Culture Shock: Surprising Aspects of American Life for Foreign Visitors

03 Nov 2023

Everywhere in the world, people watch American movies, TV shows, and programs. It seems like through them, one can understand a lot about life in America. However, when foreigners come to the USA, they still experience cultural shock. This happens because what Americans consider normal appears very strange to them. What specifically surprises foreigners who come to the USA?

1. The Cult of Footwear

Foreigners find it surprising that Americans wear shoes both at home and when visiting others. Moreover, they guess it is unusual to see residents of America comfortably jumping on a couch in their shoes, even if it's white. However, there's a reason behind this behavior. In the USA, the roads are very clean. Alleys, highways, and bridges aren't just washed with water; they are cleaned using specialized substances.

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2. A Surprising American Trend

A lot of people from other countries find it unexpected to see Americans shopping in their pajamas. This practice, considered unconventional in many parts of the world, is a common sight in the United States. Americans, seemingly unfazed by traditional dress codes, feel comfortable heading to stores in their sleepwear, which might include cozy pajama sets, slippers, and even robes. To outsiders, this casual approach to shopping attire is a unique cultural phenomenon, highlighting the diverse and relaxed lifestyle embraced by many Americans.

2. A Surprising American Trend.jpg?format=webp@Supermarket welcomes shoppers in PJs/OtagoDailyTimes/

3. Guns

In the USA, there is a huge number of stores where they sell weapons. What's more, you can buy it in some supermarkets. There are 120 rifles for every 100 residents in the USA. This fact surprises foreigners because the free circulation of weapons can lead to an increase in crime, incidents of violence, and even terrorist acts.

3. Guns.jpg?format=webp@Testing the CHEAPEST GUNS Sold at WALMART!!! (Surprising Result!)/FLAIR/

4. Antidepressant advertising

In most countries around the world, antidepressants are sold only by prescription, so you won't see advertisements for these medications on television. However, in America, these drugs are widely advertised, which seems very unusual to foreigners. However, the residents of the United States themselves often use antidepressants. In fact, some of them take these medications for almost their entire lives.

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5. Unique Birthday Traditions

In most countries around the world, it's customary to give gifts and host elaborate feasts on birthdays. However, in America, the celebrant is primarily greeted with words. Of course, they also celebrate and often go to a bar or restaurant. But to the surprise of foreigners, in the USA, the birthday person doesn't settle the bill on this day: it's paid for by their guests. This, in fact, is their gift for the occasion. 

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6. Complimentary beverage refills

For many people outside the United States, the soda cups in fast food chains seem strange primarily because of their large size. However, their surprise grows when they learn that these cups come with unlimited refills. 

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7. Hollywood Smile for Passersby

In the USA, people openly smile at passersby, strangers in stores or cafes, and even in restrooms. This friendly demeanor, known as the American friendliness culture, can be unexpected for tourists. With time, people gradually adapt to this practice and often begin responding with smiles themselves.

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8. Approaching Strangers on the Street - Taboo

While in many European countries, people confidently initiate conversations on the streets, in the USA, such practice is not common. Moreover, an American is unlikely to approach a woman in public space or in public transport to ask for her phone number. Such boldness might even lead to accusations of harassment. 

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9. Love for Cold

In America, there's a culture of air conditioning. Offices, stores, and restaurants always have air conditioning set at very low temperatures. People often even bring warm clothing with them to avoid freezing indoors. For Europeans, such practice is quite peculiar. It takes them some time to get used to these local customs. 

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10. Addressing Issues Through Authorities

The majority of Americans are generally non-confrontational individuals. They often avoid conflicts, but it doesn't mean that they turn a blind eye to things they find unacceptable. In any ambiguous or seemingly trivial situation, even to a tourist, Americans will readily involve the police, whether it's smoking in a restricted area or an untimely trimmed lawn – expect people in uniform to step in.

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11. Tipping Culture

In many countries, leaving tips is optional, typically around 10%. In Japan and Australia, this practice doesn't even exist, as locals believe that payment for services is solely the employer's responsibility. Hence, many foreigners are astonished that in America, not only are tips obligatory, but they range significantly, from 18 to 25% of the bill. Moreover, the burden of this additional cost falls on the person utilizing services, be it in a restaurant or a taxi. 

11. Tipping Culture.jpg?format=webp@American Things Europeans Can't Understand/BE AMAZED/

12. Cities for Cars

In America, cities are primarily designed for cars, not people. Pedestrian pathways are limited and narrow, but there are numerous parking lots in large areas designated for cars. This aspect of American infrastructure shocks foreigners, who are astonished by the absence of a pedestrian-friendly environment in these cities. 


13. Very hearty portions

In American restaurants, portions of food are exceptionally large. This is a characteristic feature of their cuisine, where generous servings are considered the norm. Regardless of the type of establishment - be it a café, fast-food restaurant, or upscale dining place - portions here are usually substantial, which can surprise foreign guests. This reflects the American hospitality culture, where the phrase "double portion" can treat you to delicious dishes more than once. 

13. Very hearty portions.jpg?format=webp@American Things Europeans Can't Understand/BE AMAZED/

14. Unusual Measurement System

The measurement system in the USA differs from the one commonly used in Europe, which can be a source of surprise for foreigners. Americans use the imperial measurement system, where weight is measured in pounds, distance in miles, and temperature in Fahrenheit. In Europe, the metric system is used, where weight is measured in kilograms, distance in kilometers, and temperature in Celsius. This difference can lead to minor misunderstandings in communication or during purchases, but typically, foreigners quickly adapt to the American measurement system during their stay in the country. 

14. Unusual Measurement System.jpg?format=webp@Visit USA - 10 Culture Shocks Foreign Tourists Have When They Visit America/Wolters World/

15. How do you do?

Americans often use formal greetings such as "How do you do?" or "How are you?" as a facet of their polite social customs and communication practices. However, not all foreigners understand that these expressions don't always require a detailed response. In most cases, these expressions are a way to show courtesy and respect to the person being addressed, and the answer can be a simple phrase like "Fine, thank you" or “I'm doing well.”

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16. A lot of Ice 

In the USA, water is always served with ice, never at room temperature, which often surprises foreigners. This habit applies not only to water but also to other beverages, including coffee. If a customer doesn't specify that they want a hot drink, they will automatically be served drinks with ice.

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17. Alcohol Consumption in Public Spaces

In many cultures, it is considered absolutely normal to drink alcohol outdoors. Italians enjoy a drink on the steps of cathedrals, the French like to grab a bottle of wine for a picnic in the city park, and Germans take pleasure in good beer on the go. However, in the USA, public consumption of alcohol is prohibited. This lack of this common indulgence surprises many Europeans living here.

17. Alcohol Consumption in Public Spaces.jpg?format=webp@Underage Non Alcoholic Beer in Public/Stephin Dixon/

18. Driving at 16: A Peculiar American Tradition

One of the peculiarities that often baffle foreigners in the United States is the practice of allowing 16-year-olds to drive. While in many countries obtaining a driver's license at such a young age might seem like madness, it's a common rite of passage for American teenagers. This cultural contrast highlights the differences in attitudes toward youth independence and responsibility.

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19. Where is maternity leave?

Foreign tourists are surprised that in such a developed country like America, there is still no adequate maternity leave. Mothers often return to work shortly after childbirth. Meanwhile, many European countries offer substantial paid parental leaves, ensuring new mothers have enough time to bond with their infants without financial pressure. This disparity in approaches to supporting new parents underscores the differences in social and economic priorities worldwide. 

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20. Vacation Norms

For Americans, taking little or no vacation is considered normal. They are allowed no more than two weeks off per year. Often, Americans take only a week, or sometimes they don't go on vacation at all. Americans are workaholics. They work a lot to earn more money. Europeans, on the contrary, prefer their own life over a job. For example, in Finland, the vacation lasts for 30 days, highlighting the difference in approaches to leisure between countries.

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21. Advertising Overload

During a 30-minute TV show, no less than 10 minutes are allocated for commercials. It's not just about the overall time; the ad breaks are frequent. In Europe, less time is dedicated to advertising, so foreigners find the intensity of these ad inserts surprising.

21. Advertising Overload.jpg?format=webp@American Things Europeans Can't Understand/BE AMAZED/

22. Cheese Everywhere

In the USA, cheese can be found on practically every dish, from burgers to salads and sandwiches. This characteristic of American cuisine can be quite surprising for foreign tourists. Cheese is used as a filling, topping, or accompaniment, making it a popular choice for many dishes. Sometimes, it can even be seen in unexpected combinations, such as cheese and pineapple on pizza, which has become a notable feature of American culinary uniqueness.

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23. A game where feet don't play the main role

American football is a sport where players don't use their feet to move the ball. In fact, the main tools in this game are hands and body. This type of sport surprises many tourists, especially those who expect to see a game where feet play a major role, like in soccer or rugby. However, despite its name, American football has its unique rules and tactics, making it an exciting game for many Americans and sports fans. 

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24. The Lengthy Pharmacy Receipts

In most American pharmacies, a receipt measuring three feet in length may seem peculiar to many foreign tourists. However, according to U.S. law, the receipt must contain detailed information about the medication, dosage, and possible side effects.

24. The Lengthy Pharmacy Receipts.jpg?format=webp@Why CVS Receipts Are Intentionally, Ridiculously Long - Cheddar Explains/Cheddar/

25. Unhealthy Competitions

In the USA, there is a tradition of competing to see who can eat the most sausages in a short amount of time. This phenomenon is known as "eating competitions." However, foreigners often believe that such a championship can cause significant harm to one's health, and no amount of money can rectify the situation afterward.

25. Unhealthy Competitions.jpg?format=webp@$6000 BURGER EATING CONTEST (World's Biggest) In Washington DC | Z Burger 2023/ Joel Hansen/

26. Real Life VS Reality 

Americans adore various reality shows, especially The Kardashians. They idealize celebrities and believe that anyone can become famous and prominent. Foreigners do not understand such fanaticism and prefer their own lives over television.

26. Real Life VS Reality .jpg?format=webp@Khloe Kardashian's REALEST Moments, Scott Causes Trouble & More | Kards-A-Thon | KUWTK | E!/Keeping Up With The Kardashians/

27. Passion for peanut butter

In the United States, they simply can't imagine their life without peanut butter. They eat it almost every day, which surprises some foreign tourists. Furthermore, Americans love this product so much that they named several of their states after it: Peanut, California; Lower Peanut, Pennsylvania; Upper Peanut, Pennsylvania; Peanut, Pennsylvania; Peanut, Tennessee; and Peanut, West Virginia.

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28. Cheese Paste Enthusiasts

Americans' passion for cheese finds an extraordinary expression in the form of cheese paste. This spread has conquered their hearts, allowing true enthusiasts of this product to indulge to savor its taste anytime, anywhere. The ability to carry this paste around has created a culture where cheese aficionados can indulge in their favorite flavor at any moment. This exceptional fondness for cheese sometimes astonishes tourists who don't have such a habit in their own culture. 

28. Cheese Paste Enthusiasts.jpg?format=webp@Visit USA - 10 Culture Shocks Foreign Tourists Have When They Visit America/Wolters World/

29. Traveling Long Distances

For many Eurpeans, long traveling across America can be a real challenge. Accustomed to short trips between cities in Europe, where car journeys can take just a few hours, covering distances like from New York to Miami (over 2000 km) or from Miami to Las Vegas (over 4000 km) in America seems daunting. Trips can last from 18 to 36 hours, and drivers are required to cover thousands of miles continuously. 

29. Traveling Long Distances.jpg?format=webp@Calculate distance between two cities 720p/Nancy Johnson/

30. The Hidden Costs 

In America, the price tag on an item or the menu in a restaurant rarely reflects the actual amount you will pay. This is because sales tax, which varies from state to state, is added at the cash register. For example, if you pick up an item marked at $10, you might end up paying $10.80 or more, depending on the local sales tax rate. This unexpected addition can catch tourists off guard, as they are accustomed to the final price being clearly displayed.

30. The Hidden Costs .jpg?format=webp@American Things Europeans Can't Understand/BE AMAZED/

31. Public Restroom Privacy

Many Europeans are puzzled by the large gap between the floor and the door of public restroom stalls. Some tourists feel like someone might be watching them. However, there is an explanation for this. It is related to safety: if someone suddenly feels unwell, others will notice and call for medical help. 

31. Public Restroom Privacy.jpg?format=webp@Listening to "Lana Del Rey's Love" in the bathroom crying at prom after seeing Chad kiss Stacy/Ram/

32. Patriotism

Americans celebrate their country with incredible dedication and faith. The term "Americanism" reflects this phenomenon - an ideology that embodies the belief and loyalty to America, its culture, values, and customs. Citizens of the USA sometimes affectionately refer to their country as "Murica" with love and humor. This dedication to national ideals might seem intense to foreigners, but at the same time, it also evokes fascination and intrigue. 

32. Patriotism.jpg?format=webp@Visit USA - 10 Culture Shocks Foreign Tourists Have When They Visit America/Wolters World/

33. Fast Food Everywhere

One defining feature of American culture is the ubiquitous presence of fast food. From bustling city streets to remote highways, quick-service restaurants are a common sight, offering quick and convenient meals to people on the go. This phenomenon has shaped not only American eating habits but also the global perception of national cuisine. The strong dependence on fast food surprises foreign tourists, even though they themselves often enjoy indulging in either a burger or a hamburger. 

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34. Conditions of Rent Payments

In the USA, to pay for rent, you first need to write a check. This practice might seem unusual to foreign tourists, as many other countries rely on electronic payments or cash for such transactions. But that's not all. To finalize a rental agreement, a variety of documents are required, from your Social Security Number to a bank statement confirming your reliable credit history. 

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35. Wealthy People Don't Stand Out

Many visitors to the United States have noticed that, for the most part, wealthy citizens do not seek to stand out. Instead, they live like many other, less affluent people and drive ordinary cars.

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36. Life behind the wheel

In the USA, Americans have a preference for receiving various services without having to step out of their cars. Drive-through facilities are common for services such as banking, fast food, pharmacies, and even coffee shops. Americans value convenience and time-saving, which is why drive-through options are widely available. The reliance on car-centric services showcases a distinct aspect of American culture that sets it apart from some other nations.

36. Life behind the wheel.jpg?format=webp@6 REASONS WHY AMERICANS ARE OBESE. WHAT IS CAUSING THE RISING OBESITY IN THE USA?/Genius Tomato/

37. Lawyers at Every Turn

Many tourists are intrigued by the fact that in every corner of the USA, practically at every step, you will encounter advertisements for lawyers and their services. There is fierce competition among legal experts in the country, with each one vying for clients. 

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38. Bold Squirrels in US Parks

Many tourists find it strange to see a squirrel in US parks and their extremely bold behavior towards people. For instance, this animal confidently approaches a person who is eating nuts in Central Park, New York, and takes a snack from their hands. Instead of fleeing, the squirrel waits for another portion of nuts.

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39. American Obsession with Unicorns

Foreigners find it peculiar that America is obsessed with unicorns, especially in the form of rainbow-colored food and drinks. Although, they acknowledge the visual appeal, many of them still consider the abundance of unicorns to be excessive. 

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40. The Overwhelming Variety of American Supermarkets

When foreign tourists enter an American supermarket, their eyes widen at the incredible variety of snacks and products from different brands. The choices on American store shelves are overwhelmingly vast. Cereals, for instance, come in hundreds of different types, brands, and flavors. This plethora of options often compels tourists to spend a lot of time choosing products because the diversity can be overwhelming. 

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41. Renovation Licenses

Citizens of the USA, when planning renovations, must obtain a license. It doesn't matter if they decide to build a fence, replace the flooring, or paint the doors. They need to coordinate all the details and obtain permission for the planned changes from the local Department of Building. Violating this rule leads to a penalty.

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42. Common Practice in the USA

In America, cash is used less frequently. Additionally, every American typically owns multiple credit cards, which they actively use. Foreigners find this unfamiliar and often try to rely on personal funds for transactions.

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43. Long Queues 

In the United States, especially in public places, long queues are a part of everyday life. Americans typically wait patiently in lines for hours, expecting service. The longest queues on Black Friday, which originated from Americans, are in the USA. This practice can seem peculiar to many foreign tourists who are not accustomed to such waiting in their countries. 

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44. Pharmacy Surprises

Foreign tourists find it extremely challenging to navigate American pharmacies. In European countries, drug shops sell only medicines, but in the USA, you can buy literally everything: clothes, alcohol, sunglasses. However, finding a shelf with medicines can be quite a task. 

44. Pharmacy Surprises.jpg?format=webp@Small business stories : What is it like being a small business pharmacist?/XLN/

45. Expensive healthcare

All Americans insure their health. If you don't do this, you'll have to pay a considerable amount for treatment. The prices for medical examinations and consultations with doctors are exorbitant. Specifically, the cost of health insurance varies from $200 to the most basic package of services. And this greatly concerns foreign tourists. 

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46. Jogging Restrictions

In the United States, there is a specific rule that might seem strange to foreigners: you can only jog within your own neighborhood. This means that if you reside in a particular part of the city or district, you can only run there and should not venture beyond its boundaries. This restriction is implemented to ensure safety and avoid misunderstandings or conflicts with other residents.

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47. French fries

Many foreigners believe that French fries originated in America. However, they actually have their roots in France. It was a highly popular street food in Europe at one point. In America, this dish became popular among French immigrants. Hence, it is referred to as "French fries" in the USA.

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48. Alcohol Regulations

In the United States, the legal drinking age is 21, whereas in many other countries, it is 18. When buying alcohol, individuals need to present their ID, regardless of their age, which might be evident. If a group is purchasing alcohol, everyone is expected to show their identification. These regulations can appear unusual to tourists.

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49. Pizza enthusiasts

Every American consumes 13 kg of pizza per year. They eat it on holidays and as a regular meal replacement. Certainly, pizza is delicious, but consuming a large quantity of it is harmful to health.

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50. Trailers

In the USA, trailers are one of the typical features of American culture. The main advantage of transport is their mobility. This allows the opportunity to go out into nature and travel while saving on hotels. Many Americans even choose to live in a mobile home. Currently, 9 million Americans own trailers, despite having their own permanent residence. 

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