When you live in a country for many years, everything looks ordinary and familiar. But an outsider will always spot some curious quirks in your customs and behaviors that make them think, “What’s going on here?” Life in the US can puzzle newcomers in many ways, from buying foods and magazines in a pharmacy to deep-frying almost anything you can think of.
We’ve tried to find out what things in the US take foreigners by surprise most often, and here they are.
1. Public toilets have really large gaps
Public toilets in the US often puzzle foreigners because they seem to offer much less privacy than restrooms in other countries. It’s all about the large gaps at the sides and huge gaps at the bottom of the stalls which often seem to occupy as much as a quarter of the door.
Even though the issue has been widely discussed on the Internet by both foreigners and US natives, there doesn’t seem to be a single answer. Some people suggest that a bigger gap at the bottom of the door helps to clean the floors faster and easier. Others believe that large gaps are there for safety reasons, and they prevent people from using toilets for purposes they are not meant for.
2. Food comes in super-sized portions.
People here love their portions huge when it comes to eating out. Restaurants and fast food chains in the US are famous for serving 3-lb burgers, 20-inch pizzas and other dishes that would seem really huge to outsiders.
If you still want to try something even bigger, visit Mallie’s Sports Bar & Grill where they offer one of the world’s biggest burgers that weighs around 350 lb. One of the theories suggests that serving portions have increased over time to increase the profit of the restaurant chains.
3. Almost anything you can think of can be deep-fried.
As history would have it, the first recipes of deep-fried fish were found in Spanish and Portuguese cookbooks from the 13th century. Whoever invented this way of cooking hardly thought that we’d go so far with cooking our favorite foods in boiling oil in the 21st century.
While almost every country has its own landmark deep-fried dish, you’ll hardly ever find a great variety of fries like they offer in the US. Here, you can try almost any product in a deep-fried version whether it’s fruit, veggies, cookies and biscuits, pickles, butter, chocolate bars, and even bubble gum!
4. Most coins don’t display numerical values and have confusing names.
In most countries, coins get their common names according to their value and have this value displayed on either side. But this is not the case with most US coins which got their names differently. The 1-cent coin is called a “penny” after the British cent, while the 5-cent coin is called a “nickel” thanks to the material it’s made of.
The name of the 10-cent coin, “dime” is derived from the Latin word, “decimus” meaning “one-tenth” and as for the 25-cent coin, it’s called a “quarter” because it’s a quarter of a dollar and the first coins actually had to weigh 4 times less than a dollar.
5. Price tags do not include taxes.
When tourists or newcomers go shopping in the US for the first time, they have a good chance of feeling puzzled. The price you see on price tags is not final because it doesn’t show the taxes that will be added to your bill at the counter, increasing its total value. What’s more, is sales tax isn’t fixed and their share varies from state to state, which often makes it a tough challenge to calculate the total sum you owe before you check out.
6. Pharmacies here sell a whole variety of goods apart from medication.
In fact, you can easily mistake an American drugstore for a supermarket. Apart from pills, ointments, and personal hygiene products, pharmacies here sell snacks, perfume, cosmetics, magazines, and even toys for kids. Many US pharmacies actually double as local convenience stores where people can get the essentials 24 hours a day.
7. You can return almost any gift you don’t like.
Didn’t like a funny sweater your relative gave you as a gift? No problem! In the US almost anything you don’t like can be returned, even if you didn’t buy it yourself. There are even so-called National Return Days that usually take place at the beginning of January when people can return Christmas gifts they didn’t like.
And unlike many other countries, in the US you can return goods even if you don’t have the receipt. Many stores put unique codes on the items so that they can be tracked, while others keep the record of the purchases made in the last couple of months. But each store has its own return policy that you are to learn before you try to return the gift.
8. They give big tips and for a wider range of services.
Giving a tip is a good way to tell people you are satisfied with the services you were given, and it’s common in many countries. But tips in the US often seem quite big to people who come from other countries, as they may reach up to 25%. Apart from tipping waiters, taxi drivers, and hotel room attendants like they do in other places as well, in the US, they also give tips to tour guides, coat checkers, restroom and parking attendants, hairdressers, and beauty salon workers.
9. People here have rare and short vacations.
In many other countries, people enjoy their vacations that last a few weeks or even months but in the US, vacations are much shorter and not as frequent. It seems that Americans can’t fully enjoy their time off even when they get it.
A recent survey has shown that up to 56% of workers couldn’t stop thinking about work during their vacations. They were checking emails, answering calls, and checking in with the office instead of just relaxing and having fun.
If you live in the US, please tell us which of these points you least expected to find on the list. If you have been to the US as a tourist, please share any other things that surprised you about this country. We’d be glad to read your thoughts and observations in the comments!