20 American Customs That Non-Americans Can’t Wrap Their Heads Around

Today, let’s talk about something that never fails to amuse us non-Americans: the quirky customs of our friends across the pond in America.  Now, don’t get us wrong, Americans are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, but their customs? Well, let’s say they can be a bit puzzling to us outsiders.

One Redditor asked, “Non-Americans, what is an American custom that you find unusual or odd?”

1. Election Campaigns

Democrat Party and Republican Party Symbol on an American Flag Background
Image Credit: cowardlion/Shutterstock.

A discerning Reddit user commented, “I find the length of your election campaigns so crazy.”

Another added, “I don’t think they ever end anymore. Election ends, and next day campaign starts again.”

Seriously, why do they last longer than a season of your favorite TV show?

2. Groundhog Day

ground hog marmot day close up portrait while yawning.
Image Credit: Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock.

One said, “My friend from India once asked me (an American) to explain Groundhog Day to her. I had no explanation- it’s just weird.”

Another explained, “Groundhog Day lands on a pagan holiday. Imbolc or Brigits day. It’s the return of light, the stirring of seeds.”

Have you ever encountered someone who was puzzled by Groundhog Day?

3. Halloween

Picture of emotional young woman in halloween costume on party over white background with sweeties candy.
Image Credit: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock.

A Redditor shared, “I’ll never forget when a college schoolmate from China asked me “is it true that you have a holiday where children dress up and go around asking for candy?” I had never thought about it before, but all I could say was “yes, I guess we do…””

Another person agreed and said, “I lived in student housing that was fairly international, and I was the only one to put pumpkins out during decorative gourd season. I painted a few but didn’t carve any.

Several international students stopped by and politely asked me to explain the pumpkins to them. None of them were even remotely satisfied by my attempts. Their poor faces as they walked away more confused and upset by pumpkins than before!”

Non-Americans might be familiar with the concept, but the extent to which Americans go – elaborate costumes, haunted houses, and yards transformed into spooky wonderlands – is mind-boggling.

4. Medicine Ads

Variety of Non-Proprietary Medicine Bottles and Large Pills on Reflective Surface With Grey Background.
Image Credit: Andy Dean Photography/Shutterstock.

Someone commented, “The Canadians I worked with in the oilfield were blown away by all of the television commercials for medicines.”

Another added, “The States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world where this is allowed. Here in Canada, we are seeing more and more prescription medicine ads, as the pharmaceutical companies skirt the law by mentioning the name of the drug but not what it does and directing the viewer to their website.”

In most places, doctors decide what meds you need, not catchy jingles and colorful animations.

5. Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving Day! Autumn feast. Family preparing traditional dinner.
Image Credit: Yuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock.

Thanksgiving is another head-scratcher. The whole nation stops to give thanks and eat an epic feast. A discerning Reddit user commented, “Pardoning a turkey at Thanksgiving. Cracks me up every time, and I’ve lived here 20 years now!”

Another replied, “We love ourselves a good running gag. Even the most narcissistic of our leaders has been game enough to pardon a turkey on Thanksgiving as a joke.”

6. Tax Exclusive

Grocery Shopper Counting Costs
Image Credit: ArenaCreative via DepositPhotos.com.

A Redditor shared, “Not including tax in the price tag.”

Another responded, “I’m in my mid-30s and have been questioning this ever since I was like 5 years old, going to the grocery store with my mom and learning the concept of taxes.”

Seriously, every other place in the world includes tax in the displayed price. But in the U.S., you have to do some mental math just to figure out how much that burger really costs.

7. Tipping

The hand of the waitress takes the tip. The waiter girl receives a tip from the client at the hotel bar. A bartender woman is happy to receive a tip at work. The concept of service.
Image Credit: lunopark/Shutterstock.

The whole tipping culture is another head-scratcher. In many countries, tipping is a gesture of appreciation for exceptional service. In the U.S., it’s practically a societal obligation. One said, “Tipping. So much tipping.”

Another added, “Will never forget this story. I’m American, so I’m used to the tipping part. Went to a restaurant here, in Qatar, for takeaway. Gave the Nepali dude 10 riyals for a tip. No issue, right? Two weeks later, I returned to the same place. The dude came running out and said sir, sir, you left your change and handed me back the ten. The look on his face when I said it was for him.”

8. New Parents Expected to Work

picture of happy mother with baby over white.
Image Credit: Ground Picture/Shutterstock.

Parenthood is like a rollercoaster, and it seems cruel to make parents jump back into the workforce right after they’ve barely had time to figure out the whole diaper-changing thing.

Someone commented, “That new parents, especially fathers, are expected to show up to work within days of having a newborn.”

Another person agreed to it and said, “Not as crazy as new mothers often having to go back after 4, 6 or 12 weeks. This feels like actual cruelty to me.”

9. Child Beauty Pageants

Half length of a beauty pageant winner smiling and holding roses
Image Credit: Denise Andersen/Shutterstock.

A Redditor shared, “Child beauty pageants. Just stop it.”

Another replied, “I was at a hotel once that was hosting a child beauty pageant. It’s incredibly unsettling to see six-year-old girls who were wearing more makeup than me – and I was wearing a fair amount of makeup!”

It’s a bit surreal, isn’t it? Tiny tots strutting their stuff, wearing makeup that even some adults would shy away from. The glitz and glam might be entertaining for some, but for us non-Americans, it’s a cultural spectacle that’s hard to comprehend.

10. Employee Rights

Man in Office Looking for Help
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A discerning Reddit user commented, “Lack of employee rights, like vacation time, sick days and the like. Recently heard from someone that if you’re getting sick during your vacation, you’re out of luck. I can go to a doctor, get a note confirming I’ve been sick, and get my vacation days back (because I was sick, that doesn’t count as time off).”

Another added, “I work for a European-based company in the US. I was in a bad accident earlier this year which required me to be off work for about a month. I took two weeks of my vacation time to help cover the cost of being off work. When I got back to work, I checked, and my vacation time had not been used. I had no idea my vacation time and sick leave were two different types of paid leave.”

In many places worldwide, workers are treated like human beings, not just cogs in a corporate machine.

11. College Sports

American Football Player running upfield
Image Credit: yobro10 via DepositPhotos.com.

One said, “The obsession with college sports…and in some places even high school or middle school.”

Another replied, “I just came back from a work trip to Texas, and one of my colleagues told me the football stadium for his daughter’s middle school held 20,000 people!”

The entire town is painted in team colors, people tailgating like it’s the end of the world, and grown adults crying over a game!

12. Veterans

Vietnam Vet With Rough Beard Looking Up With American Flag Background.
Image Credit: ThomasPhoto/Shutterstock.

Let’s not forget about homeless veterans. These brave men and women risked their lives for their country, and yet they ended up on the streets. It’s heartbreaking and difficult to fathom. Where’s the support and care for those who served their nation?

A Redditor shared, “Homeless veterans. And those being treated badly.”

Another person agreed to it and said, “If you hate that, let me introduce you to veterans who get deported! Apparently, serving in the military is not enough to get you citizenship!”

13. Healthcare

Doctor with female patient
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Someone commented, “Healthcare. Dying is a cheaper option most of the time.”

Another added, “I am dealing with this issue right now. My dad had a stroke a couple of years ago. Now, he has started falling and being unable to get up. He seems to be also getting dementia. I had to put him in the nursing home until I found him a new assisted living. I got the bill for September and October; it is $36,000. All out of pocket.”

The idea that someone might have to choose between bankruptcy and medical treatment seems downright absurd.

14. Date Format

Portrait of young woman in checkered shirt with expression emotions.
Image Credit: amixstudio via DepositPhotos.com.

Month/day/year? Seriously? For many of us, it’s day/month/year, and this whole American system just throws us for a loop.

A Redditor shared, “MM-DD-YYYY. In certain industries, you MUST document things with dates in DD-MON-YYYY or some form with the 3-character month in it to avoid confusion.”

Another replied, “The order doesn’t bother me, really; I just wish everyone would agree on one. 11-03-2023. Cool November 3rd. Nope, March 11th. Sigh”

15. No Privacy in Bathrooms

Entrance to a public toilet. Two doors to the public toilet for women and men. Indicative sign for toilet cubicles for men and women.
Image Credit: Galina-Photo/Shutterstock.

Seriously, those stall doors with wide gaps? We’re used to a bit more personal space, you know?

A discerning Reddit user commented, “Utter lack of privacy in toilets. Gaps in walls, Gaps between doors and walls, walls you can look over without any effort at all. Kids who can crawl under the walls without any effort.”

Another responded, “I’m American, and I hate this too. The only place I know that has private stalls is KwikTrip gas stations.”

16. Gender Reveal Party

gender party. boy or girl. two cupcakes with blue and pink cream, celebration concept when the gender of the child becomes known
Image Credit: Mikhaylovskiy/Shutterstock.

Someone commented, “Gender reveal parties… I’m an American, and I can’t begin to understand this one.”

Another added, “I’m an American, and gender reveal parties are the most useless attention grab I’ve seen in a while.”

It’s cute and all, but dedicating a whole party to reveal a baby’s gender?

17. Homelessness

young homeless boy holding a cardboard house.
Image Credit: Roman Bodnarchuk/Shutterstock.

Homelessness. Now, this one hit hard. It’s shocking to see a country with so much wealth also have so many people living on the streets.

A Redditor shared, “that homeless people have tents everywhere like streets (Washington really surprised me).”

Another person agreed to it and said, “I live in a small town in NC. I had never even seen a homeless person here until 2 years ago. Apparently, big cities are having homeless “shipped” to smaller communities to have them out of their hair.”

18. Guns

Portrait of a confused young girl in dress looking at camera isolated over blue background.
Image Credit: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock.

Someone commented, “Obsession with guns. Many that do own a gun own several.”

Another replied, “Guns are so common here; there are just as many guns as there are people. I live in a blue state, and most people I know have at least one. Even if it’s just grandpa’s old .22 rifle.”

For many of us, it’s just a culture shock. Was it for you as well?

19. Grocery Bags

Young blonde girl smiling happy holding groceries paper bag standing at the city..
Image Credit: Krakenimages.com/Shutterstock.

A Redditor shared, “Those grocery bags made from paper with no handles. How do you carry more than one or cope with car keys and other stuff in your hands?”

Another responded, “weird one, but yeah, I hate those things. Mostly useless, and they are wasteful.”

In many places, we’ve moved to reusable bags with handles. It’s a game-changer!

20. Pre-Packaged Vegetables

young woman about to start cooking in kitchen
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There’s something oddly robotic about vegetables packed in plastic, neatly sliced and diced. Like, where’s the joy of choosing your own fresh veggies at the market?

A discerning Reddit user commented, “Pre-cut/pre-packaged vegetables or food. I’m married to a German, and this blew her and her family’s minds.”

Another added, “As a single person, I like it. I don’t like to meal prep too much, but if I do, I’ll buy actual fresh vegetables, but other times, most of it would go to waste.”

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Handsome man or swimmer, bearded sexy hipster with wet beard, moustache and hair relaxes in pool indoors on blue water background.
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A Young villager, who lives in a small village near Gharo Sindh, Pakistan, 2nd March 2015.
Image Credit: Pakistan Stock Footage/Shutterstock.

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A customer is shocked at supermarket because of inflation, increasing prices, living expenses, living cost.
Image Credit: Fatih Kucuktezcan/Shutterstock.

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