Travel is necessarily colored by our backgrounds and personalities. These factors along with many more shape our travel experience and ultimately decide for us what we think about new destinations. Being American, I’m somewhat blind to our national eccentricities and so I wanted to find out what foreign visitors think about us as a people and nation. I reached out to some of my favorite non-American travel bloggers and asked them each the same question: What do you think is strange or odd about the United States? I think you’ll love the responses as much as I did.
Deb Corbeil and Dave Bouskill: The Planet D
Being Canadian and growing up with American TV and news, we like to think that we know a thing or two about our big brother to the South. We have many American friends that we know and love and we spent many vacations road tripping around the country. Many times we feel right at home in America but then again, some states feel completely foreign. In the end, there are many differences between Canada and the US, but what do we find the most odd about the United States? The fact that their drinking age is 21! People can be sent to war at the age of 18 and own firearms at 18. They can star in an adult movie at 18 and they can help choose the ruler of the most powerful nation on earth at the age of 18. What’s the deal with having to wait another three years to be allowed to drink legally? I’m sure many University students will agree with me, this is a rule that is made to be broken. If you are adult enough to do all of the above, I would think that you are adult enough to have a glass of wine with dinner or a beer at the ball game.
One of the things I find particularly odd in the US is the way that advertised prices never seem to include taxes. It’s actually illegal to do that where I come from (New Zealand), so I remember being very confused when I would walk up to pay for my $1.99 item at the checkout with two bucks in my hand, only to be told the price was $2.13 or whatever and I’d have to start scrambling through my pockets for loose change. Even now, 15 years after I first went to the USA, it still catches me out more often than not whenever I’m back.
Keith Jenkins: Velvet Escape
How-ar-ya (?)(!) My very first visit to the USA was to New York City. From there, I travelled solo in a loop around the country. One thing that quickly grabbed my attention about American customs is how often they ask “How are you?” Everywhere I went, from the immigrations officer at the airport to taxi drivers, shop assistants, waiters, bartenders and hotel staff, everyone wanted to know how I was doing, or so it seemed. I found myself saying “Fine, thanks” countless times each day and it started to get annoying. I simply wasn’t accustomed to it. Having lived in various parts of the world where this custom isn’t prevalent, I was used to only asking people I know how they were doing. I watched how Americans reacted themselves – it varied from a nod or a smile to the start of a lengthy conversation! I wondered if it was meant as a real question or a simple greeting (“how are you?” instead of “welcome” or “good morning”). Probably somewhere in between, I concluded.
Jiyeon Juno Kim: Runaway Juno
When I first went to the US I was fascinated by funny signs around the country. I like the sense of humor people have here. On t-shirts, street signs, informational billboards and names; I liked them all. My favorite so far is: “Drink Coffee! Do stupid things faster with more energy.” Also the cute ‘x-sing’ series cannot be missed. I took a lot of photos of the signs and even my friends sent them to me. Some of my American readers said that it’s good I find these interesting when they find it embarrassing. We had a lot of fun sharing. I continued searching and I have quite a selection now. So far I’ve been to 24 states, and now I have to visit the rest of the country to search funnier signs!
Abigail King: Inside the Travel Lab
Ice. The need to force so much ice into a glass that it’s near impossible for anything else to go in. Water so cold it sends jolts of pain through your teeth and tortures your thirsty soul with the promise of hydration that’s in one way so near and yet in another so very, very far away…
Chris Richardson: The Aussie Nomad
I took a road trip through Florida recently and as this was my first time driving on the WRONG side of the road I was obviously cautious about the whole process. It was going well until I stopped at a stop sign saying “stop 4-ways”, WTF is that? Back home in Australia this would have either been a round about or a give way sign where you allow people to your right to go first. The problem compounded itself when all of a sudden there were 4 cars all sitting and looking at each other… All I could imagine was the free for all sales I see happen in the US where everyone is all in trying to race each other. Seeing I was in a rental car I sat and waited for the others before driving off. I’ve since found out whoever gets there first has right of way but damn is this not a crazy road rule to have. What happens when someone else decides they were first and not you?
Claudia Saleh: Aprendiz de Viajante
The need to have an invitation for everything and well in advance. As Brazilians we are much more spontaneous. Usually if you visit Brazil you can certainly expect to get invited to someone’s house/party or for a drink hours later. Friends drop by without announcing it weeks in advance. You would be happy if they call a few minutes before getting to your place. And nobody sweats about it. Here, everything has to have a formal invitation, I don’t know how many days in advance and people get really annoyed if you decide to do something at the spur of the moment and invite them.
Janice Waugh: Solo Traveler
I really had to think about this because, while there are many differences between Canadians and Americans, they are more at an attitudinal level than specific quirky things. I think it is language that’s the most interesting. For example, I always thought calling a bathroom a restroom was quirky. How did this euphemism come about? Do people really go in to rest? When I ask for the bathrooms or toilets or washrooms, people seem quite thrown off. Oh, and some parts of the country just naturally call me “hon”. I like that.
Yvonne Zagermann: JustTravelous
The Non-Walking Thing – I like to walk and I think there’s no better way to explore a city than by foot. But in the US in many cities there’s no such area where you can walk for hours and hours to see all the different stuff and sights. Or just stroll through the streets to see where it will take you. I remember when I’ve been to Memphis and just wanted to walk around in the city center and everyone gave me a strange look. They always take the car or a cab, even to the supermarket around the corner. Ok sometimes I also take my car to the supermarket.
Dima Zemsky: Dima’s Corner
While growing up in Ukraine, I heard stories about gigantic grocery stores from everyone who visited the US. After all, I still remember the days when grocery stores in the Soviet Union had two choices of milk – the one delivered today and the one left from yesterday (if any). Sure, now there are supermarket chains in larger cities and some very progressive people are getting used to the idea of credit cards. Still, the vastness of Walmart (or even a regional retailer such as Safeway, Kroger, HyVee, or Publix) remains one of the main draws for people visiting the US. To that extent, one of the most prominent memories I have of the first few months after moving to Columbus, Ohio are our trips to Meijer’s. Sure there was an awesome THE Ohio State campus, a cool downtown, new language, new culture (first thing I saw on TV – Teletubbies). However, all of that paled in comparison to wandering down the aisles upon aisles of… food. Fifty different yogurts, about as many different brands of canned beans and gadzillion varieties of candy. And then the home goods department. And sports. And auto. And toys! And it was not even a Walmart!
I love these impressions of the US, what are some things you find quirky about the United States?