Things Foreigners Notice About America

Updated on November 15, 2013
Source

People come to the United States of America for a lot of reasons: travel, business, study, and even to live. When most Americans aren't well-versed in life outside the States, they might be surprised to hear the things that foreigners often notice when they come. Perspectives can, of course, vary greatly depending on the country that the foreigners comes from, but for better or worse, here are some of the most popular observations.

1. People are generally more friendly or talkative toward strangers.

Americans have a stereotype for being loud and even obnoxious in foreign countries - and yes, we know that depends entirely on the person. But Americans really are more inclined to be friendly, open and chatty with people they haven't met. A Japanese woman once told me she felt shocked but happy when the American woman next to her on the airplane kept her company the whole flight (and that's a long flight!). Compared to some countries, especially Northern Europe and Japan, Americans can also be more touchy-feely with acquaintances.

Source

2. Portion sizes are enormous, and food is cheap.

Let's get this one out of the way right off: food in the United States is A Big Deal. A restaurant will often serve plates with three serving sizes and more calories than you'll want to admit in good company. Even "healthy" food is all in name only, when salads drizzled with sauces can net you as much as a cheeseburger and no one bats an eye at the concept of deep fried sushi. One thing startling also to foreigners is drinks: most restaurants, including fast food, promise free refills on fountain drinks - though why you would need to refill that 30 ounce cup is anyone's guess. A glass of water is completely free. More than that, food also comes cheap. Typical family restaurants advertise the lowest of prices, and even food in the grocery stores gets you a lot for your buck.

3. The country is designed to accommodate cars, but not necessarily public transportation.

'From sea to shining sea' accounts for a lot of space. America is big, and that could be why cars are such a necessity everywhere except for the occasional large city that actually has reasonably efficient public transportation. For tourists, getting around without a car isn't far off from impossible. Car culture can be seen everywhere in the U.S. - from wide roads and big cars to drive-thru anything. Not only is driving easy, you don't even have to get out of your car to do many things. As much as we complain about gasoline prices, they are actually some of the cheapest around the world.

"Flags, flags everywhere!"
"Flags, flags everywhere!" | Source

4. American society is much more patriotic than most other Western countries.

Foreigners, particularly those from other Western countries, are often shocked at how many American flags are strung up all over the place. Not only real flags, but in decoration and fashion. A British friend once snickered that if someone in London wore a Union Jack shirt, they would probably be a tourist, while Americans manage to wear their star-spangled garb shame-free. The recital of the Pledge of Allegiance so often was also a shock - and almost a disconcerting one to many foreigners at that, with schoolchildren reciting it daily, to some it came across very controlling and almost dystopian. Coupled with flags and anthems is the fact that Americans often believe very strongly that the United States is special and unique, and are proud of their nationality, even if they don't always agree with the government or political representatives.

5. American society tends to be self-focused and Americans are often ignorant about other countries.

Sure, there are jokes, fair or unfair, that the average American couldn't find the United States on an unmarked globe. But it is pretty cringe-worthy to know many, if not most people don't know Austria from Australia and we cling onto the belief that America is the most free, democratic and highest standard of living country in the world (probably not, on all accounts). A Norwegian friend who was studying in America once lamented that when people found out he was foreign, they all assumed he wanted to get a green card and live here forever. Most Americans have not even been outside of the United States and don't have passports. Of course, our ignorance is not without some reasonable basis: this is a huge country, and geography lends travel abroad being much more expensive. To be fair, if a British person has traveled to France, Spain, Italy and Turkey, Americans cover the same distance to get to Florida, New York City and LA.

"Can you... just tell me what I owe you?"
"Can you... just tell me what I owe you?" | Source

6. Money-spending woes: Tax isn't included in the listed price, and don't forget to tip.

Oh, tax - perhaps impossible to simplify when chain stores set prices where states have different taxes. But a day of extreme shopping can lead some to grimace as the cashier rings up their order, hoping the tax won't be too merciless when the store price seemed so reasonable. But that might be minor to the headache of tipping. Tipping servers at restaurants is no longer "a little extra" as appreciation for their kind service, but a crucial part of supporting an employee who could very well earn under minimum wage. But the headache gets worse when factoring in delivery people, hairdressers, taxi drivers and even the hotel staff who bring your bags to your room. Even Americans don't know how to calculate the appropriate amount for each more obscure service, but unless the service is absolutely terribly, tipping is mandatory.

7. Americans are clinging on to nonsensical and outdated measurements.
Three teaspoons in a tablespoon. Sixteen tablespoons in a cup. Four cups in a quart, four quarts in a U.S. gallon. A foot is twelve inches, and there are 5,280 feet in a mile. Well, it might have made sense at one point in history, but the rest of the world (really: almost everyone else except for the United States) has switched from the outdated British Imperial system to the much more logical Metric system. To be fair, some countries combine measurements, but most countries are taking steps to fully integrating to the metric system. The United States? Well, we tried to convert everyone in the 1970s, but no one was too keen on that - hence, we've got a lot of confused tourists and immigrants.

Source

8. So much space!

If a foreigner gets out of crowded cities, they are sometimes surprised at how much sheer open space there is. One can drive for hours in the Midwest without running into another soul, and even in towns, backyards can be gigantic and the space between buildings wide. As such a young country - and the fourth largest in the entire world - space is not the commodity that it is in smaller, thousands-years-old countries.

9. Clothes' size inconsistencies, and vanity sizing.

A size six dress can be roughly the same as another brand's size ten, which is a headache for Americans, too. Vanity sizing is another phenomenon - sizes have become bigger while the number stays the same. With no strict guidelines about what constitutes a "medium", it makes sense - customers, especially in America's weight-anxious society, want to buy brands that make them feel good, and unfortunately, "feel good" is often equated to a number on a tag.

Source

10. The stereotypes: sometimes way off base, but sometimes true.

What image does the average non-American have of Americans? It's tough to say. American media - movies, music, books, etc - are available all over the globe - as well as our politics, military and scandals, which all come together to paint a veritable gallery of stereotypes. True, a stereotype exists of Americans being obese, gun-touting, Bible-clutching conservative and slightly undereducated cowboys. Another stereotype is the friendly American, or perhaps something off the set of Friends. True, America is more conservative than a lot of other Western countries - even the American "liberal" is somewhat conservative by international standards. America is also religious, but certainly not everyone. America is a divided land - or better yet, a huge country made up of many different people coming from many backgrounds, with many different beliefs and approaches to life. What we hope any traveler might realize is that no one stereotype defines us, just as no one stereotype defines citizens of any country. Wishful thinking? Maybe!

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • mythbuster profile image

        mythbuster 

        2 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

        Nice hub, interesting information. I have noticed point #4 a lot in people I know from the U.S.A. - very patriotic, even if in disagreement with some of their politicians.

      • profile image

        Joe Cool 

        3 years ago

        There is nothing wrong with reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in schools and it is not dystopian or mind control. Patriotism is simply one’s love for their home country. It is that simple. It is not warlike, nationalism, shameful, arrogance, insular, or anything negative. The USA is unique just like every other nation on this planet.

      • profile image

        lgjhere 

        4 years ago

        A new award-winning worldwide book/ebook that helps explain America is "What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” It paints a revealing picture of America for anyone who will benefit from a better understanding. Endorsed by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it also informs those who want to learn more about the last remaining superpower and how we compare to other nations on many cultural issues.

        Here’s a closing quote from the book’s Intro: “With all of our cultural differences though, you’ll be surprised to learn how much…we as human beings have in common on this little third rock from the sun. After all, the song played at our Disneyland parks around the world is ‘It’s A Small World After All.’ Peace.”

      • profile image

        Sunshine 

        4 years ago

        I live in Pittsburgh; I noticed most women here are fat like 100-300 lbs over weight; but many men here are in good shape like have a muscular body type.

      • profile image

        RICHARD CRANIUM 

        4 years ago

        Not to sound offensive but sometimes the truth does hurt....

        The number ONE thing that foreigners notice is that a lot of Americans are fat. Not 10 pounds overweight like myself but more like 50-90 pounds overweight. I really mean obese with a capital "O".

        I recently have traveled to Japan, Philippines, Guam, Costa Rica so I base my opinion on those countries..

      • erorantes profile image

        Ana Maria Orantes 

        4 years ago from Miami Florida

        I like your hub. Your article remains me my priciples. Americans have more than principles. They have freedom. And they also have good laws. They have equal rights. If people practice all of then together. Their future will be brilliant. Thanks for your article miss aliasis.

      • cam8510 profile image

        Chris Mills 

        4 years ago from Missoula, Montana through August 2018

        Very well written aliases. You've made a number of good points. Our ignorance of geography and different cultures is largely true I believe. That may say more about us than anything else. I really like how you ended the article. We are a country that encompasses so many kinds of people. We don't always get along. But this is still one nation.

      • aliasis profile imageAUTHOR

        aliasis 

        4 years ago from United States

        Thank you! I've actually heard more observations than are on this list alone, but so much of it depends on the country and culture you're coming from. This list is a bit focused on tourists from Western countries - perspectives from individual countries could probably be articles all on their own. "Things Indian people notice about the US" for example, haha.

      • CJWood71 profile image

        Christopher J Wood 

        4 years ago from Florida, USA

        Very interesting to hear what others around the world think about Americans. My only travel outside the states has been Canada, but I have often wondered what the world felt about us and must of what you said I can believe. Loved reading this one!

      • aliasis profile imageAUTHOR

        aliasis 

        4 years ago from United States

        Thanks for the comments, everyone!

        Savvydating - I can absolutely understand the exasperation with the negative American stereotypes. Living abroad and interacting with a variety of non-Americans, I know it's one thing to take a silly "lol fat Americans" comment in stride and to be faced with someone - whether a stranger or a "friend" - who seriously believes incredibly negative things about Americans. I knew people who told me they hated America, and I was like, what the heck, why would you say that to me? I'm pretty relaxed and good-natured, but for all the teasing and (fair) criticism this country deserves, it's unfair and ignorant to generalize a country like that.

        JessBraz - I actually grew up near the boarder of Canada myself, in fact, my home state Minnesota pretty much believes itself to be a close relative of Canada. Haha. Thanks for your insights and comparisons to Canada, though! In my experiences in Canada, I never really noticed food portion sizes being much different, but drink sizes in the US are totally crazy, at least if you're getting a large.

      • JessBraz profile image

        JessBraz 

        4 years ago from Canada

        I've gone on quite a few roads trips in the U.S. I remember the first time my husband and I drove down to Florida, I, typical Canadian tourist wound up with an AMAZING sunburn on my face.. We were in Wal-Mart one day and I was shocked how many Americans came up to me out of nowhere and offered me advice on how to treat my sunburn.. They obviously knew I wasn't from Florida. I was surprised at how friendly they were... People in NYC are also a lot friendlier than people think they're going to be. New Yorkers are not to be feared. :)

        You're definitely right about the food... It BOGGLES MY MIND how big the drinks are (and the fact that so many places still use Styrofoam cups!).. I live right on the border and went into upstate NY two days ago.. I'm still working on the Mountain Dew I got from Taco Bell. lol.

        There are many many flags flying in the States, but I wouldn't say Americans are the most patriotic Western country.. Us Canadians are pretty darn patriotic and Canadians love to wear "Canada" t-shirts and "Team Canada" jerseys. :) We just might rival you guys in the patriotic department. :)

        I love the one about the Metric system as well. lol.. Us Canadians are ATTACHED to the States, and even we use it. lol

        I live right on the Canada-U.S border, so I go into the States a lot and I can relate to pretty much every single point you've made! .. I thoroughly enjoyed this hub.. I'll stop ranting now though. lol. Cheers on the awesome hub! Voted up, awesome, funny. :)

      • profile image

        Howard Schneider 

        4 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

        Very interesting and very true, Aliasis. We are a very complicated and often contradictory country. Also never dull. Great Hub.

      • savvydating profile image

        Yves 

        4 years ago

        Lol. Sometimes we Americans seem ridiculous. Nonetheless, plenty of other nations love adopting our habits, i.e., iPhones, designer T-shirts, weird handshakes, cool cars, hip hop--all those important things! I recently asked a Dane what most Danish people think of Americans and she said they think we are fat, lazy and not very smart. And she was a friend! Yikes. Actually, I didn't mind since I knew that was an over generalization, (to say the least). She was sincerely telling me what they think of us, in general, so it was actually kind of funny.

        Anyway, Denmark is mostly homogeneous and their country is the size of Rhode Island. How complicated could that be to manage? In any event, her favorite place in the world is San Diego and she loves blond beach bums.

        Now excuse me while I look for my American flag T-shirt to wear tomorrow!

        Up, funny, interesting.

      • AliceFournier profile image

        Alice Fournier 

        4 years ago from Amsterdam

        Everything is so true... Great insight of this awesome but flawed country!

      • iguidenetwork profile image

        iguidenetwork 

        4 years ago from Austin, TX

        Interesting topic there, it's nice to know about Americans from a foreigner's perspective. Many of those things are true anyway. Up, interesting.

      • novascotiamiss profile image

        Novascotiamiss 

        4 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

        I totally agree with Aliasis. Food (especially fast food) is dirt cheap in the US compared to other parts of the world. E.g. in Switzerland McDonalds is 2 to 3 times more expensive and the people are 2-3 times skinnier!

      • aliasis profile imageAUTHOR

        aliasis 

        4 years ago from United States

        Thanks, Rohanfelix! I would love to visit India sometime myself. :)

      • rohanfelix profile image

        Rohan Rinaldo Felix 

        4 years ago from Chennai, India

        A very fascinating hub! I'm an Indian who'd love to visit the US sometime in the future.

      • aliasis profile imageAUTHOR

        aliasis 

        4 years ago from United States

        Kanala - I think "food being cheap" really depends on what country you're from! :) Food being cheap is a common observation from tourists from Western countries - many from, say, Europe, Australia, Japan... but I've been to other countries that are much cheaper, too.

      • kanala profile image

        Naga Krishna Kanala 

        4 years ago from India

        You made a good move by writing this article.which is very useful.But the thing is the food is not cheap in usa,maybe some restaurants offers.You are right that americans are more friendly and self considered,I have an experience with them.

      • aliasis profile imageAUTHOR

        aliasis 

        4 years ago from United States

        Novascotiamiss - glad you think it's accurate! Well, everything on this list came from non-Americans I spoke with while living/traveling abroad, but of course there are some differences in perception with consideration to where the non-American is from and where in America they visited. :) Oh, that food thing! I have to say, in my family, that would be very rude, too, my mother always made us wait until everyone was sitting at the table before eating, and now I don't like eating unless everyone has their food and is sitting. But that's probably one of those things that depends on the family, or the region. Thanks for the comment!

      • novascotiamiss profile image

        Novascotiamiss 

        4 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

        Great and enjoyable article! You hit the nail on the head in every aspect. As a foreigner I can totally confirm every single point, especially the one about Americans being very friendly and talkative. America is the best place to get lost in as there's always a friendly soul willing to help. Also you never have to feel lonely as you'll always find somebody to chat to However, it comes across as a bit strange when you are somebody's best buddy within minutes and the next day you just get a blank stare. I guess that's why American's are called superficial. Also, I can't ever get used to their table manners. Americans guzzle food and they start eating before everybody else sits down. In Europe this would be unacceptable and rude!

      • aliasis profile imageAUTHOR

        aliasis 

        4 years ago from United States

        INFJay - haha, I haven't been to France yet! But debunking stereotypes around the world could be a hub on its own, I bet. :) I think a good rule of understanding people is that they are basically the same wherever you go - there are friendly people, rude people, sociable people and shy people, and even if society encourages certain traits, you can't really define any group of people with just a word!

      • INFJay profile image

        Jay Manriquez 

        4 years ago from Santa Rosa, California

        I truly enjoyed reading your hub, which is 100% accurate based on my own experiences. Speaking of stereotypes, my experiences with the French were quite opposite from what Americans say about them. They were friendly and very helpful (this was not a one-time freak event either!). Great hub!!

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wanderwisdom.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://wanderwisdom.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)