There are a lot of stereotypes about the United States, some are true, some are not, and many things fall somewhere in between. The common beliefs about the USA that are certainties are that the average car is much bigger than their counterparts in the vast majority of the world and an American is more likely to be toting a gun than most places outside of countries currently at civil war with one another. I believe that misconceptions about my country are things like “Americans are the most ignorant and obnoxious travelers.” Bell and I have traveled enough to know that there are many ignorant and obnoxious travelers from everywhere (and I certainly know I have been that guy before…on numerous occasions). The USA is a big country where many people aren’t as exposed to foreign cultures and languages- so kudos to anybody who chooses to get out and explore the world. But what surprises international travelers when they visit the USA? We want readers to share some experiences in the comments section but we’ll share a few things about what we’ve heard and experienced first.
A Dutch friend once told us that she had a 1 day layover in Houston and asked the receptionist at her hotel about catching a bus to something of interest. The receptionist looked at her as if she was crazy. “You want to catch THE BUS?” she said. She suggested that if our friend really wanted to do that she should catch the bus to the shopping mall. Many Americans are wary of public transport (often for good reason in their town), and they fear for visitors safety in using it.
A Polish friend of ours told us it surprised her to feel “stalked” in many American retail outlets. We told her the reason is that either they receive commission or they’re just very bored. The American way is to always try and up sell, often blatantly scripted. On a side note, a couple years ago Bell and I traveled to Lithuania and Latvia and were surprised that shop keepers would stare at us the entire time we were in their store. They wouldn’t offer to help, they just stared.
A German friend finds it bewildering why so many Americans LOVE to announce their political and religious beliefs. European countries themselves vary on these subjects (many Greeks and Serbians for example love to talk politics) and European workers in many nations are notorious for worker’s strikes. But on average, a European is less likely to start randomly shouting about their political or religious beliefs for little apparent reason.
An Italian friend told us he was surprised by American coke (no, not the drug!). Coca Cola in Europe is still made from sugar cane, like it used to be in the USA. Now American coke is sweetened with corn syrup because it’s cheaper. Remember when they changed the flavor about a decade ago? Yeah, they never did that in Europe. When I return to the States and pay for coke with unlimited refills, I will often drink 3 glasses (I know, I’m a real health freak) and then my stomach hurts because the corn syrup is eating away at my innards.
When Bell first set foot in the United States in 2005, in Los Angeles, she was surprised at how friendly Californians were, not that she expected them to be rude, but she enjoyed chatting with people in the bars. She was also shocked at the size of the portions, but loved that she could take her food away in a box, because in Australia it is illegal to do that, for health reasons. Finally, despite speaking the same language people didn’t always understand her. She would frequently say “Saturday” and have people say they weren’t open on “Sunday.”
Several people have mentioned it surprised them how much water is in American toilet bowls and they wondered whether the toilets were flooded. European toilet bowls are not filled like a kiddie pool.
Again, please share more surprises with us in the comments! And please stay tuned for our next post where we’ll be launching a cool contest with an awesome first place prize worth €200!! ($265 USD!!)