15 Common American Practices That Are Unusual Abroad

Forget apple pie and baseball games – there’s a whole other side to American “normal” that might surprise you. We’re talking mega-portions, different state laws, and enough ice in your drink to build a snowman. Get ready to explore some surprising American customs that you think are normal but are uniquely American

Hanging Flags Everywhere

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Unlike many countries, the American flag isn’t just for special occasions. It’s a common sight on houses, cars, and even lapels. This love of displaying the national symbol is a hallmark of American culture. From suburban homes to bustling city streets, Americans proudly wear their patriotism on their sleeve – or should we say, on their flagpole.

Supersized Portions

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Supersized portions are an American staple, from fast food to movie theater popcorn. When you order a meal at an American restaurant, be prepared for a generous serving. From towering burgers to heaped plates of pasta, Americans have perfected the art of more is better. While Americans might see them as just getting our money’s worth, these portions are eyebrow-raising globally.

Each State Has Different Laws

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The US stands out for its decentralized legal system. Unlike many countries with uniform national laws, each US state has its own legal code. Imagine thinking something is perfectly legal, only to discover it’s prohibited in the next state. Traffic laws, alcohol purchase ages, and even gambling regulations can differ. This can be a point of confusion but also a reminder of the unique federal-state balance in the US.

The Tipping Culture

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Tipping is a cultural norm in the US. Unlike many places, tipping isn’t just a token of appreciation—it’s a significant part of a server’s income. While 15-20% is the norm, some restaurants even add a mandatory gratuity. This can be a shock for those coming from cultures where tipping is seen differently.

Iced Water

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While many cultures find room-temperature water perfectly refreshing, US restaurants automatically serve it ice-cold. Americans have a deep-seated love for iced water, a preference that might surprise visitors. In the US, fridges boast built-in ice makers; even at home, water gets the chilling treatment.

Having Different Time Zones

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Unlike many countries, the US stretches across multiple time zones. This means depending on where you are, the sun could be setting while someone just a few states away is enjoying their lunch break. This can be confusing for visitors who are coordinating schedules or making calls across the country. It’s a reminder that the sheer size of the US creates unique experiences, even for its own citizens.

Talking Loud

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Americans are notorious for their booming voices. They chat at a perfectly normal level back home, but it can earn them confused stares or even a scolding abroad. Imagine the shock of getting the “stink eye” or a telling-off on public transportation – all for simply talking at your usual volume. This is a hilarious reminder that our cultural norms can be surprisingly loud.

Wearing Shoes Inside The House

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In many cultures around the world, taking shoes off upon entering a home is the norm. It’s seen as a sign of respect and a way to keep the inside clean. This can surprise Americans who’ve grown accustomed to tracking in dirt and grime without a thought. So next time you visit someone’s house abroad, ditch the shoes at the door – your host will thank you for it!

Free Refills

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Free refills of beverages, particularly soft drinks, are a quintessentially American phenomenon. Water isn’t treated as a free-flowing good in many countries, especially Europe. While some places may offer tap water for free, bottled water reigns supreme – and comes with a price tag. While many countries charge for each drink, the US has embraced the tradition of bottomless cups and infinite refills.

Using Imperial Measurements

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Stepping outside the US is a crash course in metric conversion. Those miles on the speedometer suddenly transform into kilometers. The metric system, used by most of the world, reigns supreme. Imagine the confusion of trying to explain your height in feet and inches or a recipe calling for cups and ounces. While Celsius might seem logical (water freezes at 0), Americans are accustomed to the quirks of Fahrenheit. So, next time you travel, brush up on your metric skills.


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The US celebrates action heroes and blockbuster battles, yet swearing on TV is a major no-no. This can be surprising for visitors who encounter uncensored language and visuals abroad. Imagine seeing an action movie with all the “colorful” language intact or a sitcom where characters don’t have to bleep out their frustrations. This cultural quirk highlights the paradoxical relationship between violence and language in American media.

Ambulance Rides Cost Money

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In the United States, calling an ambulance can be a major financial blow. Unlike many other countries, ambulance rides aren’t free, and the bill can soar into the thousands of dollars. This can be a real shock to visitors accustomed to universal healthcare or social programs that cover emergency medical transport.

Toilet Cubicle Gaps

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While many European and Asian countries offer near-complete privacy in their restroom stalls, American stalls have noticeable gaps. These spaces under the doors and along the sides often surprise visitors from other countries. Those seemingly harmless spaces might seem normal to you, but they’re a source of amusement (or horror) for visitors from different countries.

Microwaving Water For Tea

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While kettles are a global mainstay for tea and coffee lovers, Americans often reach for the microwave. The lower US voltage makes kettles slower, and the coffee culture in the US prioritizes speed over intricate brewing methods. So, the next time you see someone microwave their morning mug, remember it’s not about laziness but a different approach to that daily cup.

Milk in Gallon-Sized Containers

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Forget those pint-sized cartons – in America, milk comes in gallons. While you might be used to smaller options, US supermarkets tend to stock gallon jugs as the standard size. This can shock those accustomed to buying milk in smaller containers. So next time you’re craving a bowl of cereal, be prepared to embrace the land of the (gallon-sized) milk.

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