fields/moon landings instead... I don't get it.
When I was there during the last election I was shocked at how phrases like ‘well they have the black vote’ or the ‘Latino vote’ came up all the time on the radio. Obviously it’s not racist but it’s just something that would never come up in my country. Like, why would latino people all vote for the same person?
Having only two parties: Republicans and Democrats. I know there are some smaller parties, but the system is stacked against them.
Ambulance rides costing money seems pretty absurd to people from other countries.
Toilet cubicles, where people not only can peek, but an adult person could crawl into your cubicle, there is so much space under the "door".
Not putting the final price on the tag. I'm not sure whether it's still like this, but a few years ago one never knew whether the $1.00 item in McDonald's or Burger King is actually $1.00 or maybe $1.08.
The enabling customer service culture.
It’s created excessive portions in restaurants, created Karen, gives way to a disposable attitude towards products, and generally gives a sense of entitlement where most people start adding it to their list of rights.
The minimal amount of paid days off you get from work. A friend of mine from Wisconsin was very proud he got 20 days off per year. If someone in Germany would offer me only 20 days, I would laugh at him and leave.
Attack ads against political opponents, ads for law firms or lawyers. These kinds of ads are illegal and considered unethical in our country. Also expecting a teenager to be out of the house by the time they're 18. I live in Southeast Asia. There's no stigma about living with one's parents. Most of the time, there will be three generations living in one house.
Not owning kettles and MICROWAVING their water for coffee/tea.
You have $4.50 in your pocket. The fancy drink is advertised at $3.99. Do you have enough money to buy it? Dunno!
This one is more on the positive side, because I think we could learn some from it.
Talking and sharing your life with complete strangers. I have met quite a few americans so it seems the norm that you share and engage with strangers in public. The bus, train, parks etc. And then you go on your way.
In Denmark you'd be a "freak" if you did that.
Joining the army for college money and free healthcare.
Also how religious they are
I never understood why people in American TV series lost their house and job just because they got really sick.
Then I found out that it can happen in America.
While on my travels I've noticed that Americans have a totally different expectation on what service you get in restaurants and cafes and sh*t in Europe. Like the waiter arrives at their table seconds after they've sat down and takes their order and when he's out of ear shot they complain about the bad service. It's like if they don't get the OMG HOW ARE YOU GUYS MY NAME IS MIGUEL AND I'LL BE YOUR WAITER THIS EVENING and then have their water topped up every 20 seconds then it's bad service
Nipples, or in general the hyper-sexualisation of nudity
Being able to vote before reaching the legal drinking age
As a Brit living in America the amount of pharmaceutical commercials on TV is creepy.
I've been to New Orleans, and everyone was calling me "honey", "sugar", "babe", "sunshine", and "love". I found it very sweet, blushed every time and generally, couldn't get enough of it.
On the other hand, the amount of ice you put in drinks is ridiculous.
2017 in Athens, Georgia I passed out at work and was fine but my boss had already called an ambulance and insisted I get checked out...a less than 2 mile ambulance ride cost me $950 with insurance. I was only dehydrated...
Willingly putting yourself massively in debt for a college degree.
I come from a place with free university education (which has its own drawbacks of course), and the fact that you can make such a huge, life-altering decision at 17 is considered normal over there, that seems downright bizarre to me.
Asking everyone “what do you do?” when you first meet them. I live outside the US and realized there are some people I’ve known for years and I still don’t know their job. I think in the US jobs are a bigger part of a person’s identity than in some other places.
My maternity leave was an unpaid 6 weeks, and I had to fight them on not shorting me because I went past my due date and didn’t keep working until the day I went into labor.
Side effects on medication adverts.
With James' Hayfever meds, I can get through the day with ease!
Side effects may include:
Loss of sight
Loss of hearing
Loss of sense of smell
Loss of consciousness
Extra large bottomless cups for cola or soft drinks.... you could bathe in those....
When I was studying in the UK I had to send some financial documents back to the US. The only way these documents were considered valid was if the original was mailed in, or if I faxed a copy. When I asked the printing office if they could fax it for me they looked at me like I was an alien and said the school hadn't owned a fax machines for like a decade. Then they asked me if I still use a VCR.
A flag in every corner of a classroom, and Americans being very patriotic to the stars and stripes. Other countries barely give a [poop] about their flags
That American kids eat straight sugar. Walked on to the playground and saw kids chugging these long thin sticks. I try and it was just colored sugar lol. Called them pixie sticks.
Just "dealing with" preventable and curable diseases instead of seeking medical attention out of fear of crippling debt.
Sueing for any possible reason. It's so common that there are commercials on tv and radio telling you to sue "x" company for "reason". Lawyer ads are also very common because of this.
When my family visited in 2017 we landed in Texas for a stopover. First thing I saw in the shops part of the terminal was a dude who was drinking from what looked like an actual bucket - here in NZ our “large” drinks would be considered an American “small” or maybe “medium”
The extent of the tipping culture is frankly shocking to me.
Being loud and rowdy when sober seems to be a very American thing.
Funny thing is, I’m American and considered a loud person in America. I can only imagine that my voice must sound like a f**king air horn to foreigners.
I've had several German friends who were amazed that at house parties everyone actually does drink out of red Solo cups. They thought that was just a weird thing people did in movies and now they think it is a huge conspiracy or something
People of Walmart
Living "paycheck to paycheck" despite making like 4 grands a month
Having to take out a second mortgage because you twisted your ankle in the wrong state.
Most shopping carts in the US have fixed backwheels. In Germany all 4 wheels are able to freely turn 360° which makes moving the cart around much easier.
That there are many libraries of all kinds in the United States.
I've never seen a Canadian drive down the road with two of their nation's flags on the back with flames shooting out from the sides of the truck.
I'm an American (born and raised), but I've heard that in other countries, strangers don't say hi or strike up conversations with each other. I know non-Americans are confused but let me explain:
Sometimes if you are say at an amusement park for example and you're waiting in line for a ride, strangers would strike conversations with you and such and this is actually pretty normal. Or say you are walking around in a park and you walk past by someone, you usually smile and say a quick "hi" as you are walking past that person.
I've had countless times where I've had people strike conversations with me that I didn't know. White people do this, but especially Black people do this a lot as well. Like you would see an old Black lady at a store and she'll just start talking to you.
I've had Europeans tell me that people would think you are mentally ill if you were to strike up conversations with strangers in Europe for example. Especially in Asian countries no one does this (I've heard). Strangers absolutely do not say a word to each other in Japan or China for example.
Side note: This may also be a regional thing in the US. I've lived in southern states mostly (like Texas) and people are really damn friendly down there. Now I live in Connecticut and people are way less friendly over here (no offense).
Probably not really European but Finnish, memes about forgotting to connect your phone to wifi. Here we have unlimited internet and it's working almost everywhere. Also the unlimited mobile data costs here like 30€ in month
I got off the plane and asked the cap guy how far the hotel was and he said about 30 miles. I almost had a heart attack... turns out cabs are cheaper than the Uk
I can't remember the price I paid but I was presently surprised.
The UK cabs are like £4 per mile
also you would get laughed of the taxi for asking to go 30 miles and not taking the train
There was a 24-hour pharmacy across the street from our apartment. Nothing shocking there, except it also sold booze and cigarettes.
One positive thing I've noticed, foreigners love how big Halloween is here.
At least in the Midwest, the soft smiles you give to strangers if you make eye contact while walking past them. Did not go over so well in Germany.
As an American I was shocked to learn that not every school internationally has a building cop
Injured people try to avoid getting ambulances called for them.
Just the sheer scale of it. I could drive the distance from the most northern part of Scotland to the most southern part of Cornwall and still be in Texas. How is that possible?!
They have garbage disposals in their kitchens. That's just so wild to me.
Lemonade. I'm America, but there was a post going around a while back about an American who ordered a lemonade at a restaurant in Australia and was confused to receive a Sprite. The op of the post was the server, and thought it was just the American being snooty for being confused. Then commenters from other nonUS countries chimed in on what a lemonade is to them. It blew my mind, because in the US lemonade is so iconic as a summer drink, and is often homemade.
Eta: lemonade is not water with lemon in it. It requires sugar and preparation.
Second edit: to all the people commenting "hello America, I'm dad" pay your child support. You can't just walk out on an entire country like that and show up suddenly now that I've got karma
When I went to New York I was flabbergasted by the amount of people just loitering on the streets or having phone conversations that everyone can hear on the train like npcs from GTA.
People outside of the USA don't hang out in public or let other people into their business on public transport.
I managed to hear a woman talk about how her baby daddy wasn't going to her daughters birthday party and I started to pick side's in her personal life, while walking through Central Park I heard two friends with a substantial age gap talk about everyone in their friend group having mistresses and they were trading information on the mistress facts each of them knew for their respective friends, I got invested in that one so I folliwed them for a while (pretending I wasn't) because I wanted the tea.
Biscuits and gravy is a legit thing. Also you can ride motorcycles without helmets in some states??? And your iced tea isn't sweetened unless you ask for sweet.
Sports Bars are actually exactly how they're portrayed on TV
That Dolly Parton has her own theme park in Tennessee. I thought it was a joke.
How cheap food is - I was in Chicago so it was good food too
Tasty cheap food, who wouldn't get fat?
That higher education can cost upwards of $50,000 per year.
Say "I'll just have water" at a restaurant and not be charged for it or be asked "What kind?"
Not really crazy, but I just learned you guys have like outdoor sirens that get tested somewhat frequently. I’ve only heard those noises in video games and movies until my friend sent me a clip, because I had no idea it actually happened.
That you can rack up 100,000$ upward in debt easily through student loans.
I always thought that the Olive Garden in The Simpsons was just code for ‘generic restaurant’
The "Take me out to the ballgame song" thats apparently sung at baseball games. still not entirely sure that guy wasnt taking the piss out of me
That the entire traffic has to stop when a school bus stops.
Apparently, rolling coal is actually a thing.