The Most Outrageous Things Americans Do: A List of 50+ Shocking Habits

Racheal Snow - January 9, 2023

The United States is a diverse country with unique customs and habits that aren’t typical in other countries. These American traditions might seem okay across the 50 states, but they aren’t universal. Some are even considered weird in other countries. For instance, America’s obsession with divorce attorney commercials and flying American flags is odd to foreigners. The tipping culture is also different. Are you curious about the things foreigners consider weird in America? Without any further ado, here are 50 “normal” things people do in America that are odd in other countries.

1) Smiling at Strangers

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New Yorkers are particularly guilty of this. Americans smile at strangers often, even though they haven’t met the person before or might even probably never see the person again. This friendly gesture is considered weird by some foreigners. From the perspective of a security-conscious tourist, this might be a worrisome encounter. Isn’t it strange to offer a warm hello with a bright smile to a random stranger passing on the sidewalk? Some tourists might even try to stay as far away from the person smiling at them for security purpose. It usually takes a few “hellos” and an exchange of words to know that their intentions are pure and that they weren’t trying to scam them or something. So, If you are a foreigner in the United States, expect to experience this kind of stuff now and then.

2) Having the Same Dollar Bill Color

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You will agree with me that the U.S. currency is pretty dull for a country that’s the largest economy in the world based on GDP. While other countries boast of more fanciful and colorful bills with historical figures, the U.S. remains adamant about retaining its famous green color. All denominations are the same size, the same design, and are of the same color. A foreigner might find it hard to distinguish between the notes, as they are almost similar and have the same shade of green, save for different historical figures on the bills. So if you are planning to visit the US soon, be conscious of this and always verify the amount printed on the bill.

3) Asking for IDs When Buying Alcohol

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Buying alcohol in America is legal only if you are above 21 years. The only way the grocery store can determine you aren’t underage is by checking your ID. However, it gets weird when you ask a 40 or a 50-year-old to pull out his ID so you can confirm his age. No one wants to be on the other side of the law, especially in a country like the United States, with strict laws and even stricter enforcement agencies. In the United States, people asking for ID is a common occurrence, but weird in other countries. So, when next you’re heading into a bar to buy some alcohol, ensure you keep some form of ID at all times. Americans are known for abiding by the laws.

4) Having Drive-Throughs

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If you are a foreigner, the idea of driving to a restaurant, getting your orders, and driving away without having to alight from your car might sound strange, maybe a little odd even. But in America, this is the norm. KFC, for instance, has a 302.6-second drive-through response rate. This means that in just a little over 5 minutes or maybe even less, you already have your order delivered, and you are ready to drive away. Fascinating, isn’t it? The United States has several such drive-through restaurants and coffee shops. In other countries, you would have to park your car, walk through the front door, and then place your order. No wonder some foreigners find this weird but lovely at the same time.

5) Dining With a Server

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In other countries, particularly European nations, you place an order and then be done with the server. The opposite happens in the United States. Don’t expect to order a meal and discard the server just yet. He/she checks up on you every 10 minutes or so as you eat. While this is one of the best polite behaviors you have ever seen, some foreigners may find it unwelcoming. For those who find eating leisurely meals with little interruption common, those check-ins can be somewhat annoying.

6) Adding Ice to Water and Drinks

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Americans’ love for ice is out of this world. Whether they are ordering water, whisky, or soda, expect an American to put ice in it. Even when it’s the apex of winter, Americans still add ice to their drinks. In other parts of the globe, ice in drinks isn’t something you see every day, and coffee shops don’t typically serve iced coffee in the winter. At most restaurants outside of the United States, you won’t be served iced drinks unless you ask for them.
Except in a few cases, for example, people with diabetes, Americans also love adding sugar to their drinks. Of course, in the absence of real sugar, an artificial sweetener is often used. This is an unhealthy drinking culture, but Americans love it anyway. This is another thing that stands out in America.

7) Handling Over Credit Cards

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Americans are fond of casually giving away their credit cards for payments. In restaurants in other countries, your server runs your credit card beside you through a machine. In the United States, people toss their cards in a folder and allow the server to take them away for swiping. This is a high level of trust the customer is placing in the server. Unique, but still bizarre!

8) Billboards with Divorce Attorneys

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Now, this is weird. In America, you will encounter billboard advertisements of divorce attorneys everywhere. You also see them while watching daytime TV. On the other hand, you will only experience those in a few countries. It mostly comes up during daytime TV.
Apart from the constant divorce attorney commercials, you will encounter other advertisements on TV. Even for a 30-minute show, you will see about four commercial breaks. Worse of all, they aren’t evenly spaced. The rest of the world doesn’t encounter this.

9) Wearing Pajamas in Public

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This is another American oddity. Americans are extremely comfortable wearing their pajamas or clothes reserved for bed in public. They can drop by the post office or shop for items at the supermarket in their pajamas. This isn’t being lazy – they enjoy being comfy. Other countries see this as odd.

10) Pronouncing “Z” as “Zee.”

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The letter “Z” is pronounced differently in America. Instead of pronouncing this letter as “Zed,” Americans pronounce it as “Zee.” If you were to be in a conversation with an English speaker, say from England or Ireland, they’d probably be confused. In those countries, the letter “Z” is pronounced as “Zed.”

11) Having Huge Gaps in Toilet Doors

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Bathroom stalls are built differently in the United States than in other parts of the globe. Most public restrooms in the United States have a gap in the toilet door that just doesn’t make much sense. The gap is wide enough for people to see through. Even some Americans don’t understand why public restrooms are built this way. These massive gaps, to some, can be an invasion of privacy. However, one of the arguments for having such gaps is to have visibility of what’s going on in the toilet. Not enough to see what you are doing while carrying out your business but enough to see if the person using the toilet is in some distress or has lost consciousness. Anyways, some things are meant to stay the same – that includes having restroom door gaps. This is atypical in other countries.

12) Seeing So Much Water in the Toilet Bowls

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Still on the restroom, toilets are also built differently in the United States than in other countries of the world, and one of the major differentiating factors is the quantity of water in the toilet bowl. In other counties, toilet bowls don’t hold much water. In the U.S., the bowls hold a lot of water. Why is that much, though?

13) Storing Eggs in the Refrigerator

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Isn’t it weird that eggs are refrigerated? Interestingly, refrigerating eggs in the United States isn’t just a food safety recommendation; it’s the LAW! Eggs are a rich source of protein that is seldom stored in the refrigerator outside of the United States. In fact, British authorities don’t support refrigerating eggs. In the United States, eggs are refrigerated because they are thoroughly washed first to remove the protective layer. This step is even unnecessary, but it’s still done in the U.S. anyway. Because the protective layer has been removed, bacteria can easily infect the eggs if not properly refrigerated. Elsewhere, the only place for eggs is the shelf.

14) Wide Roads

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Wide roads are the symbol of America. Americans enjoy driving a lot, and a wider road is a safer road. Hardly will you see a windy mountain road or tight city street as it’s common in other countries. In the United States, roads are pretty much wider than normal. No wonder there are strong speed limit laws in the United States.

15) Big Tips

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Giving tips isn’t a norm in some countries, while others allow it. However, the percentage varies. In the United States, you are expected to give a tip of up to 20% of your bill. In other countries, the tip is not more than 12%. If you are a foreigner living in America, make sure you go big with tips to avoid that scrutiny look from your server.
Not giving tips in the United States is frowned upon. It’s a way of thanking the servers for their service.

16) Multiple Choices

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Won’t you be confused when offered a food menu with over 100 different types of meals? If you are a foreigner in America, you will likely be dumbfounded. Every food order in the United States requires many decisions. Bacon or sausages? French fries or wheat? Bread or burger? You’ll have to go through many recipes before deciding. In other countries, the food menu is pretty basic. You don’t have to feel like you are answering a multiple-choice question.

17) Getting Free Refills

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The concept of free refills is common in America. In fact, Americans love free refills. However, this concept is not so common outside of the United States. In other countries, you have to dole out some extra cash if you want a second drink. Countries like France even banned unlimited refills in 2017. The culture of refills also extends to water. Customers’ water glasses always get refilled, whether they have had enough or not. How much water could you possibly drink over an hour? This is a question most foreign tourists ask.

18) Eating Super-sized Steaks

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Americans like going big and it extends to eating. They enjoy ordering freakishly large steaks, even if they know they can’t finish them. For instance, Americans prefer to order a 20-ounce steak over an 8-ounce steak. This culinary culture is rare in other countries, as they pride themselves as minimalists.
Another strange thing is you can take your leftover meal home from a restaurant in the United States. Because the portions in America are so large, it’s impossible sometimes to finish the meal at once. Americans don’t think twice about asking the server to package their uneaten food and bring it home or to the office to finish. In other countries, this is weird. Some even consider it rude. A law was passed in France to allow “doggy bags” to take leftover food home to prevent waste.

19) Always Turning On the Air Conditioning

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Americans are in love with air conditioning to the point that they can turn it on for a whole day, especially on hot days. As a foreigner, if you find yourself in an American establishment or home in the summer for a few minutes, you might well be on your way to freezing to death. Just kidding! But if you will be frequenting an American establishment in the summertime, don’t forget to put on a sweater, especially if you’re allergic to cold.

20) Ordering Coffee To Go

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This is a common practice these days, thanks to Starbucks, but Americans started the culture of ordering coffee to go. This attitude still strikes foreigners as weird behavior. Fundamentally, coffee is meant to be taken in a ceramic cup at a coffee shop or a leisurely place. In America, you can take your coffee to your office or workplace. Americans believe that taking coffee on the go keeps them warm while also saving them time.
That’s not all. In some countries, coffee is consumed in small cups, while Americans consume theirs in large to-go coffee cups. This is understandable because the strength of coffee in America is significantly low when compared to that of other countries like Singapore and most parts of Europe.

21) Cheerleading at Sports Games

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This is an easy one. In NFL, NBA, and other sports games, you do see cheerleaders dancing before the game and during the break to support their respective teams. This tradition is only common in the United States. How the concept originated is still vague, but who cares? Some of us enjoy those dance moves. Can’t say the same for non-Americans.

22) Round-the-Clock Restaurant

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Imagine waking up at 2 a.m. feeling hungry but too tired to make anything. Then you realize that a restaurant downtown is always open. Boom! You head there for a meal. This is the type of thing you see in America. Several restaurants open round the clock in all cities, not just in New York or Los Angeles. You can eat whenever you want to eat. This is not common in other countries.

23) Drinking from Red Solo Cups

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Drinking from red solo cups is common amongst college keggers and young adults, and there’s an explanation as to why this culture is still maintained. The plastic cup appeals to most college students because of its opaque color, which makes it hard to see the actual content in the cup. Plus, the sturdy design makes it spill-proof. So authorities can’t casually tell what’s in the cup. These cups are rarely seen in other countries, though.

24) Waving American Flags

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The red, white, and blue flag is one of the symbols of America’s sovereignty. However, Americans love flying this flag, even when it’s not Fourth of July. American flags are hung all over the place, from businesses to historical sites to homes. According to a 2017 report from the National Retail Federation, Americans that own the U.S. flag are 65% of the population. This shows the love the citizens have for their country. A foreigner will encounter a few American flags flying high when moving down the street, which is not the norm in their country.

25) Saying, “How Are You?” Instead of “Hello”

Greeting in America, especially in public places, is different from other countries. When an acquaintance asks you, “how are you doing?” they aren’t looking for a response. It’s a simple greeting they use instead of “hello” or “hi there.” People from other countries will likely start a conversation with the person and ask, “how are you?” right back and expect an answer. If you are asked, “how are you” in America, don’t dive into a monologue about your well-being and your family.

26) Using “America” or “Americans” to Describe the Country and Its Customs

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If you’re living in the United States, you may think that “America” and “the United States” are the same. However, much of the rest of the world doesn’t understand why it’s so. After all, the U.S.A. is only a country in America like Canada, Mexico, Cuba, and the rest. There are 35 countries in America. By the way, as a foreigner, if you hear Americans, does it only applies to the citizens of the United States of America or America as a whole?

27) Date Format

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The way the United States writes dates is pretty odd. In other countries, the date format is written in day-month-year. In the United States, it’s the other way around. It’s the month first before the day and year. Does it seem out of order? No one really cares about date formats, though.

28) Advertising Prescription Drugs

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When I asked a couple of Americans about the strangest things Americans do, more than half of them responded with the United States advertisement of prescription drugs. The TV commercial typically encourages you to ask your doctor for a specific drug instead of the other way around, like it’s done in other countries. To foreigners, TV commercials encourage people to self-medicate. To Americans, it’s normal.

29) Using the Imperial System of Measurement

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The United States is one of the only three countries to still use the imperial system of measurement. This measurement consists of units like the inch, the mile, and the pound. Outside of these countries, the rest of the world uses the metric system. Foreigners still think it’s strange for the United States to continue using the imperial system of measurement. This measurement scale has probably caused some problems when working in another country. Americans who want to work abroad are likely to encounter a problem when measuring something.

30) Paying Sales Tax on Everything

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This is one of the disadvantages of living in the United States. Here, you pay sales tax on everything you purchase. In other countries, the sales tax is added to the price, so the price doesn’t change when you bring it to the register. It’s such a massive difference that people are being advised against shopping to avoid paying sales tax. You may not like it, but you can’t avoid it.

31) Wearing Swimsuits to the Beach

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Swimsuits are the norm in the United States. The country frowns upon those going topless in public places like the beach. In other countries, it’s considered normal to be topless on the beach.

32) Throwing Baby Showers

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Baby showers are becoming more extravagant every year. This is because of the anticipation mothers have that builds to the delivery date. Throwing baby showers is a fun tradition in the United States, but other countries don’t organize it. They consider it rude to some extent. They consider it bad luck to celebrate the baby before they are born.

33) Having Little Vacation

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In the United States, work never stops. Research by the Center for American Progress discovered that the U.S. is the most overworked country in the developed world. Americans work the longest but have the shortest vacation time. Even when given some time off, Americans still don’t take advantage of it. Other countries offer at least six weeks of paid vacation.

34) Impressed with Ancient Historical Sites

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The United States is young compared to countries like the United Kingdom, France, and Portugal, but people around the world tend to forget about that. Americans are overjoyed when they look at ancient historical sites and artifacts. People from other countries are baffled by the love Americans have for history even though they don’t have a thousand-year-old building or historic site.

35) Wearing Shorts 24/7

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One surefire way to tell who an American is in a crowd in a foreign place is by their dress. Americans love wearing shorts at the weirdest times of the year. Even in their country, wearing shorts, all year round seems a norm. Wearing shorts is normal if it’s seasonally appropriate, but when it isn’t, it attracts the surprised gaze of foreigners. In other countries, this isn’t the norm.
Another thing that Americans do that other countries consider weird is wearing socks and sandals. Americans are so fond of wearing socks and sandals that it makes foreigners question the motive of the trend. Often, people wear sandals to allow their feet to breathe, so what’s the aim of putting on sandals? It’s a bizarre trend.

36) Expecting People to Speak English

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This is obvious. Americans expect everyone they converse with to speak in English, whether they are tourists or in their country. While English is a universal language spoken by billions of people globally, it doesn’t mean that everyone can speak it. Other non-English speaking countries don’t have those expectations from their tourists to speak the official language. If you can’t understand what the other person is saying, you can rely on Google Translate. It can help you with basic words, so you don’t appear rude.

37) Giving People a Thumbs Up

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Do you know that giving a thumbs up is not accepted outside of the United States? Yes! It’s common in the U.S., and people don’t find it offensive. However, people outside of the United States can get offended when you use a hand gesture. In countries like Italy, Greece, Iraq, and Iran, giving a thumbs up could mean something else. In Afghanistan, for example, giving thumbs-up is equivalent to giving a middle finger which is a sign of cursing. When next you are on a plane to another country, be careful of where, how, and when you use this sign.

38) Joining a Fraternity/sorority

Fraternities only exist in America, so it’s obvious that the rest of the world finds it odd. People from other countries don’t get why college students pay so much money to make friends and join societies like that. Some countries consider it fascinating though. People only hear about them when there’s arson or a serious accident in the news. There are benefits to joining sororities, like getting post-college job collections and participating in charity work.

39) People Getting Paid to Greet Customers at the Store

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One of the bizarre things that Americans do that’s different in other countries is people getting paid to greet you at the store. Once you enter a grocery store, you will be met with someone that will greet you at the store. Some people don’t understand the essence of this. Perhaps, it’s to bring cheer and friendliness to customers so they can continue shopping. Some believe that welcoming customers will reduce the chances of stealing. It’s a fantastic marketing strategy though.

40) Using Coffee Creamer

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In other countries, people add some kind of milk to their coffee to sweeten it. In the United States, a coffee creamer is used instead. People don’t know the actual content of this creamer apart from sugar. It’s the perfect way to cover up the not-so-good taste of the coffee, which is quite smart considering that the United States doesn’t have the most delectable coffee choices like its European and South American counterparts.

41) Being Specific about Where They Come From

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Americans are fond of stating the same place they come from. If you ask an American, “Where are you from in the States,” you’ll get a response like, “I’m from New York City, New York.” Why be specific about where you come from? Sometimes, specificity isn’t useful. You probably have never heard of New York City, but Americans think people should know every city and town in every state. With several states and cities to remember, some places can be blurry. Foreigners in other countries will probably say the state they come from. Some only mention their country of origin, and that’s all you get from them.

42) Sharing a Dorm Room With a Complete Stranger

This is one occurrence that doesn’t often happen in other countries. In the United States, students are expected to share a small-sized room with a stranger. There’s a lack of privacy, and sometimes, you may have to dress up in front of a stranger. Who wants that? No one! But you have no choice if you are schooling in America. In other countries, people live at home or rented houses with their friends but don’t get shoved into dorm rooms with people they don’t know from Adam. Their concept is quite strange to people from other parts of the world. Maybe Americans are trying to just be friendly to other foreigners. In America, you can still stay off-campus if you have the means and the resources but if not, get ready to share your room!

43) Putting on Hawaiian Shirts Outside of Hawaii

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Just like wearing shorts all year and putting on socks and sandals, Americans love to put on Hawaiian shirts with cargo shorts and a basketball hat when they go abroad or stay outside of Hawaii. The interesting part is that some of these people have never been to Hawaii. So what’s their reason for putting on these brightly colored shirts? You can easily pick an American from the crowd by spotting people wearing this combo.

44) Having a “World Series” But Only the United States Participates

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Have you ever considered why the World Series is called so even though only baseball teams from within the U.S.A participates? Just like how the United States is often called America, Americans call the competition involving baseball teams from within the country World Series. The tournament involves a team from the National League and the American League, all within the United States. The title makes it look as if the world revolves around the 50 states. Does it? Maybe it does. Americans are self-absorbed people and pride themselves in that. In other countries, they give names and titles to things that reflect the country’s culture and heritage.

45) Tailgating for a Sports Match

This is another weird American practice that people from outside of the United States can’t comprehend. In America, nothing gets people more excited than tailgating. When a college or professional sports game is about to kick off, you will find hundreds to thousands of Americans there who just want to tailgate rather than watch the actual match. The vibes and brews are what get people excited, and that’s their only reason for being present. People from other countries find this odd. Why prepare such elaborate setups if you are not there to support any of the teams? Welcome to America!

46) Halloween

Halloween has just begun to rub off on other countries, but it was the United States that started this bizarre tradition. Some people from other countries wonder why Americans celebrate Halloween. They say it’s another tricky way to observe a holiday, but we think they don’t understand the essence. In which country where you knock on a stranger’s door to offer candy for free? Halloween is such a unique period, but weird to foreigners.

47) Eating Peanut Butter and Jelly

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Another way to separate an American from other people is from what they feed on. Americans love the classic combination of peanut butter and jelly. The salty and sweet taste is something they can’t get over. Americans are to peanut butter and jelly as India is to Cricket. Foreigners don’t know why Americans are never tired of this combination. It almost seems the meal gives them some secret superpowers. Some of them don’t know if jelly is the same thing as jam. The classic PB and J is an American thing that will remain for years to come.

48) Turning Right When it Shows Red

I think this is one of the strangest things in this post. When it comes to road rules, each country has its own. In America, you are allowed to turn right at a red light. Unless there’s a sign that says you shouldn’t turn right on red, and there’s no sign of oncoming cars, you can go through a red light. This is weird in other countries as they only go when the green arrow shows up.

49) Hopping in the Back Seat

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In America, sitting in the back seat of a taxi is common. You’ll never see someone hop in the front seat with the driver unless the back is occupied. Americans take this behavior abroad, and this leaves other people puzzled, especially cab drivers who are used to people sitting in the front seat with them. Americans believe that it will be weirder to sit in the front seat if you aren’t looking to have a conversation.

50) Having Different Laws in Each State

This is something Congress needs to work on. What’s up with every state having its laws? Shouldn’t there be a universal law governing all states? How are people supposed to remember the laws when they travel? I guess they will have to read the laws before coming. It would be much easier if all the states had the same laws. Well! It’s almost as if Americans enjoy making their lives more difficult.


As you can see, the United States has so many unique customs and traditions that are not widespread in other countries. While lots of them are weird, it doesn’t take out the fact that they give the country some uniqueness and defines its culture. If you are coming to the United States as a first-time tourist, be ready for a whole new experience.