To the outside world, Americans are weird. We tip rather than pay someone a fair wage to begin with. We laugh with our mouths open. We arrive on time to meetings. We blow our noses in public. We don’t reject gifts like you’re suppose to elsewhere. Worst of all, we eat peanut butter and jelly on processed bread and call them “sandwiches.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. We just live by a different set of beliefs, customs and values. Which is why many of the below foreign habits are so disorienting to most Americans.
Besides cold cereal, Americans are big on hot breakfast. Europe, South America and others? Not so much. Granted, Americans don’t traditionally eat eggs, bacon and biscuits every single morning. But given our propensity for a hearty first meal, I always cry inside every time I’m presented with a lunch buffet for breakfast.
Unless you’ve visited America before, you really have no idea how much liveable land we enjoy—the most of any other country. Because of this, we spread out. A lot. That goes for our residences as much as our conversation etiquette. Ideally that’s several feet apart for non-intimate relationships and casual discussions. Which is why we always feel uncomfortable with close talkers and people bumping into us while in line.
In America, the saying “Get a room, you two!” applies just as much to romance as it does heated arguments. For instance, I once witnessed two Russians exchanging verbal fisticuffs over how to move a heavy piano up a flight of stairs. There was yelling, a flurry of aggressive gestures, intimidating faces—all manner of emotions. Then just as quickly as it started, the altercation dissolved and the men carried on with no hard feelings. “What the hell just happened?” I thought to myself. Cultural divide. That’s what.
Closed already!!?? While traveling overseas, many Americans gasp at the frequency and longevity of store closures. This is because we’re spoiled with either stores that never close or stores that only close for a few hours in the wee hours of the morning. While some stores from the South of the U.S. still observe Sunday closures, most consumer commerce in America is accessible until 9 or 10 p.m. at the earliest. Not so on foreign soil. I secretly respect this … until I need something at an inconvenient time.
Americans didn’t invent optimism in the face of poor conditions. But many cultures—particularly some in Africa, South America and parts of Europe—seem to harbor a “can’t do” or discouraged mentality when facing hard times. They seemingly accept corruption as a way of life, shrug off injustice or expect some government authority to fix the problem. Everytime I encounter this deferred mindset while abroad, I naively want to encourage the lamenter with “Yes, you can!” or point them to this epic montage. Either way, I will never understand this coping mechanism. No harm in trying, right?
Off the Grid columnist Blake Snow writes epic stories for fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies. Follow him on Twitter.