17 Things Europeans Don’t Understand According to Americans

American culture can often seem far away from that of our European friends, and the differences spread across day-to-day habits, policymaking, and our approaches to social events. Here are 17 American things that confuse Europeans.

The Concept of Personal Space

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American citizens tend to value a larger personal space bubble in comparison to Europeans. Unlike in some European cultures, close physical proximity can be seen as intrusive in America, and this can lead to misunderstandings in social and business interactions when our cultures collide.

The American Healthcare System

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The U.S. healthcare system is often seen as complex and highly costly to Europeans due to the predominantly private healthcare insurance system, which contrasts with their own countries’ systems. According to YouGov, “71% of Britons have an unfavorable view of the U.S. health care system.”

The U.S. Legal Drinking Age

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The legal drinking age of 21 in the U.S. is higher than in most European countries. In many cultures in Europe, people are often allowed to drink at a younger age, and the American age limit confuses Europeans who perceive drinking alcohol to be a bigger part of family events and socializing.

American Tipping Culture

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In America, tipping is seen as a critical part of the service worker’s income, but in Europe, it is often a polite courtesy instead. Europeans often find the structured tipping system Americans use confusing and consider the expected average percentage to be high.

American Patriotism

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Flag displays, national anthem singing, and other shows of intense patriotism seen across the U.S. often seem unusual for Europeans. According to the National Review, “Americans express their undoubted patriotism in ways that feel rather alien to those of us on the eastern side of the pond.”

The American Use of Imperial Measurements

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America’s persistent use of the imperial measurement system is seen as outdated and peculiar by Europeans. Miles, Fahrenheit, and inches are just some of the units that Europeans have generally ditched in favor of the metric system, and it can create barriers to everyday understanding of distance, temperature, and volume.

The Scale of American Consumerism

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The sheer size and variety of products in American supermarkets can be overwhelming for European citizens who are accustomed to smaller, more conservative options. Europeans often think America has a ‘bigger is better’ concept when it comes to everyday life, choosing larger versions of cars, food portions, and other purchases.

American Food Portions

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The size of U.S. food portions is often a source of astonishment and bemusement for Europeans, who generally place a bigger emphasis on the quality of food than quantity. This difference in food culture extends to restaurant servings, packaged goods, and fast food.

The U.S. Political System

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Having a political system dominated by just two major parties is often confusing to Europeans, who generally have multiple parties running for leadership. The political ads also appear aggressive in comparison to European standards. According to GMFUS, “Overwhelmingly, Europeans do not trust American democracy.”

The American Education System

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European countries usually have a standard model when it comes to the quality and funding of private schools, and Europeans are often surprised that this isn’t the case in the U.S. American schools generally place a stronger emphasis on sports and extracurricular activities in comparison to Europe.

Urban Sprawl in the U.S.

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The extent and design of suburban and urban development across America can be surprising to Europeans. The distinct separation between residential, commercial, and industrial zones also differs from city planning and designs in Europe, where a more mixed approach is favored to align with existing architecture.

American Work Culture

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According to Absolute Internship, “the average American typically works approximately 47 hours per week, with nearly 40% of individuals surpassing 60 hours. In Europe, an average workweek could include 35 hours (France) or even as low as 29 hours (the Netherlands), a far cry from the U.S.” The lack of national statutory maternity leave also contrasts with European norms.

American Entertainment Industry

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Europeans often see America’s entertainment culture as bigger and more consumerist than their own. Hollywood’s global dominance and the scale of events such as the Super Bowl are different from anything they do, plus holidays such as Halloween and Christmas are a lot more commercialized than in Europe.

American Individualism

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The strong focus on individual rights and self-reliance often seen in American social policies, business practices, and cultural norms can contrast with the social models throughout Europe. This achievement of being your own person is embodied in the concept of the ‘American Dream,’ whereas Europeans generally prefer to build strong support networks.

The American Relationship with Guns

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The Second Amendment and the cultural importance of gun ownership are unique to America and are often perplexing to Europeans. According to Governing, “Europeans cannot understand our inability to control gun violence and how that makes them uncomfortable with America today.”

American Environmental Policies

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While Americans try to balance economic interests with conservation efforts, Europe generally takes a more regulatory stance toward environmental issues and policies. Governments in Europe also tend to drive change by reaching a consensus in comparison to the debates seen in America on topics such as fracking or renewable energy adoption.

The Dynamics of American Sports Fandom

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College sports are ingrained in the American sporting system, but this is unique to the U.S., and Europeans tend to focus more on professional teams and local clubs. America also has different social events when it comes to sports, and traditions such as tailgating are not carried out in Europe.

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