18 Unmistakably American Things Foreigners Always Notice

America attracts millions of tourists annually, and many people choose to move to the country for its promise of a better life. Those coming to the U.S. from other countries quickly notice the friendly culture and super-sized scale but may be put off by the nation’s drinking age. Here are 18 unmistakably American things that foreigners always notice. 

The American Smile

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Americans are famous for their friendly manner and for smiling at strangers. A cheerful demeanor characterizes customer service in the U.S., and there has traditionally been a cultural emphasis on optimism. The British are known for finding this culture amusing, and other countries place much less importance on smiling in public. 

Tipping Culture

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The Guardian argues, “The U.S. norm of tipping at least 20% on a meal, and at (the very, very) least $1 [for] a drink at a bar, has always confused European tourists.” Tipping contributes to workers’ wages in America, which are notoriously low in the hospitality sector. 

Patriotism on Display

American flag in home
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America is a profoundly patriotic nation. American flags are prominently displayed in homes, businesses, and public buildings. National holidays like Independence Day showcase Americans’ pride in their history, which often bemuses those from countries like England. 

Consumer Convenience 

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Consumer convenience is taken very seriously in America, with an extensive range of shops and services open 24/7. Drive-thru culture extends beyond fast food restaurants that most tourists are accustomed to, with banks and pharmacies offering drive-thru services. 

Advertising Everywhere 

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Tourists instantly notice the pervasive presence of billboards, TV commercials, and online ads in everyday life in America. American ads have direct and often aggressive advertising styles that aim to grab the viewer’s attention. 

Car Culture 

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Tourists traveling across America quickly realize the necessity of having a car due to the vast distances and limited public transportation. The extensive highway system with endless lanes and the variety and massive size of vehicles emphasize the utility of the vehicles.

Sports Fanaticism 

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Tourists often visit America for its sports culture, with football, basketball, and baseball games being a huge draw for foreigners. Tailgate parties and fan rituals surrounding sports events and the significant investment in college sports are unmistakable American phenomena. 

The Melting Pot 

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Those traveling from countries with less diversity are often shocked by the diverse cultural landscape of America, with communities from every corner of the globe speaking hundreds of languages. America proudly celebrates its melting pot culture, which has created endless dishes and traditions.

Super-sized Supermarkets 

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American supermarkets are massive and offer an overwhelming variety of products. Tourists are sometimes surprised by the prevalence of buying in bulk, with wholesale clubs like Costco very popular. 

The Scale of Everything

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Foreigners visiting America are often amazed at its vast landscapes, giant SUVs, oversized food portions, and seemingly endless highways. Shrink That Footprint notes that “the average house size has been increasing since the 1970s” and is second only to Australia. 

The DIY Mentality 

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The home improvement culture and the do-it-yourself approach to repairs and renovations are popular in America. Tourists always notice the abundance of stores catering to DIY projects and self-reliance in problem-solving. 

Legal Age Restrictions 

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The relatively high drinking age of 21 in America isn’t popular with younger tourists coming from other countries where it’s 18. Tourists under 21 cannot buy drinks in bars and restaurants, and those in their twenties may be asked to prove it with their driver’s license. 

The Healthcare Puzzle 

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For tourists used to universal healthcare, the American system can be puzzling. The mix of public and private insurance, the concept of paying for a trip in an ambulance, and bitter disagreements over healthcare often shock tourists. 

The Education System

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For some people moving to America, the emphasis on extracurricular activities and sports in schools is significant. On the other hand, the sheer cost of higher education and the crippling debt it can lead to often shock foreigners.  

Work Ethic and Vacation Time 

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Tourists from areas with more relaxed work cultures, particularly those from Europe, don’t envy American work culture. The long working hours and low number of vacation days are unappealing to many tourists. 

Food Portions and Choices 

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Tourists are often shocked by the portion sizes in America, particularly in fast food outlets. The American Heart Association explains that restaurant portion sizes have “increased significantly over the years and exceed federal guidance for dietary guidance and food labels,” contributing to rising obesity rates. 

Gun Culture 

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Gun culture is a huge draw for firearm enthusiasts from around the world, who celebrate its impact on American society and personal freedom. The idea that people can openly carry firearms can be unnerving for others. 

The American Dream 

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The American Dream has attracted millions to the country over its history. It continues to inspire immigrants from all over the world who are drawn to the idea of upward mobility through hard work and determination.

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