17 Things or Habits We Didn’t Realize Only Americans Do

The United States welcomes people from all different cultures, but certain social norms, customs, and habits prevail among the general population. If you’re touring another country, you might find that American customs get strange reactions! Here are 17 interesting examples of things most Americans do that people from elsewhere find unnecessary or confusing.


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In the U.S., tipping restaurant servers, bartenders, and other service workers is so commonplace that most of us barely consider it before paying the extra 15–20%. ABC News reports that this tipping culture is rare elsewhere in the world, unless you’re from Germany. However, America remains the only country where not tipping is seen as disrespectful or rude.


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The idea of the “American Dream” rewards hard work, self-reliance, and individual achievement, and this has leaked into our social make-up. Many Americans are raised to be independent and personally responsible for their own lives. This can make U.S. residents more individualistic and reduce the sense that they’re simply ‘one of the herd.’

Celebrating Personal Achievements

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Unsurprisingly, our independent spirit strongly emphasizes celebrating individual accomplishments, even those that may seem minor. Americans are well known for celebrating birthdays, graduations, promotions, engagements, and even personal milestones like passing a test! However, this exuberance for celebrating is not the norm in other cultures.

Direct Communication

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Americans are not known for their subtle communication style, which can make them seem too direct and brutally honest. According to UMBC, we tend to be more upfront, casual, and straightforward, which can be misconstrued as bluntness or even rudeness by cultures that communicate more indirectly.

Personal Space

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Cedarville University gives international students the following advice: “Americans appreciate more personal space than other cultures. You might notice that if you stand a bit close, they will back away from you. This is not an indication that they don’t like you, but rather an instinctive response.” In general, we prefer more personal space and limited physical contact.

Casual Dress

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A comparison of British and American high schools will reveal how much more casual dress codes are here compared to other countries. The Washington Post claims this relaxed attitude stems from our practical, colonial roots and a strong focus on personal independence. Unlike in other cultures, Americans tend to dress in formal attire only for very formal occasions.


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Americans are known for smiling frequently, even when casually interacting with strangers. The Atlantic says this friendliness can be misinterpreted abroad, with other cultures assuming a person is insane, stupid, or drunk when smiling at strangers in public! For most of us in the U.S., it’s simply an ingrained instinct that shows welcomeness and happiness.

Direct Eye Contact

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Maintaining eye contact during conversations is considered a sign of respect, attentiveness, and honesty in American culture. We can perceive avoidance of eye contact as shyness, boredom, or even disrespect. In other countries, such a direct stare can be seen as impolite, overwhelming, or even threatening.

Fast-Paced Lifestyle

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Other cultures see American lifestyles as busy, fast-paced, and strictly scheduled. The BBC reports that “an online survey of 7,331 US workers found more than half failed to take their full holiday allocation. The most popular explanation? They were worried about the mountain of work waiting for them when they returned.” Other cultures (e.g., the Caribbean) have more relaxed attitudes toward time management and can find our constant business too stressful.

Large Portion Sizes

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Portion sizes in American restaurants are significantly larger than in many other parts of the world. This abundance of food on plates can surprise visitors from countries where smaller portions are the norm. Additionally, “to-go” boxes are readily available and free of social stigma, yet taking leftovers home for consumption later isn’t always acceptable in other cultures.

Casual Greetings

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Greetings in the U.S. are generally more informal and friendly, even in a professional setting. A simple “hello,” “hi,” or a brief wave is often sufficient to recognize a newcomer, while hugs and kisses are reserved only for close friends and family members. This can seem stand-offish or unprofessional in cultures with more formal and expressive greetings.

Free Refills

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In many American restaurants, especially fast food chains and diners, soft drinks and coffee are frequently offered with free refills, meaning you never have to order a second drink. This practice is almost unheard of in other countries, where a single beverage purchase typically comes in a standard size, and there are no refills or discounts.

Big National Holiday Celebrations

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Elsewhere in the world, national holidays are often simply a chance for a day off and some delicious food, yet the United States celebrates its various national holidays with comparative excess: public gatherings, parades, fireworks displays, and traditional activities associated with each holiday are the norm—showing how much we love a good party!

Ice in Beverages

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Americans tend to expect sodas, water, juice, and cocktails to come with ice, and serving ice is so common that we rarely state this request on order. This habit of adding ice, even in colder weather, can be surprising to those from cultures that find it unusual (or even unpleasant) to have their drinks excessively chilled and diluted with cold water from melting ice.

College “Tailgating”

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This social gathering of fans outside the stadium before a game is unique to the American college football experience. The tradition involves grilling food, playing games, socializing, and enjoying drinks while dressed in team colors to show support for their team. This pre-game ritual is unique to the U.S., just like ‘American football’ itself!

Splitting the Bill

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When dining out in a group, Americans often “split the bill” equally among everyone, regardless of what each individual ordered. This is usually done for simplicity and to avoid the awkward calculation of what each person consumed. Although not unheard of in other countries, it is rare, with diners often calculating their own contributions.

Sororities and Fraternities

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These social communities for college students don’t exist anywhere in the world except in the U.S. and are a curiosity for many international viewers watching American college movies. Such groups are often associated with community spirit, friendship, social events, and charitable activities but may seem strange to foreigners.

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