20 Baffling Things About American Culture That Foreigners Cannot Comprehend

The United States is a famous tourist destination and home to many immigrants. People from different countries and cultures visit the USA or have become permanent residents of this country. Hence it’s only natural that some common American practices might come across as shocking to people hailing from other nations.

Hardest Things To Comprehend About American Culture

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Someone asked, “What’s the hardest thing for you to comprehend about American Culture?”

Lots of people shared their unique responses. Here are 15 of the hardest things to comprehend about the American culture as narrated by the people:

School Mascots

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A person shared, “Where I live, we just have teams and play matches against people. In America, it’s like GO EASTTOWN EAGLES! And then there’s a person spinning around signs in a cheap eagle costume on the field.”

Another person responded to that by saying, “It’s called razzle dazzle, you’re welcome.”

A more serious reply stated, “It makes the games more entertaining and engaging. It’s not just a competition anymore but more of a community event.”

Friendly People

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“As a general rule, it’s how f**** lovely Americans are. There’s more of a culture of being effortlessly welcoming than I’ve seen elsewhere. I emigrated and have never had an ounce of hate. It’s been the opposite. People will be nice, won’t cross the line when it comes to banter, are really careful not to offend, and will offer you their spare room when you visit. And it’s all done with a confident, optimistic smile,” one person wrote.

Another added, “I completely agree. I’m from the UK, and virtually every American I’ve encountered on my travels around the world have been nothing but wonderful, friendly, warm, and inclusive. I think you’re the friendliest people on earth.”

Two-Party System

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“American here, I still don’t understand why we can’t just TRY something outside republican or democrat. everyone always acts like the 2-party system is great, but nobody is ever happy with the results,” one person wrote.

Another added, “See, this is the weird part. Nobody acts like its great. There is broad agreement that it is terrible. But it continues.”

Drinking Age

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Someone commented, “You are allowed to drive a car at 16, own guns, and join the military at 18, but alcohol – behold the devil’s liquid – is only for 21+.”

Another Redditor supported the minimum drinking age by replying, “Given how messed up the drinking culture is in the US, a drinking age of 21 is one I can get behind. You lower it, and a bunch more high school kids drink irresponsibly to grave consequences.”

Fraternities and Sororities

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Someone replied to the question posed above, saying, “I am an American, and I don’t get college fraternities or sororities.”

Another Redditor supported the argument saying, “I was in a sorority my first year of college, and it was the dumbest decision I have ever made.”

Bathroom Stalls

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In an interesting take, someone commented, “Bathroom stall doors. Why is there such a giant gap? No one wants to see someone taking a s***. No one wants to be watched taking a s***. Who is this for?”

A user replied, “We like to watch.”

Umm. Moment of silence?

Wearing Shoes Indoors

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A Russian commenter shared, “Walking in shoes at home. It’s so strange and incomprehensible for me as a Russian. P.S. I have nothing against Americans. You are great people.”

Someone added, “As someone who has lived in a lot of places in the US, I think it just depends where you live. If you live in the north/Midwest where there’s lots of snow and harsh winters, this is not really a thing. But in other parts of the US, like the west coast and parts of the southwest, people often wear shoes indoors because the weather is nice, things are dry, and they rarely track dirt, mud, or snow in the house.”

Does anyone else find it a bit disrespectful?

The Imperial System of Measurements

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Someone wrote, “I have lived in the US for 3 years, and I can get over everything else but one thing, WHY WON’T YOU USE THE METRIC SYSTEM?”

Another Redditor sarcastically replied, “The only other system of measurement we know is football fields.”

While another person seriously replied saying, “It would be expensive to switch. Everyone knows how we’d have to change the road signs, but I’ll give a personal example. I’m an engineer, and I have a big book that tells me the design properties of steel. That book costs $400, and all of the values are imperial. The collective cost of switching all the industry literature would be in the billions.”

Tipping Culture

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via DepositPhotos.com.

Someone else highlighted the tipping culture and said, “Having to tip almost everywhere. It definitely makes sense at some places, but I feel like we have to tip at the most random of places these days.”

Someone else responded, “Just pay the poor waiters a liveable wage already.”

While another person commented, “Most servers would rather rely on tips than be paid a better wage.”

Red Solo Cups

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Someone said, “The red cups you guys seem to drink out of at every party or outdoor event.”

Someone replied, “Red Solo Cups, the superior cup.”

While another person chimed in, “Why use your actual glasses when everyone is drinking? They might break and someone has to wash the glasses too afterward.”

Another responded, saying, “I think The Red Cups were something created for tv/movies to imply underage drinking.”

Heavy Reliance on Cars

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Cars make it so much easier to commute, but the long hours spent in traffic and the effect on the environment.. say no more.

Europeans sure love cycling, so a European pitched in and stated: “As a European: how car-centric the whole country is.”

Another Redditor came in for defense and said, “Our country isn’t designed like a European city. Cars are often a necessity unless you live in a major urban city.”

Another sarcastically replied, “Try using our public transport and in about 5 seconds, you will understand why.”

Anti- Intellectualism

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Someone said, “So many people here are willfully ignorant. They boast about never reading a book or knowing anything about current events. They are barely literate and see it as a badge of honour.”

Another user agreed saying, “I call it reveling in ignorance,”

While someone else commented, “It’s so obvious to me that those in positions of power see their easiest path to maintaining power requires those with less power to be ignorant. But Americans seem to intentionally not realize this.”

Lack of Love and Compassion

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Someone wrote, “The lack of love. The US culture is so individualistic that there’s a real lack of love for one another.”

Another person seemingly agreed with the comment above by saying, “Not love but compassion, let thy neighbor die in the gutter.”

Another person, however, disagreed, saying, “That’s not really true. The US is one of the most charitable countries in the world.”

Gun Laws

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Another user simply used a single word to express disappointment and wrote, “guns.”

Someone replied, “I’m from America and I don’t get it either.”

Another said, “As an American, agreed. I’m sick and tired of hearing about shooting incidents especially in schools.”

Another person responded, “Gun culture and the tragic results it continually produces are absolutely insane.”


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Someone commented, “How casual debt is. How easy it is to take loans and credit cards out in other people’s names without their knowledge.”

Another person said, “What infuriates me is how often the credit report/score is used in decisions made by entities which are not lending you money, like apartments or employers.”

Healthcare System

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Someone said, “Your healthcare system is so complicated and expensive. And people going bankrupt because they get sick, what b***** is this?”

To which another Redditor replied, “I have so many bills right now, and they are all medical. Was diagnosed recently with Early Onset Dementia and can’t afford to see the doctor until I can afford it. In the meantime, I can’t work or barely drive. What am I supposed to do?”

Is anyone else fed up with this too?

Date Format

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Someone said, “YYYY/MM/DD and DD/MM/YYYY are both acceptable for different use cases. MM/DD/YYYY is dumb.”

Another person replied. “I like how every time people argue about MM/DD/YY vs. DD/MM/YY, someone goes YY/MM/DD is the best and the majority agrees.”

While someone else added, “I never get confused by Japanese dates like 2023-03-13 but I always struggle with American dates like 03/13/2023 because it looks similar to our 13.03.2023 but the month and day are in reverse order. I think really everything that is confusing is that the order is not logical. Either go from small to large or large to small!”

No Paid Time Off

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“Having 2 weeks vacation, or no PTO for most,” one person wrote. “In my current country you have to takes 2 weeks of mandatory leave in a row. Including public holidays I get about 7 weeks vacation a year.”

Some companies give good PTO to their employees, but nothing is federally mandated, so it’s up to the goodwill of each individual employer. Baffling!

Lobbying and Taxes

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One person wrote, “Lobbying. Legal bribery, what the h***. Also, why do you have to do your taxes. If the Government, in the end, knows if what you paid was what you actually owed, why not just tell you.”

Another responded, “Funnily enough, both your points are related. There are many things that could be done to make filing taxes much easier, but big companies like H&R Block who make their money from doing people’s taxes for them have lobbied the government for decades to keep it so complex.

6 Weeks or Less Maternity Leave

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“Having to go back to work 6 weeks after having a baby. It’s almost criminal to expect that, but so many women have to. Thankful to live in Canada for that reason,” a Canadian wrote.

While they are right, someone pointed out, “A lot of women go to work sooner than that! Most maternity leave is unpaid, and they can’t afford to miss any paychecks.

Unique Cultural and Identities

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Every nation boasts its own unique cultures and identities. All countries have their own financial and healthcare systems, cultural practices, and governing laws that can be challenging to comprehend outsiders. However, our shared quirks are what make us stand out as a country.

Since American culture can be quite complex and multi-faceted, by embracing diversity and bridging cultural gaps, we can create a more inclusive and harmonious society for all.

Hard Things To Understand About American Culture

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Whether you are an American or not, I sincerely hope you enjoyed reading this list. Here’s to hoping you found some things relatable in this post, even if there were a few that you disagreed with.

This post originally appeared on A Dime Saved.

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Hi! I am a millennial mom with a passion for personal finance. I have always been “into” personal finance but got inspired to start my blog after a period of extended unemployment. That experience really changed the way I viewed my relationship with money and the importance of accessible personal finance education.