Only in America

8 min readJul 14, 2020


Common American things that will surprise you, when you are new to the US

Though the US is composed of people with different backgrounds, nationalities and ethnicities, there are some customs shared by all Americans that may seem odd, especially when you are new to the US. Some things Americans consider to be commonplace are actually quite unique to the US. If you’re not from the US, you may find many of these traditions or customs a little odd, with no clear answer or reason why Americans do these things. Here’s a list of common American customs that will surprise you.

1. Obsession With College Sports and Alma Mater

You will be hard pressed to find a nation that idolizes college sports more than Americans, and in particular, college football. You probably didn’t know that Americans watch more college football than the National Football League (NFL). Partly because there are over 700 College football teams, and only 32 in the NFL. This is also due to American’s obsession with their Alma Mater (the college or university one attended).

Americans are so proud of the schools they attended that it becomes part of their identity. To many Americans, going to university is a big deal. The better the school, in terms of sports and academics, the stronger affinity an American may have with their school. Even years after they have graduated, Americans will still name drop the college or university they attended.

2. Yellow School Buses Aren’t Found Outside the US.

School buses can be found all over the world, but good luck finding a yellow school bus outside of the US. What makes American school buses unique is that they are painted bright yellow in America. The glossy yellow color was created in 1939 specifically for North American school buses. The color was originally called, National School Bus Chrome, a shade designed to quickly attract attention and keep kids safe.

3. Treat Pets As Family

There are pet lovers all over the world, but in the US, people take their love to the next level — as many Americans treat their pets like family. As a matter of fact in the US states of Illinois and Louisiana, pets are being treated just like humans or better, as reported by the New Republic. Two-thirds of households in the United States have pets, and these households spend more than $50 million annually on pet care, pet insurance, birthday presents and having professional photographs taken of them.

4. Black Friday & Cyber Monday

Black Friday is the biggest and busiest shopping day of the year in the US. Black Friday always falls on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Almost every retail brand offers the best deals and promotions of the year on Black Friday. People line up for hours in advance, even the night before, to get the best savings of the year. Cyber Monday is the biggest and busiest online shopping day of the year as well. Cyber Monday always falls on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Almost every online retail brand offers the best deals and promotions of the year on Cyber Monday. In both cases, these national shopping days represent the start of the Christmas shopping season.

5. Supersized Meals

Anyone who has been to a fast food restaurant in the United States has learned the term ‘Supersize-it”. It sometimes feels like every meal in the US comes with the option for a larger drink or fries, or some other form of supersized food. Large portion sizes often baffle visitors because though the standard size of a soda can is 12 oz, but many fast food chains in the US have supersized options of up to 42 oz.

6. Free Refills

Have you ever gotten a free refill? Maybe not back home, but in the US, restaurants love to give out free refills of beverages, especially soda. People new to the US might not understand why they should get free refills of the same drink, despite only paying for one. But it’s customary in US — restaurants to make sure your drinks are always filled to keep their customers happy and coming back.

7. Tipping A Server

In the US, it’s customary to tip up to 20% of a restaurant bill (pre-tax). It’s understood that in the service industry, a server relies on tips to supplement their low wages. According to the Atlantic, tipping accounts for over $11 billion a year in income — that’s a lot of money. As a result of tipping, restaurant goers expect highly attentive restaurant servers, which may also feel strange if you’re new to the US. Common interjections from servers include: “How is everything?” and “Do you need a refill?” But this level of attentiveness is distinctly American.

8. Doggie Bag

As stated, Americans love to have huge portions and supersized meals. Many can’t finish their supersized meals in one sitting, so they take their unfinished meal home in a “doggie bag.” This started back in the 1940s, when there was a food shortage, it made sense to take leftovers home with them. Eventually, this became part of the fabric of American eating out. In other places around the world, when dining out, the plate size is a normal portion that can be eaten in one sitting.

9. Fake Cheese or Spray Canned Cheese

Cheese is a staple of American dining, and you will be hard pressed to find a meal without some type of cheese. But did you know that Americans also love fake cheese or cheese in a spray can? Some call it fake cheese because only 51% of the substance is actually cheese, as ordered by US laws. You’ll find this type of cheese served with crackers during football games, or any sporting event hosted at a home. Though spray can cheese started back in the 1960s and is losing some of its popularity, it’s still around today.

10. Red Solo Cups

In almost every US college social gathering, you will find red Solo cups serving some type of alcohol. The Solo red cup is an iconic American symbol that has been around since 1970. The cups were designed in red to conceal exactly what someone was drinking. The red Solo cups are something you just don’t see outside the US. People around the world throw American themed parties that revolve around the trademarked Solo red cups.

11. Coffee to Go

Coffee culture is different all around the world; but unlike most countries, coffee culture in America is rooted in a “grab-and-go” philosophy. Cafes in the US serve large portions, in disposable cups, and value quick service to make the coffee line move faster. Whereas in European countries like Italy, drinking coffee is a sit-down affair to be enjoyed; sometimes for hours.

12. They Drive Everywhere

Have you jumped in a car to drive to a friend’s house that’s literally 3 blocks away, or an hour away? Regardless of the duration of the trip, if you are in the US, you will most likely drive your car. Though public transportation is available in most parts, Americans prefer to drive their cars, especially for short distances within 50 miles. Car culture is one factor affecting driving habits in the US. It doesn’t hurt that highways can be found in every corner of the country, which allows people to drive to almost any destination they want.

13. Don’t Take Time Off

Americans lead the world in time off not taken because they don’t receive a lot of holiday time. The United States does not require employers to give paid leave to their employees. Many Americans simply can’t afford to take the time off, so they often group their vacations with holidays, to get the feel of more time off.

14. Have Similar Looking Money

Ever wonder why US dollars are printed green, while almost every other country prints their currency in many colors? Money in the US is printed in green ink because green is plentiful, and it represents stability and growth. And although US currency may look similar with a quick glance, they consist of different amounts showcasing historical American figures.

15. Price Tags Without Taxes

When shopping in the US, you will never see a price that includes the tax on that item. Often, you won’t know the final price of an item until you checkout. US shops don’t show the total amount with tax included because all 50 states have different state taxes, which will change the final price of an item, depending on where it is bought. It also provides a less expensive price point when consumers are making purchase decisions.

16. Formatting Dates

If you are new to the States, dates might confuse you. You are not alone because Americans write dates differently. You are probably used to dates formatted as DD/MM/YY. So are we. But in the US, the date is written in the format of MM/DD/YY. Just another thing only Americans do.

17. Imperial System of Units

Fahrenheit, ounces, gallons and miles — to most people on Earth these measurement units are unfamiliar or a distant memory. The US is only one of the 3 countries which still (mostly or officially) stick to the imperial systems of measurement.

Like most people around the world, Americans enjoy their cultural attributes. They may seem odd to you at first, but with time, they will become part of your culture as well.




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