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Top 20 Things Only Americans Do (And Think It's Normal)

Top 20 Things Only Americans Do (And Think It's Normal)
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden
Only in America. For this list, we'll be looking at common beliefs and practices in the United States. Our countdown includes Refer to the U.S.A. as “America”, Vote Before They Can Drink, Use Red Plastic Cups, Casually Own Guns, and more!

#20: Refer to the U.S.A. as “America”

Outside of the United States of America., referring to the country as “America” is much less commonplace. After all, there are two entire continents called America, comprising like 35 distinct nations. Referring to only one country on one of those continents as “America” too is really confusing for anyone who doesn’t live there. Referring to it as the U.S., U.S.A., the United States, or just “the States” is much more common in the rest of the world. Even so, everyone still calls its residents Americans, which isn’t confusing at all!

#19: Throw Baby Showers & Gender Reveal Parties

Cultures the world over have traditions to prepare expecting parents, and celebrate the expected birth of a child. However, Americans have really taken the concept and run with it. An entire industry has been built around baby showers, as well as their modern relatives, gender reveal parties. Emerging in the 2000s, the latter have become infamous for sometimes absurd levels of showmanship. Some over-the-top reveals have been responsible for injuries and even disasters. They remain somewhat controversial, with many people, including Americans, not really getting why they’re often made into such big deals.

#18: Experience Huge Bathroom Stall Gaps

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Every country’s restrooms have their own quirks, like different sinks and toilet bowls. The US is known for having a high volume of water in their bowls, and large gaps in their bathroom stalls - both under the door and between the door and the walls. Visitors can be taken aback at the lack of privacy. Some hold that they’re designed for easy cleaning or construction. Others that it allows one to check which stalls are occupied - although occupancy indicators in the locks can do that too. It might also make it more difficult to get up to no good in there. Whatever the case, public bathrooms in the US are built for speed, not comfort.

#17: Have Pharmacies That Sell Groceries

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In most of the world, pharmacies sell exactly what their name implies – pharmaceuticals. While you’ll see tangentially-related items, like grooming products or hygienic things like toothbrushes, pharmacies don’t usually carry food or toys. But in the U.S., that’s much more common. The country is all about the all-in-one experience; not only will dedicated grocery stores have pharmacies built-in, but pharmacies will also carry groceries. Granted, the selection isn’t always great, but if you’re desperate for milk and the grocery store is closed or you just don’t feel like crossing the street to get there, you can get some. While most of the world still limits drug stores to drugs and self-care products, we have a feeling this might catch on.

#16: Vote Before They Can Drink

Worldwide, the age at which a person can legally drink alcohol is most commonly 18; the age usually considered to be adulthood - though it’s even earlier in some countries. The voting age on a global scale is also generally 18, for similar reasons - although of course there are exceptions. However, the United States requires young adults to wait 3 years after being able to vote before legally being allowed to drink at 21. This was enacted during the 1980s to prevent alcohol-related driving accidents. While it helped in the short-term, ultimately it hasn’t really stopped teenagers from drinking. The result is that many people - both inside and outside the U.S. - question the logic of why an 18-year-old American can decide who forms the government, but not get buzzed.

#15: Get Free Refills

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One of the biggest differences between American restaurants and the rest of the world are their drink services. Most American (and many Canadian) restaurants and other establishments will offer at least one free refill of a non-alcoholic drink. The idea is that because of the low cost of drinks, particularly fountain soft drinks, offering a refill won’t hurt the establishment’s bottom line, particularly if drinks are not the primary source of income. However, the idea has been slow to catch on in the rest of the world and it’s nowhere near as consistently offered. Some countries have raised concern that a practice like this can lead to an increase in obesity.

#14: Tip Service Personnel

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While the concept of tipping waitstaff or other people in the service industry is known worldwide, few countries have embraced the concept to the degree the U.S. has. Many workers, particularly in the restaurant industry, rely on gratuities to get by, in part because laws allow managers to pay subminimum wages to tipped workers. However, in various other countries, tipping is seen as insulting – they’re just doing their jobs, after all. While some countries’ workers certainly appreciate it, it isn’t expected like it is in the U.S. – mostly because employees are paid a high enough baseline salary that they don’t need tips to survive.

#13: Obsess Over the Military

The American military is probably the best in the world…. as it should be, since it’s also one of the best-funded militaries in the world; in fact, the U.S. spends several times more on their military than their nearest competitor, China. What’s more, there are more than a few American citizens who have a higher-than-average fascination with their own military and its culture. While other countries certainly appreciate their troops, you don’t, say, see as many people wearing camouflage as a legitimate fashion statement. Likewise, you don’t see movies made elsewhere that glorify the military to the degree the U.S. does. Part of the American enthusiasm is certainly rooted in patriotism. Still, it may also be a reaction to an increasingly anti-military sentiment that has popped up over the last several decades.

#12: Use Red Plastic Cups

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If you’ve ever seen an American movie where a college party happens, chances are you’ve seen characters drinking from red cups. These red plastic, or Solo cups, are everywhere in the U.S.A. The cheap drinking containers are a favorite at parties, both for their durability and their ease of use in party games. While they’re also handy for crafts or gardening, they’re most famous for their intended purpose. However, the rest of the world either doesn’t have the United States’ party culture’s emphasis on kegs, or lacks the same distinctive cups, originally manufactured by the Solo Cup Company. At most, you might see them in a novelty American themed party.

#11: Wear Shoes Inside

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Taking off your shoes before you enter a home, or at least in the entryway, is pretty common etiquette in many countries. And while many Americans do prefer to keep footwear off their floors, it isn’t a hard and fast rule like it is in other places. Often it will depend on whether the person has carpeted floors or hardwood floors, with the latter considered easier to clean. Since it’s not considered the norm though, asking guests to take off their shoes indoors can come across as rude or fussy, and so is often avoided.

#10: Eat Peanut Butter as Their Go-To Spread

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Peanuts are grown and eaten in many parts of the world. But it’s the United States (and Canada) that do most of the peanut butter eating. A lot of countries see it as a niche or even unpleasant taste. Others have a savory spread that is more culturally ingrained, like Nutella. The U.S.A. can’t get enough of peanut butter though, consuming over a billion pounds of it annually. Heck, January 24 is even National Peanut Butter Day. It’s a cheap source of protein that most American children grow up eating, so it’s no wonder that it’s a comfort food for many of them.

#9: Work Too Much

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Americans are workaholics - at least compared to basically every other country in the world. The majority of Americans work more than 40 hours a week. They also tend to lack many of the things the rest of the world takes for granted, like paid holidays, as well as sick and parental leave. Research has shown that happier, less stressed workers do better at their jobs. Iceland even recently tried a four-day workweek that proved wildly successful. Several European countries take long breaks for lunch. While the American drive is admirable, “grind culture” becomes problematic when it costs workers their mental health and wellbeing.

#8: Make Small Talk with Strangers

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Americans are known for their friendliness towards strangers - especially outside of big cities. It’s not uncommon for Americans to smile at each other in passing. But their comfort with new people also extends to small talk - saying hello, or even striking up a conversation out of the blue. In many countries, speaking to strangers unprompted can be seen as intrusive or even risky. Many Americans are masters of the art though, often happy to chat to people they’ve never met about the weather, sports, or whatever else comes up in conversation.

#7: Casually Own Guns

In many countries, gun laws are strict, and gun ownership is relatively rare. In the US, gun ownership is protected by the Second Amendment, and gun ownership is the highest in the world. Despite making up 4% of the global population, Americans own 46% of civilian-held firearms. There’s a distinct gun culture, where gun ownership is celebrated, or at least seen as important for personal safety; most states even allow you to open carry. Of course, the issue is extremely divisive, due to the country’s high rate of gun deaths. Either way, the idea of having so many guns around is a novel one for many visitors.

#6: Put Sales Tax on Everything

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Most countries enact a value-added tax, or VAT, on goods or services purchased within their borders. These taxes are collected from every person in the supply chain, from the distributors to the consumers. The United States is one of the few to use sales taxes, which not only vary wildly from state to state, but are only enacted after a purchase has been made. They’re also not listed in the initial price, which can leave foreign visitors - and many Americans - scratching their heads as to why they’re being charged more than the price on the product. Better or worse? You decide. It’s certainly more confusing.

#5: Recite a Pledge of Allegiance

In many parts of the United States, school children - and adults in some settings - are expected to recite the pledge of allegiance. This is an expression that they will be loyal to the U.S.A. and is usually performed daily while looking at the nation’s flag, which you’ll find hanging everywhere, by the way. This isn’t something other countries do. They might salute or respect their flag and country, but to make school children recite an oath to the country? The pledge has been the subject of plenty of controversy within the U.S. too, particularly since it mentions God. While some schools no longer require it, it remains a widespread practice.

#4: Watch Ads for Prescription Drugs

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Aside from New Zealand, the United States is the only country in the world that advertises prescription drugs directly to consumers. Every day, Americans are bombarded with ads for prescription medications, featuring generic, pleasing imagery and a list of side effects longer than a flagpole. Many people, Americans included, are baffled by the practice, as doctors, not patients, are meant to decide what drugs to prescribe. Proponents claim that advertising increases competition and lowers drug costs. Meanwhile, prescription drugs are typically far more expensive in the United States, as the US doesn’t regulate or negotiate drug prices.

#3: Put Months Before Days

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Most of humanity marks calendar dates as being day first, then month, then year, or else the opposite, as year, month, then day. The reasoning is that you go from the shortest value to the longest, or vice versa. Yet the United States (and parts of Canada) eschew both these formats by putting the month first, then day, then year. The U.S. has been using this format basically since its founding, although it has used the day-first format interchangeably too. The exact reason why is debatable, but as far as practicality goes, it can be useful when filling out forms to know which month it is before which day or year.

#2: Go Bankrupt from Healthcare

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Medical costs are the cause of over 60% of all bankruptcies in the United States. Americans experience a variety of unexpected charges while getting much-needed care, from surprise bills to being charged for riding in an ambulance. In some parts of the civilized world, even seeing a medical bill can be an uncommon occurrence. Healthcare worldwide tends to be much more regulated than it is in the USA. It’s either funded through taxes in a single-payer system or else through individual insurers who are more strictly monitored. Bottom line: while there can sometimes be extra charges, for most of the world, medical debt is basically unheard of… except in horror stories about the U.S.

#1: Use the Imperial Measurement System

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There are three countries in the world that don’t use the metric system: Myanmar, Liberia and the United States. Objectively, metric is the less arbitrary measurement system, since everything goes by 10s. Even Britain and Commonwealth countries have converted, although admittedly they do still use measurements like feet and inches casually. So why hasn’t the U.S. converted? We’ll give you one guess. Did you say it’s because of money? Because money is definitely a big factor. It’s the same reason they still use Fahrenheit instead of Celsius. Converting to a whole new system of measurement is expensive! Other factors include a need for control and stability. So, inertia, basically. Why change when you don’t need to?