Americans May Not Realize…

There are a number of things that are part of living in the US* that Americans may not realize are unique to this country. Here are five things that are very American – and not found worldwide.

1) Flags

In the US, American flags are all over. Many schools have flag poles with one, many houses have one in the front yard, and people regularly wear them on t-shirts – and not just on Independence Day! Yesterday, I drove past a small graveyard in which each grave stone had a mini US flag in front of it, though I had no reason to think that it was a military cemetery. While other countries are patriotic and often display their flags on government buildings, they don’t carry, install, or wear flags everywhere as part of their patriotism. That’s an American thing.

2) Post-Meal ServiceBudapest Lunch

In other countries, after they deliver your meal at a restaurant, they generally leave you alone. The onus is on you to tell them if you’d like the check or dessert. In the US, the number of times I’ve seen a waitress try to remove food from a table before someone had finished eating numbers in the dozens. As far as I can tell, table turn time is a foreign concept to non-American service workers.

3) Space

Driving lanes around the world are narrower than American ones. Apartments and houses are smaller abroad, even for people who can afford to pay a premium for extra space. Americans also expect more personal space than other cultures: other cultures even teach this fact to English-learners to ensure they don’t inadvertently offend Americans.*

4) Car Culture

Italian Train

Train station in an Italian town with fewer people than the suburb my parents live in

It’s not just Los Angeles and the Midwest that are known for their driving culture: it’s a big part of American society everywhere. There’s even that popular joke about Americans trying to park their cars as close as humanly possible – to the entrance of their gyms. A big part of this is that in most places (I can’t yet speak for Africa), there is reliable, regular train and/or bus service to pretty much anywhere you want to go. In the US, on the other hand, there are places you absolutely cannot get to without a car. It is difficult for many foreigners to imagine there being no public way to travel somewhere.

5) Stocking UpZagreb Bakery

When Americans go to the grocery store, they can shop for weeks or even months at a time; sales are geared to buying many of something and storing it in your (large) home. The number of specialized stores like bakeries, butchers, cheese mongers is low in the US, where the supermarket and big box store are king. However, they thrive in other countries, where people may buy only for that day’s dinner – picking up a fresh loaf of bread or cut of meat every day or two. Space plays into this, but so does culture. For example, hoarding seems to be primarily an American disorder.


These kinds of things are interesting to me: ideas or habits which are very American, but that we believe to be universal. Can you think of others?


*and potentially Canada/Canadians, but I don’t know Canadian life well enough to comment.

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