18 Things Most People Don’t Realize Are American Until They Went Abroad

Krystal Smith

Ever wondered what makes you stand out as an American when you’re abroad? From tailgates to strict drinking laws, here are 18 things we do that seem peculiar to the rest of the world.

Tailgates

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Imagine a massive parking lot jam-packed with tipsy twenty-year-olds partying on trucks larger than many European apartments. Music is blaring, solo cups and beer cans are scattered around, and there’s grilling everywhere. The tradition of transforming your car into a party spot has yet to catch on in other parts of the world, making it a uniquely American phenomenon.

Root Beer

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Root beer is one of the few things that scream “America.” You will only find root beer here besides one Australian and a few Canadian brands. It’s an exclusively American soft drink. People in other countries can’t understand why someone would pour a medicinal-flavored beverage over delicious ice cream.

Too Sweet Candies

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American candy stands out for its extra sweetness, thanks to the generous use of sweetening ingredients like sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Even Americans admit that while it may taste good, eating more than a few pieces at once can be overwhelming. In contrast, candies from Europe and Japan lean towards milder flavors, prioritizing a balanced sweetness.

Public Drinking Laws

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Most U.S. states say no to sipping from open alcohol bottles in public, even on the streets. These rules also extend to inside cars – no open containers for drivers or passengers. The aim of these strict laws is to tackle public intoxication and keep people off the road when they’ve had a drink. For comparison, drinking in public in European countries is legal and considered socially normal.

Measuring Distance in Blocks

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In the U.S., people often measure distance in “blocks,” also known as the Manhattan Metric. Whether guiding someone to a restaurant or describing where they live, it’s all about blocks – like “five blocks away.” But mention this elsewhere, and you might get puzzled looks. The block system works well in planned U.S. cities but isn’t shared elsewhere.

S’mores

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S’mores aren’t really a thing outside the U.S. People in the U.K. or Australia know about them from American pop culture. Still, they need the crackers, which are challenging to find. Instead, they toast marshmallows over a campfire, usually with sticks or skewers. In other countries, bacon on a stick or sausages are the go-to campfire treats.

Sink-Mounted Garbage Disposals

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You know that noisy, mechanical monster under the sink that chews up anything in its path? That’s the garbage disposal unit, a common kitchen gadget in the U.S. However, it’s a rare sight in Europe due to local rules that don’t allow them. Over there, folks are more accustomed to tossing food scraps into the trash.

Baggers in Grocery Stores

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In the U.S., many busy grocery stores have both cashiers and baggers. While the cashier scans your items, the bagger takes care of packing. Alternatively, the cashier might handle both tasks. In Europe, people bag groceries, and there’s a divider at the register to accommodate two customers. Bags are available for purchase, making it a practical system that eases the cashier’s workload.

Proms

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In the United States, high school and sometimes middle school students begin the prom season. Prom is short for promenade, a time to dress up and celebrate with classmates. While some countries, such as Sweden, have similar events called “student balls,” the American prom is usually more formal.

Sweet Sixteen Parties

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In some countries, the concept of celebrating Sweet 16 parties is confusing. Why do Americans make such a big deal of it when turning 16 doesn’t grant any extra rights or adulthood status? The “Sweet 16” tradition may have roots in marking a girl’s transition to making her own choices and dressing up. Mexico has a parallel tradition called La Quinceanera for the 15th birthday, but many other countries lack a similar custom.

Ranch Dressing

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Although not popular, you can buy ranch dressing in Europe, but it can be a bit tricky to find in stores. It’s just not a big deal over there. Interestingly, in the Netherlands, they even call Cool Ranch Doritos “Cool American Doritos.” As for Asia, they’ve got miso, soy sauce, and umami, but ranch dressing is not something they’re into.

Wearing Shoes Indoors

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In the U.S., many families wear shoes indoors, but people from other countries often find it strange. According to a report, 23% of Brits wear shoes at home. It’s different in Asia and the Middle East. There, taking off shoes inside is a sign of respect to homeowners. In places like Norway, it’s practical—shoes might be wet and messy due to the weather.

Portion Sizes

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Restaurants in the U.S. often serve huge meals, following a mindset of “the more, the better.” If you didn’t grow up in the United States (or Canada, where it’s a bit better but still significant), you’ll be amazed at how much food you get for a reasonable price. On the flip side, European diets usually feature smaller portions, placing importance on quality rather than quantity. The focus is on enjoying and savoring every bite.

Superbowl

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For many Americans, the Super Bowl is more than just a game – it’s a reason to gather with friends, eat loads of food, have drinks, make friendly bets, and feel a connection with the whole country. In other countries, people prefer other sports, mainly soccer. However, it’s safe to say that even foreigners are enthusiastic about Super Bowl commercials and the halftime shows.

Thanksgiving

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From the president pardoning turkeys to quirky dishes like John Madden’s “turducken,” Thanksgiving is a maze of puzzling traditions for outsiders. There is, however, a similar tradition called Erntedankfest, celebrated by rural communities in Austria, Switzerland, and Germany in late September or early October. Still, it’s far from the elaborate spectacle of American Thanksgiving.

Groundhog Day

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Although Groundhog Day has roots in ancient European weather predictions, where a badger or sacred bear played the predictor role, this holiday is celebrated only in the U.S. and Canada on February 2 each year. For people in other countries, the whole nation focusing on a groundhog is a bit strange.

Public Bathrooms

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Visitors to the U.S. are often appalled by the bathroom stalls and the gaps in them. In some countries, they’re used to more private setups, like solid walls, full-sized doors, or even floor-to-ceiling doors. On the bright side, American public bathrooms are usually free and accessible. In contrast, there’s often a small fee (typically one euro or less) in Europe.

Pharmaceutical Ads

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Prescription drug ads are everywhere in the U.S., even though many Western countries have forbidden direct-to-consumer drug advertising. For example, in the E.U., drug companies can’t publicly advertise prescription-only medicines. In contrast, U.S. Pharma companies spent just under $8.1 billion on ad campaigns in 2022.

21 American Norms That Make the World Go ‘Huh?

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10 Factors That Challenge America’s Status as the Greatest Nation

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