The Quirks Of Being An American: Things Only Americans Do

Before I studied abroad, my home land made sense. As a citizen of the United States of America, my mannerisms seemed normal – I didn’t get stared at when I walked down the street and the wait staff at restaurants just seemed friendly and customer service-oriented. But after traveling for three and a half months, the customs and daily rituals that I came home to seemed more foreign than anything I experienced overseas. Us ‘Mericans seem to have the strangest of ways, like…

1. Monochromatic money

All of our money is this bland green money that all looks the same. Why can’t I tell what kind of bill I pull out of my wallet just by glancing at it? In other countries, the money is all colors of the rainbow, and in Costa Rica, the bill representing 10 mil colones has sloths!

2. Thanking people for doing their jobs

And unnecessary pleasantries in general. Smiling at strangers as we walk past them, saying thank you to the barista, as if they had a choice in making your chai latte. Or conversations that go like,

“Thank you!”

“Oh, its no problem! How is your day?”

“Good! Thanks for asking! And yours?”

“Great! Thanks!”

And then you part ways to never see this person ever again, as they only crossed your path for two minutes out of your whole entire life… what?

3. Refer to ourselves as “Americans” and our country as “America”, even though there are millions of other people who live in the Americas, as well as several countries making up two continents labeled “America”- 35, in fact

4. Constantly offering service in restaurants

At first, I thought it was nice and courteous that servers would always ask me what I want, if I wanted anything else, and were there almost immediately when my water was half full. Now, I find it stressful and annoying when people are constantly asking me questions when I just want to eat lunch.

5. Flush toilet paper

While this is a habit that it seems only Americans do, I could never break it when I was in Europe and South America.

6. Not drink carbonated water

This was another thing that I could never get used to. No gas, no bubbles, no carbonation, please!


Seriously, I never saw an actual flag flying in most of the countries I visited. The extent to which I saw flags in many places, were in tourist-y souvenirs.

8. No solicitation policies

Every time I am in a restaurant or store now, I expect to see someone walk in and try to sell me a selfie stick or a collapsible salad bowl. Vendors seem normal now.

9. We don’t teach multiple languages until high school

This is a big one. When I visited a community center in Casablanca, I sat in on a class of young children who were learning French, and I was so impressed. Not only did they speak their regional language, Berber, but they learned French from an early age, sometimes Spanish as well, AND THEN in high school, many students chose to know English. In a lot of countries, most people know two, three, sometimes four languages. And us Americans can barely speak our own sometimes.

10. Department stores

Why can I buy my food in the same place that I can buy shoes? Is that even sanitary?

11. Preservative-heavy food

Another big one. In the Vatican City, McDonald’s has a legit, super tasty café. And in Ecuador, McDonald’s tasted so fresh and soooo good. Port of Spain, Trinidad has the highest grossing KFC in the entire world. And it is so good. Need I say more?

12. Negotiating prices is frowned upon

If I go into a clothing store in the US, and ask if I can get a sweater for $8 instead of $12, guess who is getting kicked out, and also not getting a sweater? This girl.

What weird things only Americans do have you noticed since studying abroad?

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Allyson is a junior at the University of Akron in Ohio, USA. She is pursuing a Bachelor's degree in media production with a minor in anthropology. Allyson kicked off her dream of traveling around the world with Semester at Sea during the Fall 2016 Voyage. She visited 11 countries throughout Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Some of her life goals include road-tripping the entire length of the Pan-American Highway and living on a kibbutz in Israel. Her dream career is to travel around the world making documentaries. To her, the best parts of traveling are learning new things from other people, and constantly hunting for the best cup of coffee in the entire world.


  1. Luckily, all the preservative-laden food is starting to change. Slowly, but it is. The language teaching depends on the type of school, but in terms of public school, completely true.

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